OK, severe warnings for immensely offensive comedy ahead - if you’re of a sensitive disposition then you may wish to go elsewhere. I’ve made my admiration of the comedian Bill Hicks clear in the past, in that context I’m mystified as to how I’ve missed the work of Doug Stanhope who is arguably his heir apparent up until now, I’d heard of the guy for sure and I vaguely recall him doing a set on some Friday night BBC show years ago but never gave his material proper consideration. It’s fantastic, but let’s start with some context setting material before I launch this blog into repugnant waters….
Not to everyone’s tastes but I like his persona and most crucially the message behind the material. I risk heading into Nathan Barley territory here – ‘hey, he’s so cool and funny ’cause he’s so edgy and nasty’ – but I know you’re smart enough to see beyond those knee jerk reactions, such as this. Here’s some more:
The above and below is material that made me embarrass myself as I laughed out loud in a Greenwich Starbucks, watching the video on my phone – yeah I know – when I killed an hour on Friday before meeting a friend for a few drinks:
and some more….
And perhaps his most jaw-dropping stuff I’ve seen thus far:
Look, I went to see Precious today, it was a fairly good movie but believe me I need to have a laugh after that experience – the darker the better – as I hope we can agree that comedy is a great exorcist. There are couple of full sets on google video – here and here – which might brighten up your Monday evening after another pointless, soul crushing waste of your irrelevant eight hours on this planet. What’s that? No, I can’t wait to get back into the work market, why do you ask???
It’s been quite a while since I posted one of these accounts. As you English readers will be aware the early January weather of 2010 has not been particularly conducive to any investigations of our glorious capital but since the snow has evaporated, since the Hyperborean chill has dissipated I find myself with no excuse not to complete some activities I’ve had planned over the past few months and in some cases years. I’ve checked out an exhibition and visited the cavernous National Portrait Gallery again when I was in town for some shopping, I also plan to embark on a proper investigation of the cultural facilities of nearby Greenwich and finally fulfil a trip around the Tower Of London which is now unavoidable as I can get in for the princely sum of £1 – as opposed to the exorbitant £17 for tourists – as I have acquired a Council ‘idea’ card (which back in my youth was called a library card) that is available to all Tower Hamlets residents. There’s no excuse now really as the historic citadel is located a brief half hour walk from my yard, westward through the Thames Pathway which is always an exhilarating saunter. But I digress…
This may get a little lengthy so let’s begin with a soundtrack to my endeavour, a clip of the musician Zoe Keating whose work I recently discovered courtesy of the fantastic WNYC RadioLab podcast. The broadcast is a science, culture and technology themed show that eloquently compacts a series of aural chapters which circumnavigate one central unifying theme - the episode on Keating’s work led me to download her albums which provided a suitably atmospheric soundtrack to my recent expedition, both her work and the podcast are awesome and come highly recommended. Zoe doesn’t know it yet but she will be hired to provide the soundtrack to the mournful, futuristic Gothic western that I haven’t written or imagined yet, Deadwood with wormholes or something. So yeah, now I’m getting into avant-garde cellists, still it was quite apt when you throw the likes of Wendy Carlos into the mix – all will become clear gentle reader…
For many years I’ve meant to perform something of a pilgrimage to a film location where certain portions of A Clockwork Orange was shot, having lived in a couple of places in West London until my relatively recent move this proved to be something of a difficult proposition as the Thamesmead estate is located way out in the wilds of Zone 4 South East London – quite an expedition. Since my bivouac to Limehouse however I’ve had no excuse other than the usual distractions of work and alternative weekend activities, I’m happy to report that this week I finally got this errand completed on a suitably grim January morning. As an aside you have to love the future, leaping from one various public transport method to another to complete this absurd task it was quite reassuring to monitor my progress on my phone, its GPS functions simultaneously charting my movements whilst I also browsed the web to certify the precise locations I needed to visit to comprehensively complete my mission and curiously certify the accuracy of my mission with youtube footage once completed – see below.
I’ve been to some grim places in London, I’ve worked in some of the most deprived, depressing areas of the metropolis but my god, this was something else. The estate is almost a physical manifestation of the word ‘bleak’, infected with litter and festooned with graffiti, almost a picture perfect representation of ‘Broken Britain’. Its a good job I completed this task early as quite frankly I would have concerns for my safety in this part of the world after nightfall, the volumes of discarded White Lightning Cider bottles and Tennant’s Super cans spoke volumes. Anyway, take a look at that second photo and then have a viddy at this, unfortunately embedding is prohibited but you can see the location in all its glory – real horrorshow. Just round the corner was the location of the scene immediately preceding Alex’s reassertment of his superiority, in the entry basement of ‘Municipal Flat Block 18A, Linear North’, alas I can’t find a suitable clip to refresh your memories. I know, I know - with London being the host of one of the worlds most expansive and prestigious cultural treats on offer I opt to go and see a miserable council estate in Bexley, I evidently need to get my head examined. What I can say, it wasn’t quite a religious experience but it’s nice to have goals….
