Ah, Keanu Reeves. For a long time, I foolishly dismissed him as just a mediocre wooden actor, and I still consider his performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a crime against cinema. With time, I learned to appreciate his unique onscreen presence and a peculiar blend of masculine and feminine qualities; he might not have the greatest range but he’s a fantastic physical actor and in a right role, his performances are truly iconic. John Wick is one of those perfect vehicles for Reeves’ particular set of talents.
The Lobster made me think of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi short stories I read as a teenager, where some “what if” premise would be taken to an absurd extreme, except that this movie does it with an extra helping of bonkers. If you’re a fan of out-there scenarios, the summary should grab you instantly. Here goes: in the dystopian world of The Lobster, it’s illegal to be single. If you’re divorced, widowed or just unattached, you get sent to a high-security hotel in the countryside, where you have 45 days to find a new partner among the fellow singles. Those who fail to pair up are then turned into an animal of their choice and remain that way for the rest of their lives. David (Colin Farrell), the main hero of the film, tells the manager of the hotel that he’d like to cast his lot with the crustaceans, and be turned into a lobster. Lobsters, he says, can live for hundred years, and he quite enjoys swimming.
The title of this movie is rather misleading. It’s named after John Klute, a detective played by Donald Sutherland (who I’ve never seen onscreen as a young man before), but the character at the centre of the film is Jane Fonda’s New York call girl Bree Daniels. I guess “Klute” is a punchier name than “Bree”? Fonda received a Best Actress Academy Award for her role, and she absolutely owns the movie. As a thriller Klute is only mildly diverting, but it excels as a character study and a display of Fonda’s intelligent, fascinating tour-de-force performance.
I’ve yet to meet a Maugham novel I haven’t liked; I probably enjoyed this one the least of the four I’ve read so far and I still found it overall excellent.
The Razor’s Edge is somewhat similar to The Moon and Sixpence, the previous novel on my Maugham reading list. It also features a first-person narrator – in this case, Maugham rather bizarrely inserts himself into the story – who observes the people drifting in and out of his life over the span of years. At the heart of the story, there’s yet another character who chooses an uncompromising and unorthodox life path. Here, it’s Larry Darrell, a young American who, at the start of the book, has returned a changed man after serving as an aviator in World War I. People around him, including his fiancée Isabel, are sympathetic, but they still expect him to engage in life and find a steady job that would support Isabel in a comfortable lifestyle she’s accustomed to. Larry however makes it clear that he has no interest in making money; his harrowing war experiences made him want to seek out the spiritual life and answers to the questions of God, life and death.
A solid, low-key Cold War drama thriller from Steven Spielberg. “Solid” might not sound like much of a compliment, but sometimes it’s just satisfying to watch a well-made film that might not be edgy or exceptional and just about avoids the worthy and dull basket, but which also brims with confidence and expertise in cinematic craft. It achieves a difficult balance of dramatising a true story where, on one hand, too much of real life would probably make it boring and on the other, it still has to retain some realism in order to not lapse completely into fake movie-land.
I always liked post-apocalyptic settings, and in 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle, it’s the zombie apocalypse, which happens after a bunch of animal activists break into a research lab and free a chimpanzee carrying a deadly “rage” virus. Once a person is infected, they have 20 seconds before they turn into a mindless berserk monster. As the film’s title suggests, you don’t get to see the collapse of the society, instead the action switches to our hero Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bicycle courier who wakes up in the hospital after suffering a road accident. Emerging from his coma, he wanders the silent, deserted streets of London, made even more eerie by the total lack of soundtrack. These early scenes of the abandoned metropolis and familiar postcard locations stripped of life are probably the most striking sequences in the film.
It takes something special to lure me into a cinema to watch a modern war movie, and the involvement of Christopher Nolan definitely piqued my interest, even though I thought that The Dark Knight Rises was a bloated misfire and Interstellar was deeply flawed. Thankfully, Dunkirk is a lean mean machine that dispenses with stilted dialogue about love, and in fact relies very little on the dialogue. It’s probably not an obvious comparison, but of all the recent movies Dunkirk reminded me the most of Mad Max: Fury Road, and not just because Tom Hardy’s face is covered up with a mask in both films. Like George Miller’s instant classic, Nolan’s latest is a visceral, purely cinematic survival story that made me feel like someone grabbed my insides, twisted them in a knot and didn’t let the grip go for a couple of hours. It’s a kind of movie where you need some time and preferably an energetic walk to decompress after.