Here’s David looking back to his earlier lunacy in a trailer he was commissioned to make for the Vienna film festival this year;
It’s been interesting to read that amongst the international critics that a lot of the British fare that got glowing applauds this year from the indigenous and American press have been shunned by continental Europe at ‘second tier’ festivals like this, with the likes of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Wuthering Heights and Shame getting the cold shoulder, according to some of the reportage in this months Sight & Sound. In response they have just published their films of the year list, a collation from contributors votes from around the world, which seems reflected in a global scope of nominees and probably stands as the first time I’ve actually heard of all the winners, even if I haven’t seen them all – 6 out of 11 this year which ain’t bad.
What a coincidence, on Saturday I was watching this, an above average horror portmanteau film from 2006 which paired up some interesting directors – Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, Sean S. Cunningham and Ken Russell – to have a crack at the old school Twilight Zone, Dead of Night type episodic movie. Russell’s segment, probably the first thing of his I’ve seen for a while, was characteristically bonkers with a tale concerning a fading Hollywood actress who gets vampiric tits which help her maintain her career, so like much of Russell’s work its at the very least memorable;
As the brother of a rabid fan of The Who I grew up with the sounds of Tommy reverberating around the family home, the film is that very rare beast for me – a musical I actually like – with a demented sense of glee that only Russell could formulate – he even got Jack to sing. He will be sorely missed as one of the great British eccentric directors, well versed in the classics, ranging from music to history to literature to art, all welded together with an idiosyncratic flair for big, sweeping bombastic movies packed with redolent imagery;
For genre fans cults have emerged around Altered States, The Lair of The White Worm and Crimes of Passion, if memory serves his Harry Palmer episode Billion Dollar Brain was also pretty good, despite being foisted upon him as a contractual demand. So farewell you glorious nutter, I’ve always remembered a story (I think contained in a South Bank Show Profile from a few years back) about how when some violent rain, howling wind and distressing weather was lashing his remote Surrey cottage during a particularly brutal English Autumn evening he’d enjoy pumping up the stereo and conducting along with the Ride of The Valkyries in some sort of deranged battle against the elements – here’s the obligatory.
I’m not entirely sure what this is, but it must be shared;
I liked the music. And the numerous cameos. And the Arrested Development moment was superb.
Watched this interesting documentary today, made in 1982 by Wim Wenders at Canne it’s a collection of his contemporaries views on the history of cinema, filmed in a numerical hotel room of the title. As a historical document it is fascinating, not only for the appearances of those that have since left us (Antonioni, Monte Hellman, Fassbinder) and the perspectives of those at a particular juncture in their career (Spielberg ruminates on the rising costs of production having just made E.T., which cost an astronomical $10 million!!) but the opinions expressed are amusing with the benefit of hindsight, as many of the delegates bemoan the rise of VHS and the popularity of television as the death knell of the movies. As always, Herzog steals the show;
‘You can’t answer a question like that with your shoes on’ is vintage Werner, and ’we’ll be ordering food on our computers’ – well, quite. You can watch the whole thing here, it’s only 44 minutes so give it a whirl.
The BFI managed to deliver quite a wealth of horrific material to dominate this years Halloween weekend, as well as a re-schedule of the postponed John Landis Monster Movies discussion they also programmed an evening screening of the 1982 version of The Thing, one of the best creature features of the past few decades which was selected by Landis himself. Following a macabre Sunday then the 31st proper was on the Monday, not always the most popular weeknight for the movies, but the siren call of not one, nor two but three old-school chillers lured me over to the Southbank for a triple bill of the uncanny. A few words about the Landis event before we get into the reviews, he really is good value for money as host (The League of Gentlemen’s) Reece Shearsmith explained, all you had to do was utter one mild question and Landis was off on a rollercoaster ride of references, thoughts and anecdotes about the movies. He made some prudent observations – horror movies, like comedies, are several times more effective at the cinema as fear and humour are infectious in crowds, that Jesus Christ was the first literary zombie, that when it comes to these hellions a ‘follow the monster, you’ll find a metaphor’ mantra is essential and that he feels that these lumbering, moaning creatures are ultimately the celluloid representations of our fear of death, of the uncertain terror of the unknown. Werewolf got some kudos of course and Landis claimed that zombies are the preeminent cultural monster of the moment due to the fear of civilisation falling and the loss of control – I’m not so sure but lets not get into that – before he and Shearsmith reeled off some fine stories and anecdotes about horror and monster movies that they love which warmed the cockles of my fan-boy heart – they were both very funny with a particularly disgusted and hilarious attack on the Twilight atrocities. He also made a good conversation point about movies in general – isn’t this the only art form where something ’bad’ can actually be fun and amusing to absorb? That bad films can be entertaining in their own, idiosyncratically strange little way, as opposed to a bad play, or a bad book, or a bad painting? – it’s food for thought. I thought about getting a copy of his book, autographed no less, but it looks like more a coffee table stills publication than anything with any sort of trenchant analysis, I’ll reconsider picking up a copy when I’m at the BFI again in a couple of weeks. So you’re probably wondering were in the arctic hell my The Thing review is given that it’s one of favourite horror films ever, well I’m going to do a combined review with the prequel at the end of the month once it finally hits UK shores, it will be an appropriately epic affair to round off this years lengthy history of ghastly lurking. For now let’s have a cursory look at the three abominations that the BFI unleashed to a grimly disgusted audience during this celebration of the eerie shall we?
