No, wait come back, come back - I’m not going to post the new Prometheus trailer that’s got everyone all a flutter due to alleged spoiler concerns, that would be very, very bad. I have watched it though – as if I have enough self-control not to turn my tractor beams onto something I’m told would be bad for me – and whilst it’s not quite as revelatory as some fanboys have wailed I would caution against catching it, we’re only a month away from final maneuvers (hasn’t that gone quickly? Or is that just me?) so we are, like, a mere 30 sleeps before final docking permission. Anyway, I thought it might be kinda amusing to take a quick look at some other Alien inspired trailers, I mean some of these are just classics;
Never seen this, it looks terrific doesn’t it? I’m not sure why this American, Roger Corman helmed production is in German but I’m sure it’s a ruthlessly efficient knock-off….
Ah, a staple of my local video shop were these direct to video, ‘Alien Underwater’ genre cash-ins of the late eighties, evidently if you can’t afford the SFX for intergalactic green screen then you should just hire a dunk tank and a few frogmen armed with cameras and (boom) – the movie writes itself. Then again, I guess these charlatans were cashing in the perceived The Abyss box office juggernaut as that came out around the same time. Anyone else remembers Deep Star Six? I’m sure there were a few other wet examples….
It’s a brave species that takes on Klaus ‘Mad as a Window’ Kinski, in space no one can hear you scream….be sure to stay tuned to the end for voiceover man’s terrifying sign-off.
Ah, you know you’re in
safe terrible hands when that New World logo pops up don’t you?
Obligitory Galaxy Of Terror link, this little interloper weasels its way into far too many posts on this blog.
In terrifying 3D no less, one assumes Ridley didn’t screen this one to his technical crew to get any pointers on ushering in terror in three mind-numbing dimensions….
… and Xtro, the goriest and nastiest of the pod, I re-watched this a couple of years ago and it’s actually quite gruesome by todays standards, pretty poor production values though. Quite how this managed three bloody sequels is beyond me.
And I thought I’d save the best for last – you’re welcome….
Do you spend your life getting into, or avoiding tense situations? If you’re of the latter persuasion then get the fuck out of here you goddamn hippy square, we’re here to talk about Repo Man, one of the more genuinely niche cult movies of the irremediable eighties, the spiky debut of British born director Alex Cox whose patchy career has never equalled the delirious highs of this original, delinquent drive. I use the phrase ‘cult’ movie advisedly; it’s a notoriously slippery and elusive phrase that requires some clarification in this context, given its wide net of interpretations and assignations it is sometimes deployed lazily by commentators and critics like yours truly, so bear with me while I briefly accelerate down this tangent. The moniker ‘cult’ denotes a slavishly devoted and committed fan-base, passionate fans who devour every morsel of information on a favourite film’s production, who obsessively hunt down alternate versions of the film across numerous territories, habitué’s who can parrot details of the film’s production designer, gaffer or location manager, and more often than not also regale their terrified audiences with a half-dozen other releases that such crew worked on, or interject fascinating information on the numerous movie posters they have and the specific track listing on the Dutch soundtrack import they recently acquired which has a slightly extended version of track seven which is not available on the original Hong Kong imprint. OK, I exaggerate slightly but under that broad definition Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings could all be termed as cult movies given their notoriously obsessed acolytes, despite these being the most successful films ever made which are household names, what I’m driving it are films off the beaten track, films with unique and unusual ingredients that appeal to specific fans for specific reasons, I’m talking Detour or Turkey Shoot, Matango or Night of The Hunter, Fear & Desire or The Day The Clown Cried, oddball, offbeat and obscured episodes of cinema that don’t exactly end up on a Sunday afternoon terrestrial television but movies when dropped into casual conversation will immediately give you a signal as to the relative discerning merits of your companion - I don’t think I could dislike anyone who enjoyed The Keep for example. This is a very long, circuitous journey of coming to probably the most ‘cult’ of my favourite movies (although on reflection Assault On Precinct 13 probably flags a close second), a movie which has finally bagged a long awaited Blu-Ray release under the highly regarded Masters Of Cinema home entertainment imprint, so let’s begin with those scorching, shrieking titles;
In cinemas finest example of a Sci-Fi inflected, nuclear nightmared, LA centred, punk-surf-comedy-romance Repo Man features the adventures of Otto (Emilio Estevez), a disenfranchised and disaffected teenager who quits his soul crushing retail job in a pique of existential ennui, before being hoodwinked by the grizzled Bud (Harry Dean Stanton in iconic cult movie gear) into stealing a car under the illusion that it’s his property and he needs to get it out of a bad neighbourhood. Yup, Otto has suffered his first introduction to the inalienable laws of supply and demand, and soon he is indoctrinated into the seductive, dangerous yet lucrative world of the Repo Men, those crazy, independent souls who live by their own twisted brand of ethics in pursuit of the reclamation of vehicles from recalcitrant clients, a motley crue of reprobates who operate on the fringes of the law in a sweltering, Reganite Los Angeles which is ‘Morning in America’ with a pulverizing hangover and amphetamine fuelled comedown. When a ’64 Chevy Malibu hits the news with a juicy $25K bounty Otto’s colleagues and their vicious opponents the Rodriquez brothers are soon on the case, little do they realise that the (literally) radioactively hot vehicle has been sequestered by the insane nuclear scientist J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris, evidently Dennis Hooper was too expensive) who is transporting a lethal top-secret cargo, as the Feds and a miasma of different groups close-in on their quarry Otto may have a few lessons to learn from some unlikely auxiliaries;
It’s difficult for me to be neutral when commenting on this jalopy as it was and remains one of my all time favourite vehicles, not because of its innate technical qualities or daring narrative functions, not because of its groundbreaking characterisations or genre bruising dexterity, it’s just the fact that I grew up with my best friends quoting the dialogue, digging on the soundtrack and most importantly appreciating the films irrelevant ethos, it still has a genuine, irrepressible spraycoat of authenticity that half the contemporary Sundance or other US independent movies lack, a throbbing purity under the hood which delivers misappropriated mirth, automatic amusement and some slight political commentary in a final, glowing aperitif. Cox managed to catch lightning in a bottle with this one, from Robby Müller’s terrific photography (he of course went on to illuminate the films of Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch with such brilliant passion), from the soundtrack which is a sampler snapshot of the alternate music scene of the time, and most importantly a genuine sense of place and time both politically and culturally, if you recall this was the year that disembodied spirits were being hilariously tracked through the big apple and incompetent crew of buffoonish civilians were being training for law enforcement, so its nice to remember that there was some more credible, unusual, leftfield material on display.
