When the news first broke that Warner Brothers had engaged the talents of Christopher Nolan to reinvigorate their flagging Superman movie franchise as a consultant I was immediately reminded of an incident in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing comic, an episode late in his acclaimed run where the omnipotent biogod is holding an entire city to ransom through his superpowers of flora and fauna after his girlfriend is arrested for lewd conduct – its erm a long story. Exasperated and embarrassed the city authorities turn to a certain Lex Luthor as a consultant whom is paid the then princely sum of $1 million a minute for a fifteen minute consultation, he pitting his uberintellect to provide a unique solution to their particularly thorny problem, hey it was the 1980′s when a million bucks was actually a lot of money. I wondered if Nolan’s midas touch would also elicit the same fee, given the phenomenal success he has made of the Dark Knight Batman movies and his collaborations with both screenwriter David S. Goyer and composer Hans Zimmer who also both return for this new take on the iconic immigrant myth, with potential kryptonite being administered to superfans with the appointment of widely derided Hollywood Zack Snyder to occupy the directors chair. Nolan’s executive summary bullet points can probably be summarised thusly – ‘Play up the Christ imagery, and source the origin with alien eugenics. Cast an unknown in the lead so there’s no baggage, and surround him with respected character actors to give the tale a densely thunderous gravitas. Populate with plenty of vaginal and phallic imagery to reinforce the quite literal DNA of the film, remove the humor and decimate the planet in the final act’. The film seems to have birthed some conflicting responses, from those who loathed its portentous seriousness and distinct lack of tounge in cheek humor, unaccepting faux seriousness and brooding hero occupying the cape and tights, with internet wags quickly christening the film ‘The Clark Knight’ due to its conflicted and nebuolous take on the Superman origin story. I fall squarely in the other camp as all these alleged inadequacies are exactly what I liked about Man Of Steel and having seen it twice now it genuinely soars, Nolan has achieving something superheroic – he’s made me consider a Zack Snyder film as one of the years best, as to date this is the best blockbuster of the year.
With an agreeably lengthy opening context setting prologue we’re on the remote planet of Krypton where the first child in centuries has been born without the assistance of their advanced genetic melding technologies, welcome to the world Kal-El son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer). Engulfed by a disintegrating planetary core due to the depletion of their planets natural resources Jor-El senses that their doom is near and he must make one desperate sacrifice if he is to save his people, especially since the chaos is being exploited by General Zod (a snarling Michael Shannon) who stages a desperate coup d’etat as their sterile civilisation crumbles. Defeated and unrepentant Zod and his insurgent allies are sentenced to genetic remodifiction in the chilling phantom zone shortly before the planet implodes, but hope rests in a small ship sent earthward with its biblical cargo, the slim hope of uniting the Earth with another star-crossed species through the example set by one man, his scrupulous purity and steadfast decency a shining example to all. Invested with a conflicted uncertainty by newcomer Henry Cavell the iconic Clark Kent is restlessly searching for his place in the world, imbued with a sense of moral decency from his surrogate parents Jonathan (Kevin Costner) and Martha (Diane Lane) Kent has been conditioned to shield his phenomenal talents as the world is simply not ready to face an answer to the eternal question to whether we are alone in the universe, and as a species we tend to react to the unknown and powerful with fear and mistrust. Nevertheless Clark’s extraterrestrial secret is under threat from dual camps, with the feisty Lois Lane (the usual adorable Amy Adams) on the trail of this mysterious man who conducts impossible feats of heroism and strength, and the discovery of a submerged alien artifact in the frigid North Pole may just invite some unwelcome guests to our modest spherical little collection of oceans and animals.
I’ll admit it, I had my knives out for this movie when that first teaser trailer hit last year but a generous portion of humble pie has now been digested, as this visually assured and breathlessly entrancing reboot of the Superman myth is a fantastic achievement, and as blockbuster tent pole movie making it’s one of the best achievements of the past few years. I admired the structure which relies on flashbacks peppering the film from Clarks difficult and confusing childhood puncturing the present day investigation of a strange structure nestling by the North Pole, the activation of a millennia dormant scout ship unfortunately heralding the arrival of a squadron of extraterrestrial fascists, The structure was deftly pulled off and was much more interesting and engaging than the usual birth, arrival, childhood and adolescence linear model of origin stories, particularly when it gives a skilled screenwriter the chance to join up their themes and notions into a pulsing, organic whole. There’s just nothing that Snyder and his production team got wrong for me, the design is deliciously fantastic with those aforementioned phallic and vaginal designs underpinning the themes of birth and evolution, the SFX spellbinding, with a particularly rousing score from the consistently stunning Hans Zimmer who must be the most brilliant big movie composer currently drawing breath. John Williams score for the 1970′s are widely renown for their stirring arrangements, I’d argue that Zimmer goes one better with this soaring, epic orchestration clearly the aural signature of one extraordinary man’s realisation of his celestial destiny – fantastic.
Superman of course is a peculiarly American immigrant myth and metaphor, and recently some cultural theorist types have also alighted on the specifically Jewish nature of his experience given the lineage of Clark Kent’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, Man Of Steel delves deep into the Christ iconography with Snyder positively ladling on saviour motifs and Christian imagery, the son of a god sent to our mortal realm in order to save us from ourselves. Now being a portentous, pretentious sort with delusions of grandeur of his own I like to see that reflected in my movies, so this solemn, epic and brooding update on the myth is exactly what I wanted to see, that’s the temperature I wanted them to take if they were going to win over someone whom has never been particularly entranced with the character, and recasting him as some sort of saviour with notions of grace birthed from the implosion of a degenerate civilisation which has lost its core fecundity feeds the cultural imagination, as our real world heroes and bearers of such fragile concepts as ‘hope‘ are exposed as the moral frauds we suspected the system always eventually engenders.
The entire enterprise rests on Henry Cavell’s broad shoulders, as the conflicted Clark he has a certain distance from the audience which is entirely plausible, it’s perfect for the role in fact to keep him slightly ‘off’ and isolated from the rest of humanity whilst also looking suitably the part when he finally dons the costume and cape. There is a slight malfunction with the tepid chemistry between Lois and Supeman as Cavell and Adams don’t seem to be a natural on-screen click, but maybe this will be developed in ensuing episodes in the franchise where the romantic banter can receive more attention.As expected Shannon gets his teeth into the juicy role of Zod, averting the usual presentation of a egomaniacal psychopath by simply presenting a man whom by genetic lottery has been assigned s the role as implacable and corrupted defender of his species, and Shannon invests him with a slight psychological edge that you don’t normally get with scenery devastating supervillains. Amy Adams does her best with lines of the quality of ’I'm a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist goddamn it’ which she offers to her editor Perry White (Laurence Fishbourne) presumably as a test to make sure he hasn’t developed early onset Alzheimer’s - presumably as her editor he is quite aware of her journalistic award portfolio – and Costner excels himself as the world-weary yet wise Pa Kent who sets Clark on the path to righteousness.
There is something faintly ludicrous about the whole enterprise however and I’m sympathetic to some of the complaints being quite scathing of the moral aversions presented in the film(particularly a very late perversion of a moral code which is a little difficult to accept) but my inner fanboy who is nourished on some of these comic-book & SF hybrids instead has won this internal tussle as I simply loved the energy and excitement of two superhero guys punching each through numerous skyscrapers, creating oceans of disintegrated masonry, fields of crumpled steel foundations, lakes of shattered glass and ash smothered veldts of smouldering ruins, it’s that spectacle of catastrophe which somehow taps into our collective unconscious which repels some and seduces others, as Metropolis seems to be visited by a panoply of 9/11′s with Superman in this iteration seeming to have very little consideration or care for the notion of collateral damage. As for Snyder whatever his faults (which are legion) he is a keen visual stylist, and somehow he’s been kept on the leash to deliver the story in a involving and fulfilling fashion, his usual speed cranking technique has thankfully been left to rot in the directors bag of tricks, he instead making judicious use of the ‘punch zoom’ manoeuvre which Roger Deakins invented for Wall-E and was popularised in the likes of Battlestar Galactica. Another small complaint comes from the SF / Superhero / blockbuster trope of having some alien constructs blasting streams of azure energy into the planet’s core as a deux ex machina which is now simply exhausted, from The Avengers to The Transformers movies can’t we please move on to some other planet threatening, genocide igniting alien architecture?
