After all, it's just a ride….


You lose, Space Cadet….

This is retroactively awesome, good to see the classic Night Of The Comet in there;

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) Trailer

Hmm, it’s been quite a while since we’ve been terrified by a good old fashioned slasher picture, then this cropped up today;

It’s screening at TiFF and the cult strand of the LFF, not a bad pedigree through associated with the fiends behind American Horror Story which is pure hilarious evil. It’s also not just a remake of a previous cut but designed to be a long festering sequel, this could be fun……

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966)

gbuiThere are two kinds of people in the world my friend, the bastards who adore Sergio Leone’s third instalment in his hugely admired and incredibly influential dollars trilogy and the bastards who don’t. Lazily cantering across widescreen cinemas as the summer of love was promoting the sporting of flowers in one’s hair the acrid widescreen cinematography of Tonino Delli Colli was exploding the romantic myth of the noble and romantic ‘West’, of hardworking men and stalwart woman conquering the wilderness in gingham dresses and sun weathered dustcoats, as even a cursory reading of the real American expansion of the 19th century history reveals a picture more Deadwood than  Delmer Daves. Of all Leone’s wonderful films this has always been my favourite, sure the purists celebrate Once Upon A Time In The West as one of the greatest Westerns ever made, precisely because its primary concern are with ‘the West’, with its elemental myths and themes of progress being the hallmark of civilisation, of man conquering the wilderness and erecting  technological and social structure to tame a primal nature, of Henry Fonda’s career best inversion of his noble screen persona into the sapphire blue eyes of a psychopath who murders children. Well, sure enough partner we’ll lasso that movie one day as it a monumental film, but I’ve always had a soft spot between the eyes for The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, and the prospect of catching this in all its digitally restored glory at the Hackney Picturehouse a few weekend’s ago was like Eastwood’s supernatural precision – not to be missed.

gbu1For me the entire dollars trilogy – 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars, 1965’s A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad & The Ugly serve as a buttress between cinema old and new, pilfering from the Samurai epics of Kurosawa of the previous decade and prefiguring with the similar stoic superhuman warriors of action movies to come – Ahnoldt, Sly, Van Damage and all the rest, although their return to our screens seem to have financially exhausted it’s hollow-point magazine. Other than sheer movie enjoyment of a terrific cast of characters being corralled through a great story one of the first observations I had when revisiting this movie was structural, it is clearly an action film which happens to take place in a Western genre fulcrum, but the character introductions and distinct phases moving through encounter to encounter to legendary finale is kinetic cinema all the way. In a sweltering late 19th century frontier three ruthless men are thrown into a shifting jigsaw of uneasy partnerships as they all seek to pilfer some buried gold, each given an assignation which determines their thematic character. Amusingly, as only in Leone’s cruel & morally bankrupt universe can a man who guns down roughly three dozen victims, who indifferently betrays his partner to die in the desert and who regularly defrauds decent folk of thousands of dollars through his inventive bounty hunter reward scam be our presumed hero – Clint Eastwood in his iconic ‘man with no name’ role as The Good. Lee Van Cleef is never better as the venom eyed rattlesnake The Bad, his leathery skin baking under a ruthless leather carapace, an indifferent killer who slays with a nonchalant indifference. But the film is clearly the sadly recently departed Eli Wallach’s in the form of Tuco, the unfairly maligned The Ugly as he really gets the most screen time and anything resembling a back story or purpose in this blistering bathetic world, a scumbag among degenerates with no secret heart of gold or at least one that he hasn’t violently purloined from the local orphanage.