A great cult movie usually makes up for areas it can’t possibility compete in – expensive production values, starry casts, technical elán – with those elements which cost nothing, chiefly great characters, salient dialogue, and if they’re particularly daring some ingenious, experimental use of locations and locales. Repo Man hits all three of the targets with unnerving accuracy, from the collection of junkyard oddballs that comprise Otto’s new crew (its taken me 25 years to finally realise that they are all named after American brands of beer), some convivial repartee (‘Nice friends Otto….’ ‘Thanks, I made them myself’) and memorable utilisation of both the Los Angeles storm drain infrastructure and my beloved Second Street Tunnel which crops up in numerous movies of note. The chaotic plot has links to UFO cults, incompetent government goons and brainwashed baby boomers, it’s very much a product of its era which still resonates today, and Cox’s subsequent attempts to weld together his Bunuelian flashes of surreal inspiration (plate of shrimp anyone?) with his anti-corporate manifesto haven’t achieved such giddy heights, from the product labeling prefiguring Naomi Klein by fifteen years to the dense plethora of cultural in-jokes populated throughout the movies mise-en-scene. You only need to look at a movie like Southland Tales to see how difficult it is to achieve such a tricky, accidental balance of entertaining exegesis, I’m also fond of the end titles inversion which has birthed its own mini movie genre,Repo Man would be ideally placed as the middle installment of a cult movie triple bill prologued with Buckaroo Banzai for a vision of what other neon oddness was on offer in 1984 followed with Dr. Strangelove for a subsequent dose of devastatingly radioactive humor, here is the genius ‘repo code’ which was partially concocted by the legendary Harry Dean Stanton in his most memorable of performances;
This Masters Of Cinema Blu-Ray imprint of the film is as handsome a hardtop of the movie as you could expect, presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 5.1 sound remix it holds enough horsepower to leave memories of those crushed small screen BBC2 viewings that I’m sure some of you joined me in back in the eighties and nineties coughing in the dust. There are plenty of extras for the aficionados to pilfer, as well as a deleted scenes montage with explanatory linking footage recently shoot by Cox we get a brief introduction that sets the context for the film, paying particular attention to how parent distributor Universal wanted to bury the film as potential subversive propaganda until the pre-release soundtrack started to get attention in the alternative music sub-culture network, with incremental word of mouth starting to build a modicum of buzz. A reminiscence themed documentary with producers Peter McCarthy and Jonathan Wacks, and actors Del Zamora, Sy Richardson and Dick Rude are complemented with a feature commentary with Cox and the crew, I haven’t listened to that yet but I’m sure it will have a few amusing nuggets and insights for all the movies disciples who are literally ‘out there’. The prized steal however is a unique copy of the notorious ’melonfarmer’ TV cut of the film which is a rare treat given its incorporation of alternate footage and hilarious swear word substitutions, an exclusive treasure alongside a hilarious half hour discussion with Harry Dean Stanton in which he is revealed as the cantankerous, difficult, prickly shaman that we all suspected him to be, at one pontificating that ’Iraq, Napoleon, serial killers, everything is predestined man, nobody’s in charge and it’s all gonna go down the way it’s gonna go down’ – so take the man’s advice, submit to the irrepressible mysteries of our alchemist universe, and hot wire a copy of this cult classic as soon as possible;
A little early perhaps but I’m more excited than a toddler on Christmas Eve, tickets went on sale today and I just managed to get myself (and friends) a seat on opening day in brain melding IMAX 3D to a certain highly anticipated SF movie of the summer;
Typical marketing nonsense but hey I’m in a good mood so I’ll let it slide, plus I’d be Charlize Theron’s fantasty director anytime eh guys? Anyway, moving swiftly on, the only problem I can anticipate is getting a new assignment over the next fortnight which won’t enable me to take the 1st of June off, I guess if that happens they’ll just have to find another astronaut, one has to keep their priorities straight, right? Just because, here’s that tasty HD trailer again;
And while we’re on the subject of Charlize Theron and incoming SF projects it looks as if that long delayed Mad Max sequel is finally happening….I’m betting that the obvious cameo opportunity will not be entertained…..
