This has been doing the rounds for a while but it’s still eminently worth sharing, proof positive that our modest little empire has produced some of the best cinematographers of all time, and certainly one of the best practitioners still operating today;
That might sound a little jingoistic which isn’t my intention, so in the interests of international balance here is an American;
Right, now pay attention team, there has been far too much tangential trailer action going on around here of late, so it’s time for another double bill to spirit away these wretched sweltering months. For the so-called height of summer season pickings are slim at the moment, although some of that may partially due to my seizure of new releases as soon as they hit the multiplexes. Early July appears to be a quiet period before the next Apes movie, the next Marvel movie and the next offensive movie douses screens with the usual digital carnage, I’m almost tempted to go and see the latter purely for the exercise of writing a review for one of the most revelled films of recent history – but surely like the misplaced David said to his new buddy ‘One billion Chinese can’t be wrong Michael‘. Before we get on with proceedings I think it’s worth mentioning that I might just be a little excited about this, although like the recently announced and immediately sold out appearance of Al Pacino at the BFI getting tickets is gonna be tough. Speaking of Pacino I’ somehow managed to crowbar in High-Def viewings of both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II last weekend – the much maligned Part III can wait until a quiet evening over the next fortnight although I must admit I’m curious to revisit it as I haven’t seen it in many years – so this schedule had a great deal to match-up against when viewed in the shadows of arguably two of the greatest American films ever made. Nevertheless like an even-handed consigliere my judgement shall be tempered and fair, so lets kick things off with a trailer,
I was somewhat mystified by the affection that 21 Jump Street received upon its release a couple of years ago, the buddy-cop action/comedy genre has been a stalwart money spinner for decades of course but when I finally got round to seeing the picture the comedy mostly sailed over my head, and my indifference to Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum was reinforced. Don’t get me wrong, either of them can be pretty good in the right hands – Soderbergh or Scorsese for example – but the frat house inklings of the movie left me a little cold, with only a couple of small gags about imprinintg an adults ability to achieve tasks denied to adolescents raising the requisite grins. Nevertheless the sequel has gone down gangbusters stateside both critically and commercially and I had some time to kill before my second screening, s0 I thought I’d give these juvenile reprobates a chance to bruise the funny bone – besides it was either this or Disney for fucks sake. So the boys are back undercover to smash a drug-ring, this time they’ve been promoted to College from the halls of Junior High in the previous movie, with the same hi-jinks and all the frantic fraternity Bacchanalia that you’d expect in this collusion of bromance and bullet blasts.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are riding high on the enormous success of The Lego Movie and the are the current kings of the contemporary post-modern quip, a comedic channel which they balloon to almost grotesque proportions in this frequently amusing but narrative timid movie. Much of the praise reverberating around 22 Jump Street relates to its self-aware sequel status, with numerous asides to a knowing audience, with a self-regarding strafing of the fourth wall acknowledgement of how sequels are just re-treards of previous escapades with more money’ and pyrotechnics,plot xeroes with a few more cameos and craziness to keep the media juggernaut rolling. The bromance is blasted front and centre with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill tittering on the brink of screaming ‘f*ck it’ and tearing off each others clothes and grasping for each others genitals, a fact that the screenwriters gleefully plunder with the requisite 2014 homo-friendly gags and situations. Due to the hackneyed plot I’m still a little ambivalent to the series – the cookie cutter inciting incident, character conflict then action beat resolution peppered with a little crowbared (and utterly unconvincing) emotional pathos stands in uneasy embarrassment against the wider chaotic comedic carnage, but I can’t deny the dozen or so belly laughs that the film delivers, even as it simultaneously tetters on the high wire act of post-modern in-jokes and traditional Hollywood story arcs – it’s a weird combination which wants to have its marijuana laced brownies and eat ‘em. You may have heard that the film’s highpoint is the closing credits which sounds like damning with faint praise, truth be told I found some of the more situational material earlier in the film more deftly delivered (evading specific details Ice Cube’s seething police commander is fantastic) and if you’re up for a few beers with your homies then this should suit the agenda, dawg.
Much more up my rain-spattered alley was Cold In July, a gloomy Texan set neo-noir starring Michael J. Williams, the always great Sam Shepherd and Don Johnson who was strutting around London last week conducting a fair bit of press and numerous screening Q&A’s, alas my day job out in the wilds of Buckinghamshire curtailed my attendance at any of the well received promotional activities. As we all know neo-noir is a Menagerie favourite so when this cropped up I raised a quizzical scotch-soaked eyebrow, I’d heard nothing about it before and had studiously avoided any reviews or plot details since. Based on the 1989 novel of the same name by Joe R. Lansdale the Peckinpah influenced patois opens with a blood and brain excreting bang, as terrified farmer Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) despatches a scarf covered intruder at his remote farmhouse. Terrified and and wracked with guilt Richard takes solace in the fact he was only protecting his wife (Vinessa Shaw who seems to be cropping up in more roles following last years Side Effects) and young son, the police reassuring him that the perp was a bad dude who had this reckoning coming, sooner or later. The slain burglar is revealed as a local hoodlum and there’s an unfortunate twist, his convict father Bernard (a particularly grizzled Sam Shepherd) has just been paroled for crimes unknown and he appears to be making his way to their small sleepy town to attend his son’s funeral. A campaign of discrete threats and vengeful promises coalesce with an increasingly creepy gleee, an eye for an eye striking promising a biblical wrath, before a wider conspiracy forges an unlikely alliance….
