After all, it's just a ride….


Interstellar (2014) Final Trailer…..

Whilst I feel a little exasperated at even writing the phrase ‘final trailer’ – so this is where we’ve come to with modern movie marketing is it? – I’ll let the general excitement overwhelm my antipathy;

Industry wise its kinda controversial he’s releasing it in IMAX only for a few days before it launches in regular theatres, and Netflix or whatever your copies of The Right Stuff now while you can. With the new Fincher released tomorrow the final quarter of the year is turning out quite nicely isn’t it? I think I’ll etc…….

Inherent Vice (2015) Trailer

After the long wait it’s finally here, the first filmed adaptation of Thomas Pymchon, like, ever;

It screens at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, suffice to say expectations are stratospheric. Looking good, that trailer made me laugh three times which is more than most comedies manage in 100 minutes…..

Maps To The Stars (2014)

maps1‘Burn Hollywood Burn’ is the mantra of David Cronenberg’s new film, a corrosive glance at the denizens and degradations of the beautifully adored and venomously vacuous. Working from a script from renowned Los Angeles wordsmith Bruce Wagner Maps To The Stars plants another seed of satirical savagery in the mould of Altman’s The Player, the Coen’s Barton Fink, Vincette Minelli’s The Bad & The Beautiful or the more recent Tropic Thunder, biting that hands that feeds with a filmmaker reveling in the tortured tribulations of Tinseltown. What sets this film apart from its predecessors is Cronenberg’s gleeful unpeeling of the rotting core at the heart of the film business, pitching the entire gamut of mythmakers as poisonous narcissists, with every layer – agents, actors, directors, executives, producers – all squatting in some Dantesque sun bleached Gehenna, willing to sell their very soul to prosper in the city of fallen angels.  When it comes to DNA strands of Hollywood shining a dark mirror into its own festering conscience Maps To The Stars is lensed in the tragic and tyrannical mould of Mullholland Drive, rather than the flippant mocking of Sullivan’s Travels.

maps2The film follows a half dozen characters as their careers and lives intertwine in a nest of serpentine egoism. New starry eyed arrival Agatha (Mia Wasikowski, effortlessly isolated) arrives in LA, afflicted with mysterious burn scars she begins a remote romance with chauffeur cum aspiring actor and screenwriter Jerome (Robert Pattinson). Jerome strategically takes a real shine to her once she lands a job as personal assistant to Havana Segrand (a frantic Julianne Moore, ironically likely to get an Oscar nomination next February), a highly strung fading star who desperately needs a starring role to resurrect her faltering career. Her masseuse / psychiatrist / Jungian primal screen therapist is the slithering Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a shuddering salesman whose hollow metaphysical platitudes are as desolate as the minimalist décor of his Beverley Hills mansion. His wife Christina (Olivia Williams) closely manages the career of their brat-child star Benjie  (Evan Bird) who is wrestling with a rehab stint and being raised as a thoroughly hateful brat, nervously assuring the studio that he’s clean as he signs up for the latest instalment of the family friendly franchise Bad Babysitter. All are haunted by ghosts of the past, some of which are less incorporeal than their distressed mental states seem to suggest, promising a biblical reckoning in the modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.

maps3What a bunch of absolute charmers, as sour as a widowed lemon grove it doesn’t get more acidic than this, as Cronenberg turns the bile up to choking proportions in this scabrous, ruthless vision of the contemporary film industry in moral disarray. There is not one human trait which could charitably be described as  unmotivated in Maps To The Stars, as the venal, self obsessed dwellers discard or exploit their brood with callous indifference, a cycle of abuse which has spun for numerous nepotistic generations. Like much of Cronenbergs pate period work this is another frigid film, a coolly measured dissection of the entertainment world’s body politic, neatly dissembled in his sterile dissection dish. Whilst it is clearly a comedy with a pitch black heart it is not exactly the sort of laugh-riot which prompts rolling in the aisles, offering more grimacing grunts of approval at the observations and activities of these loathsome individuals (seriously, the Bieber alike and all his peers could die in a particularly prolonged fire and the rest of humanity would rejoice in this cleansing annihilation of their gene pool) before in the final act the moral abyss which has only been grazed through Wagner’s supernatural leaning script plunges deep into squalid violence and taboo bruising sexuality.