Time was on my side so I decided to slot in another visit that I’ve been meaning to complete, a rather more civilised pub visit in Rotherhithe. I jumped on the nearest train I could find (praise be to the GPS again) and zoomed up to London Bridge for the next stage of my expedition. After an animated walk through Southwark I eventually located the Mayflower pub, a relatively famous location due to its astonishing historical pedigree – by the name you may have discerned that this was the spot, back in 1620, that the pilgrim fathers set forth to establish the great cultural experiment of America. Like the Thamesmead mission I’ve yearned to visit this location for many years, in some sense of cosmic irony when I arrived the fucking pub was shut. At 3.00pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Still, I roll with the punches as visiting the site was the chief ambition and I enjoyed the walk, Rotherhithe was quite an interesting area to investigate which curiously reminded me of my old stomping ground of Peterborough, it very much looks and feels like a New Town in the model of a Milton Keynes with its building facades and transit designs (plenty of speed calming roundabouts), a relatively modern urban conurbation that betrays its location as a central London territory. I was mystifled by this aura until my historical synapses flared into life and I realised that this area must have been utterly decimated during the Blitz, resulting in a major programme of regeneration during the intervening decades. I walked to Canada Water and tubed it home.
Continuing the French theme of recent posts and the present Kubrick material here is a 1999 documentary I’ve sourced from Google Video, there’s some good material in there which might also provide an hour long French revision exercise. If, like me, you’re hopeless at French you may try to attune your ears to the lower mix audio where you can pick up more than the French voiceover elucidates, plus of course some of the subtitles help. There’s no new real revelations to the arm-chair Kubrick academic such as yours truly, all the material has been covered in books and articles that I’ve acquired over the years but it was interesting to see both the Sue Lyon and Diane Johnson footage. Raphael also comes through as the twat he is in both languages - a multi-lingual twat, if you will. Ploughing through this and taking in another viewing of Coppola’s debut Dementia 13 has had the unsettling Patrick Magee occupy far too much of my recent eyeball stimuli activities, it’s a conspiracy I tell you. Still, it’s not like Stan didn’t invent the hysterical ipad (00:37 and more obviously at 04:08) over forty years ago eh? Thats a joke by the way. Obviously.
Finally, my blogging has finally yielded some tangible results. Courtesy of this crew, a cult film distributor based here in London I’ve been sent two movies to review and I get to keep the copies – nice. The first was Pontypool, an unusually claustrophobic Canadian cannibal themed horror flick where the deadly virus is communicated by language (recommended for its inventive design and premise) and Ai no mukidashi, a Japanese film from 2008 which looks absolutely fucking mental, not just for its partially sordid subject matter but also its four hour run-time. I haven’t watched it yet as it only arrived this morning, it’s quite a tantalising prospect to see as I hugely enjoyed director Sion Sono’s gruesome Jisatsu Sākuru which was throughly refreshing in that particularly lunatic, Japanese way. So no Jennifer Aniston Rom-Com preview disks for me eh?
I’m shattered. Braving the frigid January cold I’ve managed to fulfil two outstanding, (as in ‘overdue’ not necessarily ‘amazing’, although I quite enjoyed them with one small reservation) personal little missions that I intended to complete during my brief work break, one on the film location front and one on the London history front – a post is being prepared. In terms of my medley linkage here are some visuals that weave together some recent events in a most serendipitous way:
Bear with me with the clip, shortly all will become clear. The BFI Programme for March arrived this morning and a few events have cropped up that demand my attention, with the exception of the Tokyo Story screening and Kubrick Napoleon event that I missed (which might just be related to my film location activities this morning) not much has piqued my interest in the NFT’s 2010 schedule until now, lets hope I can get tickets to both a screening of this with a John Landis Q&A to follow along with a lecture by celebrated film scholar Laura Mulvey which in turn is followed by a screening of Hitchcock’s sepulchral Marnie - that should be interesting. Of course, Landis is famous for casting film directors in cameo roles in his movies….
In my previous post I linked to the film Guilty By Suspicion, a film in which Scorsese makes a cameo as a film director (alas no clip on youtube) – obviously that leads to the Hitchcock parade at the top and the Marnie screening. To further the idea of directors incorporating elements of other filmmakers in their work I’m then led to Ed Wood, as seen above, in my opinion one of the finest American films of the 1990′s, its such a shame that Burton got diverted into such tedious Hollywood nonsense in the intervening years. With the NFT there’s also a ballot to see Burton’s new Alice in IMAX 3D for free in the March programme, I’m not hugely excited about the project but the potential of a free ticket is not to be avoided. Finally, to return to the Hitchcock meme, when I got home I found out that I’m up for an intriguing new assignment on the climate change, local authority project management front at the London Borough Of Waltham Forest where of course Hitch was born*. I could probably have weaved these all together more coherently but, like I said, I’m shattered. And just to complicate things further….
* – This post may just be a little sarcastic….