In terms of Easter Eggs and subdued references to ancient comic lore and even the films own decade spanning production history there is plenty for the fans to delight in, from the obvious references to LEXCORP on vehicles and more intriguingly Waynes Enterprises satellites spied in the films closing battles, to Executive Producer Jon Peters finally getting his Polar Bear at the Fortress of Solitude – context here. In terms of the inevitable sequel I suspect that a certain hirsutely challenged supra genius will be getting some of those lucrative contracts to rebuild Metropolis, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he stumbled across some staggeringly powerful Kryptonite tech amongst the ruins, maybe even some sentient artificial intelligence which he tampers with for his own nefarious ends, which then ends up going ‘manic’ in the ‘brain’ if you catch my drift. Bring it on for 2016, they’ll be hard pressed to beat this superbly entertaining, lofty aspiring blockbuster, ‘welcome to the planet’ indeed;
A new Scorsese movie is always a treat to be savoured, and it’s good to see him back in familiar New York territory rather than indulging in French kid friendly nonsense;
That’s a lot more lighthearted than I was expecting, I think it hits the UK in January so don’t hold your breath….
Serendipitous timing as always, as we head into my birthday weekend a lovely compendium of rarities of one of the greatest films of all time washes up at the Menagerie shore;
So, things should be a little quiet for a few days as one celebrates one’s irreversible slow creep toward oblivion, we will have a Man Of Steel and a John Carpenter movie review published early next week – everyone seems to be refering to the former as ‘The Clark Knight’ which has been making me chuckle. Now, as it’s my birthday and some of you have been reading my portentous opinions for free over the past few years, may I humbly suggest you contribute just a little to the drive for my Canadian colleagues to appropriately cover the Toronto International Film Festival this year? I’m flying out there under my own steam so its nothing to do with me, but this does help the site purchase film tickets (which creep as high as $50 a pop) to distribute amongst it’s staff, a lifeline which helps the site keep going for another year. So don’t be a fucking cheapskate, just a fiver would help here……
As the UK film community gears up for all things Kal-El, a modest man from Norwich also gets his moment in the sun;
Looks pretty good, I’m a big fan of the lord of chat, and it’s good to see that all the familiar faces from all the various seasons have been recruited for the big screen outing.
I was in a programme board meeting this morning, where a colleague was updating the group on the context of a Neighbourhood Engagement HLF bid, and advising that ‘the group chairmen Bill & Ted would be submitting the final proposals’. I burst out laughing at the mention of Bill & Ted – blank looks from my colleagues. ‘Bill & Ted’ I repeat, my voice rising in expective incredulity – surely they get the reference right? - no, just a steely bombardment of stares from my now alienated colleagues…….(drums fingers on table)………………….so here’s the new Hobbit Trailer;
Holy living fuck on a bike – that little kiwi fella knows how to cut a trailer together doesn’t he? It goes without saying the internet has exploded from a film nerd perspective, so if you’ll excuse me I’ll be off to get into some electronic arguments. In the meantime this might give you a chuckle, a well observed parody on those very serious and overly pretentious film documentaries such as Room 237 takes a look at an unlikely candidate for deep, analytical deconstruction;
Any similarity to any one of my overwritten and reviews is entirely coincidental I’m sure – Station.
The idiom that in Hollywood ‘nobody knows anything’ is frequently expressed as the ultimate expression of short-sighted producers, culled from the famous expose of noted Tinseltown scribe William Goldman it’s an apt assertion to consider the strange history of Steven Soderbergh’s supposed final film. Originally discussing the role with Douglas on the set of 2000′s Traffic the notoriously profligate Soderbergh has spent the intervening dozen years battling philistine funders and financiers, all of whom remained tepid on the project due to the perceived marginal audience that the project would attract – it’s a gay film. Judging by the crowd I saw the film with, an 80% – 90% capacity crowd in one of East London’s larger screens on a rare sunny Sunday afternoon I expect this to be a modest hit, easily raking in its modest £23 million production budget, and crucially it has seduced critics across Europe following a successful unveiling at Cannes last month, not a bad achievement for a film which supposedly would only appeal to gay dudes and dudettes. The frustration that Soderbergh experienced in setting up and funding Behind The Candelabra appears to be the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back, and he has reputedly retreated to small screen endeavours to feed his storytelling appetite and already he has signed on to direct two HBO TV series if a small piece in this month’s Sight & Sound is to be believed. If so then TV’s gain is cinema’s loss as has consistently been a consummate filmmaker since his incendiary debut Sex, Lies & Videotape back in the deep mists of the late 1980′s, his projects vary in quality but they could always be trusted to deserve a couple of hours of your time, ranging from the big budget antics of the Oceans movies to the experimental alignments of Bubble and Full Frontal in the best tradition of ’one for the studio, one for yourself’ format of directorial bargaining, I much prefer his more populist movies but admire anyone who could simply churn out product rather than test themselves and their own artistic boundaries, both Out Of Sight and his brave remake of Solaris age and deepen with an unexpected grace, and he’s even made Julia Roberts fairly tolerable in a few movies which is no small achievement. In this his last film – although like Ahnoldt I do think that he’ll be back - Soderbergh has crafted a spirited and oblique love story between two souls who happen to share the same genital designs, but it’s more concerned with the difficulties in preserving a public persona and private perfidy, with ideals of control and infatuation glittering in the background like a Rhinestone inflected tuxedo.
Opening to the throbbing strains of Donna Summers disco dancefloor classic it’s 1977, Southern California, and young animal husband Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) takes a weekend break in Las Vegas with his new boyfriend Bob (a hirsute Scott Bakula). When in Rome as they say they decide to take in a show, and are swiftly entranced by the ivory tinkling and commanding stage prowess of Liberace (Michael Douglas as 2014′s Best Actor Oscar early front-runner), the middle-aged pianist who effortlessly sells out show after show on the chintzy Nevada strip, his elderly fans and audience seemingly unaware of his now with the benefit of hindsight blatant preference for the more ‘fabulous’ side of life. Admitted backstage Scott is coolly besotted with the cabaret crooner, and soon a sexually charged relationship blooms with Scott acting as confessor, chauffeur and lover, moving into Liberace’s gold gilded Hollywood mansion he swiftly finds himself a caged bird in Liberace’s menagerie of glitz, glamour and pearlescent pageantry. Storm clouds begin to gather when Liberace’s obsessions with appearance and aging are deflected to his most recent paramour, with plastic surgery and prescription pills increasingly blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, as other more nubile courtesans begin to materialise on the borders of Liberace’s baroque world….
Considering the zero interest I have in Liberace I went to see this purely on the strength of Soderbergh alone, it’s almost a functional duty for we film critics to support the guy in his final effort considering some of the great movies he’s given us over the past couple of decades, and I have to say I throughly enjoyed the film, it’s a saccharine sweet and tender love story with some terrific performances, which on occasion can be also be staggeringly funny. As usual Soderbergh has mustered an impressive cast, both Damon and Douglas excel as the star twinned lovers lost on the rocky road of lust, with scene stealing support from Vegas royalty in the case of Debbie Reynolds (Liberace’s mother), an unusually good Dan Aykroyd as an exasperated agent but affection has quite rightly been lauded on Rob Lowe’s paralysed plastic surgeon whose clingfilm face positively embezzles every scene he’s in, heck it even has Burke from Aliens in it as a sneery lawyer which makes you wonder which cryosleep capsule Soderbergh defrosted him from. I’m not sure of the Academy rules given that this was shot for and aired on TV in the states – but believe me this has been crafted as a movie through and through with Soderbergh’s fulminous direction, photography and production design – so maybe Douglas won’t be eligible for nomination due to the mystical rules of the secretive Academy. Similarly Damon could even be in for a gong and fair play to him for taking on a faintly controversial role, there is plenty of shall we say ‘affection’ in the film which no doubt will raise concerned eyebrows in the more prejudiced corners of society, even in the 21st century where one hopes that such ridiculous sentiments would be consigned to the same dustbins of history as female inferiority and racial segregation.