 gbu2Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo is really what the cinema is all about, image and sound crafting characters as legendary figures, their faces as inscrutable and granite as the monument valley edifices which shadow their murderous zeal for gold. Like his countryman Fellini the maestro Sergio Leone casts for expressive faces which weather an aura of the grotesque and twisted , a world built on treachery and cruelty baking under the unyielding frontier sun. It’s not often you get not one, not two but three terrific central characters in a movie, and sure they are cartoonish caricatures in one sense without any depth of psychological compulsion, but they all live and breathe on the screen as the genre cyphers they are intended to be, as the plot moves from one inventive twist on the genre’s romantic idealism after another. Care to see a proud frontier family carefully tending and tilling the land? Well sure, but then we’ll gun them down in ruinous cold-blood.  Heck, even the forces of authority, the soldiers and generals of the civil war which rages around the margins of the picture are itinerant drunks or gold bedazzled wretches, making Tuco and Blondie as the ‘heroes’ as at least their greed is obvious, unapologetic and unmotivated. Just having three characters bounce off each other is a screenwriting oddity these days when one of the triangle points would be sublimated with a love interest, the hero protagonist and villain antagonist being the positive and negative charge of the movie, if as Schrader remarks action (as in what characters do, not what they say) is character then we quite clearly  – the inelegant yet skilled buffoon, the stoic superman, the calm and crafty serpent.

gbu5The film is action packed and there’s not much in the way of waste throughout the three-hour trek, although this was a screening of the recently re-mastered ‘extended’ cut which crowbars in a few extra scenes (the original international release with a restored 14 minutes of footage) which doesn’t particularly amount too much other than foreshadowing a few of Tuco’s Mexican crew who don’t last very long. Having enjoyed these films immensely as a kid seeing them again one is immediately struck by just how brutal they are, this frontier is an absolute moral and ethical wasteland and each and every character in Leone’s world is driven by either avarice or vengeance, with the possible exception of Tuco’s priestly brother and even he comes across as a little haughtily superior and gets a whack in the chops for his saintly demeanour. The compositions and breath-taking scope of the movie gets a wonderful digital scrub, they seem to have retained just enough gradients and grain to not sanitize the movie and bleach its vintage, it retains a dark and grubby leathery demeanour which assimilates the covetous tone of the action perfectly. I don’t have a great deal in the way of production anecdotes to share other than despite the previous successful entries this final film was still relatively small budget, Leone certainty drapes all the cash on-screen with the blasted exteriors and Civil War set-pieces, in fact in order to preserve continuity Clint allegedly took his battered poncho and hat back to his hotel every night to preserve continuity, I’ll bet they’re worth a few quid now eh?

gbu4In terms of technique Leone was an instinctive and influential master, wielding form and content to hallucinatory effect, giving this long arid landscapes the widescreen treatment they deserve as the moral voids upon which these men do their evil bidding, it is quite the brutal universe he builds throughout the trilogy which then bleed into his final masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America. Other than the brave Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon A Time In The West he doesn’t have much time for women and his cinema is definitively a machismo world, with females as conquests or trophies to be won or exchanged as the associated trappings of power, wealth and glory.  The deep focus staging of characters and landscape’s against the prairie dog howling score is all very clichéd now and any ‘hilarious’ comedy show or movie only needs to drop a burst Morricone’s seminal work and cut a few close-ups of quivering hands and nervously shifting eyes together to replicate the spaghetti western flavour, but these clichés have to come from somewhere and there is a reason they etch themselves into our collective visual unconscious. I think it was David Thompson who quantified it best, I’m paraphrasing but Leone and his expert posse brought samurai iconography to those Spanish locations, shot them as brutal revenge and moral plays with capacious CinemaScope compositions, cutting them to music and dispensing with the dialogue, cooking a global feast which appeals to many traditions, legends and cultures around the globe which is why the pictures have endured.

gbu3And so finally after an epic journey we slowly canter to the iconic finale, one of the all time great cinema conclusions. Finally seeing this on the big screen was a real goosebump moment which the film significantly earns, it’s taken a long time and a lot of blood has been spilled to get here, the final showdown which again inverts the traditional genre framework – it’s not two killers staring each down with only their reflexes and accuracy standing between them and a dirt nap, but three facing off which complicates the chaotic crossfire. We know they are all expert gunsmiths, but who is gonna go for whom? It’s brilliant in its design and execution, the set-piece is prefigured by Tuco’s  delirious dancing among the graves in an ‘ecstasy of gold‘, a rare Leone moment which slows down the plot and gives the audience a breather after the prior bridge dynamite set-piece. Then it’s all about the timing and building the mood to an almost unbearable crescendo, the three competitors prancing like matador’s in a quiet dance of death,  cutting long expansive takes between panorama shots and extreme close-ups, letting the music do the work in conjunction with the images. It the absolute antithesis of the current action film, just as an example I’m watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith in the background as I write this which is an entertaining enough flick, but it’s all expressed through manic cutting, through pulverizing sound and gadgets and SFX at the expense of tone and plot, and that’s the bedrock which elevates some movies to classic status while others are forgotten by the time you’ve exited the theatre. So I think we need to saddle up now and mosey off into the sunset just as Blondie makes his triumphant and ironic exit, here in its entirety is one of the undisputed all time great movie endings;