Cat People - It’s not often you get a freebie in life but membership does occasionally have its perks*, as the BFI decided to begin its Halloween trilogy of terror with a special members screening of Cat People, the RKO B-Movie classic from 1942, which was produced by the legendary Val Lewton and directed by B-Movie maestro Jacques Tourneur who was also responsible for such gems as I Walked With A Zombie (the definition of celluloid eerie) Night Of The Demon and Out Of The Past – one of the all time classic , hardboiled, chiaroscuro film noirs. Cat People is an economically taut, perplexing growl of a movie which is notable not only for its wonderful atmospherics and imaginative use of lighting (yup, it’s the old expressionist influence again) to generate the prerequisite creeps, but also for its early incantations of psychology and psychoanalysis which started to seep into American cinema of this period – witness Hitchcock’s Spellbound three years later. A young Serbian refugee (a feline Simone Simon) to New York fears that she is afflicted by an Eastern European family curse which will transform her into a panther should she become sexually aroused – she has something of a killer pussy if you will – although of course given its era these obscene elements are submerged and its merely her ‘matrimonial duties’ which are referenced in the script, but we know what she’s talking about. Cat People is one of the exemplars of the ‘suggest, don’t show’ strains of atmospheric horror where the action is all intimated off-screen, and sequences such as this are reference points for any macabre director over the intervening seventy years. It was a good print considering its age, although I think the BFI did a restoration on a print some years ago, all in all a purrfect start to proceedings. I’m sorry. If memory serves the sequel was pretty good as well…..
Dracula’s Daughter - Given the vintage of some films you have to cut them a break as the aesthetics, technology and cultural codes obviously adapt and mutate with time. Certain films that were produced around the introduction of sound can feel very stagey and stilted, with a theatrical automaton feel to the performances, but pushing these facets aside you can still enjoy an interesting story with different visual codes, and if you’re lucky you might even see the birth or early gestation of various forms of movie grammar (the montage, the shot / reverse shot for example) which have developed over the decades. Unfortunately Dracula’s Daughter is not one of those movies, and it is my solemn duty to report that this was one of the most tedious 70 minutes I’ve spent at the cinema for a while. Released in 1936 it’s the first ‘official’ sequel of its kind, being of course the next in the series spawned by the 1931 original classic with Lugosi in the title role, even taking into account the historical points above this is a brutality dull film, with dialogue that is ham-fisted even for its period, and considering this is a horror film it would have been nice to have some, y’know, horror in it? This is very little in the way of cobwebbed mausoleums or lightning illuminated gothic cathedrals, the plot as well as I could make it concerns a mysterious woman named Countess Marya Zaleska comes to England and attempts to break her curse of vampirism by stealing her brothers remains and seducing a psychiatrist – yes those mind boffins are rearing their ugly heads again in what must one of the professions earliest screen representations. Dracula’s Daughter has some amusement, this is clearly a fictional England with accents that would make Dick Van Dyke blush and there is a certain vampish charm to Gloria Holden (some cursory reading around the film reveals that it has been seized as an early lesbian movie due to one strange seduction scene), but the most interesting facet to this mis-fire is that the main succubus is the grandmother of Laurie Holden, an actress I like who you may recognise from the latter seasons of The Shield, or The Mist or more recently The Walking Dead. Look out for the great Jack Pierce in the make-up chair as well.
Son of Dracula – Well, now this is more like it. Widely speaking, the 1940’s saw a second cycle of American horror movies birthed by the original Universal cycle of the previous decade, and this is where the now de rigour ‘Son of’ or ‘Return of’ of ‘The Curse of’ series of sequels and cash-ins first started haunting the drive-ins and sleepy towns of North America. Son of Dracula casts Lon Chaney Jr. in the leechlike role, son of the legendary Lon Chaney Sr. I have to say he is thoroughly mis-cast, with very little in the way of genuine, threatening charisma and the dude is just a bad actor. But the film is relatively good as these sequels go, it has an unusual deep south gothic charm from its Louisiana setting which is a potent location (indeed you can see my favourite scene linked below, it starts at 6:38) for the count to seduce a local plantation widower and usurp her fortune, it is also famous for the first on-screen transformation of Dracula from man to bat – a scriptwriter invention that like the silver bullets slaying the beast in The Wolfman are wholly Hollywood inventions – and it also has the first iteration of the now comical Count Alucard mirror name, that accursed Van Helsing (represented as a tubby Henry Kissinger by J. Edward Bromberg, one of the reds that Kazan snitched on) will never solve that complex obfuscation now will he? I also liked the inversion in this film, as the Count’s blue blooded victim Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) actually becomes something of femme fatale once she’s turned, even challenging the master himself, as she plots her own nefarious scheme to disintegrate her suitor, seize the estate and build her own twilight kingdom of the undead – I could go into one here about the link of female roles in film noirs during the war years and their portrayal as sexually and psychological manipulative sirens due to the emancipation of factory work as part of the war effort but that’s a whole other blog post. Son of Dracula was directed by the fantastic Robert Siodmak and the noir and expressionist pedigree is evident through his teutonic eye, although it suffers an abrupt finale it has more bite than most of the sequels of its breed that I can remember.
*No word of a lie, as I wrote that sentence my phone chimed with an invite to a BFI special event, something which promises to be one of the retrospective film highlights of the year, in terms of a clue I’ll just say ‘War starts at midnight you fucking mook’ -make of that what you will. I’m jolly excited about this, I just managed to get the last two tickets after 20 minutes on hold and its’ s a terrific way of rounding off the year with a full review of a bonafide classic, from the mid 1940′s – that’s your second clue……
After that dark and brooding take on Australian psychopaths let’s have some amusement to raise the spirits, I’m not usually one for tiresome nostalgia trawls but I must share this;
….so I can share this cluster of unmitigated, concentrated, sweded awesome;
Now there’s a kids TV show that would benefit from a 3D CGI heavy update. Speaking of kids stuff Hugo has been getting some amazing nods from the summaries I’ve skim read – one doesn’t read reviews until they’ve seen the film and one has collected ones own thoughts – but it looks like it’s visually dazzling and has a lot of submerged film nerd details to munch on. I’m really looking to forward to this now, thank god that horrendous trailer doesn’t (allegedly) reflect the final movie. We shall see….