It is rather unfortunate timing for Cold In July to amble along in its pick-up truck whilst the fundamentally superior Blue Ruin is barely decomposing in the ground, although they stalk similar territory – a gothic-hued vengeance, moonshine soaked criminality, a swampy moral code and fearless exposition of bludgeoning violence – July is the mongrel prairie cur of the pack with an action themed exploitation ending bolted onto an initial neo-noir infrastructure . The films clear winner is Don Johnson’s amusing turn as the colourful Private-Eye snooper Jim-Bob (yes, he’s called ‘Jim-Bob’), it’s not quite the career renaissance of McConaughy as the black helmed pederast of Killer Joe but he’s clearly revelling in the critical attention of his most successful and entertaining performance in years. Michael C. Hall tries gamely to shirk off his small screen Dexter and Six Feet Under persona as a mullet mauled red-neck, but his characters arc doesn’t feel quite dense enough to hang the entire film narrative upon, with a rather unconvincing drive to protect his son leading into more dangerous and fraught scenarios which result in some implausible behaviour.
By carefully considering spoilers the film does dive into unexpected territory around the mid-point which holds hand-cuffs the attention and keeps events fresh, but one can’t help think that the whole framing of the film should have been built around another character in the film which would have resulted in a more tangible emotional pay-off in the closing moments, rather than the distanced closure for a character whom doesn’t earn any grudging respect. In terms of genre credibility however the film has one carefully concealed throw-down piece which comes in the unlikely form of its terrific soundtrack , composer Jeff Grace embezzling the electronica nervosa of Tangerine Dream and early John Carpenter with a synth slithering score which already has the hardcore fans grinning in delight. Cold In July is an enjoyable aside for fans of nasty n’er do wells wallowing in the trough of corrupt law enforcement, of Dixie-land crime syndicates and compromised men whom breach the veneer of civilisation in order to ‘do the right thing’, with just enough queasy frontier cruelty until the next series of Justified is transmitted.
Well darn if the Mint isn’t getting all musical this year, in contrast to the usual movie related mayhem which is mustered by the Menagerie. After three gigs in fairly quick succession in the spring I have a clutch of musical interludes programmed for the Autumn, but before then a rather more special event occurred over in Brick Lane on a rain sodden Monday night – how apt. When I was a nipper my musical obsession almost equalled my movie adoration, like any self-respecting teenager I’d spend a fair chuck of pocket money on albums and singles of my favourite bands, it was a very serious, almost obsessional business as I’m sure it remains for many today, and when the opportunity to actually attend gigs occurred I seized the opportunity with the frenzied energy of Mark E. Smith’s whizz dealer. Almost twenty five years ago to the month I was incandescently excited to see The The at the Brixton Academy, my first ever ‘proper’ concert (there had been some previous shoegazing and indie carnage at the local nightclub in the town where I grew up), the lead songwriter and musician behind the revolving band being Matt Johnson. He was the architect in chief of three of the seminal albums of my youth including 1983’s Soul Mining, the MTV friendly Infected and his first released album Burning Blue Soul which remains my favourite collection of musical seduction to this very day. I was a massive fan and collected vinyl copies of singles, 12” remixes, alternate Spanish imports or green/blue/yellow vinyl imprints of his entire chaotic oeuvre, like seeking out the alternate cut of some Belgian slasher movie from 1974 with twelve extra seconds of footage it’s a very male pursuit of obsessive acquisition, so the opportunity to meet the man in the flesh at a Q&A to celebrate the release of this anniversary box-set was an essential investment.
How do you pigeon-hole The The’s music? Well, you can’t which is one of its immediate strengths, a common reference which seems to have found some cultural purchase is ‘existential blues’ with a post-punk, neo-electronica slant, as it arrived in the early eighties his work evolved into combining the personal with the political, particularly in the rather contemporarily prescient observations on 1989’s terribly titled Mind Bomb. But we were here to concentrate on the earlier work, including the chart friendly oscillations of This Is The Day;
Watching this horrendously dated video always makes me smirk. The extensive chat with Matt was compered by the similarly huge fan DJ Food over at Rough Trade East Records, it was as lengthy and trainspottingly detailed to make Mojo reading muso’s proud, delving into the detailed history of Johnson’s career prior to the album before moving sequentially through each of the albums seven tracks, including a discussion of the rather controversial decision by some American A&R imbeciles to tack this on to the carefully considered track listing;
Among many other asides Johnson made the point that in these current days of ipods and ‘shuffle’ instructions the art of designing an album as an album, with specific track placements designed holistically to generate an overall musical theme or feel (what do you open or close with? What’s the first track of the second side of the album once you’ve flipped it over on the turntable? How do you shift between love songs and ballads among the more rockly, dance influenced tracks?) has been mournfully lost, so the decision to include Perfect on the US imprint of the album made him furious – hey, I said this was going to be specialised OK? He revealed the gasp inducing revelation that Tom Waits was seriously interested in producing Infected but personal issues prevented this incredible collaboration from yielding fruit, and it was also amusing to discover that Soul Mining is arguably the UK’s first ecstasy album as that was the exhilarating narcotic of choice rushing through the London musical scene at the time, a good five or six years before our emerald isles baleric activated Summer of Love peaked later in the Thatcherite decade. Overall it was a fine overview of the album and its production, nothing particularly new for us ancient fans but still great to hear it all straight from the horses mouth as it were;
After picking up my copy of the album – probably the first piece of vinyl I’ve brought in at least fifteen years which is another sobering thought – I approached the great man for the post Q&A signing, clutching my copy of the new boxed set firmly to my chest. He looked at me and exclaimed ‘It’s John isn’t it?’ to which I responded in a flabbergasted wheeze ‘Wha, eh, but how did you know that?’ I spluttered, before he smiled, gestured to my chest from which my work pass (including my predominantly displayed name) was petulantly levitating. Yeah, real fucking funny messing with a fans head Matt, but at least it goes to show he does have a ‘sense’ of humour other than the depressive political agitator presented in the media…….