The Guest (2014) Trailer

I’m very confused. Check out this trailer for Adam Wingard’s new film The Guest, and see what surface conclusions you reach;

Looks like a standard issue action/rom-com/comedy right? Another sleepwalk  written, 90 minutes of formulaic product designed to fill screens and evaporate like morning dew come the closing titles? Well apparently not as people have been going crazy about the movie, citing it as a deeply subversive inversion of action movie tropes with a very, very black hearted sense of humour which is totally forbidden from the trailer. This is very strange, I’m very reluctantly coming round to giving this a try, I just hope this isn’t some incredibly elaborate practical joke….

BFI London Film Festival 2014 Programme Reprise

lff2014As a BFI Member it’s nice to get the odd freebie now and again, and since I was out and about conducting day job activities last Thursday the prospect of jetting over to the South Bank for a preview of the LFF festivities to come seemed like a no-brainer. I’ve been to these events before and they are a useful hour of your time to see a glimpse of certain films behind a one paragraph synopsis in the programme, so I’ve picked up a few more pictures to see come October. That’s the crazy thing about Film Festivals, with roughly 250 films being screened over eleven days even if I commit to a mammoth twenty-five films then without wanting to dazzle you with my mathematical prowess then that’s a mere 27% of the total haul – yeah, eat my dust Hawkings. Anyway, the preview event takes the format of an hour-long presentation by festival director Claire Stewart interspersed with film and trailer clips to illustrate her comments, so I’ve picked up some further fascinating prospects, let’s have a quick look;

After the all round embarrassment of last years Labour Day  Jason Reitman seems back on track with this, a film about our contemporary lives lived through screens and mediated networks.  Of course this could eye-rollingly tedious as the same surface level observations are bludgeoned into the narrative (note that no-one on the trailer verbally says anything to each other which must be a conscious decision) but he can construct a decent drama with a social edge, when he has an appropriate script in place. The question is, are the FBI investigating Mr. Reitman for the curious timing of the celebgate phenomena?

Many wiser and more attuned souls than I have been going crazy about this, not much out there in the way of full trailers but this teaser just about gets the heart pounding.  It had a strong presence at Sundance this year with many allusions to ‘early Jim Jarmusch’, I’m just intrigued by the prospect of seeing the so called  ‘greatest Iranian Vampire Western of the decade’……

Anyone who’s seen Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls knows what a bizarre visual talent he can be even by Japanese standards, that trailer isn’t particularly arresting but the write-up in the programme makes the film sound stronger. So I’m in.

Can we go three for three this year with Eva Green? Greg Arakai’s films are usually worth a watch, if you get ignore some of his more abstract flourishes. Since I have nowhere else to put this and there is no trailer around I also nominate The Duke Of Burgundy which sounds terrific, Peter Berberian Sound Studio Strickland’s soft focus valentine to the soft-core exploitation pictures of Jess Franco – we saw a clip and it looks tonally perfect.

Well of course I knew this was the Golden Bear winner at Berlin this year, we all knew that, but it was the short clip of the movie they showed during the presentation that immediately convinced me to track this down – a clichéd Asian movie shoot-out with numerous nervous goons pointing weapons at each other doesn’t quite resolve itself as you’d expect. With shades of Park-Chan-Wook and the gruesome irrelevance of Miike this looks like a blast.

Can one film maintain its structural integrity with the neutron star masculinity of James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy weighting upon it? This is the American debut of director Michaël R. Roskam and anyone who saw the terrific Bullhead a couple of years ago should assume he can muscle his way through that heavyweight cast, in sadly Gandolfini’s final ever performance.

