Shelter; Safely in the Cinema

By Jo Phillips

The cinema is a great place for every emotional release: a place where no one can see you sobbing or notice when you fall off the seat laughing, a place where it’s too dark for them to notice the shock and fear written all over your face.  It is a perfect cocoon of warm darkness in which to explore the variety of stories on offer and to navigate the variety of human emotions via the medium of film.

So what is out this September?

Lucky starring Harry Dean Stanton

It feels like Director John Carroll Lynch created this film  (written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja ) as a love letter to Stanton. A wonderful film which honours in many ways the life and work of the great actor.  There are signs and metaphors throughout which act as a signal to those who are familiar with the actor’s work, like shots of him walking alone through a desert town so reminiscent of his long, long walks in the film Paris Texas by David Lynch (watch out for his delightful cameo along with other great names such as Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt).  Harry Dean Stanton died September 15 2017, so never saw the film get its release.

The film is set within a desert town, one that seems unremarkable (and purposefully never named) and yet all the town’s inhabitants know each other.  Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton’s character) is a 90-year-old man, whom everyone greets as he passes on his daily routine of walking to the diner for his morning coffee. At 90 he has his routine set according to his way of doing things, like his morning exercises or his customary seat in the local bar he frequents each night.

He knows at this point that his life is coming to a close, not that he stops smoking; he has no intention of changing his habits of a lifetime. Yet the film sees him challenged by circumstance, starting with the disappearance of President Roosevelt, a tortoise (belonging to a very distressed Howard who is played by David Lynch).

Over the period of 88 minutes, we see multiple moments in the life of Lucky. A long-retired World War II veteran, with many acquaintances and a few friends with whom he is often short, sharp and impatient. He is not a fan of change; it’s his routine that gives shape to his days. It’s at night where we see the most exposed Lucky we will ever see.  It’s at the bar, sitting on his regular bar side seat next to his friend Howard, that he philosophizes with other patrons and the owners about morality, religion, game shows and life in general. But Lucky is no Socrates. 

The core of the story is reflected in the images of Harry Dean Stanton moving at a tortoise’s pace through his daily activities, and via the banter between each and every character, in a reflection of death, of health, and of loneliness. It’s about the choices, the roads taken or not taken. It seems Lucky has regrets, but they are never fully exposed and this is reflected in his crabby exterior and in his old-man-debates (more like irritated monologues of his belief system which he is too old to change). But it is Lucky’s atheism which ultimately shadows his defiant attitude towards his approaching death.

Most touching is the friendship between Lucky and Howard (David Lynch) as of course, Lynch directed Stanton in many films. It’s beautifully touching watching these two playing old friends. 



Lucky as a film? Beautiful; a life in contemplation, whether it be that of Lucky or of Harry Dean Staton.  It is one of those films at the end of which you don’t quite want to leave the comfort of the warm, cosy cinema and go out into the harsh sunlight of reality.

The Man From Mo’Wax

For something else which, rather than contemplating life, gives a somewhat uncomfortable slice of reality, see The Man From Mo’Wax: a film about the rollercoaster life of musician and DJ James Lavelle.

The film is an often painful journey, charting the life and career of the DJ, music producer and, his pioneering record label Mo’Wax.  It starts with his rocket rise to fame (as a teenager aged 18 when he launched his record label) with the seminal album Psyence Fiction by UNKLE: a collaboration with DJ Shadow and a host of others, many of whom appear in the film, including Ian Brown, Thom Yorke, Badly Drawn Boy, Futura. Grandmaster Flash and 3D of Massive Attack.

From the heights of success to the depths of losing his wife and daughter; from album collaborations and broken friendships to failed follow-on albums; it’s a no-holes-barred deeply frank film. It’s the story of a boy in the music industry who learns the hard way how to be a man in the music industry.  It also asks a difficult question in terms of the world of not just the music industry but of the creative industry as a whole: who does what? who owns what? what is a creative director? and how can you clearly quantify the monetary worth of any individual’s creative contribution?

For anyone who loves the album Psyence Fiction, who saw Lavelle DJ when he was 14 or wants to work within any creative industry, this film is an absolute must.  Most of all, it’s about collaborations of egos and fame and money and how that can lead us down a road to massive success or massive failure, or even just getting dropped off somewhere in between the two.

The Man From Mo’Wax will be in selected cinemas from August 31st nationwide. It will also be available on digital download from September 10th and the BFI will release a numbered, 3-disc limited edition Blu-ray/DVD. 

If however you prefer the warm comfort of your own sofa and curtained living room then why not watch:

An Actor Prepares

After suffering a heart attack, world-famous, hard-drinking actor Atticus Smith (Jeremy Irons)  is forced to drive cross-country with his estranged son (who testified against him in his parents’ divorce) on a trip to his daughter’s wedding. For health reasons he is not allowed to fly and is forced into the constraints of a car with his son, with whom he has a gruff if not volatile relationship.

This fictional Hollywood idol is a lecherous, obnoxious drunkard who, after receiving a lifetime award (having done coke in the toilets), collapses. Irons gets the character just so right in his role as an obnoxious actor. It’s not a role we are used to seeing him in, let alone him doing comedy, but he carries it well alongside his son Adam played by Jack Huston.  Adam is having his own crisis as well as having to deal with a father who clearly antagonises him, because of relationship problems with his wife about a misunderstanding regarding vasectomies.

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As they journey across the States, and of course get up to the usual buddy road-movie capers, Attikus is learning his lines for his next film in which he plays the character of G-D (of course). This is a somewhat formulaic but warm-hearted film which raises a smile, so is a perfect Sunday afternoon cinema choice once the sun is no longer a bright blazer high in the sky.

Coming to Digital HD on demand from  3rd September

Or, if you are in need of a true classic then spend an afternoon with:

Witness for the Prosecution 

Billy Wilder’s theatrical courtroom drama is full of twists and turns, fabulous outfits and wonderful characters, as it’s a film version of the play by Agatha Christie.  When it first came out in 1957 it was nominated for six Academy Awards and was reportedly praised by Christie herself as the best adaptation of her work she had ever seen.

When a wealthy widow is found murdered, her married suitor, Leonard Vole, is accused of the crime. Vole’s only hope for acquittal is the testimony of his wife… but his airtight alibi shatters when she gives her own account of events.

Charles Laughton plays the master barrister while Tyronne Powers plays the accused murderer and Marlene Dietrich is wonderful as the duplicitous wife.  This is wonderfully dark yet humorous, camp and genius cinema at its black-and-white best. Worthy of nothing but a really good weekend spot of home cinema, when you can relax and be drawn into Wilder’s craft. This is the kind of thing autumnal weekends were made for.

 The Masters of Cinema Series presents Wilder’s masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series from 10 September 2018. Eureka Entertainment.

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