Well, if you able-bodied nerds think I’m jealous that you’re going to see the first big movie of the summer tomorrow which apparently is a rocking good blast of heroic nonsense invested with a generous proportion of geek attuned hilarious quips then think again, I’ll be settling into my original 1978 version of the premiere Marvel adolescent power fantasy cluster-fuck – Excelsior!!;
….besides, seventies movies are much better than these contemporary omni-dimensional, primary colour, mind-bleeding CGI infested eye-rapes aren’t they? I also found some exclusive footage of Iron Man III so screw you guys;
Just thought I’d quickly pop in here and recommend that if you’re free you should catch Wendy & Lucy which is screening on Film 4 here in the UK this evening, you may recall that it featured as one of my favourite films of the year a while back, I’m looking forward to giving it another viewing;
More exultingly, if that’s the right word, is the screening of Kelly Reichardt’s earlier film River Of Grass which follows in the early hours of the morning, after catching over a hundred movies over the past couple of months of which I conservatively estimate that 80% of which is revisits of stuff I’ve already seen it’s nice to have something fresh to look forward to for a bloody change……
Here’s one for all you LB Jefferies out there;
The wheels turn, the days spin away, and the movie count continues. I’ve managed an eye watering 98 film since I was discharged from the hospital, with just under a fortnight to ago until this accursed cast is abandoned – hopefully – and I can then waltz into my local cinema and hopefully catch up on the
three four movies that are awaiting my attention. In the meantime here are some movies I’ve been enjoying on the small screen;
Bad At Day Black Rock - This transplanted, modern-day Western from 1955 sees Korean veteran Spencer Tracy investigating the mysterious disappearance of a Asian colleague in a beautifully rendered widescreen small town America, Ernst Borgnine, Lee Marvin and the slithering Robert Ryan compel as the local racist conspirators in an early, rare Hollywood take on post war discrimination. This is just a great, compact, lithe little thriller with Tracy an early exemplar of the hard as fuck mysterious hero whom the local goons stupidly think they can overpower, just because he’s got the use of only one arm. Perfect Sunday afternoon fare.
Wuthering Heights - I have a bit of a weird personal tradition in that every year I strive to read one ‘classic’ novel, and a couple of years ago I did finally finish Emily Brontë’s windswept romantic tragedy, alas to be honest I can’t say it provoked much of a reaction in me other than some distant admiration for the barren atmosphere she managed to evoke. This most recent adaption of the novel however is phenomenal, a powerful film from fantastic talent Andrea Arnold (you may recall she won acclaim for Fish Tank a couple of years ago), with her furtive, nervous camera brilliantly coaxing out electrifying moments captured in time, from a casual backwards glance to the way that a curl of hair can dance in the morning sun, it’s a film of passion and memory, all set against the beautifully tragic Yorkshire moors. Primordial and powerful, my god it will make you glad you didn’t live in the 19th century unless you have a particular predilection for mud, rain and frequent beatings, its several gradients more effective and moving than the usual heritage, BBC drama take on classic British literature.
Shadow Of A Doubt - There has been a brief season of Hitchcock movies on Channel 4 which I’ve dipped into in glorious HD on their impressive satellite channel, this was also screened on Film4 which as a lesser known Hitchcock served as a companion piece to the established classics of the mid to late Fifties and early Sixties. Supposedly his favourite of his entire career, maybe because it’s particularly cruel and subversive even by today’s standards, with the beloved Uncle Charley a murderer of rich widowers whom our young and impressionable heroine Teresa Wright idolizes, with more than a little injection of the Oedipal complex going on for good measure. Whilst we are on the subject of Leytonstone’s portly son made good, this unsurprising news has got fiendish plotting motivations going and I’ve got five movies in mind, spread from his early UK talkies to his final decade of operations some forty years later, so that’s something to look forward to along with potential appearances of Tippi Hedern and more impressively Bruce ‘The Driver, Silent Running, The ‘Burbs,’ Dern, which is jolly exciting. Here’s an update on the two movies in production, apparently the Beeb have also made a biopic which is scheduled to air over the Summer, quite frankly this over-exposure is positively criminal…
Se7en - Three simple things struck as I endured the first of Fincher’s established trio of serial killers trilogy. First of all was the impeccable film making, with the emphasis on the impeccable. I can fully understand why people may be turned off and reject this tough film but you cannot deny the craft, the sheer brilliant skill from the photography and designs, down to the performances and script. Second was how it really hasn’t dated, other than the lack of mobiles or much in the way of CSI investigative cheating it could have been made a couple of years ago, it’s almost a timeless film which is a testament to the almost mythic grandeur, like a foisted bleak . Finally I’m still struggling to comprehend how it actually got made intact, without some of the extremely excessive elements diluted or neutered, for aq mainstream, bigish budget SPOILERS – Here is a film whose only good, whose only ‘saintly’ character gets her fucking head cut off and, actually.. wait a second… scratch that, she is the only ‘saintly’ and pregnant character who gets her fucking head cut off and Fedex’d to her husband in a finale which still stuns in its formula busting audacity. I still have issues with Pitt’s overacting in some scenes but this is an absolute masterclass in film-making, both from a technical and defending your risqué material perspective, plus it made over $300 million which proves that there is an audience for adult, envelope polluting material which is as rare as John Doe’s fingerprints these days…..
The Last Detail - It doesn’t get much better than this, a low key tale of two naval grunts (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young who seemed to go AWOL) escorting a naive kleptomaniac (Randy Quaid) to the brig for a seven year stretch after he stole a few dollars from the local church. Nicholson is at his absolute best, a performance equal to Cuckoo’s Nest or The Shining, Robert Towne scripts, and the late lamented Hal Ashby directs with his customary restraint which avoids any moralising, any ‘lessons learnt’ or obtuse criticisms of the military life, it’s more a bittersweet and poignant slice of working class life, back when such a social milieu wasn’t anathema to those permatanned Hollyweird executives.
Crazy Stupid Love - What madness is this? Has the exposure to too much daytime TV warped Minty’s Estrogen count to the point where is actually promoting a romantic comedy? Well, maybe, but this is a very funny piece with more than the requisite five laugh quotient and a solid cast – Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore and the Gosling, the latter playing a louche Lothario who takes Carell under his wing when his marriage collapses. What can I say, it has some genuinely hilarious moments and although it maps to the usual rom-com formula it doesn’t quite descend into ridiculous territory with a final resolution that realigns all the plot rhythms. Plus its got Marisa Tomei in it and I can watch her in anything….