maps4Cronenberg has built an impressive cult of long devoted accomplices over his four decade career, working with his wife Denise on costume duties, Howard Shore 0n muted musical arrangements (well, muted in comparison to his more mainstream franchise gigs), production designer Carol Spier, longtime editor Ronald Sanders (who has cut every one of his film since Scanners in 1981)  and digitally attuned cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. There’s a distinctive, flattened dynamic range to his films which like a Fincher composition can be spotted at a million pixellated paces, moulding a very flat, shallow-focus  plane which is carefully cut around his principals modulated performances – Wasikowski is particularly modulated in this film for a character with a particularly painful history. This precipitates that cold, distant feel to his films which eerily complements his downplaying of emotional reverence, of not yielding to an audiences hunger for empathy and identification, gestating his human subjects as cogs in some self replicating machine whom follow their impregnated motions within society.

maps6This spartan approach indicates little in the way of being pushed into how to think, of what he’s trying to ‘say’ in his movies, an aesthetic which permits individual floodgates of meaning and musings in the eye of the beholder. This failure to commit leaves a lingering and slightly hollow taste to his work, a slightly disquieting feeling of something missing as the mechanistic plots arc through their predetermined movements – like Cosmopolis, A History Of Violence and much of the last two decades of work its abundantly clear where the tale will end from a very early vantage point. Nevertheless some DNA strands emerge between the mind and the body, this being Cronenberg the film has a rather ghoulish fascination with bodily functions which are not always easy to stomach, the violence for the most part remains at a minimum aside from a few incendiary incidents. Maps To The Stars is Cronenberg’s cartography of Hollywood as a land wreathed in incest and vacuous vanity, haunted by ghosts and infected with demons;

London Film Festival 2014 – Prelude One

So here’s a quick round-up of the first weeks activities, I think I’m going to be a little more discerning for the next fortnight . An eclectic bunch as always, beginning with a French translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses transplated to a modern day dress by irrepressible auteur Christophe Honoré;

Something a little more up my alley, or should that be down my caverns? Erm, well, ugly language aside this Spanish take on The Descent is another claustrophobic horror, not for the faint hearted;

This was quite vibrant and original, being in the original native language and a few surprises up its well muscled sleeve;

America seems to be shifting into a Stockholm syndrome phase of th war on terror with Camp X-Ray, which is somewhat sympathetic with the terrorists;

Well, if we needed proof that critics are a perverted sort then here’s the evidence, as Peter Strickland’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to Berberian Sound Studio was the first ‘sold-out’ press screening of the festival. Why perverted? Well the film concerns the S&M relationship between two lesbian lovers, framed in the manner of a 1970’s Jess Franco sexploitation flick – that plot summary got ‘em out of the woodwork. Strangely there is no trailer yet, but here is some commentary from TiFF to whet your whistle, as it were. I liked it as with Berberian it was exquisitely observed with a some amusing sequences, but there ain’t much going on beneath the cinephile surface;

And finally what I can confidently predict as one of the best films of the year, a seething interplay on Scandinavian noir, American crime films and Chinese cultural artefacts;

It’s a bit like the Tour De France around here as I now have two rest days before returning to the fray, but with a new Cronenberg in theatres there is no rest for the wicked……

Blackhat (2015) Trailer

What’s that, a new Michael Mann movie? Yes please, don’t mind if I do;

I’m guessing most hacker types don’t look like Chris Hemsworth but fuck it, this looks awesome….

BFI Sci-Fi Season – Days Of Fear & Wonder Prelude

orangeSo much to see, and not enough pathetic hours in the day, therein lies the problem oh my brothers. Why didn’t my agents advise that not only has Menagerie favourite James Ellroy got a new book out, but that he’s also popping over for a reading and a chat in November? (I now have tickets). We’re only a mere two days into London Film Festival revision (a patchy start, rescued by one of the films of the year which I apprehended today) and someone is clearly screwing with me, as the October programme for the long-awaited BFI Science Fiction season also warped in this morning – as expected it’s densely packed with pure, unfettered zarjaz. If you understand that reference then you’ll understand why I’m excited about seeing the world premiere of this, if my measly circuits can withstand the thrill power overload;

Ah Tharg, you merciless slave driving fascist you – I wonder if he’ll teleport in for the screening? It may amuse you to hear that there wasn’t enough slots in the booking form to complete everything I wanted to see, I’m not going to list them all here as we must preserve some sense of mystery, but here’s a brief flavour and just remember that this is only the first month of a three-month schedule;

Presented in its unmolested 35mm original by the looks of things, I’ve always wanted to revisit this on the big screen, a fine excuse to speculate on Mr. Lucas career had he not been diverted by some childish space opera. Now being a well educated citizen you’d think that having already covered core texts such as Dune, Brazil, The Terminator, Zardoz and others that I’d be well placed to get a quantum leap head start on this season wouldn’t you, but there is still so much to see;