Bonjour madame et monsieur. The so called ‘first masterpiece of the decade’ escaped into London cinemas this weekend, I’ve been deliberately avoiding all the reviews, write-ups and thus managed to pull off a very successful embargo, even when it was unexpectedly previewed ahead of both The Book Of Eli and Up In The Air I averted my gaze and turned up the ipod - clearly this is a project whose distributors feel could warrant that elusive breakthrough status as that is quite an unusual strategy for a subtitled movie with no discernable stars, not even the likes of Depardieu or Cassel to pull in the more educated patrons. Being a man of leisure I rolled a new cinema visit into this viewing, quite aptly I went to see Un Prophète at the Instiut Francais down in deepest Kensington, quite the apropos choice considering its gallic pedigree. It was playing at my local cinema but I thought it would be more appropriate to see this at an art cinema with the diminished possibility of unruly patrons, my decision paid dividends as there was only about four other punters and the cinema itself was quite an efficient little space with a larger screen than was expected, also a bargain at a mere £7. I may be being presumptuous, it being not yet a month into the year, but just to chime in with all the plaudits Un Prophète is destined to be one of the films of the year, it’s a magnificent piece of work that is utterly riveting from beginning to end.
Not exactly dispelling certain stereotypes I rang up to book a ticket before making the sojourn over to West London, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t going to sell out but I was recently burned with leaving tickets to this to the last minute which then sold out so I’ve learnt my lesson - looking at that video is an annoying glimpse of what I missed. Anyway, once I’d got through and explained I wanted a ticket to the matinée the response was ‘oh no, monsieur, you don’t have to book tickets for that…’ – Hmm, then I’m curious why you’d have an box office phone line then eh? Don’t you think? Anyway, in terms of context some years ago, with time to kill before meeting friends I quite rarely went to see a film I knew absolutely nothing about, I was around Leicester Square and having checked out the competition I settled on the Prince Charles cinema and some weird sounding French drama they were playing – I picked well as the film was Read My Lips which I’m looking forward to seeing again as like the intervening The Beat That My Heart Skipped director Jacques Audiard is carving quite a career as one of the most amazingly talented French auteurs working today.
Our anti-hero is the teenage Malik, a young Arabian man who is sent to a ferociously grim burghaljail for an unspecified crime, snippets of dialogue subtley revealingthat he may have been involved in an affray with a police officer. Thrust into this modern-day Gehenna Malick is given a grim order, to murder a snitch whose activities threaten a Corsican gang faction led by the merciless César (Niels Arestrup) who ruthlessly explainthat he either kills or is killed, his forced acquiescence subsequently providing him with the protection of this powerful cabal whose tendrils control much of the minutia of prison life – the drugs, the food, the porn, the basic luxuries that alleviate the remorseless suffering. After one of the most shockingly brutal scenes of European cinema for quite some time Malik finds himself under the wing of his new found comrades, the film however does not deviate into the artificial esprit de corps that this type of tale can slip into, Malik (in a magnetic performance by Tahar Rahim) understanding that survival in an environment that is so deeply segregated along the ethnic lines of Corsican and Arabic factions can be manipulated to his advantage as his efforts at self improvement – learning new languages and keeping his mouth shut – mirror his progress through the criminal dominion.
What an experience. Audiard has a reputation for being a tough, no-frills macho director, a modern emulation of Sam Fuller or Robert Aldrich and make no mistake Un Prophète is a gruelling experience that will keep you utterly gripped throughout its epic 155 minute run time. The sense of incarceration is signalled by an urgent, hand held shooting style that is encapsulated in claustrophobic angles, framing through cell bars and tiny spaces, expanding the canvas when Malik is permitted day release expeditions due to his apparent good behaviour. The metaphors and allusions are there if you want them, there is a sense of possible redemption and the religious connotations are frequent but not bludgeoned into the narrative, instead they are intrinsically weaved into a very immediate vivacity, submerged in a very convincing tableau of violence as Malik’s ghosts return to haunt his achievements. There are frequent, muted references references to shoes (walking in my footsteps?) a 40 day penance sequence toward the end of the film and the masterstroke of exemplifying Malik’s formal education – he is illiterate upon induction to the prison but demonstrates his intelligence by learning not only French but also the Arabic and Corsican argot that essentially forms the spine of his criminal success.
In that sense the film is an excellent companion piece to the rags to riches trajectory of Scarface or the Machiavellian instincts of The Godfather with Michael Corleone’s intellect of forward planning, crucially you’re never particularly certain of Malik’s enigmatic ambitions, you become sympathetic with his achievements and as usual with these films you illicitly want him to succeed and prosper. Audiard makes certain to signal a vague moral compass to our confused and desperate protagonist early in the film as he attempts to avoid the murder he has been coerced into discharging by reporting his dilemma to the authorities, only to find that the level of corruption in the prison extends to the protectors and agents of the state leaving him with no option, no escape – an apt axiom to the films claustrophobic ambitions. The politics of an uncertain, uneasy multicultural France fester in the background, a grapnel of social reality that give the film a very prescient mood of its time, a reality cemented with the films reproduction of a functioning prison in a disused warehouse for the films production locale, all complemented with a sound design whose ambient effects were apparently culled from genuine recordings of authentic prison environments. Masterfully constructed, utterly ruthless, electrifying and absolutely essential viewing.