The exciting news for fans is that Matt has broken out all the historical material from the archives, he has assembled all the original pressings and recordings of his long extant first couple of albums Spirits and The Pornography Of Despair, and he does have plans to rearrange them and get them out into the digital and provide a modest circulation run for fans – literal music to my ears. It was also faintly exasperating to hear that not only is the unreleased late nineties album Gunsluts still lurking in release hell but he also completed another fucking album which remains obscured and unheard, I think he referenced it as Karmic Revolution or something (hey, quit laughing, album titles were never his strong point OK?) and he might (and I stress the might) have another vocal album in him away from the soundtracks he has been producing recently (incidentally Hyena which is directed by his brother and which he scored has been getting some strong buzz from it’s Edinburgh Film Festival preview last week). So in the final stretch of this post as we approach the ‘repeat to fade’ algorhtym can I just implore this – pull your bloody finger Johnson, evade the sunshine and hit those bloody mixing desks.. Until then we’ll just have to rely on the magnificent music we can get our ears around, including this proto-house / techno track which remains one of my all-time favourite groovers – enjoy;
I’m hearing some very promising things about this, a super-lo-fi budget SF thriller along the lines of Primer. It’s been storming some of the genre festivals, and I like the trailer which barely gives anything away – although the presence of Xander is a little distracting;
I can almost hear the eye-rolling from here, what the hell has Minty been savouring his glazzies upon now? Whilst you’ve probably never heard of the little known film The Most Dangerous Game AKA The Hounds Of Zaroff I’m willing to bet cold cash money that you’ve seen at least one film of the sub-adventure-movie-genre that this 1931 curiosity inseminated, a deadly strata of cinema where humans are pitted against each other in some variation of a lethal tournament to the merciless death. These films usually feature some elite-born sneering aristocratic type whom regard the lesser bourgeois beneath him as nothing more than sub-human scum, and bored and jaded of all the diversions of sexual diversions and narcotic excess that immense wealth can procure they look to further extremes of human experience to sate there listless, nihilist boredom. From films as varied as Predator where the stalker is extraterrestrial and Batoru Rowaiaru where the hunters are juvenile, from the ozploitation classic Turkey Shoot to Ahnoldt’s gameshow quips of The Running Man the basic premise is expanded to offer social, political and media critiques. Quite coincidently I recently snared La Decima Vittima for the first time which is a cultish 1960’s pop-art curio which is shrieking for a remake, its quarry being European aristocrats pursuing each other cat-mouse style across the ornately gilded continent, now there’s a film with a cultural target of the 1% which would bullseye a contemporary commentary. Of course when discussing these films one is contractually obliged to mention a certain YA female led franchise which has splattered the premise of gladiatorial fights to the death among prepubescents into an immensely profitable franchise – and people say that the pre-code Hollywood of the 1930’s was sick? Yet this is all an aside as to why I furtively prowled over to the BFI last week to catch this RKO adventure yarn when I saw it materialise on the June BFI schedule, well it was all in my stars you see…..
Allow me to contextualize this – this might take a while so please be patient. I’m not alone among the movie nerd community to labour with a fairly lengthy watch-list, a collection of films I own on various formats which I simply haven’t got around to screening. These are films I’ve usually picked up in some special on-line boxed set deal or dirt cheap from a second-hand shop, once acquired they are carelessly tossed on the pile to collect dust as other material arrives in the post or gets released in the cinemas. 99% of this material will be pre-viewed pictures but like some I have a second tier shelf of similar groaning importance, the DVD’s and Blu-rays with some combination of director, cast and producer commentaries which I also haven’t got round to absorbing. Well, during my recent break between assignments I made a herculean effort to attack these lists and managed to reduce them by half during an intense month of activity, including not one but two investigations of the 2007 procedural classic Zodiac, including a stand-alone commentary from director David Fincher and a second marvellous dissection of the film by screenwriter , stars Jake Glyenthall and Robert Downey Jr., brilliantly accompanied by LA chronicler James Ellroy, the rabidly ravenous of
A key moment of the film, seen above, is where the obsessive suddenly finds himself in a potentially compromising position with a projectionist whom screened The Most Dangerous Game a few times over his career, the twist being that the Zodiac killer included quotes from the film in his correspondence with the authorities and in the case above a potential handwriting match suddenly lurches the investigation into potentially lethal territory – it’s a great scene which lingers in the memory so when I coincidentally saw the associated movie appear on the schedule a sense of ominous providence arose, and I figured I’d have to give it a go. From a movie fan perspective the film is also faintly fascinating as it was shot on the RKO lot by the same directors and producers, on the same sets with much of the same cast as a rather more memorable monster movie of the period, the gargantuan classic King Kong. That DNA is also intertwined with The Most Dangerous Game in other ways, both films featured rather arrogant white upper class douches being shipwrecked in the Caribbean, the decay of morals and civilisation when sequestered away from civilisation centres, the primal heartbeat of the unforgiving jungle.