On paper the prospect of a Norwegian isotopic comedy doesn’t exactly accelerate my centrifuge but the trailer bombarded my nucleus and elicited a positive response. I’ll get my coat etc.

This has already screened at TiFF to a rapturous response, a rare film lensed completely in the Maori language which is being compared to the likes of Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising in terms of elemental, epic questing.

And then we have Foxcatcher, another film which has been quietly muttered as a masterpiece from North American festival outings. I’ll reserve judgement until I see it like any reasonable human being, but there is something about that trailer which ever so slightly puts me off this, it’s probably Carell’s ‘I’m a comedic actor in a serious role with prosthetics please give me an Oscar’ vibe which is very judgemental of me, but here we are.

So to close a Spanish drug action thriller because, well, why not? Here’s some further details of the imminent celebrations to whet your appetite;

Two Days, One Night (2014)

Now ttwodays1hat, as they say, was a day. Legging it over to Waterloo to meet up with one of my oldest consultancy colleagues and brief her on my current situation, then over to the elite environs of the Mall for a very promising appointment with some new potential accomplices. With the day-job responsibilities exhausted it was time to have some fun, so after a tourist dodging stroll into St. James Park we alighted on a spot of lunch at Victoria Street before an inaugural visit to London’s newest cinema, the aptly monikered Curzon Victoria. More on that later but our international readers I’m sure will be fascinated to read that as a politically attuned animal wandering in the environs of Whitehall always yields results, and this time I spotted a terrible trio of our previous mayor Ken Livingstone, Caroline Flint MP and most amusingly Lembit ‘Don’t call me Cheeky’ Opik. I was feeling a little nostalgic if I’m honest, this was right next door to Westminster City Hall where I began this career a mere dozen years ago, the entire area has changed quite dramatically from the collection of banks, sandwich shops and rather run-down primary retail establishments when this was my daily stomping ground, you can really see the public realm effects of the vast volumes of development money that has been poured into the capital over the past decade. I’ll spare you further fascinating details on the scope of economic development and regeneration as again we must divorce the day job from the blog, but it was quite striking to see a film primarily concerned with the desperate struggles of the blue-collar proletariat in such auspicious surroundings, proving that the Dardenne brothers are continuing their spirited yet subtle examinations of socio-economic divides on the continent in another masterfully made film.

2day2Unfolding through the titular time period Deux Jours, Une Nui is a snapshot in the life of Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young depressed mother who is facing redundancy from her life saving manufacturing job. Barely able to leave the house and face the outside world she faces a titanic task – to meet and convince sixteen work colleagues that they should forego their eagerly awaited €1,000 bonus so she can retain her job, a prospect made even more implausible given that she has been signed off with depression for the past few weeks. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione)  is empathic and supportive as he can be, but Sandra must face this humiliating ordeal alone, in order to keep her children with a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Despite flirtations with more traditional storytelling tools in their previous picture The Kid With The Bike the Dardennes have stripped their movie-making back to the austere essentials,  the style is forged with the immediacy of hand-held cameras, long takes, naturalistic performances, with absolutely no score or anything other that diagetic sounds – traffic, birdsong, distant conversation. Pushing aside the terrific performances and skill in which such a frivolous premise becomes such gripping cinema the film works as a wonderful metaphor of current austerity politics, it’s poisonous social & propaganda engineering, an effective campaign to  divide and conquer by turning the working and (increasingly) the middle classes against each other.  Propagate such nebulous concepts as ‘immigrants’ stealing all our jobs and benefit scroungers leeching from the fruits of your labour , whilst slightly ignoring the unalterable and granite economic facts of the vast majority of benefits claimants working hard and having to fucking claim benefits in order to manage exorbitant and savage rents, or of the vast net economic contribution of immigrants  which have net benefited my country, roughly speaking, since the 11th fucking century. Sandra faces this lack of solidarity and the politics of the individual  throughout the film, but it also delivers some surprises with a few reactions which almost reinstalls  a dormant faith in a common humanity.