I love how Soderbergh subtly deploys his coverage of a sequence, he starts on unusual positions and components (props, the rear of a characters head)before curving around a scene rather than resorting to the usual shot / reverse shot idiom, the technique gives the film a real sense of movement and energy which can closely be attributed as a gay Boogie Nights in both taste and tone, an extravagant journey which deliciously manoeuvres through Scott and Lee’s disordered entanglements. He revels in the gaudy and ostentatious fairy tale design of Liberace’s domicile, decor and flagrantly flamboyant dress, with Douglas taking to the stage as some elusive shimmering creature from planet kitsch, yes it can (and did) elicit occasional titters in the audience but the film plays the relationship angle relatively straight (if you’ll excuse the pun), anchoring the film on Scott’s and Liberace’s turbulent amour, and the inevitable slow disintegration of their initial infatuation. It’s clearly Damon’s movie as he is the central advocate and we see everything through his increasingly jaded eyes, rather than focusing on Liberace’s life as the traditional bio-pic template would follow, with a real warmth and affection for the characters twinned with a prescribed melancholia, all ably expressed through Soderbergh’s sharp use of lenses and lambent colour palette – he even gets to experiment a little with portraying the effects of a narcotic afflicted, drug addled perception toward the films close. If you’re crafting a swan song you always want to go out on a high, and one can’t help but see the final stage sequence as an apt conclusion to Soderbergh’s own idiosyncratic and glittering career, as the king of kitsch ascends to the heavens we can all raise to our feet for a thundering round of applause, to pay respect for a big screen career which is hopefully just suspended and not spent;
Jeez, I think we can class this week under the ‘turbulent’ heading. I won’t bore you with the final details yet but suffice to say a few twists and turns on the day assignment and my critical hobby have aligned to present an opportunity which may lead to my film festival coverage finally broaching international borders – watch this space. In a further moment of serendipity I was musing over what to post in advance of a very special screening tomorrow evening, and then this cropped up on my feed which will give you a flavour of the menacing itinerary;
EDIT – And we’ve just secured a ticket for the UK premiere of this in a months time – this year is looking distinctly horrific….
I’m having a bit of a fractious time with the BFI these days. Whilst it’s been plain sailing getting tickets to the likes of Superman II and tonight’s entertainment I have lost out on a few other events, namely an imminent Q&A with current box office maestro Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright recently introducing a screening of An American Werewolf In London and there’s also an upcoming screening of Psycho and Q&A with James Franco whom has selected it as one of his favourite movies. Now I’m not frustrated at the lack of tickets from any sort of fanboy perspective you understand, it would just be nice to cover these events for the sake of the blog, but it appears that these events sell-out during the roughly 5 minutes between the time the email / twitter notification is circulated into the screaming void and the time it takes to make a call into the South Bank Box-Office – welcome to the world of social media I guess. Still we do have quite a programme ahead of us over the next couple of months as I get my teeth into the Werner Herzog season, alas there doesn’t seem to be an appearance scheduled from the great man himself which seems like an oversight unless he’s shooting of course, in any case to whet your appetite here’s a pretty good write up of the Teutonic tyrants life and work to date. On a much more of a genre themed front I attended a special screening at the BFI last week, as Hammer films unleashed a fully restored and renewed digital print of 1974′s Frankenstein & The Monster from Hell, a world premiere which was commissioned as part of the centenary celebrations of the titanic Peter Cushing’s birth. Never let us forget that he is one of the unknown all time badasses of cinema given that he single-handedly dispatched Dracula numerous times as well as being the only creature to bitchslap the nebulous Darth Vader and live to tell the tale, but enough of that overexposed franchise, as a ridiculously attired MC once said it’s Hammer time;
The plot is thinner that the beasts clearly cardboard manacles, as in the dying dregs of the 19th century an arrogant and elitist Dr. Simon Helder (Shane Briant) is sentenced to a spell in the local insane asylum after he is discovered experimenting upon the dead. Ensconced amongst the sanity deprived Helder stumbles across the suspicious Dr. Carl Victor (Peter Cushing, magnetic), a certain Dr. Frankenstein whom is hiding behind this alias in order to continue his perversions of science unmolested, Victor soon takes the promising student under his wing and soon the pair are gleefully carving through cadavers of the institutes unfortunate wretches quicker than you can say god complex’. When one of the inmates with a genius level intellect is found hanged in his cell under suspicious circumstances Frankenstein embarks on his most ambitious affront to decency, to transplant the still warm brain into the jigsawed husk of numerous other victims, in an effort to see if a marriage of intellect and mortal flesh may yield his scientific immortality. As the wardens mute daughter Angel (Madeline Smith) looks on in silent despair the foul experiment is afoot, but will the monster react to his new life with a acquiescent piety or pummeling brutality?
Released in the dying twilight of the Hammer cycle I have to say that the film really isn’t that good, it is deeply hamstrung by stodgy plotting and a distinct lack of production values. The special effects are especially waning, at the very least you can usually enjoy Hammer films for their bloody British carnivorous charm, but even this is sorely lacking in Monster From Hell with an especially egregious sighting of exterior shots of the asylum which look like they’ve escaped from a Blue Peter toilet roll and sticky back plastic Halloween Special. The digital scrub however is a treat as the aging and distress have been incrementally washed away, with extra gory footage inserted for completests to devour in all their rabid fury, as they are really the key audience for this ripening resurrection. It’s a shame that house director Terence Fisher couldn’t have exited his career and left the iconic studio with a legacy on more of a high, he was after all the man responsible for the original 1958 Dracula which effectively established the studio and its subsequent beloved twenty year cycle of chills and carnage, critics look at the film, as a kind of final statement on the studio and the final position of its cycle of films – tired, overexposed, budgetary lamentable and needing to put out of its misery. Nevertheless Fisher is unquestionably one of the great UK horror figures along with Hitchcock and arguably Val Guest, I’m particularly fond of his mist-drenched, gothic take on The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1959 which alongside The Devil Rides Out, Countess Dracula (Ingrid Pitt had quite the pulsing effect on a prepubescent Mint) the 1958 Dracula and To The Devil A Daughter are probably my favourite Hammer atrocities.
Cushing in his sixth incarnation as the mad scientist as usual gets all the good lines, and to the films credit they try to lurch out from the Universal iconography of the monster to try something different in terms of creature design and temperament, even if the end result looks like a particularly mangy George from Rainbow rather than an accursed behemoth from beyond the borders of sanity. Prowse tries to invest the monster with a sense of pathetic pathos and for the most part he succeeds, and the film has a smattering of a theme with an intellect versus bestiality dichotomy occasionally gnawing on the narrative , but it hardly electrifies the screen as Frankenstein roars his cackling intonations, so this is one for horror hacks and abominable aficionados only – the skull sawing and brain splattering scene was quite funny though.
Still it was fun to see a rather frail Dave Prowse take to the stage, that’s another Kubrick survivor down in terms of my own obsessions with the departed, I must get cracking on those Stephen Berkoff and Adrienne Corri sightings as they’re both still knocking around London, in fact I think Berkof lives in Limehouse which is our mutual manor. The brief Q&A highlighted the now blatantly obvious fact that this was Cushing’s and Prowse’s first appearance together, and they would both eventually go on to star together in a rather successful SF movie that was also shot in London a mere four years later which you may have heard of which I think they’re remaking or something. It was also great to see Madeline Smith on stage which some of you Hammerhounds will recognise from The Vampire Lovers and Taste The Blood Of Dracula, not to mention a small part in Moore’s debut Bond Live & Let Die, they were all very respectful and in awe of just how caring and wonderful Peter Cushing was, as is always the way these murderous and lunatic screen presences seem to be genuinely gentle and sensitive souls off-screen. Cushing was renowned for investing great stock in getting his costumes and accents historically accurate, which seems a little pointless considering the alleged quality and source matter of th lowly insignificant horror movies, however you cut it he is one of the iconic faces of the horror genre alongside Lee and Lugosi, Karloff and Chaney;
OK, OK I’ve been slacking recently I admit it, having not posted anything for a whole four days I’m afraid it’s time for some more trailer trash filler. In my defence work is pretty darn hectic at the moment, after two programme launches out of the way you’d think things would get easier but instead things seem to be getting worse – c’est la vie. So I’ve spent all weekend de-stressing by blasting apart, knifing and immolating digital avatars courtesy of this which is exceedingly addictive, I had planned on going to see Byzantium but when push came to shove I just couldn’t quite muster up the enthusiasm given the tepid reviews, nor could I find my muse to construct a report on last weeks BFI visit – I shall probably got into that this evening. In the meantime lets take a look at some imminent and upcoming movies which seem to be getting some attention, firstly the small matter of Robert Rodriguez’s new atrocity;
So let’s see, Sofía Vergara, Demián Bichir, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Zoe Saldana, Edward James Olmos, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alexa Vega, William Sadler, Lady Gaga, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson – that’s what I call a cast. I’ve already heard accusations of ‘stunt-casting’ which I suppose can’t really be rejected, I just hope it’s more fun and inventive than the original Machete which was a major disappointment, but Rodriguiz is actually directing this one instead of palming it off to his second unit guy so we shall see. The film is due in August in the States, with Sin City 2 (featuring Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Powers Boothe, Mickey Rourke, and Bruce Willis, Eva (hubbah) Green, Josh Brolin, Jamie Chung, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Julia Garner, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Crystal McCahill) following in early October – a banner year for Rodriguez fanboys. Shifting genre gears then what’s this;
This is generating some mild controversy due to author Orson Scott Card’s rather repellent views, there’s quite a strange strain of bigoted stupidity among some American SF authors of the Space Opera variety, as the likes of Robert Heinlein and Harlan Elison have also spewed some craven misogynist, sexist, homophobic and racist nonsense in their time. I haven’t read the widely beloved book and I think this looks throughly mediocre, the presence of numerous US brats running about being moody n’stuff fills me with an intergalactic sense of dread, not to mention shades of The Phantom Menace (shudders)….