As is par for the elderly course this competition won’t be everyone given the genre specifications and technical conventions of the period, but if you look past the stilted conventions and stilted camera work there is a nucleus of excitement here which bloomed into its own sub-genre, Fay Wray is a shrieking delight and movie fans will admire Joel Mcrea’s lantern jammed big game hunter who stoically turns the table on his predator, but by far the highlight of the film is the absolutely absurd performance of Leslie Banks as the titular Count Zaroff, if you thought Lugosi was a terrible ham in the 1930’s it’s a little odd he wasn’t cast in the role which was perfect for him) then you haven’t witnessed Banks moustache twirling lunacy, complete with tendentious line readings, barking laughter and poised and pondering line readings which are punctuated by violent clashes of exterior lightning – cliché, know thyself. At a snappy 63 minutes it spears its quarry long before any exhaustion sets in, as always yes it’s horrifically dated in terms of pacing, of genuine excitement or action construction but make no mistake Pichel & Schoedsack were the Neveldine & Taylor of their period, shocking audiences with a brutal assault on bourgeois attitudes with a keen eye for lurid implications of sex and violence. Zaroff himself takes an almost masochistic sexual thrill at the thought of stalking and slaying his victims, he is silently supported by a retinue of mute and presumably catamite henchmen, and at one point Fay Wray lets one observe a positively pornographic two second flash of her unsheathed ankle – dear reader, I almost fainted and was only revived to full consciousness by the soothing revitalizing balm of a passing physicians smelling salts.
As usual with films of this period the entire adventure is in the public domain and can be observed at your loquacious leisure, I enjoyed it as a genre completest with this screening of a fairly robust print, but I can’t say I’d have it stuffed and mounted in the study as a tribute to another magnificent triumph. I have had some fun revising so-called ‘human-hunting’ films, I forgot about A Lonely Place To Die which is a UK-based effort from a couple of years ago and the brilliantly named Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity looks suitably depraved to appeal to my base tastes. So here is some exciting news for all predatory fans – I can’t imagine a better duo than Black and Dekker (heh) to
reassemble resurrect the franchise after the bloody awful Predators a few years back, more BFI themed fun is on the way but until then watch your back;
Can someone please tell me when in the nine hells this is actually going to get a UK release? First we were told it would be the crippled Harvey Scissorhands cut six months ago so impatient genre fans ordered disks from abroad (a few enterprising souls even jumped on the Eurostar to see it in Paris, nice touch), then in the wake of a restricted US release in a handful of theatres the movie premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival this weekend;
Of course this doesn’t mean it will get a wider UK theatrical release but just put me out of my fucking misery already, naturally I want to see this on the big screen in the first instance rather than at home but the wait is getting ridiculous….
Once more through the Stargate gentle reader, as if anticipating an appropriate manner in which to celebrate the Minty’s incept date the BFI only go and launch a free members screening of the greatest film of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was selected by James Lavelle as part of his Meltdown festival which he’s curating through a programme of performances and artistic pursuits hosted at London’s South Bank, he’s a massive Kubrick fan (apparently) and has since shot up in my esteemed expectations, with particular inspiration from the film lavished upon the first UNKLE album. The usual suspects were also out in force with long-time Kubrick producer Jan Harlan also in attendance this for rapturous 70mm restoration print of the masterpiece, like any good acolyte this was my fourth supplication of the film at the silver screen, and like the imperceptible mysteries of the universe it never gets old. I’ve already orchestrated my extensive thoughts on the film here so I don’t have much else to add, apart from a few general comments and some material I’ve collected over the past few weeks;
So have we learned and appreciated anything new coming out of this screening? Well, speaking humbly 2001 is a masterpiece in how it evolved technology and drove the medium of film forward in terms of optical effects, it is a masterpiece in how it shattered film structure and narrative flow, how it trusted its audience to feel in the intentionally designed gaps both intellectually and spirituality, and it is a masterpiece in its marriage of music, composition and performance. There are maybe a few dozen examples of that level of film in the movie’s relatively brief history but what really elevates the piece into one of the masterpieces of any form of human endeavour like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring is how these elements all oscillate together, how they overlap and ameliorate each other, how they provoked a quantum leap forward in the art form in every one of its formal and artistic levels and that’s when you’re genuinely gracing genius level merit. I hear that the BFI will be premiering a new digital print of the film at the end of the year as part of their epic three-month SF season, I’m sure that’s great and everything but seeing this in immaculate 70mm is simply unbeatable, with all the scratches and matte lines still intact which just feels more, well more genuine. Until then Taschen have followed up their incredible Kubrick and Napoleon books with something truly intergalactic;
So, yeah if anyone has a spare £500 knocking around and you’d like to get me a little birthday present I think we have a solution. I should mention that Jan Harlan was in exceptionally good and exuberant form and he regaled the audience with a few production anecdotes well-known to us Kubrickophiles, he did muster a big laugh when he explained how Stanley wrestled with the voiceover he initially scheduled for the film (and thank god that decision was abandoned eh?), realising that ‘if members of the audience are not of the capacity to understand the film then explaining it to them certainly won’t help’. There are some incredible photos which started doing the rounds recently and I’ve finally taken the plunge and invested in the Kubrick Blu-Ray collection which is a bargain for £22, you will laugh I’m sure when I reveal that like many disciples I had boycotted the product as it quite clearly has been transferred in the wrong aspect ratio for some of the pictures, but for that price I’m sorry but the chance to see Barry Lyndon in HD alone cannot be resisted any further;
Almost thirty years to the day, I’m sure I’ve seen this somewhere before….