So then, prison movies. It’s quite a rich category, there are the more obvious candidates of course with some less observant examples that also mine the essential ingredients of the genre, all serving the same intrinsic drama to a myriad, diffused effect. Finally, here is one of the webs best film sites accumulation of some of the worlds best film writers favourites of last year - I love how on the one hand I’ve only heard of perhaps 65% of the movies and more entertainingly how some critics loathe the likes of Basterds and Antichrist whilst the next critic will qualify them as the best of the year – diversity is fun and they have a pedigree with this sort of activity…
Hmm, seeing these Seventies mavericks starting to get lifetime achievement awards makes me feel old and reminds me they only have half a dozen, at best, more projects in them. C’est la vie…
Jesus, this is getting depressing – how many times do I have to write the words ‘cataclysm’, ‘post Armageddon’ and ‘dystopian’ on this blog? Certain film fans have been looking forward to The Book Of Eli as the return to the screen of the cult favourite director duo Hughes Brothers whose blistering debut Menace To Society and underrated Dead Presidents scorched through the nineties, its been almost a decade since the disapointment of their ’cor’ blimey guv’nor’ From Hell comic book adaptation which was hobbled by a number of unfortunate problems, distilling such a densely textured work was never going to be easy but some overwhelming casting and accent problems sunk what could have been a successful big screen adaptation. Perhaps learning from these failures the Hughes couplet have turned to a fresh tale (although I confess I was looking out for the ‘based on the novel by’ disclaimer as the credits rolled), written by first time scribe Gary Whitta whose game designer pedigree may gave you some idea of where this project is heading. Now that probably sounds unreasonably snarky, this was a fun little effort with some nice touches that we’ll get into but overall the film resembles a direct to video, second tier studio 1990′s effort that had managed to attract a couple of ‘A’ list talents and enhanced SFX to its roster. Intriguing, but not essential viewing.
In yet another desolate, post-apocalyptic wasteland the lethally stoic Eli (Denzil Washington) has been faithfully undertaking a thirty year pilgrimage to deliver his sacred, secret text to its final destination, a gruelling task which should initiate a miracle that will signal the rebirth of human civilisation once his holy mission has been fulfilled. It emerges that following a terrible war, after some unspecific cataclysm all books and literature have been allegedly destroyed as the post holocaust survivors blamed their woes, hunger and devastated world on the worship of such texts which has left subsequent generations illiterate, hungry and spiritual bereft of purpose or hope. After stumbling into a grim settlement ruled by the evil Carnegie (Gary Oldman in autopilot ‘evil’ mode) Eli replenishes his dwindling provisions and comes into opposition with his adversary’s symmetrical obsession to secure a copy of this most righteous of texts – can you guess what it is yet? After escaping from his nemesis evil clutches with an unwanted sidekick in tow (Mila Kunis) Eli resumes his crusade with the evildoers in hot pursuit….
In the little I’d read of this movie I’d detected echoes of the justifiably loathed Kevin Costner starring The Postman in The Book Of Eli’s synopsis and milieu, thankfully the movie only shares lip service to that films hysterical failures. The Book Of Eli has a much more Mad Max feel to proceedings, natural resources are the most precious commodities in this world, cars are jerry-rigged with armour and spikes, crossbows and blades are the weapons of choice, lone travellers are easy prey to roaming bands of degenerates and the world is very much an ash-drenched, cannibal infected nightmare world framed within a comic book, action friendly texture – hence my previous impressions with the film’s action set pieces pushing away from The Road’s gruesome realism. Amen to that.
It’s clearly an American Western in genre tone and architecture, a ‘quest’ picture more than any SF dystopian examination complete with frontier towns, sand-blasted saloons, decrepid brothels and tense stand-offs that explode in measured orgies of violence - the Hughes brothers even give one of Carnegie’s chief henchmen a curious habit of whistling the theme tune to Once Upon A Time In The West if you hadn’t absorbed the references. Speaking of Carnegie’s character he recalls some sort of a Randall Flagg figure and it was quite entertaining to see Oldman back in pantomime villain mode after the Batman movies, his desire to acquire the holy book and wield its sublimated power of persuasion for more tangible and immediately crude results was intrinsically convincing. The film has some nice genre touches, most effectively the monochrome skies that are clearly textured in a CGI fashion to signal a depressed world (reminding me of this) and the first of Eli’s showdowns with some inhuman renegades is executed in a gripping chiaroscuro silhouette that fully illuminates Eli’s clerical proficiency - Eastwood or Bronson would be proud of this monk with whom one does not fuck. It arrives at a curious conclusion with a neat little twist to the quest narrative, a quaint finale that marks it as an interesting entry to the dystopian genre even if it doesn’t quite fully explain its vaguely perplexing resolution, its unusual parade of cameos – Tom Waits, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon and most bizarrely Frances De La Tour – also add to its cult cache. Rising Damp? The mind boggles…..
Films by brothers is much more a profligate idea than you’d expect, most obviously there’s these dudes of course and of these recent phantoms, then you have the French neo-realists, the Asian twins, if you need a laugh then there’s the Zuckers, the Farrelly’s or the Wayans if you don’t and I’d be almost blasphemous remiss if I don’t quote the Lumieres - the Scotts don’t count as I’m referring to brothers working on the same project. Hey, it could be worse….