Hmm, my comic book patience is wearing increasingly thin and the first Wolverine movie was bloody terrible, but I guess you never know and this might have a few refreshing set-piece scraps if nothing else. I like Jackman in the titular role, he inhabits the comic creation very effectively, and I do admire how that trailer doesn’t give away whomever the main villain(s) might be, unless I’m spectacularly failing to spot blatantly obvious cues and characters from the comic book continuum which is entirely feasible. It can’t possibly be any worse than this;
I’ve been reading some quite amusing threads recently about Mr. Night, a man with the name a 15-year-old Goth kid might think is cool to change by deed poll, but a fully functioning adult really should know better. After his increasingly waning career which has plummeted to the vortex inducing depths of The Happening, Lady In The Water and The Last Airbender I cackled with delight when reading that Will Smith’s character in this alleged Scientology manifesto movie is called (drum-roll) Cypher Raige - you have got to be fucking kidding, right? I’ve been skim reading reviews after opening weekend and the film has pretty much been crucified, this kinda sums it all up, so I think I’ll give this one a miss as after this news and this revelation I have a LA bound plane to catch and some weapons to deploy….
Being busier than a very busy thing indeed I’ve not had time to catch up with much in the way of news or new trailers I’m afraid, but we are building up a small backlog of material to craft over the weekend – a gig last night, a BFI visit tonight with a darkly imperious special guest in attendance – I’m such a tease. In the meantime to keep things ‘fresh’ on the horror front here’s another remake to get your teeth into;
I’m not hugely fond of the original film so I’m hardly sweating blood in excitement, but to be fair the filmmakers have tried to make it clear that this is another adaption of Stephen Kings inaugural novel rather than a modern imprint of De Palma’s bloody nonsense – judging by the trailer I’d say they are being somewhat liberal with the truth. Piper Laurie’s take on the religiously fevered mother back in 1976 was quite a furiously frenzied turn and Spacek was quietly sympathetic in a title role which along with Badlands cemented her career, so Moore and Moretz have quite the apron strings to step into – and they’ll have to outgross the original’s swineful carnage strewn climax;
After a spectacularly entertaining weekend down on the South Coast I’ve been catching up with our gallic cousins and their cinema adoring ways, as the 66th incarnation of the worlds most famous film festival closed yesterday. Never a stranger to controversy the filthy minded French decided to award the prestigious Palme d’Or to a lesbian love story which apparently features long sequences of unsimulated sex, thus to maintain my journalistic integrity I will of course (coughs) be seeking this out as soon as it opens in London. I might even go and see it a few times, just, well, ’cause I’m sure it will reward repeat viewings, right? I will obviously have to penetrate its numerous thematic and social layers, so maybe three or four visits should suffice? Jury president Mr. Steven Spielberg esq. explained the rationale behind the decision, stating ”The film is a great love story … We were absolutely spellbound by the two brilliant young actresses, and the way the director observed his young players”;
Interesting choice of phrase Steve. Just to be serious for a moment this does sound great, and very timely given the presence of the gay marriage debates and legislation being enacted in certain states of the US and across swathes of Europe. A three-hour long lesbian coming-of-age drama kinda makes a change from Iron Man 3 I guess….
Looking to the land of the rising sun Takashi Mikke’s new one was savaged across the board, I’ll still go and see it and give him a chance, given his proclivity I guess he’s due a dud given the great height’s he’s been hitting over the past few years. Of more interest is countryman’s Hirokazu Koreeda drama Soshite Chichi ni Naru which gentley wooed many of the crowd, and picked up a festival prize as well. Less impressive was Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring which vanished without a trace, although it apparently features a pole dancing scene which auterist spotters have linked back through three of her films, the overall opinion seems to be that the film is as vacuous as its privilged and pilfering characters.
Back in America and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska got a lot of love, and Bruce Dern moseyed off to the sunset with a best actor gong, so I’m really looking forward to this one. It has kind of a The Last Picture Show vibe to it, and those landscapes can look phenomenal when properly photographed in black and white. The Coens also took home the Grand Prix, although I have zero interest in 1960′s folk music, well, it’s still the Coens, and thus is essential viewing. Speaking of zero interest, there’s a biopic of Liberace you say?;
I know that trailer’s been out for a while but I’ve only just sat down and watched it, I predict a Oscar nomination for Mr. Douglas come next February, he’s kinda at the right age to get given a best actor gong isn’t he? Like I said Liberace holds zero interest for me but it’s Soderbergh so like Magic Mike I’ll overcome my antipathy to the source material and give it a chance, as usual it’s got that Soderberghesque lenses, gels and filtered ‘look’, and Matt Damon looks like he’s trying something different as they say. Speaking of elderly sex-pests (Douglas that is, not Damon) Polanski made a complete twat of himself with his dinosaur opinions, given his rather sordid history you’d think he’d be primed to keep his stupid mouth shut? His comments have kinda soured me on seeing his new film Venus In Furs but we’ll see if that opinion changes.
One of the ‘emerging’ films which seems to have leapt out from the Croisette is J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to Margin Call (I watched that again earlier in the year and it actually gets better the second time around) which sees Robert Redford surviving a sinking, storm-swept ship. There’s no-one else in it, he speaks maybe a dozen words in the 90 minutes picture, so this sounds like one of those cinematic experiments which when successfully executed can be truly sublime.
Finally, looking over to the genre side of things then Jim Jarmusch’s vampire drama has had a mixed response, with phrases like ‘energetic’ and ‘studenty’ spurting around. Jarmusch has been a like lukewarm over the past years I find, but that’s quite a cast and I’ll give anything a chance which aims to pump some new blood into the post Twilight vampire genre. But you know me gentle reader, even before the festival started I was anxiously looking forward to Refn & Gosling’s second collaboration, and the reports of mass walkouts and boo’s hurled at the screen due to some insanely gratuitous violence have got me all a flutter, what can I say except I guess I’m a sick fuck? Kristen Scott Thomas is apparently phenomenal;
That’s Kubrick’s last cinematographer Larry Smith who crafted those neon glowing visuals, here’s a painful clip – you have been warned.
Hmmm. I was born in Woolwich y’know, although my family moved to East Anglia when I was a few months old, so I don’t really have any emotional connection to the place. Nevertheless yesterday’s events are quite odd to behold as a Londoner, and the inevitable groups across the political spectrum exploiting the murder is truly nauseating, so I could do with a bit of laugh this morning – this did the rounds a couple of weeks ago but it still makes me chuckle, eat your fucking cereal Ryan;
I wonder if Rodriguez is holding emergency marketing talks ahead of the release of his sequel?
Sick of the summer stupidity yet? Tired of tedious comic book movies aimed squarely at the attention deficit afflicted youth market quadrant? Do you yearn for a film, as opposed to a movie, which doesn’t have a number in the title or ten minutes of end title crawl listing enough CGI rendering agents to populate a virtual village? Then come with me gentle reader as we plunge into the fathomless deep waters of art-house pretension, as a palette cleanser to all the blockbuster bombast I can’t imagine a more diametrically opposite strain of cinematic communication than the austere alchemy of Robert Bresson, one of the most impassively displaced filmmakers to ever freeze the silver screen. Bresson is perhaps best known for his two films A Man Escaped and Pickpocket whose sparsely arranged, emotionally neutered dimensions often find themselves as prime examples of economic storytelling on a film art syllabus, as the ultimate practitioner of how information can be imparted to an audience with the absolute molecular minimum of information or inference. His films are almost wilfully obtuse and alienating, all emotion and empathy is quite deliberately parsed away by techniques I will get into shortly, but for context let me explain that we’ll be looking at L’Argent which was his final film from 1983, his 13th feature in a forty-year career which incidentally mirrors Kubrick’s final tally – there are many connections between the two. This rare screening as part of the Monday night film programme of education known as Passport To Cinema is one of the central strands of BFI support of London’s film students, screening a broad spectrum of material across genre and country, era and style, presumably to give them as wide an appreciation of the form to draw upon for their pieces and dissertations. As my fellow audience members shuffled out of NFT2 after this brisk 80 minute screening the overall mood was of quiet shell-shock, as this rather draining piece is quite a demanding watch.
