Film Memories: February 1997

One of the side effects of being a big fan of making lists is that I know what films I went to, on what date, where, and who with, going back almost half my life. I recently unearthed a diary listing what films I went to when I was 20 years old, so I thought I would present this with comments on what I can remember about the films in question. I should mention, my memory is terrible: just trying to write up films I went to see a month ago is proving difficult enough, which is part of the reason I wanted to get a blog to record my impressions, so that I wouldn’t lose them in a few years’ time. So here’s what I saw last month 16 years ago.

* Fargo (Wellington: Mid City). This was the second time I’d seen this film (the first was in June 1996). I’ve seen it again since, which is a rare enough thing, so I’ve still got a fair few images in my head. The opening is in a classic epic film style, with a big crane shot revealing an expanse of snowy road, with a car travelling ominously along it. Also that fictive opening title, “based on a true story”. The humour, I remember, was dead pan, and it did well that year at the Academy Awards. Certainly, I liked it.

* Shine (Wellington: Manners Mall). I saw this twice in a row at the same cinema, the second time with my mother and some of her friends. It was getting a lot of buzz at the time, and a lot of really positive word of mouth. It was, I recall, Geoffrey Rush’s big breakout performance. However, despite seeing it twice, I have very little recollection of the film itself, save that the protagonist was beset with a variety of tics (he was autistic, I believe). I guess my main feeling that I’ve kept with me is that it was effective yet manipulatively emotive hackwork.

* Breaking the Waves (Wellington: Paramount). I still remember that I came into this film just as it started; the cinema was completely black (no partially-dimmed lights as too many cinemas these days seem to offer throughout film screenings), so I stumbled to my seat as the opening landscape images came at me. Of the film itself, I remember liking it, though the camerawork was decided queasy. The film was split into chapters and Emily Watson’s protagonist was rather too ready to abase herself in pursuit of some kind of misguided religious self-flagellation. The transcendent denouement seemed to owe rather too much to Dreyer’s far superior Ordet.

* Richard III (Wellington: Paramount). This 1995 film by Richard Loncraine has Ian McKellen as the eponymous anti-hero, and I really enjoyed it. I am not really certain if it was as good an adaptation as has been done for the cinema, but McKellen certainly sticks in my mind as an actor greatly relishing the role.

* The Portrait of a Lady (Wellington: Penthouse). I saw this with my mother in a small suburban cinema in Wellington, with a heavily raked seating layout. I think they’d newly created this smaller screen down the back of what had originally been a one-screen cinema, if I recall correctly, though quite why I should recall this I don’t know. My cinematic dislike for John Malkovich has been an abiding one, and I didn’t like him in this, but then his character was hardly a likable one. Yet the strength and assuredness of Campion’s imagery remains with me, though the chatty opening featuring a bunch of contemporary Australian women talking was an odd misdirect. I keep thinking I’d like to watch this film again to reassess it, as I have very mixed feelings about whether it was ultimately successful.

* Extreme Measures (Wellington: Mid City). A multiplex medical thriller starring Hugh Grant and directed by Michael Apted. Competent, but hardly memorable. Gene Hackman was the antagonist, I think.

* William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (Wellington: Manners Mall). Another Shakespeare adaptation, this one the saturated stylised camp of Baz Luhrmann. I found this energetic and likeable, and I believe I’ve watched it since. Some of it is likely to have become hugely dated, but it captured the self-involved teenage characters well.

* Moll Flanders (Wellington: Rialto). Robin Wright played the eponymous heroine, and it was all very period drama with a bit of grimness and gore thrown in. I recall very little about it aside that I found it passably entertaining.

* The People vs. Larry Flynt (Wellington: Embassy). This biopic of the Hustler impresario got a bunch of positive reviews at the time. I went to see it, as I did so many films, with my mother, which always leads to a little awkwardness, but for a film about a p0rn magnate, this was rather goofy and charming (even if Woody Harrelson did really capture something of the sleaziness of the man).

* Les Misérables (Wellington: Rialto). Obviously this was not the recent musical adaptation, but rather a French film based on the novel. I don’t think it had any singing in it at all, but then I don’t remember anything about it. It had a big French film star in the lead, but only subsequent searching just now has revealed to me that it was Jean-Paul Belmondo.

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