Heat - And finally to reassert my masculine credentials, I also watched Heat again in glorious HD, a film I revisit each year. Despite knowing every scene and every story beat it’s just one of those unimpeachable classics, one of the all time great crime films, an operatic study a criminal tragedy, all unfurling upon the mean streets of the city of fallen angels. It’s slim pickings for scenes from the film on YouTube other than the robbery scene which I’ve already posted here at least half a dozen times, so for a change of pace the above is something I stumbled upon by accident which kinda evokes the feeling of Mann’s films and I found it strangely hypnotic…
Another quick filler while I sweat and toil over a couple of new posts, first up is the full Cosmopolis trailer;
Hmm, I love that slightly austere, cold look that Cronenberg achieves for his movies these days, this has just been catapulted to second tier galvanizing levels on the Minty table of jolly exciting stuff. The trailer has aired along with the Cannes line-up announcement, I’m looking forward to the new films from Haneke and Audiard, Andrew Dominik, John Hillcoat, Cristian Mungiu and yet another blinkin Miike film (I haven’t seen the last one yet), disappointed to see that the new Malick or Thomas Anderson won’t be done in time but maybe they’ll come to London in October instead? Right? It could happen…..Anyway, on the Prometheus front this has been floating round for a few days but I’ve just got round to seeing it, I have to say they are doing a first class job on the viral marketing for the film, I just hope the extraordinary levels of excitement don’t crush the films actual strengths, although I guess that’s inevitable at his point;
That’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen this year and I can’t quite articulate why, maybe its because I prefer my skinjobs performing blade pyrotechnics rather than looking as if they’d expertly advise me on how to populate my housecube with some first class neo-IKEA based feng shui. It’s been quite a while since a big US blockbuster seemed to take SF seriously, and delve into some of the concepts and questions such material can raise, whilst I doubt the movie is going to start musing over the ethical questions of artificial intelligence I guess it’s being paid lip-service in this marketing seduction.
Despite my strong aversion and suspicion of marketing, especially when it makes the somewhat electrifying claim of a film being ‘as if Kubrick directed Tron‘, I have to say that this looks different, no?
Not that I’ll be going to see it at its world premiere as part of the London SF Film Festival though, as due to my stupid injury I must continue to rest. So I’ll also be missing the new Sino Sono film Himizu at the Terracotta Film Festival. And I’ll probably miss Cabin In The Woods. And I’ve got to skip Sundance at the O2. And The Avengers is out in a fortnight. NOT THAT I’M FUCKING ANGRY ABOUT ANY OF THIS OR ANYTHING…..
You might have heard of this, it was a little project that Warners put out a few years ago, having been reasonably successful (over $1 billion in worldwide box office alone), it’s got itself a sequel this year. True to form after promising a write-up on this as part of my ancient Films of 2008 entry I’ve finally managed to fulfil this promise a mere four years later, punctuality evidently being my strong point. Why the delay? Well, initially I wanted to give it yet another look after the two cinema visits and a couple of Blu-Ray revisions, but after the rabid exposure the film and its potential sequel engendered over the subsequent couple of years I frankly got a little sick of the movie (although that’s not the films fault), there must have been some tangential news story in the on-line press almost every day during the first couple of quarters of 2009 so I really wanted to go away, take a breather, then come back to the movie fresh and attempt to explain why I think The Dark Knight really touched a nerve with not only the rabid fan-boys who went to see it four, five, even six times at the cinema (which of course explains some of that box office) but also the appeal to the more mainstream punters who visit the cinema maybe once or twice a year. Of course the interest and speculation has continued to swirl unabated around what we know as The Dark Knight Rises over the intervening few years, as its 20th July release date inexorably marches forward it’s finally time to step up the plate and push some thoughts out there prior to the release of the historically difficult third movie in the trilogy, be warned as this may very well be the most absurd, lengthy, fanboy inspired nonsense I’ve ever fabricated so I’m preemptively blaming the pain-killers. It’s an obvious allusion I know but I’d argue that The Dark Knight is the quintessential film of the last decade, with its domineering leitmotifs of entropy, corruption, instability and insanity it is the primary exemplar in reflecting and illustrating many of the crumbling structures that are under assault by a panoply of threats - fear, anguish, destruction, hypocrisy, paranoia – that have perverted the citadels of the West as their hegemonic stranglehold exigently slips away, as the moral lines are increasingly obscured as independent, ideological driven groups fight for their interests by violating the margins of the status quo and established, increasingly redundant and rejected political methods are superseded by direct action, and it’s also got some kick-ass action sequences so where better to start than with the introduction of the films hero, and I ain’t talking about some nocturnal psychopathic vigilante;
Click on the top left link to catch the final moments of that opening, alas I couldn’t find it in its entirety. Firstly, this obviously serves as the second part of a trilogy with the opening blue flame hued bat symbol – we’ll seeing that more of that temperature in the film of course – serving as a thematic and design continuation of the opening of Batman Begins and its auburn hues which both dispense with any titles or credits, both serve as semiotic glimpses of the tale that follows and its cinematographic palettes. An expansive helicopter mounted dolly penetrates the world of the film, the modern urban environment, its briefly tranquil atmosphere shattered as the goons rupture the status quo as they prepare their aerial assault that is immediately reinforced with a cunning character introduction, an empty mask shown in silhouette with the unidentified character turned away from the camera lens, a presage of the fruitless search for identity, reason and morality that gravitate around the films real protagonist – The Joker – whom subliminally mocks the film’s title. He is a void, a vessel for the audiences fears, a mysterious agent of chaos and entropy with a constantly shifting origin and history (does he even know his own back-story?) but