I’m not even factoring in the numerous talks and genre discussion they’ve also got planned, I might try and squeeze some of those in if feasible. As long predicted they are getting Gary Lockwood and Kier Dullea over for a screening of 2001, I’ll be taking another draft of the old Moloko plus to sharpen me up for the evening and they’ve also got William Gibson over to host a talk on his favourite SF movies – Jesus fucking Christ on a bike land-speeder. It’s actually got to the point where a special screening of Primer with a Q&A with Shane Carruth has been expelled from my ticket application, as other priorities must take precedence. Roll on November when the season shifts to the ominous sounding theme of ‘Contact’, and we’ll see who they’ve roused from hyper-sleep for that Alien 35th anniversary screening…..until then I’ll be sticking with man’s best friend;

RIP George Sluzier

Whilst he didn’t have muich of a career outside of this claustrophobic genre favourite, the terrifying impact that the close of this film made safely entombs him in the Menagerie hall of fame. RIP George Suzier, watch the movie if you haven’t (ignore the US remake of course), apparently Stanley was a big fan;

Yeah I know, that trailer is pretty terrible and doesn’t really give any idea of what is to come, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. I wonder if that final River Phoenix picture Dark Blood ever got commercially released after he reassembled it for that film festival a few years back?………

Salomé (2013) & Wilde Salomé (2011); Jessica Chastain & Al Pacino In Conversation

sal1Boo-YA‘, ‘my father made him an offer he couldn’t refuse‘, ‘say hello to my little friend‘, ‘I’ll bet she’s got a GREAT ASS‘ etc. etc. – when it comes to the diminutive Al Pacino his larger than life performances have certainty penetrated the popular movie lexicon. The BFI can be a fickle mistress, as a long-standing member she has treated me to numerous memorable events from the gorgeous glitterati to the cult movie caverns over the years, but it can be something of a crap shoot to not only get a seat from a successful ticket ballot, but even get notified of a ballot in the first place. It’s a curious thing, I’ve lost count of how many events they’ve added at the last-minute (the Linklater Boyhood Q&A and Nicole Kidman Q&A being the most recent) yet failed to notify members through the numerous communication channels we have available today, or maybe the spam folders on my devices are simply fucking with my diary – I dunno. In any case Twitter came through for me this time, unsurprisingly this event sold out immediately months ago with one assumes the theatrical as well as the movie elite of London fighting for tickets to see big Al in the flesh, but a fellow colleague discreetly squawked yesterday that a couple of seats had gone back on sale so I successfully swooped in and secured a seat – back of the net.  Before we begin here is the blurb which should give you some context to the event.

sal2So moving quite significantly out of my comfort zone to the play itself I guess, the first part of the gala was a capture of the Pacino and Chastain starring resurrection  of Salome from the Wadsworth theatre in Los Angeles (directed by Estelle Parsons), the second a documentary he made back in 2011 on earlier runs of the piece which has been intermittently screened  around Europe over the past few years – a quick trawl of YouTube shows screenings in Dublin and Venice. Culled from Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play in a single act it recants in Biblical design the titular temptress stepdaughter (Chastain) of Herod Antipas (Pacino), a porcelain skinned femme fatale who requests the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter as a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils, much to the disgust of her incestuous angled stepfather and the secret delight of her mother Herodias. The documentary which amusingly is some twenty minutes longer than the play details the artistic wrestling of not only bringing the play to the stage, the backstage rehearsals and creative struggle, but also serves as a primer on the life and work of Oscar Wilde and his controversial history. Not content to maintain two strands Pacino also decided to direct the film version of the play so Wilde Salome follows three strands, his simultaneous filming of recalling his 1996 directorial debut Looking For Richard. The limit of my Wilde knowledge is a GCSE syllabus reading of The Importance Of Being Earnest and like any vaguely educated simpleton a smattering appreciation of some of his great one-liners (I heard his Paris death-bed quip ‘Either that wallpaper goes…or I do’ again recently in some unrelated context and ‘laughed out loud’ as the kids are saying these days) so I came to the play cold, I can’t say it particularly grabbed me with the suggested fiery passion but the documentary was a far more successful endeavour.