The plot, if you can honestly call it that is based on Tolstoy’s short story The Forged Coupon, updating the social and cultural environment from 19th century tsarist Russia to modern nation-state European capitalism. A young, unnamed man receives his allowance from his father, and requests funds from his mother when he explains he has a debt at school to fulfil – both parents dismiss his entreaty to exceed his fiscal allocation. In exchange for a forged 500 franc note the man pawns his watch, which he then exchanges in a Parisian retail shop for a modest picture frame. Once the subterfuge is discover the shop owner scolds the retail assistant, and instructs her to pass on the note to the next appropriate customer, which just happens to be the doomed Yvon, a blue-collar worker with a young wife and child. Retiring for lunch Yvon tries to pay a restaurant tab with the unknown to him forged note, but a eagle-eyed waiter spots the counterfeit and calls the gendarmes. Yvon is arrested, but avoids a custodial sentence due to his previous good character; nevertheless his loses his job. Desperate and facing destitution with mouths to feed he makes a fateful decision and acts as the get-away car driver for a friend’s bank robbery. The robbery is a failure and Yvon captured and sentenced to three years, due to his previous interaction with the authorities. During his incarceration his daughter dies and his wife writes to him that she is leaving him to start a new life. Then things start to get worse……
If that summary of the plot sounds mechanistic and reduced to the facts then that’s my intent, as this is exactly how the plot mechanics of this deeply pessimistic film unravel, with the elegant perfection of a swiss watch’s relentless movements it charts with an intergalactic weight of dispassion just how one quirk of fate can obliterate a life. A lot of critics and commentators find Bresson an obstinate, implacable cliff face to navigate, his utter disregard to trade in emotion or even a social or political credo can be deeply divisive in that all elusive search for meaning amongst form, but I love this style of filmmaking where the various elements are manipulated in perfect concert to build a deeply affecting, distressing and yes I’ll go there depressing diatribe at modern dianetics, where the systems and processes of civilisation have come to overwhelm their originators, truly the lunatics have taken over the asylum. Bresson always utilised non-professional actors – the sobriquet of ‘acting’ being one he abhorred – whom he termed as his ‘models’, manipulating them like some perfectionist puppet master to be the marionettes of his frigid passion-plays, divorced of emotion, bereft of sentiment. His collaborators were instructed to repeat the sparse dialogue, twenty, thirty, even forty times until every molecule of emotion had been obliterated from the line reading, its no wonder that the vast majority of his models never went to appear in other films, such was the trauma of their experience. The narrative has the economy of a 21st century high-end gadget instruction manual, developments and points are illustrated with the bare lip service of sequential convention, for example in L’Argent a double murder, surely an enormously dramatic and potentially powerful sequence is parsed down to one shot, of a figure washing his hands in the sink as the water runs red. A breathless, nail-biting jailbreak is signalled with a light curling under a cell door, and the distant sounds of movement and friction. This rejection of the normative functions of shot reverse shot & continuity editing, the wholesale ignorance of character depth or development through dialogue and performance push Bresson’s cinema into densely metaphoric realms, the absence of those grips on which to purchase a translation of the film cause the emphasis to alight from the normative to the transformative, as we begin to coalesce what Bresson is actually concerned with – this is the world as it stands parsed back to reveal its true functions and dimensions, and it is inhuman and nubilously ugly.
We were warned beforehand that the print was somewhat distressed but it wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, as usual around the regular reel changes the image could jump and become misaligned to the axis but this wasn’t too jarring, and the films cavernous lack of a soundtrack wasn’t interfered with by any hissing or scratchy glitched transitions, usually it’s the interruption of the soundtrack or clipping the dialogue that can throw you out of the picture with these retrospective screenings, but Bresson’s sparse aesthetics are immune even to the inevitable decay of photo-chemical film stock it seems. When I first saw the film on BBC2 back in those crazy days when the Beeb used to transmit art-house fare I remember being somewhat mystified at the concrete tone and ruthless frugality of the film, this was probably one of my first exposures to such relentless arrangements of form and structure, and then the final sequence arrived and I experienced a palpable rush of blood to the celluloid head with this extraordinary arrangement, like Roy Batty’s tear swept speech or Marlon’s mumbling ’the horror’ this has been indelibly etched on my memory;
Pure, unadulterated existential terror, no lurid sweeping gaze at oozing entrails or the glassy-eyed visages of the recently expired, no weapons lunging into fractured flesh or crescending screams cut short, just a calm reportage of fragments of the event, as Yvon executes his family without any rhyme or reason, other than for the cold, detached and unstoppable march of acquisition and commerce. Butchered for their money the sequence appropriates the ruthless rhythms of capitalism, the howl and turn of the turbine, the eternal crawl of the production line, the mechanical cosmetics of that illusion which allegedly makes the world go round, dwarfing any alternate tenet of a shared humanism or spiritual succor. I remember audibly gasping at the cut to the bodies clustered at the top of the stairs, that sound all the more amplified as barring one brief sequence of Bach which a character plays on a piano L’Argent has no non-diagetic music whatsoever, it plays to the rhythms of real life with distant hums and echoes of activity, as the automatons walk through the motions of Bresson’s reformation fresco’s.
Throughout the film compositions are framed around entrances and exits, doorways and alleyways, cells and shops, in broad cinematic language these structures are a potent signifier of transition, of development and movement as characters egress from one scene to another through the cinematic space, driving the narrative and plot forward through a sequential process of physical displacement. Bresson perverts these conventions with a perturbing precision, through unconventional pacing a curious effect happens as the camera frequently holds the shot and lingers with a strange curiosity on these points of entry and exit long after the ‘model’ has departed the frame. It’s difficult to grasp what purpose Bresson as driving at with this glitched chronology but I will say it incrementally builds an intangible, formless anxiety which is really quite strange to behold, why are we looking at this? Why is he cultivating this vandalised canter? When absorbed in conjunction with the command of the other cinematic tools – the void of diagetic music cues, the obliteration of character and empathy – the physical space has become prime real estate, emotional or humanist discourse reduced to the simple and unimpeachable act of the transaction, the exchange, the barter. Cinema, or more specifically Film is fundamentally an industrial process, chemical solutions reacting to light, whirring gears and peering lenses, time and space sculpted and frozen in time, and Bresson’s figurines moving through that manufactured and constructed space at a formal level bridge half constructed thoughts of how the world is, how our society functions at its more abstract definitions, with an inhuman symmetry to the enlightenment virtues of scientific rigour and progress, of rational reasoning – and crucially what has been lost.
That’s not to say that the film is working any overt political or social manifesto, what makes this scale the highest pantheon of art-cinema is its operating above such tangible concerns, as the Communists embraced cinema as propaganda through the building blocks of montage, or the Americans seduced the masses through form as commerce, Bresson espouses his strict Catholicism through his clandestine formalism, with a hint of redemption and a paradise beyond the veil of tangible earthly temptations. Some critics have sensed a transcendence at the film’s climax which you can see here, I can’t say I see it myself as Yvon’s confession merely completes the circle to the inferno which was set in motion with that initial plea for commerce, as the film unceremoniously guillotines to black with no credits, a genius stroke which crowns a severe, his forty-year career. It’s the cutting from abstract forms and shapes to another shared symbol of our experience – from feet and hands, from tools and instruments – these functions severed from the body, isolated as mere corollaries as cause and effect supplant faith and charity. None of the ‘models’ obtains a single close-up as the machinery of civilisation is favoured by the implacable camera, the blood greasing the yield, as money, documents, tills, contracts and various media are presented with a solemnity evocative of a 15th century ascension triptych, our new figures of worship and power replacing the divine with the decimal. It may feel at times like being lectured by a particularly stern Marxist theologian and its obvious that Bresson is a progenitor of more recent world cinema figures such as Haneke or Bela Tarr, they share an absolute steeled command of cinematic language, a devoted sparseness of performance, an almost insulting disregard for the conventions of audience sympathy and comfort. For me it’s within these eyries that true masterpieces are formed, and that marriage of rigid formalism and technique elevates material to the rapturous, with a total disinterest in the social conditioning that can drive a man to ruin and barbarism through one malfunction of the capitalist machine L’Argent is nothing less than a macro level lecture on the disease of modern life, a sermon for the sacred over the secular. If all cinema is alienation, a rejection of reality in two-dimensional space, then Bresson is its most sanctified curate, the Archdiocese of apostasy;
*For you real completests I’ve just found this, his 1971 film which has never been released on VHS or DVD due to complex right issues, a film I’m sure will fill a long Bank Holiday weekend with mirth and joy? Yes, yes I am kidding – I’ve bookmarked that for later. So I’m off down to the South Coast myself for a well-earned break, consequently things should get a little quiet around here until next week, in the meantime doesn’t this sound particularly promising?