One of the most shameful periods of Hollywood history was its acquiescence to the McCarthy Witch Hunts that began in the late 1940′s and continued throughout the 1950′s, wrecking careers and marriages of an enormous amount of innocent people and driving numerous screenwriters, actors and technicians to suicide. Perhaps unsurprisingly there hasn’t been an enormous number of films tackling this controversial subject in the intervening sixty or so years, one of the few and perhaps the best was the Robert De Niro starring Guilty By Suspicion that was released in 1991:
If you look at my previous medley link you may vaguely recognise the barman, Howard Da Silva, one of those Hollywood foot soldiers whose career was almost extinguished due to the odious McCarthy trials, the most famous victims being of course the Hollywood Ten. So that’s the link, a bit of politics for a change.
In the midst of the sickening return to business as normal comes Up In The Air, the allegedly prescient corporate Rom-Com that it’s OK to like. If you’re sick of your employers insistence on colour coded Excel spreadsheets, the frustrating prevalence of synergy themed, quarterly redundant method statements or laughably exclusive, allegedly status enhancing possession of an Amex Platinum card makes you question the moral imperatives of human civilisation then this might just be the movie for you. The Stateside Oscar buzz surrounding the film has resulted in the acquisition of no less than six Golden Globe nominations, Up In The Air alighted into London cinemas this weekend and may just provide a welcome alternative to the fetid, digitally dense jungles of Pandorum if your appetite for a genuine, contemporary human experience has materialised. It’s funny, its acquainted with a current mood and provides a brisk 100 or so minutes of distracting entertainment. I quite liked it.
The Cloonster stars as Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man who vigorously traverses the US, spending 300 days in transit from state to state, calmly firing – or in the films parlance ‘releasing the possible life chances’ – of the supposedly superfluous employees of struggling companies who lack the kahunas to perform the perfectly odious tasks themselves. Ryan embraces his living out of a suitcase, antiseptically sterile lifestyle, shying away from any notion of human comfort whilst reveling in an almost Ballardian occupation of first class executive lounges, exclusive car rental deals and hotel chain suite actuality - his entire existence revolving around the acquisition of his beloved frequent flyer perks and benefits. After securing a mutually convenient, emotional devoid sexual relationship with fellow traveller Alex Goran (The Departed’s Vera Farmiga) Bingham finds his place in the corporate paddock under threat with the arrival of the assiduous Natalie (Anna Kendrick), a junior executive whose first big idea is to reduce the firms crippling expense accounts by shifting the execution exercises to the web, eliminating the human touch that Bingham almost perversely defends as the essential, almost personal component to their organisations generous market share. Adopting the road-movie (or should that be air-movie?) narrative structure Natalie is despatched under Bingham’s wing to execute a profitable sequence of horrendous lay-offs, the subtext of which is to assess the effectiveness of her proposed projects efficiency, Natalie learning first hand the human cost of her cruel proposition.
Casting Clooney as the perennial bachelor is quite a canny move, he inhabits the role of Ryan in his usual, seemingly effortless fashion. After the woeful The Men Who Stare At Goats it’s a relief to see him back firing on all cylinders, an efficiently skillful performance that generates a certain level of sympathy despite his odious profession. Director Jason Reitman has evidently inherited his fathers skill in coaxing out pitch-perfect comedic performances from his cast, like Juno he submerges an essentially conservative, orthodox viewpoint into the films core – that we all need a sense of belonging, some human connection is essential to truly living a sustainable, productive life – an element that critics of the film seem to be zeroing in on as the films abject, hypocritical failure when the movie takes a distinct left turn during its middle period into one of those supposedly mawkish ‘life lesson’ pictures. It’s an accusation that isn’t entirely without merit but in an unusual move for me this actually worked as essential character development, some possible nauseating moments are deftly sidestepped when Bingham reconnected with his past, for a character piece which clearly signposts its intentions early on I couldn’t see where else it was going to go, at least in the context of a modest star driven vehicle. The project has a certain frisson with its shooting method that was mostly conducted in real world American airports and hotels, all those Mies van der Rohe carbon copy constructions glimmering in a faceless, bureaucratic silence, mimicked in the deteriorating office spaces and corporate headquarters that Ryan and Natalie undertake their unfortunate, damaging duties. Against these reflective, implacable surfaces the dialogue crackles, providing a humanistic heart to proceedings, fulfilling its comedic ambitions with a vague twist that I didn’t see coming.
It’s a film that revolves around the performances and dialogue more than any camera tricks or obliquely efficient design concerns, Vera Farmiga is efficiently sultry and unexpectedly duplicitous as the film develops, Jason Bateman as Ryan’s boss is his usual smarmy but less obviously cartoonish catalyst to Bingham’s journey, the film for me however was stolen by Anna Kendrick as the brittle Natalie whose revue lingers more in the memory than Clooney’s spiritual sojourn. Having worked for almost three years in a role that brought me into constant contact with clients who led these morally destitute lifestyles I’ll confess a certain joie de vivre in the films attention to detail and moral questioning, the ancillary fetishisation of getting that premier seat, of achieving some sepulchral cachet as illustrated here was all too memorable. But enough of me, it’s a funny, engaging couple of hours at the movies that most importantly doesn’t offer an incongruous resolution. Recommended.