twodays3As we all know I love nothing more than a particularly twisted horror film, of giggiling as shrieking innocents have their bowels clawed from their quivering torso’s like so much crimson confetti to feed the eternal hunger of ravenous demonic wraiths, but Two Days One Night is one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve suffered throughout 2014 from a pure emotionally violent perspective. Witnessing Sandra humiliate herself again and again is a truly gruelling experience, steadying her fragile emotional state she becomes an incredibly brave person, drawing on unseen reservoirs of strength throughout her 48 hour ordeal. Quite brilliantly some of her beeschers reactions are unexpectedly supportive, others terrifyingly violent and abusive, and Cotillard’s performance which  ricochets from humble gratitude to resigned acquiescence sweeps across her face in a quietly powerful performance.  If I had one gripe there is a major event which is swiftly glossed over in order to maintain the films oscillating structure and internal momentum, it doesn’t ring true and although the incident finds dramatic purchase in the films final scenes it does disrupt the Dardenne carefully attuned social-realism. Everything is seen through Sandra’s eyes, she is in every scene and the absolute protoplasmic force of the entire film, the camera never lingers to catch the reactions or conversations of others after she concluded her interactions, so we are firmly implanted in symbiotic empathy without manipulation – no close-ups, no character anthems, and dialogue steeped in improvised waters.

twodsays4As for the cinema its outward appearance is duplicitous, like much of central London the developers have delved deep into the earth, as a modest initial concourse descends to a relaxing plaza with an ornate bar and seating areas, annexing out to the cinemas five modest screens. It’s all Curzon brand spanking new with cosy and newly upholstered fixtures and fittings, and as you’d expect from the a chain dedicated to the ‘cinema experience’ the screens are legitimately sized with state of the art sound and image projection. It might be a little pricey for some at 15 quid a ticket – especially since some of the fare on offer like Two Days, One Night was simultaneously available on VOD through the on-line platform – but the matinée screenings are more modestly pitched at 9 quid. I’m assuming you can guess my preference to seeing a film on a big screen as god intended, compared to streaming to a fucking laptop or worse yet a fucking phone? Anyway this was a terrific film ideal for the Curzon brand – art-house aligned but accessible, prestigious and thought-provoking, and Cotillard continues her reputation as one of the best actresses currently at work;

BFI 58th London Film Festival 2014 Programme Announcement

cvIt’s all go isn’t it? Not twenty four-hours after I smugly accept an invitation to the press screening of the newly hewn digital print of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the BFI’s exclusive screening rooms over in Soho next week (pauses…..takes a big breath) than the offers of on-line screeners from TiFF start to trickle through, I’m not even in the fucking country and I’m being thrown the proverbial celluloid bone. To compound matters further the full 2014 London Film Festival Programme streaked across the ether today, and as usual lo there was much rejoicing and gnashing of teeth. You can read my official blurb here if you are so inclined, my initial reaction is slight disappointment at the lack of any major surprises, but as always when you comb through the programme a few treats are coaxed forward. So here as usual is a Menagerie specific round-up of what I’ll be making specific efforts to see, alongside some of the more widely distributed trailers for the gala screenings which may also float your film cruise boat. I’m off to the official public launch at the Southbank tomorrow evening after a brutal itinerary of day job appointments, although I have managed to schedule in a matinee screening of the Dardennes latest at the recently enshrined Victoria Curzon, just to keep the momentum going.  So let’s begin with the big opening night extravaganza;

I happen to think that Cumberbatch is hugely overexposed at the moment and maybe should be selecting projects with a little more strategy, yet another ‘prestige’ British film is so predictable if you ask me. Also, as fascinating as Turing and Bletchley Park was it’s hardly new territory in terms of recent coverage, and I can pretty much envisage the entire film from that trailer, right down to the final scene blurb which inevitably will reference Turing’s recent pardon and his rehabilitation within the establishment. If it’s sandwiched between other material and I’m already embedded in a screening room for the day then fine I’ll see it, but I won’t be pulling the stops out for that one…….

Some of the denser pictures have lumbered over to London from their Cannes celebrations, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s dense metaphor on the modern Soviet body politic seems scarily apt, given the current not in the slightest terrifying rumblings of conflict on the news cycle. Following the Cannes plaudits I checked out his earlier film The Banishment which was pretty much 157 minutes of serious Soviet severity, a film you admire as you endure. I expect more of the same.