Was it really two years ago that this doomed prospect first appeared on the radar? As a huge Paul Schrader fan any news concerning his increasingly fraught career is seized upon with a ravenous glee, and the prospect of him teaming up with the facile poet of the 1%’s narcissist offspring Bret Easton Ellis seemed like a potential match made in mercurial movie heaven. Schrader’s work, however you slice it is patchy yet always compelling, even severe tonal fuck-ups like Adam Resurrected, Auto-Focus and Touch have a grim fascination, but he has repented these sins with the likes of Mishima and Affliction which are among my favourite films, residing somewhere in the top fifty pictures that haunt my penitent head. As an exploration of faith and futility his Exorcist picture is sorely underrated, which for the cinephile has a torturous production history we so love to become incensed by, the great artist bedevilled by the philistine forces of commercial propriety and executive interference. But lest we forget that this is the man who wrote two of the seminal post war American films Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, so the thought that his new film (darkly preceded by this now notorious NYTimes piece) The Canyons wasn’t just critically crucified but actively judged as incompetent by festival selection panels is just bizarre, that’s not just judging the film as ‘bad’ but condemning it as technically amateurish which is quite an insult to a man with over forty years of experience under his belt. I’ve kept an eye out for London screenings and to the best of my knowledge the film has received precisely one exhibition, at the Hackney Picturehouse at a midnight Saturday screening which I really wasn’t prepared to attend, so like the rest of the English-speaking world this odd little film has slipped into the direct streaming and rental distribution channels with little fanfare or affect.
First of all, anyone criticising the film for being nothing more than the pointless liaisons of a group of horrible, narcissistic substance abusing trust fund twats whose premature deaths would raise humanities moral codex by discernible karma points clearly hasn’t read a Bret Easton Ellis novel before – that’s kind of the social point and as this so-called recent Golden Age of Television has demonstrated spending time with reprehensible or complex and unlikable protagonists can ignite compelling drama, from corrupt LA street cops, New Jersey mobsters, hard-drinking Baltimore police officers or cancer afflicted new Mexico science teachers. I must admit that the film does come across as slightly incompetent in some early staging and blocking techniques which is quite odd, the dialogue is also pretty poor but it is clear that these are empty cyphers, but a little more attention to words spilling out of these glazed eyed Moschino clad mannequins wouldn’t have gone amiss. In an acting stretch not exactly worthy of De Niro’s portrayal of Jake La Motta Lindsay Lohan is pretty young Hollywood starlet Tara whom has hooked up with the mediocre producer Christian (porn star James Deen in his first mainstream role), he being a charming misogynist who likes to watch her have sex with random guys he procures through hook-up iPhone apps. His current fascination is a Spanish zombie flick which he is anxious to make a breakthrough success, with some rather sour overtones of the recent Bryan Singer allegations his producer partner coerces pretty boy actor Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk) into flagrante delicto positions in order to secure a leading part. Like all the industry denizens in this darkly mischievous take on the Machiavellian posturing of table-reads and production scouts no-one trusts anyone in either love or celluloid war, as Christian suspects Tara might be cheating on him both personally and professionally a violent altercation seems inevitable….
Whilst the film is by no means the disaster some have dismissed it as it’s also a patchwork paroxysm, where elements such as a perforating plot, robust performances and an absence of pathos threaten to pull the entire enterprise apart at the seams. There is a discernible colour palette and the warm vicious hues of that blazing California sunlight yearn to scorch the souls of these wandering Tinseltown spectres, but Schrader’s union of image and theme do not gel in this rather confused miasma of meta-critique and meandering interior scenes. Embracing a B-Movie plot paradigm the Bret Easton Ellis penned script is as sterile as Tara and Christians career convenient coupling, the film opting for the melodramatic, the heightened pitch to the vapid career and condom clad contortions, yet for a ninety minute micro budget (£250K allegedly) the film squanders the squalid wallowing in the movie membrane mud, The Canyons feels twice as long and half as fun as a Russ Meyer or Herschell Gordon Lewis picture. James Deen is pretty terrible and one assumes his porn-flick performances are slightly more memorable than the clumsy, uncomfortable line readings he musters in this film, his casting might be Schrader’s meta-statement at Hollywood’s ostracised dirty-mac uncle whom is still pumping out content over the hill in the Valley, an industry which is also in crisis mode since the proliferation of the internet and free content. But commentary and critical broadsides needs to be accurate and searing to make any lasting laceration, and for a film shot on a micro-budget you’d think the appropriate emphasis would be lavished on the film qualities which don’t demand dollars – sizzling dialogue, narrative nodes, dramatic conflict – and Ellis failure in these key departments scuttles the film from the start. It’s hard to believe (if you’ll excuse the pun) that everyone fucking each other so literally and physically could be so languidly boring.