I’ll save my comments, compulsion, analysis and the rest for when the movie is released. The soundtrack is interesting, I’m not hugely excited but this project has some intrigue to say the least. A website has been updated, comments have been made, the film was quietly reviewed in this months Sight & Sound which I’ve deliberately avoided reading although I’ve not escaped the idea that it’s a London based ‘Henry‘ which sounds interesting,
Can you tell this was originally a 3D film? Hitch in another of his experimental phases:
It was the phone as a link, obviously. Shame to hear about Eric Rohmer, if I’m an honest I wasn’t a fan, the three or four films of his I’ve seen were impenetrably dull but to be fair I haven’t seen any of his better regarded work. Still, any key member of the nouvelle vague should be mourned.
Talk about having my finger on the pulse eh? A mere seven ten days into the new epoch, a full month or so behind just about everyone else who has compiled and disseminated their considered anthologies comes my modest congregation of my favourite films of the decade and the emphasis on the my is very important. These are the ten eleven films that I can watch again and again, the films I would most like to be marooned with on a desert island, my favourites for a number of reasons which I may or may not allude to in my brief comments. These are not necessarily the best films of the past ten years, the most illuminating of a decade of cinematic trends and styles, the most reflective of events in a wider social, political or cultural context (although there are some overlaps in that arena) - they are my favourites and I make no apologies for that. With one, maybe two exceptions I can’t see much argument with my choices anyway. From the very start there are major spoilers for all of the movies and with the exception of Numero 1 they are in no specific, strict order, that useless sort of allocation fluctuates depending on my mood. So lets begin:
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007) - How original eh? Well, what can I say, I raved about this back in early 2008 and since then it has magnified into one of my all time favourite films, I watched this again on New Years Eve to round off the decade and it is quite amazing how in two short years it already feels like a classic, up there with the robust brilliance of Welles or Huston at their best. I can’t possibly improve on the reviews that collate its position as the movie that most comprehensively mirrors the American decade, its pursuit of power and influence at the cost of its soul during the Dubya tragedy, its mercenary marriage of religion, wealth and power, the coruscating opacity of the American dream. The stunning score, the beguiling performances, the perfect direction, the cinematography are all incandescently brilliant with a incongruous finale that mark Anderson along with his other work as a director with his own idiosyncracies, his own stylistic flourishes that obliterate any accusation of his being a mere acolyte of Stanley Kubrick or Robert Altman as he confidently adjures a jazzy, discordant element that is prevalent throughout his work. Here’s his first short film, shot back in 1992, the good news is that his next project finds him back with the Hoff in a period project that from its synopsis alone puts me in mind of Wise Blood. Fantastic, I wonder if the Scientologists are warming up their lawyers….
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) - Heath Ledgers final performance elevates him to the pantheon of all time great screen villains, unquestionably the most magnetic Mephisto since Lecktor helped Demme take the Oscar back in 1991. That’s all I’m going to say at this point as I have been working on my analysis of the movie which you may recall I promised over a year ago – I’ve written 1,500 words and have got about half way through the picture – Yes, that’s right, half way through. To be honest I’ve been kind of embarrassed to publish what I’ve got so far as frankly, even by my standards, it’s pretty over the top but fuck it, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll need to revisit and tidy up what I’ve got thus far and ensure some of the links I’ve collated are still valid, no promises but I’ll try to get this up before the end of the month.
The New World (Terence Malick, 2005) - Here’s a challenge, write a review of a Malick film without using the words transcendental, poetic or spiritual – I’ve just failed. Like The Tree Of Life Malick had this tale knocking around in his head since the Seventies, I’ll never forget how stunned I was walking out of the cinema back in 2005, I immediately knew I’d absorbed something unique in terms of a paean of America’s bloody genesis, a canticle of history that formally evokes the cinema of Griffith and Murnau, once again I can’t possibly put it better than this which is film writing at its best – I can’t wait to track down that 172 minute Blu-Ray cut.
Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006) – Yeah, you read that right – Miami Vice. I believe that this is one of the most subversive films of the decade, an art film smuggled into the multiplexes in the guise of a star vehicle that offers an impressionistic take on the synchronicities of globalisation and capitalism, the immaculate and arresting HD photography forging an emerging aesthetic style that will flourish as new auteurs embrace the visual possibilities that the new technology precipitates. Along with Inland Empire it’s a kinetic, acute harbinger of things to come.
No Country For Old Men (Joel Coen, 2007) - Not since Hitchcock has such an elegantly balanced, tautly constructed and breathtakingly efficient thriller been seen on the screen, all sublimated with a troubling treatise on the dark corners of the world and the lurking depravity of the human animal. I find it interesting that McCarthy actually wrote the story as a screenplay first, back in the Eighties (I think) and then expanded it out to a novel when his efforts to sell the property as a movie were thwarted. The supposedly frustrating finale mirrors the disconcerting climax of A Serious Man, I admire the ’unsatisfying’ path that the Coens are incrementally forging.
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006) - I cannot believe, to this day, that I didn’t see this at the cinema – what was I thinking? It came out before I started this blog and my film obsession found its recent crystallisation but that’s really no excuse, an emerging, ‘hot’ director making a warmly received UK near future SF film shot by one of the worlds leading cinematographers? I must have been kidnapped and brainwashed, it’s the only logical explanation. Unfortunately I can’t embed the most magnificent clips of this fantastic movie as they are all locked out but take a look here and here to see what I’m talking about. Zizek nails it here, speaking as a part-time government employee this vision feels closer and closer every year.