There has been talk of a mini-renaissance of Australian cinema this year, with a trio of strong, idiosyncratic movies that have charmed and challenged cinema fans both home and abroad, and even secured limited releases beyond niche festival screenings throughout Europe and the notoriously difficult to infiltrate North American market. Having seen and mostly enjoyed these three films, comprising of the ferocious Animal Kingdom, the noir Western Red Hill and lastly the horrifically oppressive Snowtown I detect a subtle theme, I’m not sure what has prompted this crisis of masculinity in Australian culture but this trinity have strong undercurrents of testosterone nourished paranoia, from Red Hill’s meekly mannered cop finally rising to heroic status after a botched shooting exiles him to the antipodean version of Siberia, from the morally blurred violence of the cops and robbers of the neurotic Animal Kingdom and now the serial killing atrocities of Snowtown unleashing a litany of homophobia fuelled atrocities that come slithering from the working class suburbs of Adelaide . It all seems like a long, stuttering economy class flight from the blazing Gold Coast beaches, from the indigenous easy-going nonchalance and the brightly sun-kissed arches of the Sydney Opera House that decorate the Australian tourist boards pamphlets and posters, as the only koala bears in these films are road kill, the only barbecue some unfortunates scorched flesh.
Snowtown is based on the notorious 1999 ‘bodies in the barrel’ killings where eleven unfortunate victims were tortured, killed and interred by serial killer John Bunting (a berserk Daniel Henshall, the films only professional actor) and his gang of indoctrinated and disaffected young men, an impressionable crew who accompanied him on his self proclaimed crusade against the local gays, drug addicts and paedophiles in the decrepit working class suburbs of Adelaide. His victims were often selected on the basis of rumour and innuendo, stretching from registered sex offenders to the mentally disabled, from desperate heroin addicts to leather skinned queens, his insatiable thirst to dominate and terrify snowballing out of control as the slightest transgression could result in murder. The film views the crimes through the eyes of Jamie Vlassakis (newcomer Lucas Pittaway), one of three sons of Elizabeth Harvey (Louise Harris), an affection starved single mother who took the charismatic Bunting into her home where he swiftly became a surrogate father to the boys, offering them the only male companionship and leadership of their turbulent young lives. This poisonous family unit is established shortly after the boys were sexually abused by a neighbour who was similarly involved with Elizabeth, and soon a campaign of intimidation against this neighbour is ignited by Bunting, forcing the local transgressor to flee for his life. Bunting however isn’t satisfied with this small victory, holding court with his mates and hangers on he proclaims himself the paladin of the suburbs, and in a very creepy way he asks the fellow drinkers and revellers at his parties to describe what they’d do to the pedos and queers, subsequently almost physically relishing in the verbal cruelty of their responses. Psychologically fractured after being abused by the neighbour and his half brother Jamie falls under the spell of Buntings affection, and soon he is the coerced accomplice in a spree of abominable proportions….
With such grievous subject matter you’d expect Snowtown to be a sour, challenging and somewhat depressing experience and you’d be absolutely dead right. It’s a heinously strong debut from video director graduate Justin Kurzel, invested with a perpetually overcast squalor courtesy of cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (who also lit Animal Kingdom interestingly enough), its less the sickening bursts of violence that turns the stomach its more the pervasive atmosphere of hopelessness and dread that permeates the film, it’s a very claustrophobic experience with the constant threat of violence lurking at the flicker of every frame. Daniel Henshall’s turn as the vile Bunting is truly terrifying, he’s like a Toby Jug with rabies whom is affable and buoyant one moment, before exposing a bottomless gulf of vicious sadism the next, like a one man tabloid campaign he’s like the Daily Fail personified in a densely compacted build of hatred, ignorance and bullying violence. Newcomer and first time actor Lucas Pitaway pulls off a remarkable coup, garnering sympathy and horror alike as he is slowly enveloped in Buntings sadism, there’s something of a young Heath Ledger about him (both physically and charismatically), as even when he snaps and his psychosis is fully obscured by Buntings poisonous orbit he kills more out of kindness than vindictiveness, not to mention his sexual abuse victim status throwing a moral shadow across his actions. The decision to frame the whole movie through Jamie’s eyes as opposed to a police procedural works wonders, with no key heroic figure of authority to align ourselves with our empathy immediately latches onto Jamie, a uncomfortable switch to a man who is worthy of a shred of sympathy but who is also instrumental in some horrendous acts of violence.
There’s an unusual obsession with food in the film, as many scenes are constructed around the dinner table or food preparation, perhaps signalling one of the few moments of family cohesion or more depressingly perhaps the only highlight of the day as the kids and adults trudge remorselessly through a repetitive dirge toward a squalid and increasingly hopeless future. I must be totally desensitized by now because I didn’t find the violence that harrowing* unlike the dozen or so people who left the screening as the film unspooled, indeed as is always the case the vast majority of ferocity is implied and is inflicted off-screen, and I initially wondered if the BBFC didn’t get their draconian scissors an airing. But no, it appears they didn’t, and quite honestly a subsequent viewing of the vomit inducing Drive Angry 3D the next evening left me far more shaken and distressed with its truly horrendous wallow in multiple homicides, all presented with a demented glee that has one praying for a cleansing nuclear conflagration. Snowtown is a challenging, uncomfortable and despairing work, but those with the requisite constitution will come away admiring a powerful and dare I say it orchestrated piece of work, with both actors and director as future talents to watch.
*Well, OK, the bit with the toe was a bit fucking harsh….