As a mood piece The Canyons is far more effective, it is potentially interesting (I’ll need another viewing) for those distinctive West Coast spacious interiors, the exterior monsoon of azure bronzed pools and Henry Lloyd Wright domiciles littering the sun drowned California hillsides, it also yearns for a contemporary cool soundtrack in the model of Drive with Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene supplying an echoing then dissipating electronica score. Maybe it is an intentional meta-film, itself a commentary on the status of the art form wreathed through pre-manufactured plot machinery and a stress upon pre-Botox sexed up skin, if so it fails as it lacks a brazen acidic cruelty and needs more sulphurous clouds emanating from studio executive boardrooms. For a film which Schrader pivots on the classical Hollywood tropes of power and domination, from the casting couch moguls and the young starlets of the golden age offering their bodies and souls for eternal silver-screen adoration you should feel queasy yet quietly fascinated, not disinterested and blasé. The death of cinema and the face of domineering franchises and the rise of home entertainment, the erosion of the shared experience and proliferation of communication device use in public space, digital usurping celluloid and all that implies for photochemical patience versus binary immediacy, all these arenas are febrile, rarely tilled ground and somehow I expected more of a talent as unwieldy able as Schrader to mine them with much more proficiency. However pious a devotee of his sect The Canyons is a severe disappointment, not so much a B-Movie as a Zzzz movie;
Some good news for the UK film industry today, after a long and protracted legal battle Pinewood Studios finally gets the greenlight to expand its production capacities two-fold. I was going to mention this over the Christmas period when the decision was refered to the Secretary of State, this is obviously a major deal for film production outside of California, but the fact that I’ve been chatting to some senior colleagues at Bucks County Council whom have been deeply involved in the application, the decision and site development in general this makes this movie multiplier a little closer to home. It has quite the history as the home of the Bond, Superman and erm Carry On franchises, and a certain film which I’d hazard to say is faintly anticipated is injuring pensioners as we speak. I’m damned if I can find a decent montage of films shot at the studio so we’ll just have to make do with a popular favourite which hatched almost thirty years ago…..
Well, on such an auspicious day for the Menagerie something had to surface from the depths of the internet, and indeed something did – I’ve never heard this before;
I have read the full Ciment archives of course but this is still quite a find – enjoy….
Something quite literally amazing for a gloomy Sunday, here is one of George Lucas’s finer achievements;
You can probably imagine my shell-shocked reaction when the May schedule for the BFI marched through my unprotected letterbox a few weeks back, heralding the news that the BFI had assembled a lovely new digital print of what can be argued as Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece – the 1958 anti-war classic Paths Of Glory. Although technically this was Stanley’s fourth feature it was his second studio commission after the breakthrough clockwork noir The Killing, a quietly acclaimed picture which didn’t exactly embezzle the box office but did detonate that all so important cultural cache – a critical calling card displaying innovative skill and ambition, marking the 27-year-old as a new recruit with a career worth watching. Enter Kirk Douglas whom with his reconnaissance of promising young directors initiated a turbulent yet mutually beneficial two picture partnership, his seeking out a young, pliant yet talented director that he assumed he could manipulate around the set resulting in on-set combat and manoeuvres which have still not be satisfactorily resolved – we’ll get into that a little later. Although the relationship was tempestuous Douglas’s respect for Kubrick’s final devastating visual acuity, for his thematic marriage of image and message was enough to hire him for the Spartacus gig a year or so late, at that time the project was one of the biggest Hollywood productions in history, so this wasn’t a bad promotion for the barely 30-year-old who would find himself directing theatrical titans Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton. I’ve never read Kirk’s autobiography The Ragman’s Son which is an oversight I really should correct in order to see just how he recalls his collaborations with Kubrick (not to mention the other fantastic films he was in, with Ace In The Hole, Out of The Past, The Vikings to name just three), although I’m sure there is a sense of grudging respect as this film remains one of the key appearances of his long and distinguished career, with his portrayal of the fundamentally decent Colonel Dax grappling with the reprehensible sneers of the vain glorious military hierarchy being one of those star building struts, the protagonist as the moral authority of the audience, coaxing them through a bewildering battlefield.
Based on a true incident culled from the novel by Humphrey Cobb and illuminatingly banned in France for over thirty years – we all know if a government outright bans a picture then it’s gonna be good – Paths Of Glory is a choking descent into a turgid quagmire, of human civilisation being perverted by the emotional hubris of the upper class, of capricious sacrifice polluting those hollow human constructs of honour and duty in the face of insane and indiscriminate slaughter. General Dax is a junior level officer whom is respected by his men due to his even-handed treatment and willingness to lead them into mortal battle, but the superior echelons of the division General Mireau (A blusteringly imperious George Macready) and the more suave and poisonous Major General Broulard (an acute Adolphe Menjou) are career officers aligned with all the constitutional callousness of the upper class, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority and a shameless disregard for the inferior subjects beneath them. After his men refuse to conduct a suicidal, direct machine gun roaring charge on a heavily fortified position three of Colonel Dax’s men (including the great Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkell) are selected as cowardly examples and sentenced to death by firing squad, resulting in a second act legal courtroom melee where Kubrick fully exposes the insanity of the military hierarchy, marking this as an early assault on some of the same radioactive territory that Dr. Strangelove nuked a mere six years later.