21 Grams (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2003) - An individual favourite whose personal treasures I’m keeping secret, its narrative fractures are one of the tropes of the decade that made going to the cinema an intellectual treat, a demonstration that different approaches to storytelling can inject fresh frisson and energy into the moribund three act structure when A isn’t necessarily followed by B, sometimes making C all the more eloquent. For me this movie was a beautific experience that is memorable and moving, exclusively mine.
The Lord Of The Rings (Peter Jackson, 2000 – 2002) - A bit of a cheat but c’mon, it’s one long movie chopped into three isn’t it? Firstly, some context – I first read LOTR when I was about eight and I have revisited it every two or three years since. I am and have been since an early age an obsessive Tolkienaphile who has read all the books many times and would select, as an alterative to Kubrick, the worlds of Middle Earth and Arda as my Mastermind prefered specialised subject – I’m a nerd on this front and proud of it. I’ve just started a chronologically mammoth reading project, to devour, Ungoliant style, all of the Middle Earth/Undying Lands mythology from The Silmarillion, through to The Children of Húrin, on to Unfinished Tales, then to The Hobbit, culminating on LOTR including all the appendices. Ah, I hear you say, that’s not that ambitious, thats a mere 3,000 pages of densely woven, almost biblical in parts text to consume. Well, maybe so but simultaneously I’m also reading the twelve volumes of supplementary material complied by Tolkien’s son Christopher known as The History Of Middle Earth that offers alternative versions of the epic canon, chapter by chapter, throughout the entire epic history of the battles of the Valar, Eldar, Maiar and Edain against the Enemy whose name I shall not mention here. Heh.
When I first sat down to see Fellowship in 2001 I was enormously relived to see the above that proved I was in good hands, Jackson and his crew evidently understanding the colossal dimensions of the milieu, I was almost in tears and utterly beguiled that this life long fascination had finally, appropriately reached the big screen – both Kubrick and Boorman had considered the novel as projects over the years. By todays standards, in the wake of Avatar, it already looks dated of course, I can’t wait to see what Guillermo will do with the new technology he has at his fingertips for The Hobbit, as long as we get an appropriately epic Smaug on screen I’ll be happy. I’m roughly 90% to 95% satisfied with the trilogy, it remains an example of fantastic, meticulously, reverently astonishingly film-making that brilliantly brought Tolkein’s textured world to the screen, being a tiresome, almost boorish purist however I have some objections - the dire relegation of the robust Gimli to comic relief, the Avari Legolas super-powered fighting moments which are cool at some points but faintly ridiculous in others. That aside and despite some awesome individual moments, specifically The Battle of The Pelennor Fields, Shelob, and the Lighting of the Beacons my favourite extended portion of the trilogy is the second part of Fellowship, from Rivendell to the parting of the Fellowship that marks this as the ultimate, unforgettable franchise of the decade.
Mullholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001) -It’s a close run race between this and Inland Empire for Lynch’s achievements of the decade, for me Mullholland wins by a nose not because it is neccessarily more coherent (heh) but because it feels much more finessed, more controlled and thus more efficacious, Empire on a second and third viewing is a little unwieldy in comparison to Mullholland’s compact mysteries, its unique phantoms and presence.
Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000) Plagued with concerns of a feral, violent youth and what do the British do? We produce the likes of Harry Brown with its Daily Mail friendly vigilante justice that is morally questionable at best. What do the Japanese do? They turn an identical societal concern, a decade before, into a game show where forty youths massacre each other with a variety of cruel and unusual weapons - now that’s entertainment. This may be my guilty pleasure of the decade but I make no apologies, it’s just so much fun and I’ve selected the clip above as the best representation of a fantastically entertaining movie, the great Fukasaku’s swan song.
Nueve Reinas (Fabián Bielinsky, 2000) The film that brings a decade of celluloid obsession full circle. Some ten years ago, having recently moved to London, I was intrigued by a film that was garnering plaudits in relation to its twisting, concealed purpose that presented a fresh take on the crime movie genre. Nine Queens is an electrifying con-artist film, worthy of Mamet as his best, a picture that echoed the financial turmoil that Argentina was suffering at that time and was also a gripping, elusive drama that kept you constantly surprised until the final credits. I’m a great believer that a movie, at least for me, is like an album or novel that can bookmark a certain period of your life when things change, when a new chapter opens, Nine Queens certainly being very first ‘art’ film that I saw when I was able to take advantage of the world class cinema facilities of London and as such will always have a fond place in my cinema geek heart. Isn’t that what pictures are all about?
New decade, new year, new project – to randomly post a scene or sequence I particularly admire, the only caveat being I have to link it to the next random post in some tangential way be it by connecting via an actor, director, studio, country of origin, something along those lines. I will be posting unrelated film reviews, trailers and news as usual independent of this scheme. To kick off, please enjoy a lovely party;
I will try my best to make some clever (or pompous depending on how you look at it) links between clips rather than go for the obvious, we’ll see how this develops. Given that I’ve just thought of this scheme probably not very well. Still, this should make it easier to publish an entry every day or two and that’s the plan….