sal3The staging of the play is in modern dress on a single set and it certainly smoulders with Pacino’s and Chastain’s charismatic power (although this was filmed when she was a total unknown and had only graduated from Julliard a few weeks earlier which is just insane), with a Shakespearean Iambic pentameter I have to say I found the direction and material less than engaging. This is my problem no doubt, as a product of the UK grammar school system I surprise myself at still quite liking Shakespeare on the rare occasions I see a performance or watch a movie translation, but the rather cluttered style of close-ups and choppy editing did the performances no favours, and the simple subject matter of corrosive lust, its overwhelming defeat of mortal boundaries and quelling of human decency didn’t particularly ignite other than during a few line readings. Pacino plays Herod in a quite flippant and whimsical fashion (even generating a few laughs), playfully leering at his stepdaughter as she coyly manipulates his immoral Old Testament affections, Chastain a unruly flame haired succubi with a rather inscrutable drive to demand such an unforgiveable sin – the execution of the mortal who baptised Jesus. Again it’s my failure but I find it difficult to fully connect with this style of material sometimes, I cant appreciate the characterisation or the characters journey in such a artificially enforced environment, and the drab and linear direction didn’t particularly punch proceedings up, cinematically speaking.

salome3Much more successful was the documentary which provided a self-deprecating, behind-the-scenes and not always flattering portrait of Pacino, of the chaotic turbulence of juggling a play, a film and a documentary straddling the former two at the same time, as well as providing a primer on the life and work of Wilde. This at least gave a feel for how a production is mounted and the associated pressures from a financial and artistic standpoint, and as someone who knew very little about Wilde other than his persecution for ‘sexual deviancy’ and his rather sad and lonely death if the purpose was to educate further on his legacy then mission accomplished. It’s kinda interesting that popular academic thought seems to agree that Wilde wasn’t persecuted for his homosexuality per se, the Victorian authorities felt he was much more dangerous as an outspoken socialist with a subversive anti-establishment credo, smearing him as a degenerate on moral grounds in order to eradicate his increasingly popular following – the more things change, the more they stay the same eh?

sal4So finally we alight on the main purpose of the gala from a Menagerie perspective, to see the aged Michael Corleone / Tony Montana / Vincent Hanna / Sonny Wortzik / Frank Serpico / Ricky Roma / Kevin Spacey DELETE AS APPLICABLE in the petite flesh. Well, unlike some of these starry events this had a great atmosphere which Pacino revelled in, he’s quite evidently a natural performer who adores being in front of a crowd, completely engaging, exuberant and amusing who took on the audience and Stephens Fry’s (actually pretty good and well-considered) questions with an excited interest. Much of the queries concerned his love of the theatre, of Wilde and the play itself rather than any movie related anecdotes, but it was all mustered through with such an infectious sense of enthusiasm that although I can’t recall any specific moment to share you’ll have to trust me that this was an entertaining chat. Unsurprisingly Jessica Chastain didn’t get quite as much attention but she seemed engaged and thrilled to be part of the event, recalling how stunned she still is for being cast as a total unknown against such a powerhouse cast and somehow managing to hold her own both on stage and screen in her first filmed performance. It’s not the most original opinion in the world and it certainly won’t detonate a furious critical debate but I consider Pacino’s turn as the incrementally corrupted head of the all-powerful Corleone clan as one of the greatest, if not the greatest film performance in history, a very different internalized movie performance from a theatrical requirement, it’s all in the eyes and identify me a better scene than this which provides such a palpable sense of terror and resigned menace percolating on a characters face.

pacinoAll in all a long day spent at the BFI but ultimately a fruitful one, and very much a vision of things to come as now we settle in for a gruelling schedule at the Southbank. I’ve got ten films programmed over the next four days alone (I’m taking Friday ‘off’ to concentrate on some other priorities), it’s a pretty darn eclectic mix of international cinema ranging from France to China, from Guantánamo to Palestine, from Spain to New Zealand and beyond, not to mention they’ve also erected an electronic portfolio of screeners this year. I’m not sure what we’ll have access to from the exhausting portfolio of 248 films but like any committed purist I will of course be making every effort to see the festival selected movies as god intended – on the big screen. Publication is embargoed on much of the material for at least a fortnight so I’ll be busy scribbling behind the scenes for Sound On Sight, I might try to throw up some trailers of the material I’m catching sans commentary just to keep things ticking over at the Menagerie. So this successful event was an appetising little aperitif of the feast of things to come for October, keep me in your celluloid prayers gentle reader as once again we charge into another long campaign;

Big Eyes (2014) Trailer

Good grief, it is possible, is it even remotely possible that Tim Burton can actually disentangle himself from the suffocating CGI laquer, the gothic Disneyfication and tedious scenery chomping of his acting avatar partner in crime and actually produce his first interesting movie of the millennium? Maybe, just…maybe;

