#know your place
And then it was headliner time. Weyes Blood came out onto the stage with Natalie Mering looking positively angelic in a long white dress. The first song was the aforementioned It's Not Just Me, It's Everybody which seems, like much of her And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow album, to be about the pandemic or more precisely the post-pandemic experience. When Natalie sings, in her beautiful voice, we can all relate to the mixed-up emotions in this song: "Living in the wake of overwhelming changes / We've all become strangers / Even to ourselves"
Alongside all this high-falutin' musical loveliness, Natalie Mering was also frank and funny in her repartee with the audience. Like most artists I've seen since the winding down of the pandemic, she talked about her happiness to be back out performing again and wittily acknowledged that she knows she talks in a goofy manner on stage and then plays melancholic, strange songs. Of course, that's fine with us. I've described her style as "Karen Carpenter singing a David Lynch movie" and I'll stand by that. After more fantastic songs massaged our ears - The Worst Is Done ( more pandemic comedown blues ), the almost-mainstream pop of Grapevine, and the crowd-pleasing Andromeda, Mering finished the set with the haunting Hearts Aglow... with her heart literally aglow:
I haven't posted anything about movies on here for ages so I'm going to do a quick rundown of the films I saw at the cinema last year. There were a lot of anniversary screenings of old classics in 2022, probably as a way to get bums on seats again after the empty cinemas of the bloody pandemic days, and also maybe an attempt to get Netflix-junkies off their arses. It was such a joy to get back to the cinemas again after all the uncertainties of the last few years. As Empire magazine put it, 2022 was "the year the world woke up". In the time-honoured, but pointless, tradition of TGW-S I'm going to talk about the movies I saw in reverse order, starting with the biggest and wettest blockbuster of the year:
Avatar: The Way of Water
James Cameron finally delivered his sequel to Avatar ( The Biggest Movie Of All Time!!! etc ) and took us back to the paradise planet of Pandora, where Jake and Neytiri - 10 years after the original story - were now raising a family and looking towards the future. Unfortunately that future included hordes of "sky-people" ( or humans as we're also known ) returning to Pandora for some payback after their previous ignominious defeat. The Sullys were forced to flee their arboreal home and head to the coast to try and join another tribe and fight off the mechanised might of the human invaders.
As ever with Cameron movies, the plot and themes weren't much more advanced than the average Disney cartoon but... the spectacle... oh, the spectacle! Seeing this in Imax 3D was just jaw-dropping: leaps and bounds ahead of the ( still bloody impressive ) first movie, Cameron now took us underneath the seas of Pandora to find a whole new aquatic world. Properly immersive as very few 3D films actually are, this movie made the audience feel totally surrounded by all the new fauna and flora that swam, swayed and darted throughout the frame. Every inch of the screen seemed to be filled with detail, with colourful creatures, with hidden dangers. And also with emotion, as Cameron piled on the agony and joy for the Sully family, even risking the demise of a newly-introduced but engaging character. It was all very string-pulling, mainstream entertainment... but no less wonderful for that. Sarah, Sophie and I all really enjoyed the movie and completely bought into the world that seemingly bubbled around us. A lot of people have been very snobbish about Avatar but I thought it was a monumental piece of film-making, a fantastic showcase for what cinema can be, and definitely something worth getting off your arse to go and see.
The Thing ( 40th anniversary )
From 2022 we time-warped back to 1982 and John Carpenter's masterpiece of paranoia, terror and dogs whose heads split open. As we all know, 40 years ago another, more cuddly alien ruled the box office ( "ouch!" ) and Carpenter's shape-changing monster movie was mostly dismissed as being too grim and downbeat. Of course, it's now regarded as a classic and it was cool to see it on the big screen again. ( I actually saw it back in the day as part of a double-bill with another remake, Paul Schrader's Cat People. Quite a night out! ) We've seen the movie countless times but it still hasn't lost its tentacled grip, and the restored picture was sharp enough that you could see every bodily fluid and gooey substance sprayed across the screen. "Whatever it is, it's weird and pissed off."