The first of the new decade and I can’t think of a more apt beginning to proceedings, a bona-fide all time cinematic masterpiece, Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story is playing as the centrepiece of an exhaustive two month retrospective of the Sensei’s work at the National Film Theatre. If you thought, as I did for many years, that Japanese cinema consisted mostly of indestructible, stoic Samurai cleaving through numerous scores of whelping peasants, psychopathic yakuza waging incendiary turf wars through the streets of Shinjuki or unconvincingly clad stunt men wrestling each others monster clad forms on sound stage simulacrums of the Tokyo skyline then think again, beyond the cult and genre favourites there is a rich vein of intimate, spiritually humanist, dare I say it Zen like films that represent some of the best achievements of the art form. It took many years for the work of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse and others to reach the West, Rashomon is credited as almost single-handedly opening up Japanese cinema by winning the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, an achievement that whetted the appetite of a generation of film lovers bored of the stale Hollywood tropes for a feast of distinctive forms of storytelling, of refreshing approaches to empyrean subjects, of utilizing the conventions of cinema in unusual and illuminating ways. Ozu in particular took some time to be assimilated and understood by the European and American critical intelligentsia, Japanese distributors who were reaping the profits of Kurosawa’s Western like Samurai epics throughout the Fifties and Sixties simply assumed that Ozu’s work was far too mannered, too gentle, perhaps too idiosyncratic of a glacial vision of Japanese life that would find no audience outside of its host country and therefore rarely bothered to sanction new, expensive prints to be shipped abroad. They failed to sense that the themes that he explored throughout his magnificent career - the family, marriage, the clashes of generations – are universally appealing on a global sense, Tokyo Story arguably serving as the apotheosis of his oeuvre.
Plot-wise Toyko Story is minimalist to the max, or erm, something. In the early 1950′s an elderly couple, Shukishi and Tomi Hirayama (the former played by Ozu stalwart Chishû Ryû) make a rare journey to visit their children in Tokyo. Their daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) has little time for them, absorbed as she is in her popular beauty saloon business, she makes arrangements to despatch them to a nearby spa to keep them occupied. Similarly their first son Koichi, a doctor finds his medicinal duties more pressing than his familial obligations and quietly welcomes this diversion of a potential drain on his precious time. A solace of sorts is found in the shape of the Hirayama’s sister-in-law Noriko, portrayed by the legendarily radiant Setsuko Hara, who welcomes their visit and enjoys the time she is able to spend with her extended family, both her and Tomi mourning the loss of her second son, Noriko’s husband during the war. Shukishi visits some old work colleagues and they all get amusingly drunk, the imbibed sake prompting the aging patriarchs to slowly reveal the resigned disappointment they feel of how their children have fared and succeeded to varying degrees in the great game of life. Off-screen on the way home Tomi passes away and the family coalesce outside Tokyo for her funeral, leaving Shukishi a widower who calmly accepts the lonely life that he now faces in his twilight years. That’s pretty much it.
Ozu frequently found himself touching on the shift of Japanese sensibilities and traditions straddling as he did work in both the pre and post War periods. Crucially there is no lecturing or finger wagging from Ozu in Toyko Story, he merely presents this contemporary shift in societal dynamics as a fact of life, not necessarily a cultural tradition to be mourned. In the context of todays production models his career is quite amazing, Ozu worked at the same Shōchiku film studios for over forty years, like the Hollywood golden age it was a self contained world where directors would draw on the in-house artisans and technicians to construct their films, from the script departments to focus pullers, the gaffers to art directors, all working together to reveal something of an in-house style which in Shōchiku’s case were home centred dramas that mostly appealed to women. For a precis of the Japanese studio system, take a look here.
That clip demonstrates everything that makes the film so refreshing and new to an audience weened on the traditional Hollywood film grammar that had been established over the previous sixty or so years – the action occurring in the centre of the visual plane with various foreground objects such as furniture, corridor walls and other household accoutrements delivering a more enveloping, hermetic aura to the scenes, all of which are framed from a tatami mat level. Ozu cuts on dialogue in close-up, the usual method of communication but abandons the eye-line match, having his performers address dialogue direct to the screen, provoking a more intimate connection to the characters and drawing more attention to not only what is being said but the spaces between the words, the reactions to the colloquy. Rather than use the ubiquitous fade to black or dissolve to indicate a shift in time and space Ozu uses an unusual method, an insert of a vase, a train, a chimney stack (perhaps a sly nod to his perceived interest in Modernism) to signal a forward progression in the story, a transition to another day, to another scene and encounter - the so called ‘pillow-shot‘.
Treading very carefully, having endured another painful and disappointing festive season the film is exceptionally moving with a devastating penultimate scene – after the funeral the families youngest daughter, the unmarried Toriko who lived with the elders complains that her older brothers and sisters don’t seem to care for their deceased mother. With a gloomy acceptance Noriko explains that children inevitably drift away from their parents – ‘Isn’t life disappointing?’ complains Keiso, ‘Yes it is’ comes Noriko’s heart-breaking reply. A masterpiece.
Interesting huddle of directorial talent:
..and part 2…
Here’s a great little site that has cropped up recently, I recommend ‘Invasion Of The Neptune Men‘ with a very young Sonny Chiba. Finally, just to be snarky compare and contrast the last paragraph with the first paragraph, I quite like David Thompson when he’s not delving into his subjects private life and sticks to the movies but this did make me think he’s really losing it….