Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 123: Mon Dec 7

Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999): Genesis Cinema, 8.15pm

Here's one of the great films set during Christmas, and an opportunity to see Stanley Kubrick's much-underrated final movie in the run-up to the season of goodwill. The film is also being shown on December 10th. Details here.

If you're interested in reading more about this film I can recommend two BFI publications - Michel Chion's Modern Classics monograph on Eyes Wide Shut and the chapter on the film in James Naremore's book titled On Kubrick.

Chicago Reader review:
Initial viewings of Stanley Kubrick's movies can be deceptive because his films all tend to be emotionally convoluted in some way; one has to follow them as if through a maze. A character that Kubrick might seem to treat cruelly the first time around (e.g., Elisha Cook Jr.'s fall guy in The Killing) can appear the object of tender compassion on a subsequent viewing. The director's desire to avoid sentimentality at all costs doesn't preclude feeling, as some critics have claimed, but it does create ambiguity and a distanced relationship to the central characters. Kubrick's final feature very skillfully portrays the dark side of desire in a successful marriage; since the 60s he'd been thinking about filming Arthur Schnitzler's brilliant novella "Traumnovelle," and working with Frederic Raphael, he's adapted it faithfully--at least if one allows for all the differences between Viennese Jews in the 20s and New York WASPs in the 90s. Schnitzler's tale, about a young doctor contemplating various forms of adultery and debauchery after discovering that his wife has entertained comparable fantasies, has a somewhat Kafkaesque ambiguity, wavering between dream and waking fantasy (hence Kubrick's title), and all the actors do a fine job of traversing this delicate territory. Yet the story has been altered to make the successful doctor (Tom Cruise) more of a hypocrite and his wife (powerfully played by Nicole Kidman) a little feistier; Kubrick's also added a Zeus-like tycoon (played to perfection by Sydney Pollack) who pretends to explain the plot shortly before the end but in fact only summarizes the various mysteries, his cynicism and chilly access to power revealing that Kubrick is more of a moralist than Schnitzler. To accept the premises and experiences of this movie, you have to be open to an expressionist version of New York with scant relation to the 90s (apart from cellular phones and AIDS) and a complex reading of a marriage that assumes the relations between men and women haven't essentially changed in the past 70-odd years. This is a remarkably gripping, suggestive, and inventive piece of storytelling that, like Kubrick's other work, is likely to grow in mystery and intensity over time.
Jonathan Rosenbaum

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 122: Sun Dec 6

High Sierra (Walsh, 1941): BFI Southbank, NFT1, 2.50pm

This 35mm presentation, also screening on 14th and 29th December, is part of the Big Screen Classics season at BFI Southbank. Full details here.

Chicago Reader review:
The 1941 film in which Humphrey Bogart became Humphrey Bogart, under the guiding hand of Raoul Walsh. It's not the best work of either artist—John Huston's script talks too much, and Joan Leslie's clubfooted innocent is pretty hard to take—but it's fascinating to watch the outlines of Bogart's persona come into focus. With Ida Lupino as the good bad girl, and the indispensable Arthur Kennedy.
Dave Kehr

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 121: Sat Dec 5

Knight Without Armour (Feyder, 1937): BFI Southbank, NFT3, 2.50pm

This 35mm screening (also being presented on December 19th) is part of the Marlene Dietrich season runnign right through December at BFI Southbank (details here).

Time Out review:
Reality never held much sway at Alexander Korda's Denham studios, least of all during the making of this lavishly preposterous melodrama of Russian life before and after the 1917 Revolution. Marlene Dietrich is the cool, fur-swathed Countess Vladinoff, who strips down for two titillating baths during her protracted rush to freedom organised by much-bearded Robert Donat, who pretends to be a Russian Commissar but is actually AJ Fothergill, British secret agent. Jacques Feyder's typically stylish direction raises the film way above its subject matter, almost at times towards art.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 120: Fri Dec 4

The Happy Life (Lee Joon-ik, 2007): Genesis Cinema, 6.10pm

This film (being screened from 35mm) is part of the Korean Film Festival. You can find all the details of the festival 

Korean Film Festival introduction: Three middle-aged men, all struggling in life, gather together at the funeral of their old classmate. As university students they had all been members of the same rock group, a not-entirely-successful endeavour called ‘Active Volcano’. After losing themselves in memories for a time, the jobless Ki-young (Jung Jinyoung) suddenly blurts out, “Let’s re-form the band!”. To his friends, and especially to Ki-young’s wife and teenage daughter it sounds like an absurd, crazy idea. But sometimes crazy ideas have a way of picking up steam. Master storyteller Lee Joon-ik takes what seems like a dubious concept and turns it into an unexpectedly engaging and inspiring film about friendship. Helped along by an outstanding ensemble cast, the film is at its best in quieter moments, which impart a realistic edge. Ultimately, the film’s title is both ironic and heartfelt at the same time.

