Whilst not entirely successful, Bushwick is an interesting, scrappy little movie that suddenly finds itself relevant… I’ll say ‘spoilers’ at this point because, although the relevance is now the selling point, I enjoyed watching this with no knowledge of what was happening and, given the form the film takes, I imagine this was the intention.
The set-up is simple, a young couple arrive in Bushwick by train to find the platform deserted. After a couple of minutes someone comes down the stairs, they are on fire. As the couple near the exit the boyfriend goes ahead and says he’ll be right back… We follow the girl (Brittany Snow) as she makes her way through a city under attack by secessionist forces and becomes paired up with an ex-marine played by Dave Bautista. All the while the film rolls forward in a series of protracted hand held takes (the first intended visible edit being 28 minutes in) designed to place us in the action and only give us the information that the main characters are privy to. For the most part the film makes a decent fist of this but you can see the patches of the low budget (some bad performances, muddled and muffled dialogue, cgi explosions), and the verite shooting isn’t a friend to Bautista who seems cramped and caged by the frame.
But it’s got heart and that counts. One of the co-writers is Nick Damici (writer / star of Stake Land (2010), who possibly should have taken the Bautista role here) which is a plus and it gives a simple but hopeful take on the weakness that the purveyors of divisive politics project on those they would oppress.
If we’re being honest, once you strip away the technical wizardry (and it really is), War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) is all rather too familiar. It feels like a film cobbled together from parts of more energetic and original genre movies. Its being spoken of as the antidote to the rest of Summer’s ‘event movies’ but, like all of them, it falls apart brilliantly in a final third that sees the film stretched well beyond its logical runtime.
Imagine if this actually had the stones to be a small revenge movie? Or a large war movie? (Why are none of these films named correctly?) Or a retelling of Exodus? Or if they had even just shown Woody Harrelson’s ‘Colonel’ actually being the antagonist that he spends so much time telling us about..? It would be spectacular, and in ten years’ time we might have had a movie that was remembered as more than a technological milestone.
What none of these films do that the original series did (even in the much weaker entries), is anything remotely startling. Obviously it’s hard to compete with a series kicked off by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling but I think there are a couple of other reasons. The first is Charlton Heston. His performance in the first film turns a few throwaway character lines into a deep vein of cynicism that makes the ending feel tragically inevitable rather than melodramatic. It seems to infect the whole series and can be heard long after Heston’s departure.
The second is the apes themselves. The modern films are technical marvels, stunning even, but the old ape makeup was abstracting and allowed room for symbolism. Like the most recent Jungle Book movie it’s all too literal and surface level. Sure the films have meaning but there’s no iconography, there’s no moment of shock or mirrors being held up. There’s nothing as chilling or interesting as Heston’s laugh.
Hidden Figures (2016) is good old fashioned Hollywood razzle-dazzle. It takes a little known story, mixes in some smart poetic licence and instantly likeable performers, and turns out a belting piece of mainstream entertainment.
There is no doubt that Hidden Figures is precision engineered to pull at your heart but it is saved from being the same tired worthy film we’ve seen before by focusing on a central trio who overcome adversity with action. From the opening scene onward the film repeatedly makes the argument for equality through sheer utility and every strand tells us that we can reach the stars if we just dump this baggage. This turns it from a film about suffering and the past (and in turn a comfort blanket ensuring us that ‘aren’t we better’) into a positive, activist film that is utterly relevant.
Moments can lift or sink a film. Ten seconds can make ninety minutes seem like time well spent or kill everything that went before. Last night I watched Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and for better or worse the moments were in full swing.
Bone Tomahawk is a rather slight western tale of kidnapping and the posse that goes to rescue the girl. It’s standard stuff with square jaws, old timers and Kurt Russell’s moustache and then there is a moment, a moment that harks back to the glory days of pre-cert ‘did you see that film where..?’ VHS. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the film, you probably won’t forget it, if you haven’t it’s worth watching and it lifts the film and carries it, perhaps throws it, over the finish line.
Then there was Rogue One, the first in a planned series of Star Wars side stories and fingertips away from being perfect. Visually it’s stunning, with great practical and CG effects. It also has the characters, in particular the central pairing of Jyn Erso and Cassien Andor and their team, the actors, the director, the story, the themes and ideas and Forest Whitaker, my word Forest Whitaker! It’s brilliant and fun and then there’s the fan service, moments of redundant film buried in the uncanny valley and a fancy dress approximation of a classic character (or did he always look stupid and I’ve only just noticed?).
I’m going to go back for a rewatch because the good stuff is wonderful, it’s just such a shame that the current cinematic obsession with the miscellany of fan culture gets in the way of a perfect object. As for Bone Tomahawk, I’ll never watch it again but absolutely, heartily recommend that you spend some time with it.