I’ll delve fully into that in part two of this brief series. A meticulously planned robbery ensues, cut to the tempo of Hans Zimmer’s shrill and stretched score, a criminal inauguration which simultaneously references The Killing (there, didn’t take long for the Kubrick mention did it?) with similar nods to Heat via the casting of William Fichtner, signaling Nolan’s impeccable influences and inspirations. I love the nonchalant shooting of the bus driver and the grenades imposed on the trembling bank customers, we’re clearly dealing with a meticulously prepared and efficient psychotic (unusual for a PG13 movie for obvious reasons) whom immediately obliterates the scenery chewing antics of Nicholson, reinforced with the callous execution of his comrades and the grenade smoke bomb gag which acquaints us with this clown prince of crimes nebulous attitude to life and death. This merciful introduction is inverted with a shock a few minutes later in which writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer perfectly pitch a moment of terrible violence with splenetic humor, a grim yin-yang that reverberates throughout the film, both times I saw it with an audience they went fucking wild and that’s cinema right there, the shared experience that nothing can equal. So the films temperature and temperament is independently established away from the usual carnage saturated action-film context, it’s afferent inductions functioning within the narrative, not being a function of the narrative, not merely an excuse for kinetic deviations that leapfrog the recital to the next ballistic set-piece - in The Dark Knight they are intrinsic designs and conceptions that embed the characters psychology and environment – the oppidan and urban, the criminally lunatic, the dispassionately violent – at the core of the films anfractuous ambitions.
After this bravura prologue the film settles into its rhythm and the major plot lines emerge, Harvey Dent is introduced as the passive reflection of Batman, the principled idealist who is committed to make a difference, battling the crime and corruption of Gotham city within the confines of the system rather than following an individual, morally suspect, unhinged nocturnal crusade unfettered by such ridiculous notions as civil rights, presumption of innocence and trial by jury - in a word, Guantanamo. The political praxis is set, the City Hall and legislature machinations are placed in dichotomy with the criminal syndicate operations, as Gotham City itself is established as a living entity with enough sparse sociological dimensions to serve the plot developments in the films succeeding acts, a pivotal stroke as Nolan and his screenwriter accomplices understand that the city is as crucial a character in their legendarium as Bruce Wayne or Alfred, Lt. Gordon or Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes from Batman Begins as the romantic plot device, as Rachael is re-contextualised from the first movie as Bruce’s most significant personal sacrifice – a totem which shortly becomes mortally intangible - a love requited but impossible to consummate given his psychological demons and the potential of an Achilles heel should a particularly fervid villain learn of their secret affections. After an entertaining (although rather redundant) sojourn to Hong Kong and an escalating body count the narrative reaches a second plateau, the preceding hour or so is undoubtedly the films weakest section, I don’t want to belabor the point but the frantic cutting of editor Lee Smith can leave the viewers a little confused and a few redundant threads are raised – the copycat vigilantes, the blackmail attempt from a suicidally ambitious Wayne Industries executive - all of which seems a little forced even as it inevitably links in with later developments in a rather overly complex*, serpentine script. All of these maneuvers are presented in the usual single character frame shots, spiced up with a creeping track-in camera movement as characters spin out some occasionally portentous dialogue, all punctuated with Nolan’s beloved cityscape establishing shot transitions, before we are relived of this flagitious framing with a rather memorable soirée amongst the higher echelons of Gotham society;
What’s that? No, no we erm don’t talk about what subsequently happened back at the party as that seems to be quite a serious omission from the cutting room floor, given that the narrative moves along without resolving the threatening incursion upon Gotham’s 1% one assumes that the protracted run time urged some serious snipping of the editors cruel scissors. Anyway, note the swirling, circling camera moves as the Joker expresses his fluctuating origin story, a simple but efficient tool to suggest the disorientation of having that mentalist literally in your face with a knife in view, as the threat moves from the abstract to personal for both Bruce and Harvey as the competing paramour of moon-faced Gyllenhaal. I think both Wally Pfster and Nathan Crowley have been somewhat overlooked in favour of Nolan’s and Ledger’s achievements on the movie, both these talents evidently worked in harmonious tandem, populating the film with a metallic sheen of reflections in the architecture of the film and embedding stark, regimented angular designs for the forces of order and control whose arrogant perch is assaulted by the explosive campaign of the Joker. Note that the native, primeval lair of the original Batcave has been exchanged for the rigid geometric order of the Batcave 2.0, the gothic and elemental superseded with the mechanised and controlled, the new nest of our nocturnal paladin sporting a sleek, cool and fetishistic sheen (as does his weapons, vehicles and armour), a sharp contrast to the primordial, instinctive tools of his opponent, as simple bombs and knives are the inventory of his anarchist adversary. The next sequence of note is the terrifying Al-Qaeda video inspired moment when the first hostage demand is transmitted by the press, I still can’t quite believe this sneaked into a 12A certificate film as it is numbingly nasty and genuinely unsettling, both times at the flicks the patrons were shocked into a dumbstruck silence, as cunningly Nolan cuts to an overhead shot of Gotham as a chance for the audience to catch their breath and compose their spirits, a lull in the storm before the next action sequence ignites;