Can Ben Wheatley, one of the rising hopes of British cult cinema go three for three after the brutal charm of Kill List and Sightseers with his new picture? Here’s our first chance to decide;
I’ll obey the masters cat ‘o’ nine tails and keep quiet for my full review as obviously this is on my ‘Kill-List’, but a couple of years ago Sight & Sound published a retrospective article which was devoted to that weird little sub-culture of British cinema which revolves around our bloody pagan roots, citing movies such as The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General or Blood On Satan’s Claw, Mark Gatiss did a good job of covering the same ground here - I wonder from which well Mr. Wheatley drew his deep mystical inspiration?
I think it’s fair to say I’ve had more memorable weekends, finally shaking off this stupid cold has necessitated a hermit like existence, only leaving the flat for absolute essentials. Not that there was, well, anything to see at the flicks anyway, you’ll be shocked to hear that The Fast & The Furious 6 wasn’t on my radar (in fact I’ve never seen any of that franchise, not a single frame) and having seen everything else I had to make up my own entertainment at home. The well-timed Ray Harryhausen documentary was probably the highlight, and I also revisited Saving Private Ryan last night, that really must be Spielberg’s most frustrating film, containing as it does some of the absolute best and worst elements of his entire career. So this will be another trailer post, there are a few things floating around which may pique your interest as they have mine, and from Cannes is sounds as it Inside Llewyn Davies has seduced the notoriously tough crowd, with some critics even comparing it favourably to Liebowski - hmm. Speaking of Cannes psychonauts beware, Jodorowsky’s back with his first film in 23 years;
Looks fairly bizarre, not that we’d expect anything less from one of the true real lunatics of film culture. I’ve heard there’s a remarkable sounding documentary on his aborted attempt to make Dune which also premiered at Cannes, that should be a fascinating glimpse at what might have been, one of the great unmade films of all time.
Europa Report looks kinda interesting, no? A medium budget SF movie is pretty rare these days, and io9 are usually on the ball so this might be a fun little prelude to Gravity. Finally, I’ve been loving the Red Letter Media gang’s Z list movie review show Best Of The Worst, if you see nothing else then forward wind 24:10 for the best rocket launcher / blow-up doll scene in cinema history;
As some of you expressed an interest in the event here’s the BFI coverage of the interview with Zod and the deliciously evil Ursa;
So Cannes has started, and it sounds like it’s off to a wet start, but we don’t care about that arty foreign nonsense now do we? DO WE? Here’s some robots instead;
As it happens I’ve got one of my most challenging ‘art-film’ retrospective reviews on the horizon after a particularly leftfield piece I caught on the BFI on Monday, but I’m ill and ain’t feeling up to it at the moment – just writing various things at work is tiring enough at the moment. So for the moment let’s look forward to giant automatons battering the fuck out of each other, that’s about the size of the intellectual challenge I can muster at the moment…
Unless you’ve been blasted into deep space from your disintegrating planet due to its imploding sun you won’t have missed the imminent re-boot of the Superman film franchise, Warner Brothers committed attempt to forge a new, profitable bout of super-heroic shenanigans following the conclusion of the Nolan brothers galactically popular Batman trilogy. Next month sees the release of Man Of Steel, the Zack Snyder helmed reformatting of the one of the most if not the most famous superheroes following Bryan Singers lacklustre 2005 outing, and early buzz is incrementally growing following the unveiling of a series of fairly impressive, cautiously tempting trailers. Within that context when the May programme for the BFI shuddered through my letterbox I was intrigued to see that a Terence Stamp season was on the cards, and it struck me that it might be interesting in a context setting exercise to revisit Superman II, probably the most fondly remembered issue of this inaugural five-part, limited collectors edition sequence of kiss curled courage. Whilst I remember quite vividly seeing Superman III at the flicks with friends I think I was a little too young for this 1980 outing, and of course Stamps barked performance has won its own cult appreciation over the years, it is probably the highpoint of the series if you find as I do the original film a little dull with Luthor’s cartoon schematics and the rather flimsy plotting difficult to swallow, although there is something to be said for the rather skilled handling of Kal-El’s origin story. When assessing the actors who have challengingly worn their pants outside their tights Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the Jewish immigrant metaphor is still the benchmark to beat, he hasn’t been bested as the face of Superman on either the large or small screen, one wonders if this new upstart Henry Cavil is as terrified of the curse of the cape and might be shaking in his crimson, knee-high boots.
I guess the first thing to say is that this was a screening of the Richard Donner cut of the film, from the restored and re-edited 2006 re-release of the film, as you aficionados will know the second film in the series suffered from some quite significant production obstacles with producers firing directors and appointing other helmsmen, so let’s not waste space as the wiki has a pretty good synopsis of the history here. Quite unusually despite the presence of the DVD the compere announced that this was the first ever theatrical projection of this more complete cut of the film ever, thus awarding the evening a rather special halo, and Terence Stamp himself and called the CEO of Warner Bros. to assemble the film in as complete a format as possible, including soundtrack elements and deleted scenes which were culled fron the original 1980 release. I was also interested in revisiting this in line with current blockbuster aesthetics and techniques what with Superhero movies dominating the multiplexes – Iron Man III has repulsor blasted a colossal $950 million as I write this - as generally speaking this krypton averse series can be considered the first strain of ‘modern’ superhero cinema, if you disregard the campy sixties Batman nonsense or the cult contortions of the likes of Danger Diaboik, as prior to the Sixties super-screen heroics were mostly contained in the Republic serial two-reelers or Flash Gordon shorts. Of course this deviant, strange sub-genre of SF cinema eventually morphed into Burton’s broody vision of The Dark Knight before the genre really gained its momentum in the 2000’s, and now cape sporting, fetishistically garbed, freaky monologing mutants seize the screen every summer, as the purse holding executives dredge the deep waters of the Marvel and DC universes for the most peripheral of characters in order to secure a new potential money spinning franchise – Shane Black’s take on Dr. Savage could be next , plus there’s a reboot of The Fantastic Four in the works, although I personally can’t wait for the Skateman picture.
Do we need a synopsis? Really? OK then, three traitorous criminals are imprisoned in the Escheresque Phantom Zone by Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and exiled to deep space from Krypton before the planets unfortunate destruction, their dimension defying spinning prism prison shattered decades later by an errant nuclear weapon thoughtlessly hurled into its flight path by Superman as he thwarted Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) nefarious plot to nuke California in the first movie - Superman eh, what a littering jerk. Like Kal-El these marooned marauders from Kryton are also blessed with superhuman powers under our alien yellow sun, and soon Supes is battling the hulking mute Non (Jack O’Halloran), the jackbooted, SS guard inflected Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and their tyrannous leader General Zod (Stamp) whom have rather less benevolent ambitions than straight laced Clark Kent, and with their newfound superpowers decide to take over the plant for a bit of a lark. The subsequent sanity deprived Margot Kidder is back as Lois Lane and Hackman reprises his role as the ‘greatest criminal mind of the planet’®, in this broadly comedic, for its time astonishgly expensive slice of caped crusading . After thirty years of age and as an action / fantastical film the film is quite a curiosity, it is postively geriatric in its pacing and dtempo when compared to today’s bewildering antics, as a starter for ten this is probably my favourite sequence;
Things have moved on somewhat when it comes to aerial fisticuffs, I think it’s fair to say. I’m not particularly qualified to comment on the alleged strengths of the Donner cut over the Richard Lester original as these aren’t films I’m particularly au fait with, but my initial impression was of a far stronger ‘epic’ opening, less emphasis on the rather tedious ’humourous’ slapstick asides that was emphasised on the original cut, although even this iteration of the film has an underlying comic smirk which only really comes to the fore when you see it with an appreciative audience – this was pretty darn funny, although perhaps not always intentionally so. Whilst I can find John Williams syrupy scores wretch inducing at the best of times I think you have to applaud him for the soaring triumph of his triumphant theme, alongside Jaws and Star Wars this is hard to beat in terms of sonic awareness, and their aren’t many compositions that you could play to any Non, Ursa or Zod in the street and they’d instantly be able to identify the movie.