It’s obvious that the BFI have commissioned this digital polish in tandem with the centenary of the First World War, an acute restoration of organisational, devolved hubris, of nationalistic pride and a blinkered moral superiority which recent events have thrown into a desert blasted relief – this film’s camouflaged criticism echoes louder than one mere global conflagration from the last millennium. With Kubrick’s screenwriting partners Calder Willingham and the savage noir wordsmith Jim Thompson the film treats the corpse choked trenches as a fulcrum to craft an emotional purity, glimmering within the overwhelming military structural insanity, a moral shriek which is drowned out by the sonic avalanche of munitions raining down with their ceaseless metallic drone. To begin with the simple form and craft of the storytelling technically this film was a monochrome tour-de force, the prowling camera rendering the trenches as a palpable Gehenna not seen on-screen before, incrementally pulling the audience into the warfare and claustrophobic diagetic space – the first full iteration of Kubricks trademark tracking shot technique. As the film punches the gut then the head the cinema style follows a precision engineered duopoly, as that grim intimacy is broken when we are hurled over the top and the emphasis switches to a detached deep focus panorama, with planned ‘kill-zones’ that Kubrick’s special effects artists grid-rigged with explosives to massacre the harshly drilled German army military extras – it’s quite a spectacle;
The compositions and controlled camera movements are astounding for the period, relentless in its tempo and the chaos bursting throughout the frames, an evident huge influence on the cinema spectacle of war and battle which found its most recent apogee with Spielberg’s storming of the Normandy beaches which was similarly celebrated this month, not to mention the almost identical homage seen here.
In chrysalis form you can detect many of Stanley’s musings and obsessions which over-run the latter work, while The Killing has something of that detached and impersonal assemblage associated with all things Kubrickian that emphasis on the tarnished notions of a social and civilising infrastructure finds it’s first victorious purchase in Paths Of Glory. With an aseptic assurance the subjects of the film are dissected and dissembled with the meticulously cold and calculating rigour of a celluloid field-surgeon, exposing the fragile hypocrisy and infallible idiocy of our venerable institutions, in this case the military hierarchy where privileged officers dine in impeccable opulent surroundings, discussing their campaigns with the studious detachment of superiors moving pieces around a chessboard. This cuts and contests cruelly with the lower class grunts and infantry choking, bleeding and screaming in the mud, blasted to smithereens by the relentless insanity inducing shelling, or torn to pieces by the relentless metallic bark of an almost bureaucratic machine gun fire. The compositions frame the doomed servicemen as flies trapped in a patriotic amber, literally moved as chess pieces across the checkerboard floor of General Mireaus carefully production designed château, with any pleas for clemency or jejune justice falling on the deaf unyielding ears of the implacable governmental majority. That said it’s certainly more heart on its sleeve than Stanley’s increasingly frigid statements to come, with more devoted characterisation to the unfortunate trio which emphatically pays off when their unavoidable fate finally falls. General Dax as an ambitious career officer struggles with the twin imperatives of his own social aspirations and decent moral horror, marking Paths of Glory as more manipulatively emotional than Kubrick’s later work which moved abstractly toward observing and recording broad, immaterial and ethereal queries on intelligence, of submerged sexual desire and social fidelity, of the family unit, of social control and ambition.
Some of the stories recanted by Douglas claim that he was horrified when Stanley approached him with a rewritten ‘happy’ ending to the picture in which the condemned are blessed with a last-minute pardon – the very definition of the Hollywood pandering cliché – as Kubrick apparently blanched at the massacred box-office potential of a war-picture ending on such a realistic downer. This would of course disrupt the entire films carefully calibrated nerve centre of shock and outrage, whilst I’ve always maintained that Kubrick always had a very keen eye on the commercial prospects of his movies I doubt this was ever a serious consideration, as movies are constantly revised through their lengthy production phases as new avenues of narrative are explored and rejected. As for the rest of the cast Kubrick selected character actors to support his central understanding of star presence box-office draw, with a few true cult favourites appearing in this picture. Firstly we have Ralph Meeker as one of the three cursed souls, his crushed demeanour being employed a few years earlier as the grizzled Mike Hammer in the noir classic Kiss Me Deadly. Timothy Carey is a real cinephile figure, a notoriously difficult spirit he worked with Cassavettes in The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie as well as appearing in The Killing, although Kubrick finally fired him from this movie after one transgression to far. Joe Turkell was hired by Kubrick again a mere 22 years later as the worlds best bartender from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon, he’s also best known as the Pharoah Tyrell in Blade Runner – the film quiz question par excellence should anyone ask you for two connections between that film and The Shining. So I think that assembly frog marches us to the final scene of the film and a crucial moment in Kubrick lore, as it not only introduces us to Christiane Harlan whom would soon become the third and final Mrs. Kubrick, but it was also this sequence with its humanist restoration that provides an odd aftertaste to the previous carnivore cruelty. On the night of Kubrick’s death, when the news had reached LA this is what Spielberg screened for his dinner party guests out of Stanley’s entire oeuvre as a tribute to one of the greatest film directors in the mediums history, apparently not always that cold and mechanical logician of lore;
Trailer time again, I didn’t particularly care for Eli Roth’s latest misshapen atrocity but on the pure gore stakes – and I do mean stakes – this is still a tasty genre aficionado must-see;
For an aperitif my Lovefilm database advises me that a certain highly anticipated Menagerie movie will finally be in my grasp tomorrow, so I hope to find the inspiration to throw together a capsule review of one of cinemas most polarising recent efforts. I haven’t looked forward to a movie this much for quite a while….