I know, I know, it’s been quiet around here recently. Well, I and colleagues are in the midst of a critical period at work which has involved some precarious negotiations (and the attendant long hours), more importantly this came out at the weekend and I am thoroughly addicted;
I haven’t got my teeth into an utterly riveting, sandbox game since Red Dead Redemption but Skyrim is another injection of digital heroin that can easily absorb a couple of ten-hour sessions over a weekend, especially given the increasingly ominous weather which posits an outside sojourn as tenuous at best. This comes at an interesting time in terms of my reviewing commitments, I do have a couple of things in the pipeline, I’ve just revised a previous review, I did manage to drag myself away from the console to see Snowtown last weekend ( I hesitate to use the word ‘good’ but its an assured piece of work) and I also have the BFI Halloween trilogy to finish. I kind of wish it was a quieter time of year if I’m honest, I didn’t manage to see this, this is out this coming weekend and is supposed to be terrific then Hugo is out the week after then a certain prequel hits the week after that – gimme a break, huh? Still, Christmas beckons and I’m definitely going away again, I just need to confirm if I’m jetting East or West out of the country come mid- December. In the interim you may recall I expressed surprise at some audio of Stanley discussing The Shining being broadcast on Movie Geeks United, well they actually got in touch and gave me a welcome referral;
Thanks guys, plenty of YT links to follow from that – it looks like a new Italian documentary is out there in the wild and must be acquired. Anyway, I’ll be back before the end of the week with another review. Promise. As long as I’m not tempted to just watch the world go by;
Let me be upfront about this gentle reader, I tried my best to approach Alien Resurrection with an open mind, I really did. I’ve seen the film maybe once since its initial cinema outing in 1997 and I distinctly remember feeling sorely cheated and throughly unimpressed on first absorption, in particular the terrible iteration of the titular creature toward the end of the film heralding a rock bottom low in the DNA of the franchise. After the lacklustre critical reaction and more crucially the sharp decline in box office returns mustered byAlien 3 I had to give the producers some kudos for what on paper this could have been an interesting direction for the series, committed as they were to a hot new genre writer – Joss Whedon* – and retaining a solid commitment to visually arresting helmsmen, in this case the Gallic provocateur Jean-Pierre Jeunet who was a hot property after the success of Delicatessen and his follow-up The City Of Lost Children. Sigourney was lured back with a lucrative cheque and a genre attuned cast was assembled (no pun intended), including the likes of Ron Perlman, Dan ‘Wolfman’ Hedaya and Brad Dourif, not to mention the surprise casting of Winona Ryder whose star has waned somewhat over the past 15 years, but in 1997 she was at the height of her geek seducing powers – witness the equal billing on the poster. But where did it all go so wrong?
To continue the rigorous compliance of this pet project I opted again for the directors cut of the film and this was the first time I’d ingested it, and boy did that not improve the experience. These iterations of a movie can pollinate new facets and ideas that the filmmakers originally had, it can provide insights into abandoned concepts or deepen the thematic concerns of a vision hampered by time and budgetary constraints, in the case of Alien Resurrection I have to say that this version is ever worse that the standard cut, with an unnecessarily tacked on holocaust earth ending – complete with cliché abandoned world-famous landmarks – redundant, immaterial inserts to existing scenes and a horrible, sub-par direct to DVD opening which is a cheaper than a pound shop discount sale. Like Ripley I think I must regard myself as something of a survivor after clambering through roughly fifteen hours of documentaries, featurettes and interviews throughout the whole gnashing quadrilogy , and as per the hosts pedigree the quality of those elements for Resurrection is also inferior, with not a great deal of insight into the projects genesis, evolution or expulsion, apart from one lengthy piece on the construction of perhaps the films only really successful flourish – but we’ll come back to that.
I’ll start with some its strengths before we descend to the brimstone depths, as you’d expect from Jeunet the film does have an dementedly quirky, loose and breezy future steam-punk aesthetic which is nervously captured by the glutinous photography of DP Darius Khonji, it brings to mind the Victorian stylistics of a diluted Jules Verne funnelled through the clockwork, metronome beats that Jeunet excels at with his humorous, distinctive montage flourishes. The use of distorting, wide angled lenses also betrays an instinctive grasp of the hybrid genre and its visual grammar, with the hexagonal corridors being probed by a prowling camera, and the tempered design does seem to acknowledge a future world that has advanced beyond in years beyond the designs of Alien III. There is also one sequence that I’d mark out for distinction, the underwater chase at the start of Act 3 gives the xenomorphic critters a new environment to infect and the introduction of the membrane covered ‘air pocket flanked by eggs’ set piece is a nice touch, the sequence also has a historical element in that it’s probably one of the last pre-CGI physical element shoots with real actors, actress and stunt-people in a genuine multi-million gallon water tank – more here – before the digital specialists came in and made the Health and Safety executives happy and the aquatic celluloid daredevils out of work. Titanic was to come two years later of course but I’m guessing that that behemoth was the near swan song of such practical expertise, as the new decade ushered in the CGI revolution. Consequently the chase and frenzied scramble up to safety has an aura of weight and dread in its execution, and marks the only really exciting thrill packed contraction of the movie – I’d provide a link but there is sod all permitted excerpts on the YT I’m afraid. The aliens sacrificing themselves to escape via their acidic blooded shows some intelligence and the early montage of Ripley’s clone moving from chrysalis to birth is also paced and scored well, but that’s about it.