This Sundance scorcher has been getting some strong praise, it looks like J.K. Simmons could be in for acting awards come the statuette season, who knew that Jazz could be so violent?

Speaking of violence I’m so happy to see this made it over, such a fascinating premise of a full cast of deaf-mute non-professionals exposing urban and social displacement. If you think Boyhood has this years most original technique then consider this – the film has no subtitles. Alongside Interstellar, these are the two films I’m most excited to see for the rest of the year.

This looks visually alluring although I find some of the recent crop of Chinese financed epics a little cookie-cutter. I’m much more excited to see if this makes the programme once I get my paws on the full list tomorrow, that sounds amazing from Mr. Body Hammer himself.

Whilst I’m particularly nonplussed by the special guests this year – the closest approximation is legendary documentation Frederick Wiseman whom is promoting his new film National Gallery – we always need to seek out a strong documentary, and this has been exploding across the global circuit so I’m glad to see it here. No trailer yet hence the alternate hilarity above, a bit of whimsical pyrotechnics among the serious fare, if you will.

OK this made me laugh, Godard at the fucking IMAX? In 3D? That could be quite an experience, and full marks to the LFF programmers for getting a slot at the biggest screen in Europe which isn’t exactly the usual home of such continental curiosity. I’m no massive fan of his and find most of his recent films quite tedious, but his latest is supposed to be an absolute cracker, if you’re in the mood for some extremely self-reflective meta-wallowing on the art-form.

Well, it wouldn’t be the LFF if they didn’t give us more Sono who always gets favourable treatment, I think they’ve brought every one of his films over since I started attending. I’ve posted this before but it takes us to a nice round ten movies on the hit-list.

Scorsese and the BFI’s patronage of the immortal work of Powell & Pressburger continues with a 4K restoration of the beloved Tales Of Hoffman, which is incidentally George A Romero’s favourite film. I won’t bother with the inevitable ‘film being raised from the dead’ quip….

And here is the closing night gala, more WWII themed explosives which I get behind with a little more passion due to David End Of Watch Ayer in the driving seat, but the war-wounds of Monuments Men are playing up when I watch this old chap, it looks a bit like those bloody yanks have decided to win the war single handedly again the bloody rotters. So that’s that, more to report once we’ve had the chance to review the programme a little more forensically…..

Pasolini (2014) Trailer

Well hasn’t this got some film fanatics in a right old tizzy – the prospect of New York demon Abel Ferrera chronicling a similarly controversial figure, the Marxist homosexual Italian cinema firebrand whom was allegedly killed at  the secret orders of the government. Now due to some genius in the marketing department the trailer is blocked from sharing – because of course nothing gets the word out best about your movie than actively suppressing the fucking trailer – but you can go direct to the source here, instead here is Abel providing some context;

Abel Ferrara à propos de Pasolini from La Cinémathèque française on Vimeo.

Whatever the result this will be essential viewing from the movie fan perspective, I’d say that Willem Dafoe could be genius level casting. Whilst we’re on the subject of Ferrera I revisited King Of New York recently as it stands up very well, out on a lively Blu-Ray transfer which enable you to appreciate one of Walken’s more persona cementing performances….

As Above, So Below (2014)

aboveMeet Scarlett Marlowe, multiple PHD graduate, fluent speaker of several current and dead languages, with an unfortunate streak of Oedipal rage and her dead fathers obsessively fuelled suicide. When we first spy this impulsive, some may say foolhardy young woman she is sneaking across the Iranian border, secretly filming her furtive expedition to an archaeological tomb which is under threat of destruction by some destructive religious zealots. It’s found footage in technique and frantic whip-pan pacing all the way as Scarlett uncovers ancient clues pointing to the location of the legendary philosophers stone, the holy relic which is able to turn base elements to gold, the search for which she drove her beloved father to his death. Her friend Benji (Edwin Hodge) is recording her search on the streets of Paris as she enlists her old friend George (Ben Feldman ) to translate some clues from ancient Aramaic, leading them inexorably into the medieval Paris catacombs with a couple of gallic hipster tour guides in tow. As the descent proceeds through the eerie caverns the spookiness closes in with thumbscrew intensity,  as images and spirits from the entire parties turbulent pasts are animated and made flesh, the cramped  lunacy drawing them to the labyrinthine homestead of Old Nick himself…..