From a purely technical level a compare and contrast exercise with contemporary product is as illuminating as it is amusing, like some celluloid archeologist I found the film primitive, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way it’s just that my today standards its SFX techniques have understandably dated, and its really not that convincing in hoisting around the principals in making us believe that a ‘man can fly’, and the editing speeds momentum doesn’t quite build any real sense of urgency or attention. There’s plenty of wire work, optical configurations and matte obscuration, when compared to the heavy CGI evident in the blockbusters of today then no if doesn’t fully convince, but there is an odd DIY charm to the artistry which terabytes of processing can’t surpass. I really like the Krypton footage for example, it’s just much more sparse and symmetrically alien in comparison to the visual pollution we’re subject to today, and there is a sense of density and reality to physically standing sets, there’s a solidity that even when parsed through a 16:9 frame on a 2D surface seduces the brain. I quite surprised myself at also quite enjoying the campy comic book origins of the ‘gee-golly’ dialogue, the cardboard characterisations and linear plot, of course this film was inked a few years before the likes of Alan Moore and Frank Miller reconstituted the comic book into the rather more pompous ‘graphic novel’, transforming the artform with a more adult and psychological approach to themes, drives and a more mature presentation of worlds in which such titans would actually exist, so in a relaxing sort of way this was quite a light, breezy antidote to the dour severity of Nolan’s trilogy or this current penchant for making things ‘dark’ and ‘moody’, and as I said with the special guests and a sold out crowd this had quite an atmosphere, and was consequently much more fun than I anticipated.
I was silently crossing my extremities for some potential special guests – not Stamp as I’ve already bumped into him and the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Piccadilly Apollo a few years ago if you remember - and my wishes were fulfilled by the good old BFI who evidently exerted their influence and persuaded the panther eyed Sarah Douglas to introduce the movie, a figure who may have tickled some dormant pre-adolsecence unusual thoughts about how girls aren’t always completely gross back when you were in single digit years of age. Never wanting to avoid the limelight however Stamp turned up anyway, and both figures took us through the films tortured production history, where initially both films were shooting back to back when panicking producers saw the spiraling budget and ordered Donner to complete the first film in order to get it into theatres and re-coup some money, and after he professionally obliged he was fired (without anyone on the cast or crew being informed) and Richard Lester tuned up on set when shooting commenced a few months later. They both seemed to have a genuine affection for Donner although they liked Lester as a colleague, he was just placed in a rather uncomfortable situation as the crew and cast had already bonded as an entity (which as Stamp remarked is rare but is wonderful when it happens), hence their persuasive efforts in lobbying Warner Brothers to get Donners original cut out there for fans to digest. Stamp was also quite amusing when recounting how the movie turned his career around, after a decade of the phone not ringing after his Sixties heyday he had retreated to an Indian madrassa, and was completely shocked when one fateful morning the local telegraph office announced they had a comminuqe from Hollywood asking if he would consider flying back to London in order to star in a movie with Marlon Brando. So that is as they say that, I must be some kind of superhero as I can’t believe I got through a full retrospective review of Superman II and I didn’t mention KNEEL BEFORE ZOD once and – oh fuck…
For the record as a cinephile I can die happy as yes he did say it for us, and added the slightly more 15 certiticate sobriquet by yelling ‘KNEEL BEFORE ZOD YOU BASTARD…..’
One of the more successful recent Hollywood plundering of stale franchises was J.J. Abrams 2009 resurrection of the Star Trek directive, his cosmic concoction of new fangled SFX and iconic SF expeditions successfully navigating that most treacherous of spaceflights, keeping the fanboys happy whilst appealing to a wider summer attuned blockbuster audience. The wise decision to weld dual origin stories of the series most popular characters James Tiberius Kirk and
Mr. Commander Spock paid the appropriate reverence to both the numerous TV series and fleet of big screen outings, whilst toying with the mechanics enough to craft something new and exciting for hardcore and passing fans of new and older generations. Regular readers will recall that I set out my relation to Star Trek back during my original 2009 review, but to paraphrase I’m not the biggest fan but do quite like some of the original films (well, the first two) and some of the TV series (well, ST:TNG), but as context they are not artifacts that I own on DVD or rewatch on any sort of regular basis, although I do have a genuine interest to revisit Wrath Of Khan which I haven’t seen for ages. As such I wasn’t galactically excited at the new film Star Trek: Into Darkness but was intrigued by the trailers, its SF of course which always tunes my tricorder and Abrams is a highly proficient purveyor of big screen entertainment, even if his films are a little hollow beyond the prestidigitation of appropriating previous genre mainstays – Mission Impossible, James Bond with a female twist, Seventies era Spielberg, or The X-Files in a post 9/11 parralel dimension. It is a pleasure therefore to report that 2013′s blockbuster season has finally warped in its first triumph, after the mildly diverting likes of Oblivion and Iron Man 3 the gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down with Into Darkness, and very mild, general, non-specific spoilers follow, so consider your hailing frequencies well and truly warned.
Opening with what upon reflection is a rather clever context setting scenario which ignites the themes and conflicts of the rest of the movie the full crew contingent is back, as Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and growling medical officer Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) flee a primitive race on a scarlet hued jungle, a chase sequence with more than a hint of an aroma of Indiana Jones raiding lost arks – haven’t you got your tractor beams set on enough franchises Mr. Abrams? After making a crucial choice to violate the prime directive to save a colleague the impetuous Kirk is demoted to first officer, spiraling him into an emotional chasm which is soon obliterated by a terror campaign orchestrated by rogue Star Fleet assassin John Harrison (a predatory, Übermenschian Benedict Cumberbatch) who has a burning grievance of vehement vengeance against the United Federation Of Planets. Fleeing to a distant moon where he assumes that Star Fleet will be unable to chase him due to plot points I won’t spoil Kirk is reinstated and ordered on a clandestine mission to hunt down and apprehend the marauder, accompanied by his loyal crew of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), communications officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Lt. Commander Scotty (Simon Pegg with much more to do, after MI:III his star is certainly rising) and the international duo of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin).
Mentally dissembling its constituent parts during the walk home yielded plot faults which materialise with the snarling ferocity of a Klingon assault team, but it powers through its mission at such hyperspeed that these malfunctions quickly recede to the event horizon, as a constellation of exploding volcanos, EVA antics, ferocious fisticuffs and nautical mêlées are beamed into the cerebellum. Once the film gets up to full-speed at around the halfway point it warps the pyrotechnics up to eleven, and I was grinning like a lunatic for the rest of its breathless, relentless blockbuster ride, it has a genuine sense of sleek swashbuckling adventure, and pinpricks of universes in-jokes and references sprinkle the canvass like distant stars upon a cloud free, diamond studded night sky. Pine and Qunito reprise their roles with the deft lightness of the previous installment, and all the supporting players get their requisite character action beats and moments, its something of a masterclass in blockbuster assembly and juggling an ensemble cast, as it ejects the usual set-piece / character development binary chain of repetition and plays more as first half set-up, second half supernova detonating action sequence. The film stays closer to terra firma by obeying the first golden rule of blockbuster screenwriting, namely that your antagonist villain needs to be as interesting, nuanced and genuinely threatening as the heroes overcome increasingly insurmountable odds, Cumberbatch gives a controlled performance as a shark-eyed nemesis whose origin springs from a celebrated episode of the original series, I’ll say no more as I don’t wish to be confined to quarters. One thing I do admire with Abrams is that he understands that mystery and reveals are extremely important to the success of genre films and the cinema experience, he’s a master poker player when it comes to marketing his movies, keeping his twists and turns secret and surreptitious and unlike the recent entry to the Bond franchise his collaborators feel confident enough to operate in a post Nolan world, and don’t resort to sacrificing thrills and threats to ludicrous master plans or implausibly conceived and contrived plot mechanics.
The original Sixties TV series and its brethren has been re-evaluated and praised for its humanist scope, camouflaging sociological commentary of the era with its vision of a progressively attuned post racial society, as it was transmitted to American homes against the backdrop of civil rights struggles and slain students across the cultural battlegrounds of that revolutionary decade. Like any memorable SF the genre can function as microscope of its contemporary construction, and it you want your sensors to detect elements of drone bombings, interference with other cultures and the all-pervasive phantasm of domestic terrorism then you may find some small morsels of commentary here, not to mention the still haunting spectre of aerial vehicles devastating urban metropoli can’t help but invoke memories of that fateful September morning. These observations however feel more of a general cultural percolation into the screenwriters unconscious rather than any specific moralising or political soapboxing, these semiotics arising more through association than specific design, as I think Freud once said sometimes ‘a photon torpedo is just a photon torpedo‘.
I found the special effects dazzling, immersive and spectacular, with a phenomenal blending of wide CGI galaxyscapes dollying into live action elements, and yes the streaking lens flare aesthetics are embraced as never before, the cinematography has become something of incandescent strip to beat Abrams with, but I honestly don’t see the problem as it gives the films an appropriately sleek horizontal intangibility, a perfect visual metaphor for his strikingly made, scintillatingly swift, alveolated entertainments. Star Trek: Into Darkness also falls squarely into the positive use of 3D camp, with barreling vessels and gravity malfunctions resulting in some vertiginous derring-do, the usual complaint of etiolated images is fully disintegrated as the frame is brightly and clearly delineated, shorn of the visual clutter which plagues many of these SF motherships. I also particularly loved the ship designs of a certain species with whom we experience a first contact of sorts, and it was quite an ambitious move to reconstruct perhaps the most iconic, memorable and successful sequence of the original movie series which I for one thought they pulled off superbly, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that didn’t incur the wrath of certain sanctified strains of the committed Trek community….