The major problems in Alien Resurrection boil down to those usual ingredients that always prove so elusive to secure in a qualitative sense – characters, plot and narrative. The group dynamics that Whedon seemed to excel at in Buffy, Firefly and Angel are absent here, with a rag-tag crew bereft of amusing quips, compelling attributes or any sense of a measured group ensemble although I guess some of them have some unique weapons if that’s your sort of thing. There are no definitive stakes at play as the anti-heroes meet their fate, a problem mirrored with the corporation crew who are unsympathetic corporate drones, not even a leaden Winona can save proceedings who is so obviously (gasp!) an android from the opening frames that you wonder why they bothered as this human / alien function of the milieu is not explored. This is compounded by the films biggest problem, the explanation and inflection of Ripley as an Alien chromosome clone, thus rendering her as an aloof super heroine with no empathy emanating from the screen – you don’t care she’s back, neither does she, and there is no character arc. I appreciate that after jumping into a molten industrial smelter in Alien III the scriptwriting department would face some significant problems terms of convincingly resurrecting her, but apart from some time travel machinations I can’t think of a more lazily inspired solution other than ‘err, she’s a clone?’ spit-balled solution. Clumsy, unironic dialogue exchanges along the quality of ‘Don’t make me do this?’ to which the retort is ‘Don’t make me make you do this?’ doesn’t exactly help matters.
The film evidently had some problems when Jeunet was brought aboard as the budget was incrementally shaved leading to the loss of some potentially imaginative scenes (a fight through an Silent Running inspired eco-dome, that opening pull-back montage that lightly mocks the likes the SF ‘epic’ pomposity of the Star Wars opening for example) but if the production wasn’t slightly curtailed and improvised solutions weren’t executed on the spot then it wouldn’t really be an Aliens film now would it? In simple, direct terms the twisted elegance, the sleek style and visceral bite of the first two movies, taken on either a pure horror or action movies basis is sorely lacking in Alien Resurrection. It’s the same breathless meander through a smoke choked bulkheads with characters we care nothing about, there are no new thematic threads to follow and even simple inversions like the ship’s computer gender switch from ‘Mother’ to ‘Father’ seem forced and lazy. The film has the ambience of standard fare SF studio films like Event Horizon or any Stallone or Schwarzenegger tent-pole piece of the Nineties, with no alien habitat to explore and the same dark chases through bulkheads and strobe lit corridors is just so tired by 1997, but then as the film moves out of its second act chase structure and accelerates up to the final dénouement on the escape ship we finally see the real stupidity on offer. There is no real contextually, the narrative is not taken into any particularly new thematic territory concerning parental fears, sex and death, birth and pregnancy or any other strand you can extrapolate from the other franchise entries, what we get in Alien Resurrection is some reborn alien ‘daughter’ of Ripley which looks terrible, in a plot strand not even activated until into deep into the film, which subsequently concludes on a shoddy anticlimax containing the worst prosthetics of the series – whoever signed off that final creature design needs to take a one way jaunt through the nearest airlock. Yuck.
So that’s that, I can finally wash my hands of all this gelatinous slimy detritus and move onto pastures new for 2012, it’s not so much that I disliked Alien Resurrection its more that I was very very disappointed, like a harassed parent scolding an itinerant runt. Jeunet was potentially a great choice – Danny Boyle was also on the shortlist at one point which could have been interesting – but he doesn’t seem to care in the final product or the numerous featurettes on the disks, when you consider that some of Mobius designs informed the genesis of the project it could have come a full gallic circle but here we are. Still, in terms of one of the best Blu-Ray box sets out there I can’t recommend the Quadrilogy enough, two terrific films and exemplars of the genre, two mis-steps with some intriguing elements, and an overwhelming background of DNA to each of the episodes incubations, insertions and explosions which should keep even the most ravenous cinephile sated. On a final charming note I have to say that Producer David Giler come across as a total fucktard throughout all eight hours of background material - I’m annoyed to see him on the credits of Prometheus I have to say - but let’s hope that Ridley’s return to the SF genre matches the lofty expectations, more on this with the annual round-up and look forward to next years potential cinematic treats. Speaking of which what’s next years side project I hear you ask? Well, I’ve mulled over a few potential series for 2012, I even got a request to do the Three Colours Trilogy which has been superseded by this, but I always had a pockmarked ace up my sleeve, all together now ‘WHAAH A WHAAH A WHAAH -WUR WA WA….’
*I quite like Joss Whedon and he has his acolytes, but when people talk of The Avengers naturally being brilliant because he’s occupying the directors chair they really need to take another look at this runt.
Some interesting blasphemy from the BFI today, they are finally unleashing DVD print of Ken Russell’s butchered 1971 film The Devils which caused quite the religious controversy over forty years ago;
I’m not a particularly big fan of the film, I’ve only seen the cut version once but it’s certainly worth a couple of hours of your time if you’re in the mood for Ken during his most outrageous and consequently most interesting period. Speculation mounted that this announcement would herald the lifting of a notorious ban but alas it’s not the case, it’s not been re-submitted to the BBFC and no cinema release is possible as they don’t hold the rights – Kermode must be gutted. It’s interesting to absorb from a UK censorship perspective though, I won’t exactly be loading it up on the Amazon Wish List but I’m sure I’ll get round to another viewing at some point next year.