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

most1 The catastrophic intelligence failures of the early 21st century are the gloomy dossier of A Most Wanted Man, the latest screen adaption from master espionage scribe John Le Carré’s murky universe of drained operatives, fathomless motives and fragmented nationalism. When a suspiciously furtive Chechen extremist Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) is detected in Hamburg alarm begins to whine, but exhausted spymaster Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman, the dictionary definition of crumpled) urges his superiors to stand back and let him shadow this new asset, assuring them that he could lead them to richer targets. Local CIA handler Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) convinces the powers that be to grant Gunther’s dishevelled  request, as Issa’s purpose in Hamburg becomes more mysterious after he is retained by local human-rights activist Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) who takes a protective shine to his tortured history. Under the observation of Bachmann’s off-the-books operation Karpov seeks to retain a lucrative inheritance from the vault of shady local banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe) for purposes or purpose unknown, with pressure to prevent another atrocity all the chess pieces in the agency shadow-play must grapple with their blood streaked past and previous betrayals….

most2After the funereal atmosphere of his bio-pic debut Control and the existential Eurocrime frigidity of the mis-firing The American I’m happy to report that  A Most Wanted Man is videographer turned director Anton Corbijn’s best film to date, a sparse complexion of brooding angst and decrepit morals soaked in a sordid neon-lit Hamburg. Like most video directors graduating to features the film has a distinctive and carefully considered colour palette, with a fine line in architectural affinity to the characters credo’s and the plots symbolic secretions, it’s his most assured work to date which maintains a mood and pallor befitting of its rather squalid nerve centre. The prestigious cast is uniformly excellent with Robin Wright on near-perfect form, for a while I was worrying that Rachael McAdams was going to blow the entire operation but as her part grows and becomes entangled in machinations beyond her comprehension her presence rose to the occasion. It’s a film for adults which does little to pander to wandering attention spans as the plot snakes through the competing bureaus of various agencies, human hubris and pride eclipsing any shared ideological purpose in a recently partitioned world, as the threat of Islamic terror is less important than the settling of old scores or of preserving one’s fiefdom and operational prestige. It’s a brave new confusingly interconnected world, where the old certainties of right versus left, of communist versus capitalist disintegrates under the pressure of never failing on such a globally visible level again.

most3If you prefer your clandestine celluloid festooned with exotic Caribbean locations, seductive supermodels, lethal gadgets or slumming international character actors adopting a lucrative villainous pay-check then you’d best wait for the next Bond which supposedly starts shooting at the end of the year, as with Le Carré’s celebrated Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy this evisceration of the world of espionage is as glamorous as a used syringe in a Dresden schoolyard.  It’s a film concerned with cloak and dagger tradecraft, about shadowing targets through gloomy rain-swept streets, about levering intelligence and blackmail through wiretaps and sexual honey-traps, of traversing a labyrinth of murky motives and concealed concerns. The moral and mental toils that such work weighs upon individuals is shaded in the shielded performances and oppressive cinematography, with no one to trust and potential unintended consequences making the urge to do the right thing as dangerous as letting potential assets to evade the grid and disappear into the background chatter of civilian life. It’s not a film obliquely concerned with the modern spectres of Snowden or Assange and their nuclear revelations, as with other Le Carré material the film is chiefly concerned with the environmental and emotional infrastructure of the spy-world as is slowly bleeds its operatives of their humanity and ideological purity, compromising their  humanity under a crushing bureaucratic dirge.

most4Naturally the entire film has a particularly dense sad and gloomy cloud hanging over it beyond its narrative nodes, as it is the last assignment of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman smuggled back to the editing labs before his passing earlier in the year. Sure we’ll be seeing him in the remaining instalments of the Hunger Games franchise but in a much reduced, supporting character role, in A Most Wanted Man the film pivots on his desperate attempt to atone for past betrayals and preserve a shard of decency in this shadowy world of feints, subterfuge, and petty poisonous politics, he (unlike the novel) is the central figure of the tale, the moral nexus suspended in the twilight of understanding more than he appreciates and less than he suspects. Knowing the performance was crafted under the aegis of a heroin habit only gives it a meta-level melody, the character himself is an exhausted and isolated figure, with cowled eyes and three days stubble growth he’s a disembodied shade whose forward momentum is powered only by an unholy concoction of scotch and cigarettes. Look out for a terrific closing track from Tom Waits which appropriately croons over the end titles, a sequence I sat through the entirety of as one final, modest tribute to one of the finest actors of his generation – this is quite a beautifully disarrayed swan song;


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 516 other followers