After this meandering we come to the central action set-piece and the film never looks back. I’ve been somewhat beaten to the punch by this widely circulated analysis of the sequence which has its merits, although I think having issues with the 180° rule being consistently violated is somewhat missing the point – if it convinces, if it excites and thrills then it’s job is done, regardless of any arbitrary academic transgression, and the claim that this is just sloppy film-making and is not intentional on the part of Nolan and his editor is frankly ludicrous. The ominous and subtle joke of the fire engines ablaze is another nice touch, the shift from diagetic sound to Zimmer’s (quite literally) highly strung score easing us into a frenetic, brilliantly conceived and executed action sequence which stands above its peers by virtue of being, well, real. That’s real vehicles doing real stunts with real human beings, I’m not naive enough to think some of it wasn’t tweaked back in the labs but there are real visceral thrills in the sequence which does not rely solely on CGI domination (perhaps a little too real as a stuntman was killed during production), rather than using your cornea as a punching bag the concatenation has a drama, a lift and a presence through the characters and the parallel cutting techniques, and I’d argue that the entire film strives for a slightly disorienting, anxious ambience, embedded through every level of the film-making from the costumes to performances, soundtrack to set design. For all the films submerged depths and edifying intricacies it also delivers on the action and excitement front – let’s not forget that this is a $250 million Hollywood movie and as such it has some obligations to the cultural tropes of that breed of cinema – and this scene works as a microcosm three-act embezzlement of the form with its set-up and establishment of the characters in relation to the physical universe, the underground tussle and mêlée, and a final triumphant revelation of the Bat-pod and Westernesque showdown, all crowned with the twist reveal of Lt. Gordon bringing the maniac martinet to justice. I’ll admit I was suckered, I honestly thought Gordy had been killed earlier on so when he was revealed as the arresting officer on scene I was mentally punching the air in triumph along with the audience members who clapped and cheered along with this disclosure, a superb finish to what can roughly be parsed as the mid-point of the film, but not before we interrogate one of the more critical scenes of the entire movie;
There is nothing I can add to what already been expressed about this by Nolan here, it’s an illuminating interview, and you can see from that piece how the film works at an iconic level, he and Goyer and his brother got it and understand that the symbiotic relationship culled from the more mature Batman & Joker graphic novels are what makes them so intriguing and psychologically charged, this scene being the crux of the entire movie from which all the tendrils and all the other themes and events coalesce to lurk in a slithering, quivering mania. How can a force that thrives on conflict and degrading its opponent to its level ever be defeated? When do the ends justify the means in the face of illogical and indiscriminate brutality? When faced with the dispassionate, indifferent cruelty of the world and its hollow and hypocritical moral structures isn’t the only sane response to go insane? On that charming note let me draw a veil over part one of this reprise, giving me a breather to compose part 2 where we’ll get into the remainder of the film along with the performances, with some of the more virulent adumbrations and crucially how the film slots neatly into Nolan’s wider worldview, it’s all to come in a couple of weeks after this apprehensive musical interlude;
* Here is my favourite, most sarcastic appraisal of one of the films most glaring flaws – ‘I especially like the part where he (the Joker) had arranged to have two guys named Harvey and Dent killed so as to draw Batman’s attention to a bullet fired into the brick wall at the crime scene knowing that bullet would shatter but that Batman would recover it and take it to an improvised crime lab where he would then discover a way to model the shattered bullet on his computer and virtually reassemble the bullet in order to discover a fingerprint belonging to the minion who put the bullet in the gun and in whose apartment Batman would then discover that the funeral guard for Commisioner Loeb’s funeral has been bound and gagged and as Batman walks to the window to discover that the apartment overlooks the funeral of the commissioner, he fails to notice that a timer has been set to snap the window shade up at exactly the second that Batman arrives at the window, causing the snipers covering the funeral to fire at the window and allowing the Joker to make his next move! That is tight planning! I can see why audiences were so swept up by this story, which was not at all horseshit’….
Colour me intrigued, just what’s going on with Levitt’s face in this?
I liked me some Brick (a terrific debut) and The Brothers Bloom was an interesting failure, this looks more along the lines of decent SF head scrambling coupled with some action beats to keep us all happy from writer/director Rian Johnson. In other news, here’s a little something to celebrate todays auspicious date….
I’ve been fascinated with the history and geography of my home town for many years now, and a second reading of this terrific biography is keeping me relatively sane as I mark down interesting places to go and visit when I have recovered, so it was apt timing to see that some urban explorers have been very naughty indeed and captured some awe-inspiring photos that you can see here. They also filmed some footage which might have you grasping your desk for purchase;
Whew, and I thought Mission Impossible IV was vertigo inducing. I lurched through London Bridge after a hospital appointment last week and Europe’s highest building has of course imprinted itself quite dramatically on the geography of the area, I used to commute through there a few years ago when on an East Coast assignment and have worked for Southwark Council down the road in Tooley Street for a while, already the conduit feels imperceptibly different, as Ackroyd so eloquently observes the big smoke is a constantly evolving, fascinating city;
This time last year I was whiling away the hours on an island tropical paradise off the coast of Thailand. This year I am lurching around a flat in South Croydon. It’s probably best not to dwell on the cruel vagaries of fate so here are some fucking movies I’ve been watching whilst the painfully slow healing process continues;
Major Dundee - Butchered Peckinpah, this 1965 effort was notoriously recut by the studio and I’m fairly sure it was the abridged version that I saw this week, not to mention its somewhat irritating, restrictive pan & scan transmission. But whilst there is little evidence of Sam’s trademark panoramic editing rhythms it does have his saintly whores and gruff males locked in masculine bondage, of a grimy sense of frontier honor in lawless lands, and an all time great Western cast with Chuck Heston, Richard Harris, Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Ward Bond and Jimmy Coburn, one imagines the evening drinking sessions would have been legendary.