asabove2If I were to reduce the film to the usual Executive pitch I’d cite As Above, So Below as one part Indiana Jones, one part The Descent with a quantifier of The Blair Witch Project, suffice to say that if you are in any way claustrophobic then you’d best steer well and truly clear of this cramped descent into a garbled but occasionally spooky hell. To its merit the film builds a certain momentum and sense of claustrophobic terror, but it takes a little too long to raise the mortal stakes and at the risk of sounding sadistic it really needed to be much more creatively  ruthless if it was aiming to get the hackles arisen. It also labours with that perennial problem of found footage pictures, they usually fail to end the picture on a suitably shriek inducing point which is really the entire point of these rollercoaster rides, you’ve got to leave the audience exiting the theatre with a slight chill and something to clutch each tightly as they make their way to a post atrocity drink, something which the makers of Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch instinctively understood. The cast is adequate with Perdita Weeks as Scarlett not being as irritating as the trailer and opening scenes suggest, and apart from the now clichéd ‘characters walking across behind characters which they don’t see but the audience does’ tricks of the trade the film does offer a couple of genuinely creepy uncertainties.

asaabove3What are we to do with the whole found footage genre eh? It’s been drunkenly lumbering around for years now, a convenient premise to hang your cheapo budget picture upon, and maybe it still yields with some fading bloodstreaks of the social immediacy of new technologies omnipresent and an increasingly interconnected world. The problem is with credulity and maintaining that spell of authenticity, when we are presented with material edited in a clear linear fashion without extraneous redundancy, and of course quite why the fuck you would continue filming when under assault from horrific supernatural forces is usually beyond absurd. To its credit As Above, So Below evades the latter pitfall with a coherent and logical filming premise, it also efficiently slaughters the threat quenching saviour of mobile communication devices due to the subterranean locale, but it fails in having a French character long-lost in the catacombs encounter the party and immediately start speaking English without explanation – that’s just lazy writing. So a solid three fathom effort which will immediately dissolve from the memory when you stumble back out into the light, it’s a shame they didn’t give a little more thought to some of the mechanics and basic rules of the genre. Now, in a frantic effort to pad this post out to a half reasonable length I guess one should remark upon this years Frightfest, it was a strong year I’m told with a few brutal contenders for future dissection, the aforementioned The Babadook won the audience over with genuine creepy chills, Coherence continues to build significant cult movie buzz following US festival screenings whilst Wolfcop delivers the horror-comedy grins and Creep won the real aficionado’s souls – no trailer yet so we’ll have to make do with this again;



Lucy (2014)

lucy1Whatever happened to Luc Besson? Back when I was a fledgling cinema junkie this self taught filmmaker wowed the world as a integral member of the cinema du look, crafter of cult favourite Subway and aquatic student fave The Big Blue, even while the critics rather sniffily disregarded his films for overemphasising style over substance, of embracing spectacle over character in a manner akin to the American multiplex product of McTiernan, Walter Hill or early Bruckheimer fare. Completests such as I scrambled back to see his little known dystopian debut The Last Battle before we screech to the film which best prefigures his latest release Lucy, before its inevitable Hollywood remake Le Femme Nikita was his first dalliance with a kick-ass female protagonist, and for his last interesting movie. Sure The Fifth Element has its fans but I couldn’t stand it, the visual clutter and incomprehensible script intensified by some horrific casting and performances, but it was a modest hit and spurred him on to an incredibly successful producer career, including the turgid Taxi series and of course the faintly racist Taken franchise. I was however pleasantly surprised by his by-the-numbers yet distinctly moving bio-pic of Aung San Suu Kyi called The Lady, and when the trailer for his undetected latest movie crossed my desktop I was amusingly intrigued, despite my reservations I’m a fan of ScarJo despatching henchmen with ruthless efficiency as much as the next red-bloodied male, so I thought I’d give Luc another chance at the flicks despite the lukewarm initial reviews. Never again as once bitten twice shy, despite a potentially intriguing premise – a drug culled from pregnant women which activates dormant brain power which may usher in a new phase of human evolution – this is a colossally stupid and insulting movie, which soon exhausts its reassuringly short 89 minute run-time.

