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.
There’s a great moment in Southpaw when boxer Billy Hope (played by Jake Gyllenhaal and his weight gain) gives a speech at a charity event. It’s supposed to be a ‘look at me now’ moment, ‘I climbed the ladder out of poverty’, ‘this foundation made me what I am’ etc. And you can’t help but look at him. Broken and used, the poor boy who gets to drink with the powerful because he’s willing to take a beating. He’s got money but I don’t wake up with blood pouring out of my mouth so I can live without that. That’s one of a number of things that this film could have been about but isn’t.
Moments after this speech the film becomes something very different indeed, or at least it keeps threatening to. It keeps wandering down side roads but falls flat because it keeps finding it’s way back to only the most well trodden paths. Oh so Forest Whitaker is different to other coaches so lets throw in a last minute cynical emotional spanner to get him back on board. Billy looks like he might change, nah because we want to see him punch someone.
Director Antoine Fuqua has never quite recaptured the energy or interest of Training Day (2001).
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Invasion, The Faculty, The World’s End etc and so on. Like Romero’s zombies the pod people (or versions thereof) return every few years to tap into the zeitgeist (communism, psychiatry, the Bush Doctrine, erm, school and chain pubs?) and scare us. Abel Ferrara’s take might not be the most unsettling (1978, if you are interested) but it’s military setting and direction make it the most thrilling version and, in genre cinema, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Meg Tilly is great as that staple of all fiction the ‘untrustworthy step-parent’ and Forest Whitaker steals the show as the crumbling Major Collins.