The Lost Boys ( 35th anniversary )
Another anniversary screening, another cult classic. The Lost Boys is of course the late Joel Schumacher's camp vamp movie starring a mullet-wearing Keifer Sutherland and other lesser lights of the Brat Pack era, as well as the always-excellent Dianne Wiest. It was one of the first films Sarah and I saw together ( in 1987! ) and remains a non-guilty pleasure to this day. It's silly, cheesy fun with endlessly quotable dialogue ( "You're a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire! Wait 'til Mom finds out!" ), some seriously homoerotic undertones, and a cast that are having a ball. We went to see this on Halloween and ran into Michael Myers who actually sat about two rows behind us. ( I think he'd probably seen Halloween Ends about three times that day and fancied a break... )
Nope ( which was what I said when I saw Michael Myers coming up the escalator! )
After being hugely impressed by small-screen viewings of Jordan Peele's first two movies, Get Out and Us, I knew I had to see his next offering at the cinema, no matter what. Nope had been preceded by an enigmatic ad campaign which suggested it was a "UFO movie" but not much beyond that. It was certainly tantalising and knowing that the UK's own Daniel Kaluuya was one of the stars made the film an even more exciting prospect. So, was it a "yep" or "nope" for Nope? It was certainly a visually stunning movie, Jordan Peele making the most of every inch of the widescreen frame, with some excellent performances. Kaluuya and Keke Palmer played brother and sister partners in a business which supplies horses to Hollywood movies and really made you believe in their relationship, often fractious but always loving. The Hollywood aspect was crucial as the film had a lot to say about people's appetites for spectacle, for getting that "perfect shot", and for what happens to people on the margins of the movie business, especially people of colour. The biggest problem was the pace. The film was often deathly slow and could have done with some judicious editing and maybe a bit more action. But, what was there was often breath-taking: the eerie sight of *something* darting through clouds above a deserted valley, a literal rain of blood, a primate TV star destroying a studio set and its occupants - so many indelible images. I'd still say Us is Peele's most successful, most affecting movie, but I'd give a qualified "yep" to his latest. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Robocop ( 35th anniversary )
Back to 1987 again, and this time also to a near-future Detroit to meet the future of law enforcement in Paul Verhoeven's Robocop. The same director's Total Recall is one of *the* quintessential 1980s movies and, while not quite on the same insane level, Robocop is still a lot of over-the-top fun. Savagely satirical ( "I'd buy that for a dollar!" ) and simultaneously gloriously stupid, Robocop remains hugely entertaining in its gonzo, balls-to-the-wall fashion. Lashings of the old ultra-violence, weapons-grade swearing, enough flying glass to re-glaze Crystal Palace and hilariously cynical villains. Oh, the villains. Robocop is a film that's in love with its bad guys: top 1980s character actors ( Miguel Ferrer, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith ) all vie to outdo each other as the meanest, nastiest hombres on the block. Scenery-chewing has never been such fun. All of which leaves the lead characters, played by Peter Weller and Nancy Allen, somewhat side-lined. Weller gives as good a performance as possible under his armour and prosthetics, trying to portray a good cop outrageously manipulated by the system into becoming a dehumanised walking weapon, but it's never really the focus of the film.
Thor: Love & Thunder
Another day, another Marvel movie. Although the young, 1970s version of me who grew up reading Marvel comics would have thought a seemingly-endless supply of movies based on those characters would be nirvana ( or Asgard ), the 2023 version of me is starting to get bored of them. Heresy, right? For the most part, no. Most of these MCU films have become so generic in terms of plot and character, and the overwhelming CGI slug-fests lose their charm after the first dozen or so. I really enjoyed Taika Waititi's last Thor thilm... sorry, "film"... Ragnarok, which was broadly spectacular, stuffed with great moments and lines, and had exceptional villains in Cate Blanchett's Hela and Tom Hiddleston's Loki. This latest adventure, while featuring a sterling performance from Natalie Portman as an arse-kicking female thunder god, suffered from a surfeit of lame, would-be-ironic humour which undercut any drama or excitement and just became irritating. Thor himself is now a parodic shadow of the original movie character and, although Chris Hemsworth's charisma just about saves it, maybe it's time for this Nordic demi-god to shuffle off to Valhalla...
Everything Everywhere All At Once
While I'm on the subject of Marvel movies, one of the better examples of this recently was Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. This hasn't made my list because I watched it on Disney+ but it was a worthy sequel to the first Doc movie and at least went a few more interesting places, courtesy of director Sam Raimi. One thing it didn't really accomplish though was to show us a convincing multiverse, mad or otherwise. Luckily, true multiversal madness could be seen in Everything Everywhere All At Once, the latest movie from Daniels, aka directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan. This starts off as a relatively mundane, but engrossing, story of an Asian-American family ( the legendary Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu ) dealing with the immigrant experience, income tax, divorce and the generation gap. But then it gets weird. Really weird. Yeoh's Evelyn is contacted by an alternate version of her husband who claims she's really a powerful warrior who must unite other versions of herself to save the multiverse. As Evelyn is forced to find her place in this new universe, and find a way to both pay her taxes and save her marriage, the film warps from absurdist comedy to all-out action thriller to a moving meditation on love and family. It's a mind-boggling, dazzling journey, quite unlike anything else I've seen for a long time. Michelle Yeoh gives the performance of her lifetime, making Evelyn a multi-faceted, living, breathing character who convinces as much as a down-trodden laundrette owner as she does as a kick-ass heroine. It's certainly refreshing to see a middle-aged Asian woman taking on such a role in a Hollywood movie, and now she's Oscar-nominated too, which is excellent news. Definitely my film of the year... but... where's the UK DVD?
Another film I'd eagerly anticipated was Robert Eggers' follow-up to The Witch and The Lighthouse, both fine, idiosyncratic movies which made a big impression on me. Unfortunately, The Northman wasn't in their league. Eggers' Viking epic, loosely based on a legend that inspired Hamlet, was big, brash and brutal and often boring. The trailers had promised an action-packed revenge saga, but had looked cliche-ridden and I'd hoped for some twists or nuance to counteract the hackneyed situations. That didn't happen. Alexander Skarsgard rampaged his way through the film, fighting, killing, burning villages, burping and farting, but I really couldn't care about him or his quest. It all just felt hollow. The film certainly looked impressive with some beautiful cinematography, courtesy of Jarin Blaschke, but the movie was, to quote Macbeth not Hamlet, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The Godfather ( 50th anniversary )
50 years? Crazy. Any chance to see The Godfather on the big screen has to be taken so, in this case, I drove over to Hereford to meet James and we hit the local Odeon. He'd never seen the film at the cinema before and, like I'd been before, he was blown away by just how masterful Coppolla's magnum opus looks when viewed as originally intended. The Godfather still stands as my favourite film of all time and it was great to share the movie experience with James. I wrote about my last big screen visit with the Corleone family way back in 2009 which you can read here, should you want to, of course. It's not an offer you can't refuse. Nobody's going to put a horse's head in your bed. Honest.