lucy2Presumably selected as some token seduction to the Asian market Lucy opens in a chaotic Taipei, as broad-minded student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) has been partying hard and fallen into a loose relationship with her dishevelled, slightly suspect new boyfriend. He convinces her to take a locked briefcase into the reception area of the prestigious Westin Hotel (the product placement throughout the film is as intrusive and nauseous as Michael Bay’s Hasbro horror’s) and the goons immediately meld out of the woodwork, execute her boyfriend and spirit her away to the presence of local psychopathic crime-lord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik, best known as the Octopus feaster of Oldboy). Enlisted to the syndicate whether she likes it or not, Lucy is surgically altered into a walking drug mule along with three other Western sourced victims, hosting a portion of the briefcase contents in her stomach before being retrieved back in Europe, the contraband recovered, and she finally being allowed to resume her devastated life. The slight complication in the mission arrives when she is beaten by some particularly odious hoodlums whom rupture the internal package of her synthetic provisions, releasing the compound CPH4 into her system and  slowly enabling new superhuman abilities as the drip-feed of narcotic enhancement elevates her brain power and abilities to incredible and illogical capabilities . This is clumsily conveyed with some utterly unconvincing cut-aways to famed international scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman in cheque cashing mode) lecturing his students on the brains alleged untapped potential, interspersed with some globalisation & environmental montages showing just how crazy and diverse life on earth really is maaaannnnn, as the action beats get pummelled into the ground when the emphasis shifts back to Europe and Lucy’s against the clock quest to get the material extracted before she peaks at 100% and potentially dissolves into a mulch of primordial goo.

lucy3On the plus side I can admire Lucy’s first half hour as it wastes no time through an accelerated economic efficiency, it powers through the set-up and getting to the clandestine contents of the mysterious briefcase. Alas then the superpowers begin to be wielded and any sense of jeopardy or threat immediately evaporates, as poorly manufactured set-pierces are interspersed  with those juvenile allusions to our entire species evolution via sub-Koyaanisqatsi high-speed imagery, these asides are clichéd and dull in the extreme and even offer unwelcome laughter with a furrow browed homo-sapien and risible CGI. With one exception (to give him his dues Besson knows how to stage a car chase) the action scenes spark all the excitement of a wet weekend in Windsor – a fairly catastrophic result for an ostensible action picture – before severely plumping the depths with a plot which becomes more incredulous and insulting as Lucy’s fate attempts to meld the metaphysical with a numb fear of nanotechnology. The inclusion of Freeman intoning his celestial wisdom is a mere prop to some staggeringly risible dialogue and exposition, and although Scarjo tries her best to appear to be some superior complete with robotic enquiry and mechanised figure movement she’s galaxies away from her magnificent turn in Under The Skin.

lucy4I kid you not, this is a film which is so unbelievably insulting that a cop whom takes an interest in the case – a plot development which is also used an excuse to shoulder barge in a little romance as of course you can’t possibly have a female lead not be seeking the assistance of a man – has lines such ‘gosh, you made those men fall down with the power of your mind, should I be afraid?’ It also terrifiedly softens up some of the more amusing interludes glimpsed in the trailer with the ‘Do you speak English?’ moment being diluted by an off-camera ‘My leg!!’ snatch of dialogue, another concession to one assumes scared studio executives who can’t possibly accept a ‘hero’ figure willing to kill as part of her quest. I may run the risk of sounding elitist or snooty as those critics whom similarly sneered at Besson’s early work but that’s not my intention, I like and admire a silly yet exciting action movie as much as Michael Haneke’s latest affront to our hypocritical bourgeois comfort, but there is a full locked and loaded hollow-point magazine of difference between a well-engineered formula picture and an actively lazy genre effort, polluted with a barely conceived plot and immature scientific navel gazing. McCarthy and Lennon situated their secret mind-enhancing celebrations by placing Lucy in Sky with Diamonds, Besson gives us a narcotic comedown shivering with depression and a terrible case of the DT’s;


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