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 119: Thu Dec 3

Shanghai Express (Dietrich, 1932): BFI Southbank, 8.40pm

This day heralds the opening of the Marlene Dietrich season (details here) at BFI Southbank. This film screens on December 7th, 23rd, 27th and 29th (all times here).

Chicago Reader review: More action oriented than the other Dietrich-Sternberg films, this 1932 production is nevertheless one of the most elegantly styled. The setting, a broken-down train commandeered by revolutionaries on its way to Shanghai, becomes a maze of soft shadows and shifting textures, through which the characters wander in a philosophical quest for something—anything—solid. The screenplay, by Jules Furthman and an uncredited Howard Hawks, has a quality of wisecracking wit unusual in Sternberg's films: when someone asks Dietrich why she's going to Shanghai, she retorts, "To buy a new hat." Dave Kehr

Here (and above) is the trailer.

Capital Celluloid 2020 — Day 118: Wed Dec 2

Diego Maradona (Kapadia, 2019): Screen on the Green, 7.30pm

This promises to be a great evening as Asif Kapadia, the director, hosts a Q&A and screens his superb documentary on the late footballer who died in what could now be controversial circumstances last week.

Time Out review: Like an anatomist, you can pretty much break down Argentinian soccer superstar-turned-tabloid-villain Diego Maradona into his composite parts: the wand-like left foot, capable of conjuring magic in the tightest of corners; the stocky thighs and jutting chest, source of his explosive power on the pitch; the left hand that cheated England in the 1986 World Cup; and the nostrils through which passed industrial quantities of cocaine – even at the height of his footballing powers.

Director Asif Kapadia (‘Senna’, ‘Amy’) covers each of them in this spellbinding, empathetic documentary. He also brings to the fore a less obsessed-about piece of the Maradona anatomy: his heart. ‘Diego Maradona’ has the football and the drugs – think ‘Scarface’ with screamers – but it’s a surprisingly emotional ride too. In the spirit of all good docs, it’ll make you reappraise your feelings about the man and the myths around him.

Wisely, Kapadia keeps his focus tight, overlaying unseen interviews conducted with ex-teammates, girlfriends and journalists – as well as with the man himself, recorded at his home in Dubai – over endlessly compelling archive footage. Of course, there’s plenty of football: pitch-side footage captures his balletic qualities in artful slow motion. But there’s a lot more than football to a story bookmarked by a childhood as a ‘shitty little block kid’ in the slums of Buenos Aires and later-life struggles with addiction. But the meat of it charts his seven years in Naples, where he fled after an ill-fated spell at FC Barcelona. There, he helped turn Serie A strugglers Napoli into world beaters and himself into first a playboy, then an addict.

The film opens with what seems to be a Jason Bourne-like car chase but turns out to be his raucous journey to Napoli’s stadium to be introduced to his new fans. All 85,000 of them. The relationship between man and city – a febrile, combustible chemistry that would eventually blow up in the Argentinian’s face – offers a fascinating, sharp-edged subplot. There’s a sense of romance in this once-poor kid from the slums finding a city full of soulmates, and Napoli’s rise is a great sports story, but the film expertly communicates a sense of it all being too much: too much pressure, too much responsibility, too much adulation. The malign influence of the Camorra, Naples’ crime lords, is never far away either.

The footage Kapadia has unearthed is remarkable. We see the newly signed Diego entering his new stadium through its concrete catacombs, like a gladiator preparing for combat. Later, there’s home video of him delighting in defeating his girlfriend at tennis (‘I’ve won Wimbledon!’ he whoops). The picture is clear: he’s a man on the pitch, a wide-eyed child off it.

That boyishness, his passion for his chosen sport and an endearingly mischievous streak make him hard to dislike. He’s immature – his treatment of the women in his life is capricious to the point of cruelty – and wildly egotistical, but Kapadia teases the idea that the Atlas-like pressure on his shoulders contributed to his retreat into hedonism and drugs, without ever excusing his worst excesses.

If aspects of Maradona’s life feel slightly glossed over, in particular the son he initially refused to acknowledge, it’d be impossible to shoehorn this tumultuous life into a single film. Instead, Kapadia gives us a fevered, joyous, melancholy and sometimes toxic Neapolitan love story that presents the man in all his contradictions and complexity. He was the block kid who found a new home, but somehow lost his soul. What a way to complete a hat-trick of documentaries.

Here (and above) is the trailer.