In other news the Kubrick series gets to The Shining with a 3 hour podcast that is throughly exquisite, including some audio of Stan talking about the design of the film that I’ve never heard before – where the fuck did they source that from? I’m almost positive that it’s not in the Making Of Documentary so I’m simultaneously bewildered and bewitched – good work guys – even if you do give airtime towards the end to the conspiracy Moon landing conspiracy mentalists…
Like many I’ve been mildly perturbed and amused by the Guardian newspapers bizarre vendetta against Steven Spielberg’s latest project, his first punt into the virgin waters of motion capture film-making, grappled on to the swashbuckling activities of a strawberry blond quiffed journalist in the early 20th century – The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg picked up the rights to Herge’s popular creation back when he was shooting Temple of Doom, perhaps as a second generation template of his and George Lucas’s tribute to the Republic serials of the 1930’s, thwarted in his vision for the franchise in the intervening years due to the constraints of an accursedly primitive rendering technology. The breakthroughs of Avatar and the digital prowess of Peter Jackson’s WETA SFX studio have now made these dreams a reality, as a whole new casket of digital treasures has been unleashed, enabling the reproduction of fully realised digital worlds on modest production stages, which had Steve jetting down to New Zealand in early 2010 to regain his purely glittering entertainment mojo after a decade of more serious, more adult projects. Some complain that this trend toward the fully artificial is extracting the soul and vitality of these tent-pole productions – a view I’m not averse to in the light of Lucas’s artificially bland Star Wars prequels (although a script, acting, passion, excitement, ingenuity and sense of narrative might have helped) and other ersatz chores from the likes of his acolyte Robert Zemeckis – but although it gets off to a limp start this new vanguard of 21st century mass market cinema has some promising possibilities when manipulated by a true master of his species of film, the fantasy action spectacular.
Tintin is the story of an intrepid journalist cum adventurer, an inquisitive sort who battles with international counterfeit rings and nefarious criminal masterminds, whilst excavating ancient treasures and arcana in an early 20th century setting replete with stealthy pickpockets, dunderheaded goons, secret legends and precious heirlooms, with his faithful wire-haired fox terrier Snowy as his constant, loyal companion. Adapting one of the early tales in the canon The Secret of The Unicorn is one part franchise introduction and one part Mo-Cap showreel, as the titular explorer (Jamie Bell) purchases an impressive Galleon model which leads him on an adventure on land and sea, through deserts and docks, populated with a menagerie of Herge’s creations including the bumbling Thompson Twins (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), two ineffectual Scotland Yard detectives and more importantly the rum soaked Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who surfaces as the central character of the film. The galleons secrets reveal a treasure map to Haddock’s ancestors pirate hoard and the trio are soon on the hunt, but other flagitious forces are also in play, as the moustache twirling villain Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig, muted) emerges from the shadows as Haddocks historical nemesis. Ancient enmities are illuminated , shivers are timbered, as the gang of plucky heroes battle the foreign defilers of gentlemanly conduct….
In terms of some personal context let’s get a few things out of the way. As much as I am a big fan of Spielberg and have seen every film of his at the flicks since Schindler’s List (well, OK, apart from Amistad so I dodged that bullet eh?) the early glimpses of this did not seduce me, I thought it looked like a horrible CGI cluster-fuck populated with glassy-eyed mannequins that would distract mightily from the potential swashing of buckles. I read the Tintin books as a kid and enjoyed them (if memory serves this was my favourite, typical SF nerd eh?) but then I grew up and forgot about them, I’ve got nothing against a wispy nostalgia for ones youth but this whole cult of aged fanboys wailing at the audacity of a 21st century port from one communication model to another, from page to celluloid, really need to take a good, long, hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask if there aren’t some slightly more important things to get fucking worked up about in the world. Um, anyway, as the mildly evocative Catch Me If You Can titles dissolved to the digital playground of Herges imagination I was not initially impressed, the visual texture is glorious (close-ups on characters faces reveal indentations in the skin and convincing hair, that glassy-eyed facsimile problem is mostly mastered) but the first hour of the film feels uncertain and glitchy, although Spielberg has the confidence to launch straight into the world without wasting time on origin stories or needless exposition the storytelling is uninvolving and rather staid, and quite frankly after a gruelling day at the cliff-face of local government I was struggling to stay conscious.
But as the adventure deepens and the narrative requirements of introducing the arcana’s denizens are surpassed – the Thompson Twins (pretty annoying and unfunny despite Pegg and Frost in the digital chassis) and Captain Haddock (Serkis is the Mo-Cap god-king) - the film gets much more confident, it shifts up through its stuttering gears, and soon we’re careening around the globe with some beautifully crafted transitions and throughly exciting set-pieces, including a fantastic flashback to Haddocks and Red Rackham’s ancestral pirate battles, an amusing problem with a sea planes rotor blades (reminiscent of this) and a wonderful chase involving a hawk, a rocket launcher, a tank and a parchment. I’m not sure if the film was assembled in sequence but that’s the ambience, as Spielberg’s dexterous camera plunges through and around the kinetic canvass, it’s a dizzying rollercoaster which disinfects the previous tedium. With a screenplay forged from a triumvirate of geek cred, including the Whovian favourite Steven Moffat, Attack The Block’s Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright (too many citations to mention) the visual gags get more effective and finessed (I’m certain there is a host of in-jokes that went over my head), although the film needed a much more threatening villain to really elevate the stakes – more Toht and Ram next time around please - as incompetent henchmen should have really been beheaded with a casual wickedness by Sakharine to really impregnate the danger*. Personally speaking I also have a problem with Tintin himself, as a character he’s a rather bland fortune hunter, more an insufferably posh, know it all gap-year speculator, like I said it’s much more Haddock’s film as his families quest eclipses the trustafrian’s globetrotting escapades. It’s not a fantastic film but once it accelerates into gear Tintin’s charm and proficiency won me over, and the technological delivery method eventually suits the material, it seems that contrary to some opinions that there’s life in the Spielberg sexagenarian ‘old dog’ yet;
*I know, I know, yes it’s a kids film and that level of nastiness isn’t in the source text but I think it would have made things more memorable and exciting, if delivered appropriately…..
Anyone know when this is out?
OK, OK, cheap excuse for a post gag – and a poor one at that. I apologise, and I don’t really have any interest in Hollywood’s obsession with numerical palindromes. Tintin review up tomorrow, it was s’alright. In other news this is fun, with the Predator review being particularly amusing from a nostalgia perspective – comments thread included.