Ill Met By Moonlight - With laudable timing this 1957 Powell & Pressburger picture cropped up as I was in the midst of reading Powell’s formidable 700 page autobiography, it’s an effective piece of post war thrills – the plot concerns Dirk Bogarde British officers mission to kidnap a German general in occupied Crete with the aid of the local resistance – and it has some terrific travelogue photography of the glorious Cretan mountains and a slightly clipped, stiff upper lipped vision of derring do. Criminally there isn’t a single fragment of footage of the film or any interviews with Powell that I can find on YouTube, apart from the trailer which is locked out from posting, so I’ll have to go with some behind the scenes footage on the shoot of the earlier movie Gone To Earth. I missed the almost mystical, vivid use of colour of the Archers 1940′s work but you can’t have everything.
High Plains Drifter - The Angel of Vengeance riding into town makes for a great opening scene, especially when the almost artificial town so obviously tips the film into metaphor mode, this sequence skillfully establishes all the dramatis persona and the location of the drama, it reminds me of a grisly old EC comic chiller. You’ve gotta love those post spaghetti westerns of Clint’s, along with Pale Rider and The Outlaw Josey Wales these movies while beloved are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the other successes of that and following decades, it took until Unforgiven for ole stony face to get the serious recognition he deserved.
Dracula, Prince Of Darkness - Finally, some horror. The second of the Hammer cycle with the erstwhile Transylvanian claret junkie, this has been given a lovely new Blu-Ray polish which looks terrific, although the film itself is a little dull. The Count slowly started to become a bit of a joke in these films, despatched quite easily by bumbling British lunkheads and their foreign assistants, although Prince Of Darkness did have for its period the horrific resurrection scene above, played out in an amusing almost surgical precision, which caused the predictable outrage in the Middle England tabloids and a chorus of ‘ban this filth’. The more things change…..
Bringing Up Baby - If you still operate under the ridiculous proposition that ‘old’ movies are boring, that the dialogue and comedy have dated beyond contemporary standards and as such these artifacts are little more than museum curios rather than genuinely hilarious, machine-gun rhythm hilarity torpedos then I strongly urge you to watch one of the original and best screwball comedies, and if you still hold that opinion then you shall be dead to me, as Fredo was to Michael in Godfather II. What’s that? No, I’m not getting out much these days….why do you ask?
The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad - Vintage Harryhausen which needs no explanation or justification, best watched with a flagon of hot British tea and a diet destroying retinue of bourbon biscuits, there are many great sequences in this movie but the Kali battle is one of my favourites.
So, in other news after four long years I’ve started to revisit a long gestating promise, I didn’t realise exactly how much material I’d already compiled and whilst it needs a full overhaul I’ve finally seized upon that preciously elusive inspiration in what will inevitably be the most nerdy, fan-boytastic piece ever to infiltrate this blog. What the fuck else am I gonna do, go run a marathon? Indulge in a spot of mountaineering? Neither are particularly on the cards this Easter so an intellectual prowl of the mean streets of Gotham City might just keep me (in)sane….here’s a furtive clue;
Paul Schrader has synthesized a segregated career writing of the escapades of his disenfranchised, damaged masculine anti-heroes, from disturbed servicemen to aged drug dealers, from pseudo-fascist Japanese playwrights to frigidly isolated lawmen, uncertain shamans to hollowed healers, it’s a compelling, challenging and consequential body of work which reached its critical apotheosis with the bruising, destructive machismo of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, widely considered as one of the greatest American films of the past fifty years. But before Schrader connected his virile, written rage with Scorsese’s variegated direction he cut his teeth in an alternate entry to the ‘return from Nam sub-genre’ which was released as Coppola finally introduced audiences to his oriental heart of darkness and Taxi Driver also hit screens, the final component of a trio being the cult classic Rolling Thunder which has just received a 35th anniversary Blu-Ray release from Studio Canal. Exploitation fans like yours truly have endured a tortured, prolonged delay in getting our medical claws on this desolate snarl of a movie, quite apart from its championing from the likes of Tarantino who not only named his short-lived 1990′s cult movie distribution company after it he also included the film amongst his top
ten twelve all time submission to Sight & Sound back in 2002, but don’t let that put you off as this is a provocative blast of retribution, here’s the opening titles;
Taking its turbulent title from a notoriously indiscriminate and criminal bombing campaign of the Vietnam quagmire Rolling Thunder opens with two veterans returning home to small town Texas after seven long years in a brutal communist prison camp. Major Charley Rane (William Devane) has internalized his suffering to a paralysing numbness, barely registering the growth of his young son from baby to child or the infidelity of his distant wife he prowls his dimly lit home, unable to sleep or re-integrate into civilian life as PTSD afflicted nightmares offer him nothing but insomnia and a glazed detachment from the real world. After being awarded a financial tribute from the town council, a bounty curiously expressed in a suitcase full of silver dollars some local goons are drawn to the scent of criminal opportunity, inducing a home invasion these Viet-Cong surrogates steal the treasure, execute Rane’s son and wife and for good measure shove his hand down the garbage compactor. Mutilated, bereaved and left for dead Rane’s second ordeal prompts a cathartic, lethal purpose – and this is where the film starts to swiftboat into waters marked transgressive - he teams up with local barmaid Linda (Linda Hayes, a blonde version of Karen Black) and fellow veteran Sergeant First Class Johnny Vohden (an early sighting of Tommy Lee Jones, he’s almost expressive) to hunt down the scum who have wiped out his family and abrogate a terrible vengeance – it’s not pleasant;