It has its molecular problems, one ’prime’ predictable appearance is rather shoehorned in for fan service which really wasn’t necessary, the faux seriousness of the alleged ‘darkness’ incorporated into the title never really finds purchase and alas the film doesn’t really have any killer lines other than a smile inducing inversion of a previous escapades ‘classic’ line, but the skill with which writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof navigate the requirements of a wide blockbuster appeal while servicing the trekheads is really rather welcome considering some of their previous assignments (Prometheus, Transformers, Cowboys & Aliens), although perhaps a few breathers in the second half to play around with and deepen this iteration of the characters wouldn’t have been entirely unwelcome. As the credits rolled to the confident restoration of the original series iconic soundtrack a weary old soul such as myself may have even felt a neutrino sized spark ignite in his withered husk of a heart, as I may actually be warming to the new iteration of a certain other intergalactic franchise that Abrams will be teleporting into next – the flares is strong with this one;
It’s been seven long years since Children Of Men but Cuarón is finally back, and a first glimpse looks positively stellar;
Looks like someones been influenced by a certain Odyssey, even down to appropriating Stan’s favourite font. I think this might just be worthy of a IMAX expedition, and only a few months until take off. After yesterday’s evening spent at the BFI believing a man could fly another review is en-route, and yes I will be going to see this weeks intergalactic blockbuster, probably on Sunday.
After a long wait and constant teasing from Mr. Wright & Mr. Pegg on the twitters, here’s the first look at the epic conclusion of their refreshing Cornetto trilogy;
I think Pegg and Wright might have made cinema history, with a solid trilogy which includes a fence joke in every installment – one for the history books eh? Can’t say I’m hugely impressed with the trailer but I’m sure it will have its moments considering the pedigree, and when was the last time we had a genuinely good British comedy? Well, I guess Sightseers was amusing but you know what I mean, presumably it will a touch more humorous than this;
Apparently after three years of waiting the first trailer for Gravity will drop in the next couple of orbits, watch this ‘space’……(apologies)…I didn’t realise Lubezki photographed it, this is gonna be a big ‘un….
De Niro & Scorsese, Ford & Wayne, Mifune & Kurosawa, Carpenter & Russell, Gosling & Cianfrance - it doesn’t quite trip off the tounge does it? These masculine pairings have benchpressed a weighty and sturdy cinema, obsessed with stoic notions and very serious gender studies, the director /actor intertwinning to explore notions of duty, honour, heroism and masculinity through the forum of film. With the scintillating fireworks of 2010′s Blue Valentine Derek Cianfrance delivered a powerful and attention worthy debut, coaxing tremulous performances from both his leading lady Michelle Williams and the rising major star in the ascendant Ryan Gosling, with whom he has once again blood brothered with The Place Beyond The Pines, his sophomore movie. The reviews have been somewhat mixed on this one but some major critics have lathered on the praise, and with very little else circulating last weekend I thought I’d give it a chance, and try to discern what’s been hidden out in that petrified forest. What I found wasn’t particularly egregious but I can’t bring myself to fully recommend the film, like Gosling’s tear streaked facial tattoos this is a film which grasps for a solemn scarred profundity, and ultimately comes of as a little cheap and pretentious – just like my aftershave.
You’ll forgive me if I’m vague with the summary as the plot roars into unexpected directions quite early on, but as you can glean from the trailer Ryan Gosling is back in smouldering and strong slash quiet type armour, as the locally recognised circus stunt driver Luke. A brief tryst with local waitress Romina (Eva Mendes) results in an unplanned son which he promises to support and not abandon like his presumably vanished father, Luke only learning of his brood once the circus rolls into town a few months after the boy is born. Work is hard to find however and after teaming with local grease monkey / low rent criminal Roger (Ben Mendelsohn) Luke takes to robbing banks and utilising his driving skills to evade the law, with a taste for excitement that grows with each infraction the road seems certain to run out beneath him before he can swerve back to the right path. Meanwhile local cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) is having some problems of his own, as a recent graduate he finds himself in a force mired in corruption and naked self-interest, with good ole Ray Liotta as the plain clothes ringleader with the eyes of rattlesnake. His imposing father Al Cross (Harris Yulin) as the local judge is urging his son to follow in his ambitious footsteps, and after a politically expedient incident the potential road to the DA’s post slowly becomes a possibility, even if he wants to forge his own path.Both Luke and Avery have newly born sons, and the intertwining of their destinies will forge future enmities and feuds, as the reveberations of their choices and sacrifices reverberate throughout the generations….
This frustrating film has an arc which strives for the spectrum of greek tragedy, with fathers inheriting the sins of their creators and passing these burdens on to their progeny, with a decade spanning narrative which at once seems surprisingly ambitious yet implausibly ludicrous. It’s not a bad film per se, Gosling as always is a magnetic presence with a performance sketched of quiet volcanic glares and tics and nuances, all cobbled together from Drive’s cutting room floor. Despite being the most sleazy man alive I always enjoy absorbing the languid drawls of Ben Mendelsohn, and Bradley Cooper completes the three act structure / three performance triptych with a convincing as a cop wrestling with his competing instincts of patriarchal duty and sense of moral authority. The problem lies at a structural level beneath its snowy canopy, as Cianfrance’s script and design never quite scales the peaks of its solemn inotations, although one can and should celebrate the noble intentions of an epic emotional sweep and studious pondering on the human condition, as these are increasingly neglected areas in star studded vehicles.
I did like the score from Faith No More’s Mike Patton, again it anxiously grasps for some sort of wintry romantici sm by incorporating flurries of the choirsh crescendos of Arvo Pärt’s minimalist 1977 classical composition Fratres - now there’s a sentence which could probably do with a trim, just the film two and a half hour duration. When I say the film has a three act structure I’m not referring to the usual screenwriting parlance of inciting incidents, of clearly defined protagonists and antagonists, of specific plot developments being punched into the plot at specific points in the run-time which so clearly formulates and homogenizes American cinema – no, I’m taking about three definitive portions of time that the film ponderous gaits through, and a major problem is by the time you’re in the final act it actually feels superfluous to the preceding movements when exactly the opposite reaction should be occurring. When an audience is as tired and restless as mine was when you know you’ve got another thirty or forty minutes to sit through you’ve seriously failed in spinning an emotional web, although on a craft level – performance, cinematography, sound, production design – the film can’t be faulted. It’s a shame after that blistering debut as Cianfrance evidently has talent, so one hopes that wasn’t a one hit wonder (paging Richard Donne Darko Kelly?) and that his next project doesn’t get similarly buried in the woods;
A quick aside, as I’m professionally obligated to salute the passing of Philip French’s extraordinarily productive career, he announced his retirement this week after fifty years in the aisle seat, I mean c’mon Philip – nobody likes a quitter. I saw him at the BFI Vertigo screening last year, I’m betting that I won’t look as spiretly and energetic after fifty years of movie reviewing. Here’s his interesting if a tad conventional list of all time favourites, but anyone who shares my affection for the top spot can’t be all wrong.
Not wanting to start on a narcissistic point but there I was thinking that this was a pretty good day for a Tuesday and then the sad news started circulating. The term legend is bandied around in this industry with careless abandon but Harryhausen was a talent equal of the hagiography, a gentle and nice fellow by all accounts who assisted many young protegés to break into this industry. Many of his images are indelibly seared on the imaginations of a generation of filmmakers, and just consider the roll call of cinema behemoths he has clearly inspired – James Cameron, Tim Burton, Frank Darabont, Guilermo Del Toro, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George A Romero, Peter Jackson and a couple of small-scale Americans by the names of George and Steve;
As Kim Newman recently remarked and please forgive the paraphrasing but ’contemporary monster or fantastical element movies take hundreds of digital artisans and millions of dollars to craft, Ray did it all on his own and transformed the industry’ – who else has equally that lofty achievement? Here’s his lifelong friends Ray Bradbury’s recent video message, now if you’ll excuse me it’s got a little dusty in here;
I couldn’t possibly best my BFI Tribute report from 2010, easily one of the best events I’ve ever attended at the Southbank, with a genuine and heartfelt sense of occasion and tribute which really hasn’t been equalled since – you can see some of that here, and go watch a monster movie as a mark of respect;
I apologise for not posting much over the past few days, what can I say, I have been busy fighting crime Citizen;
I did manage to go and see The Place Beyond The Pines which was what it was, review to follow but I warn you now for various reasons I have a bastard week on the cards, but we’ll see how it goes….