In 1918, fresh from the horrors of the great war, humanity found itself reeling under the effects of a global pandemic of influenza, an outbreak of so-called Spanish flu which is estimated to have slain anything from 50 to 100 million souls almost a century ago. A repeat of this horrific scenario is the central gesundheit of Steven Soderbergh’s latest film Contagion, as many of the miracles of 21st century life come to represent its greatest threat, with an interconnected, globalised world and it’s dense and proficient transport infrastructure, its porous borders and unregulated, relentless hunger for communication accelerate the potential for a planet wide medical catastrophe intensified with a pandemic of panic, as the one of the greatest nightmares of the new century comes to fruition. They say that man is a mere three square meals from anarchy but this is not a proposition that is particularly tested in this curiously aseptic film, as Soderberegh with his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!, The Bourne Ultimatium) have opted for a quietly realistic portrayal of society in potential free-fall, as the disease spreads and the infected splutter the narrative darts between the lives of various people stratumed throughout the food-chain, from the average joe to the senior scientists, as a remedy is sought by the global intelligentsia.
Adulteress insurance agent Beth Emhoff (a snivelling Gwyneth Paltrow) is on business in China, after returning home with a rising temperature and flu-like symptoms she is rushed to hospital by her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) where she promptly dies of unexpected causes. Soon her death is being mirrored across the globe, from the business tracts of Bejing to the suburbs of Philadelphia people are dropping dead from a highly contagious epidemic and the scientists and public health officials seem powerless to dilute the virus’s spread. Public health specialist Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) makes a heroic effort to isolate the source of the pandemic whilst contracting the illness, much to the concern of her boss Dr. Cheever (Lawrence Fishbourne). Meanwhile European epidemic boffin Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) travels to Hong Kong in order to investigate the scene of the first recorded outbreak, prompting tourism fears from the foolish, shortsighted local authorities. A conspiracy theorist blogger asserts that the disease is government manufactured and that he can offer a cure (Jude Law with a ridiculously unnecessary accent), and local virologists improvise potential cures, offering themselves as desperate guinea pigs as the death toll rises and civilisation starts to teeter on the brink of total collapse.
Supposedly Soderbergh’s penultimate film before he hangs up his monocle, Contagion recalls the 1970′s disaster films with its star-studded cast of international famous faces, globetrotting travelogue and disarming trust of the government and medical institutions to hold the public’s safety in the highest regard, when the contemporary trust of our rulers and the governing elites at an all time low it’s almost quaint in its central philosophy of good people and efficient institutions struggling in the face of disaster, with the all prevailing power of science and man-made ingenuity able to make amends. As you’d expect from a film-maker of the quality and calibre of Soderbergh it is a well-made, mostly compelling film but it does lack a certain something, there is no overall sense of a true catastrophe or virulent global epidemic, and the film hops from one character thread to another, never fully engaging in anything than a surface glance at its myriad characters. In tandem with this approach the cast are all fine with the exception of Jude Law who feels utterly superfluous, his entire character could have been neutralised from the film and we’d be none the wiser, and perhaps Damon stands out as a slightly more rounded schlub, anxious to protect his daughter from even the merest hint of infection. Soderbergh’s favoured colour palettes (as usual he acts as his own cinematographer under the pseudonym Peter George) are crisply anemic in one sequence then golden warm in another, and a seething, burpy electronica score shows just how popular Trent Reznor’s Oscar-winning The Social Network soundscapes has been in already infecting the Hollywood scoring chambers. Contagion starts stronger than it ends, with some ludicrous and unearned character choices signalling a deteriorating ailment assaulting its nervous system – how some characters react to certain developments is throughly perplexing - and although it is not a film to be sniffed at this is not a strain of movie that requires inoculation. And with that clumsy sentence I’m off to get a shot….
In the context of the capital punishment debate the name ‘Perry’ invokes memories of Truman Capote’s novella In Cold Blood, the acclaimed 1966 meld of journalism and literature which covered the brutal execution of the Clutter family at the hands of two criminal drifters Richard Hickcock and Perry Smith, both of whom went to the gallows three years later on a frigid and wintry November morning. In his latest documentary Werner Herzog treads similar ground to Capote with his latest documentary Into The Abyss, an autopsy of the state execution of Michael Perry, a death row denizen convicted of a horrific triple homicide in Conroe, Texas. Along with his possible accomplice Jason Burkett (who managed to get his conviction reduced to a life sentence) both individuals deny their primary involvement in the horrendous crime, apparently committed in order to steal a car from the home of a middle class family in a local gated community. After the woman of the house was shot dead the duo then kidnapped the families teenage son and his friend as they exited the enclave, as potential whistleblowers they were led into some undergrowth some miles from the original killing before being executed by moonlight, their uninterred bodies discovered some days later by a local dog-walker. Where Capote almost seemed to sympathize with his subject, fostering a sense of empathy with Hickcock and more importantly Smith and his traumatized upbringing Herzog takes a distanced approach and lets the facts speak for themselves, opting for an almost sociological view of the criminals and the emotional fallout suffered by the victims surviving relatives, an appreciation of criminality as a societal product spawned by economic and cultural conditions, rather than any notion of an intrinsic set of skewed morals or an evil disposition.