It’s a little strange to revisit a grimy, faintly squalid exploitation piece through the lens of a 21st century digital upgrade, this transfer works by retaining some of the grainy bubbles of the master print which is incorporated with a crystal clear bursts of colour amongst some gloomy interiors, awarding the enterprise a coarse and brittle, sandpapery visual texture that complements the movies grim catenary. William Devane is hewn from the same formidable Mount Rushmore stone as James Coburn, Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin, as stoically impassive and deceptively cool as an obsidian memorial wall, an emotionally void vessel of pure vengeance who barely registers his son or wives casually presented execution whom are barely warm in their graves before he has shacked up with Linda whom he subsequently employs as bait for the lecherous degenerates that will soon face his ruthless wrath. I don’t know what it is about the era but it harks back to the aged sense of a silent ‘man’s’ man, before the action film pyrotechnics of the eighties were punctuated by exploding infrastructure and groan-inducing puns, or the sensitive warriors of the nineties and noughties battled to reassert the equilibrium of the family or to protect a fledgling, sensitive romance, give me these homicidal, morally vacant psychopaths any day of the week rather than those pussy whipped, organic baguette purchasing, exfoliating cream sporting ladymen. It’s the unspoken bond of honor between Rane and his fellow serviceman Vohden in one of the most celebrated moments of super-cool exploitation cinema that really lodges this in the celluloid cranium, when Rane nullifying exclaims that ‘I’ve found them, (sic) the men who killed my son’ to which Vohden immediately replies ‘I’ll just get my gear’ – there is no debate, no question of going to the authorities, the mission is clear as these moral and spiritual vagabonds finally find the violent purpose and distorted moral mission in life that was inculcated in the hellish jungles of South East Asia. Here is the fantastically orchestrated, transgressively cathartic final show-down, so yeah here be spoilers;
As well as providing a paycheck for Schrader Rolling Thunder also signalled the arrival of other talents behind the camera, with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth cutting his teeth with some dimly orchestrated shadowplay before he went on to light the likes of Altered States, Cutters Way, and Blade Runner a few years later. His expressive lighting schemes and Schrader’s submerged iconography elevate the piece above the grunts in the vigilante league table, perhaps the most famous being the Death Wish series, The Exterminator, Straw Dogs and its feminist incarnations such as Handgun or more recentlyThe Brave One, although you could convincingly trace the genre back to Bergman’s The Virgin Spring which of course also birthed Craven’s uncomfortable The Last House on The Left. It’s always been a slightly sour, right-wing aligned strand of movies down from Dirty Harry through repeatable decades of cycles, with a recent UK strain including Harry Brown and the hilariously reactionary, cheap Clerkenwell cocaine cut Outlaw. Rolling Thunder offers much more than mere rabid tabloid attuned umbrage, it has an aura of a Cormac McCarthy short story invested with some rare codes and symbols, giving our ‘hero’ a case full of silver dollars has to be one of the more unusual financial McGuffins that lures in the murderous opponents, in an early scene Rane lovingly explains to his son how when incarcerated in the Viet Cong gulag they secretly stitched together and coveted a face-cloth sized American flag (which simply must have inspired this), even his symbolic castration which prompts his blood spattered spree against his fellow countrymen - and note that he doesn’t return to the jungle to liberate his similarly incarcerated comrades which was the purpose in the whole rehabilitation Nam movies of the eighties such as Rambo, Missing In Action, Strike Commando etc. - he’s at war on home turf which marks this as a treatise on the ambivalent and hostile response that the veterans suffered when they returned from their terrible tours of duty. If you think I’ve over thinking things then just remember that Schrader is one of the more academic scribes out there, the author of Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson & Dreyer, but for all the submerged academic posturing this film is as entertaining and straightforward as any other exploitation film, mapping to the genres definitions with a swift set-up, a cathartic plot driver, ferocious investigation and excessive execution, all played out in a brutally compact 95 minutes. One of the great 1970′s movies that rises from the critical swamps of its abused collaborators, Rolling Thunder is a renegade, blistering blast.
I sacrilegiously missed honoring the 30th anniversary of the death of the indomitable Warren Oates yesterday, here’s a fine documentary to bring you up to speed;
Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, The Wild Bunch, Badlands, Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and Dillinger would be quite a roster on any actors CV, he was by all accounts a hard living, image fulfilling growling bastard, anyone who survives three or four Peckinpah pictures is worthy of admiration. A loosely related 1970′s attuned film review is being constructed, watch this space….
I’m conscious of turning this into some trailer blog which isn’t my intention, but when it comes to remakes of widely admired SF pictures of years past I’m kinda in my area of expertise, thus I’m almost contractually obliged to post this;
My thoughts? Well, since you asked I’m not utterly mental about the original but it was great fun, I remember seeing it at the flicks and having a good time, this looks like it could veer from mediocre to above average as long as they retain fidelity to the paranoid instincts of the tale alongside the overwrought set-pieces and bludgeoning SFX – holograms and hover cars eh, was this film made in 1989? – and the distinct lack of one ferrying one’s ass to Mars is also a concern. I find it more interesting that today’s action stars are the likes of Colin Farrell and Matt Damon, as opposed to the likes of Ahnoldt and Sly and Chuck and JCVD and akido wielding ecological terrorists, what does that say for the state of modern masculinity? Just shoot me but I miss the quips….
Well it had to happen eventually, a promising movie has just been released that I won’t be able to catch due to my incapacitated situation, a curse on this pathetic body;
It’s had some strong reviews and I do enjoy a slightly noirish, twisty crime caper, I guess I’ll just have to wait. In other news, a series of immensely fascinating articles on the shift to digital storage and projection from that ancient, photochemical nonsense. Did you know that Europe produces 1,100 films a year? That it costs almost ten times to store a digital print than a 35mm print? The future is not so assured as the studios would have us believe…