It’s an interesting approach which unfortunately doesn’t quite gel and the film loses significant focus as it progresses, with a muddled ideology that is difficult to ascertain other than the universally accepted (well, apart from the spittle flecked right-wing mentalists) truth that the death penalty is morally repugnant, that it does nothing in the way of deterrence, that is based on some questionable notion of state sanctioned revenge and the prospect of innocents being killed through corrupt or warped convictions surely disintegrates any claim for advocacy by any reasonable minded adult. After the criminal scenario is established through the documentarian interviews of talking heads of the victims extended families and a visit to the scene of the crimes (including some eerie police footage of the domicile with lights and TV blazing 48 hrs after the killing, like some domestic Marie Celeste) Herzog seems uncertain in what he’s trying to achieve with this piece, and the result is somewhat muddied and perplexing. Like some sort of bizarro world sniffer dog his ability to divine the oddballs of the world are present and correct, in this case the unusual phenomenon of the women who fall in love with death row prisoners, or the sister of one of the victims who reels off a litany of death, suicide, fatal health conditions and accidents which have struck down just about everyone in her extended family, or perhaps most arrestingly the former death row warden turned campaigner against the process in one of the films more moving sequences are all intriguing and memorable characters, but these are the only scattered highlights in a rather lacklustre, scattershot affair. The differing recollections of Perry and Burkett of what actually occurred is not satisfactorily investigated, and a balanced debate from those whom support the penalty is severely lacking (I think you have to let people air these odious and incorrect views so they can be properly discredited), with such a potent and emotive subject matter you’d expect a far more involving and moving result which is sadly not the case. Herzog touches on the notion of a cycle of incarceration and poverty potentially being passed from father to son, a sort of poisonous genetic curse which is worthy of debate but not fully exhumed, even as we slowly learn the family background of Burkett (whose father is serving a life sentence for drug dealing and violence) you realise his chances were somewhat compromised, yet the elements of free will, of choice or any sort moral precepts are not activated in what you’d expect from Herzog’s usual robust intellectual flair. A mis-fire then in relation to some of his recent non-fiction – if you haven’t seen Cave Of Forgotten Dreams yet then you need to treat yourself – but then again it won the best LFF documentary prize so I clearly don’t know what I’m talking about;
Phew, so that’s the LFF for another year. It’s taken me much longer than anticipated to finish off these reviews, in my defence you try delivering the most successful business conference in the region whilst being in the midst of re-profiling your £7 million EU programme in a fraction of the time required for such complexity whilst maintaining your sanity, as well as beginning to plan for numerous other developments you can see approaching on the horizon. Still, I managed fourteen films which translates roughly into a film a day, and I think I managed a good spread of material from the indie and mainstream US sectors, to the European fare, from a couple of documentaries to the highest quality indigenous UK offerings, including the likes of Shame, Kevin and my personal favourite Martha Marcy which will represented somewhere in the films of the year that I’m starting to put together.
I’m revisiting the LOTR trilogy this weekend, so here is some fun;
It’s scary to think that the trilogy is technically ten years old now give or take a few weeks. Fuck.
The only film I’m genuinely annoyed that I missed at Frightfest, this looks like great fun;
I’ve just realized that I missed my fifth birthday for the blog. I shall correct this with an extra special upcoming 700th post extravaganza, OK?
When judged against his peers over recent years Canadian horror maestro David Cronenberg is the film maker who has undergone the most compelling metamorphosis. Where George Romero has suffered in a shambling quagmire offering increasingly putrid returns, where Wes Craven’s chutzpah seems to have been slashed to pieces in an expired franchise, where John Carpenter seems to have hung up his monocle and is content to cash cheques from the increasingly inferior remakes of his works only Cronenberg seems to have evolved in an autumn period of work that has sublimated the flesh and the fury for the psychological study, delving into the minds of his subjects rather than spilling their guts, with a cast list of many of the more daring and dangerous actors of the era.
In his latest film A Dangerous Method the origins of psychoanalysis are exhumed in what on paper would seem to be a perfect marriage of subject and celluloid therapist. Vienna, on the eve of the Great War, and the evolution of a nascent medicine known as psychotherapy is slowly accruing more academic prestige due to the breakthrough treatments of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen). Some younger aspirants can see the potential of this radical break with traditional remedies and are developing their individual bespoke treatments of the sanity deprived, chief among them the ambitious young Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) who has recently acquired a distressed new patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) who has medical ambitions of her own, should her anxieties be relieved by these subversive new treatments. Jung, married into wealthy and respective society by a wife who seems more concerned with providing him a male heir than supporting his neurotic crusade soon finds himself embarking on a radical form of therapy with Sabina, igniting a sexual relationship and abandoning themselves to the earthly desires of the flesh that violate the decorums of polite society, a dangerous method that flirts with disaster.
During his introductory remarks to a matinée audience at this years LFF Cronenberg explained how his film was culled from the correspondence of the period (in a 20th century precursor to e-mail the great and good would write and receive letters a half dozen times a day) between the three main characters, all genuine historical figures, which he stated as fascinating insight into the period but not necessarily the foundations of a great film. It’s a brave and honest admission, as A Dangerous Method is handsomely crafted with a fine appreciation of detail and place, but like much of Cronenberg’s work over the past decade it’s a sterile affair, an antiseptic dissection of the anxious birth of psychotherapy, orbiting the figurehead of Freud as a distant patriarch, with a miscast Mortensen whom is more novelty than Nouveau. Fassbender breaks a recent streak of powerful performances having little more to do than toy with his phallic pipe in some blankly staged scenes and Knightley is frankly embarrassing to observe in the early spasms of the movie, writhing with a physical and vocal dementia, before growing more certain in the role as her relationship with Jung intensifies. The film seems uncertain of its intentions and the result is a uninvolving, dullen affair, with only Vincent Cassell as something of a film stealer as the rogue seducer Otto Gross, an appropriately named psychiatric maverick who appears as a proto beatnik lovechild of Keith Richards and Jack Kerouac. A scene where Jung and Freud visit America to incubate the therapy movement, arguably a defining moment of the 20th century, is not mined for its historical caliber before the film limps to a dry and emotionally neutered conclusion. In his latest film the method is flawed in this aberrant , minor Cronenberg.