Yeah, well, despite yesterday’s predictions it looks like I found something to while away the most blazingly warm sun drenched day of the year, I mean who wants to lounge around in the park when you can lurk in the darkness of a movie theatre? Like anyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain I admire the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the stupendous soaring sensei of post war film animation, one of the unparalleled geniuses of his particular form of storytelling whom has organically grown a huge and dedicated fan base in the West since the release of his breakthrough foreign territory film Spirited Away back in 2001. As I said I admire his work but I’m far from being a cult obsessed fan-boy, I only own copies of Spirited Away (a welcome birthday present) and my favourite of his works Princess Mononoke but in general I prefer my film material of a darker hue, more adult and less tween focused, although granted with Ghibli product you can always revel in the simple artisan beauty of the sheer craft of the animation and dedicated characterisation, of the lyrical beauty of his hidden worlds and mystical creatures, of the inquisitive elements and the simple joys of life. I could have caught The Wind Rises at the final press screening of TiFF last year but instead I opted to actually explore the city a little, a decision which illustrates my relative disinterest in the movie, but I figured with nothing else on the agenda and as an alleged film critic I should make the effort and see this cultural figures final film actually at the cinema, and since it was playing at my local Cineworld it wouldn’t much of an odyssey to sacrifice an afternoon for one last voyage on the whispering winds.
For his alleged final film (Miyazaki has announced his retirement before but those dreams of flying kept him coming back to the easel) Studio Ghibli has not shied away from potential controversy, targeting the biography of Jiro Horikoshi as a final swan-song, he being the instrumental designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor the Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft which were both deployed to kamikaze carnage strewn by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Beginning with his early childhood and with his dreams swirling through the clouds Jiro (Hideaki Anno) becomes obsessed with the designs of Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni, declaring to his mother than one day he will also become a brilliant aircraft engineer. Years later and the newly graduated Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to work on new plane designs, en route to his new life he meets and falls in love with Noako (Miori Takimoto) but is separated from her due to the indiscriminate vagaries of fate. His promising career moves from strength to strength, despatched to Germany he studies post World War I bomber designs, as his home country slowly starts to develop its own Imperial war machine….
It may be sacrilegious to say but I found this film something of a chore, a pleasant enough flight through a distanced vantage point of one mans life, but a little more turbulence in terms of excitement or event would have made this journey a far more engaging affair. Like any Ghibli film it has a few moments of stark, studious beauty – a calm wedding sequence between Jiro and his sickly wife, the ominously eerie aftermath of the shattering Kanto earthquake of 1923 which foreshadows the twin nuclear cataclysms which were to fall on Japan two decades later – but long stretches of this film were flat and unengaging, and I never truly felt a compassionate sense of Jiro’s obsession with the simple beauty of all things aeronautic. Rooting his final film in the real world denies the ability to open the door to his Lewis Carroll alternate worlds of Laputa – Castle In The Sky or Howls Moving Castle, so the enjoyment may well rest upon the fidelity to a real man’s real life, and even here the hand waving dismissal of Jiro’s involvement of the war effort is slightly disconcerting and distracting.
I do admire the simple beauty of the traditional ink moulded animation and pushing out of my comfort zone from a technical standpoint you’ve got to admire the tenacious old-fashioned craft, as single cell progressive movements are photographed against those mercurial matted backdrops. Whilst I’m sure that some of this film was executed in a computer like all Ghibli The Wind Rises has an ethereal aura of dedicated and carefully handcrafted loving technique, bereft of visual pollution or some redundant grasp for photorealistic dazzle which clutters much of contemporary American animation. I also like the languid pacing, the insistence on allowing scenes to breathe and evolve as characters wake up, yawn, and slowly search for the eye-glasses, rather than charging breathlessly through a narrative without pausing for breath. Maybe it was my mood as it’s obviously not a bad film, more a quiet aside which I just couldn’t connect with, I just didn’t feel any magic or vigour which is evident in the likes of Mononoke and Spirited Away but others have enjoyed it immensely so I’m guessing if you’re a fan of his previous work then this will be worth a jaunt. As far as our journey goes a few things are sneaking up on the radar, we have a few unusual BFI appointments in June but July holds some real treats, including a preview of one of the UK’s great maverick filmmakers new film and in conversation, alongside one of America’s counter-culture cinema icons – groovy. Until then I can only recommend The Wind Rises to Ghibli acolytes, a dream of flying which is a vaporous enough way to while away a Sunday afternoon;
Having little in the way of time or inspiration I’m afraid there won’t be much in the way of reviews this weekend, especially since there is precisely zero screenings in London which piqué my interest. Instead here is the three and a half hour documentary on the making of Park Chan-Wook’s cold-dish revenge classic Oldboy, a terrific behind the scenes look at how modern movies are made;
I’d like to be posting something more substantial mid-week but this new assignment’s honeymoon period is well and truly over, and these fourteen hour days are taking their toll my friend – it also might amuse you that I’m working with the local government equivalent of the ferocious Jamie*. So here is some more horror as place-filler, early reports on the festival circuit indicate that this cult chiller is one of the best from Ti West, one of the most promising makers of modern American terror;
* I exaggerate for comic effect of course, he ain’t that bad. He is Scottish though
Interesting, the genre community seem to be going crazy for this creepy little number which premiered at Sundance, allegedly the best genuinely spooky horror picture of recent years;
Being Australian it looks like it has a different feel to the usual US fare, official site here with some promising pull-quotes.
Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk, as P/A’s and aides circulate the domineering space in a cyclone of frenzied activity, of invoices to be signed, premieres to be RSVP’d, of script edits to be authorised. ‘Ya got 15 seconds kid’ grunts the mogul, ‘what ya got?’ His voice quivering, the producer begins ‘well….its a gritty SF action movie, based on a very popular Japanese novella, with humankind fighting a desperate…. ‘No, no, NO’, the mogul brusquely interrupts, ‘gimme a pitch, not war and fucking peace’. ‘OK’ stammers the perspiring producer, ‘it’s Saving Private Ryan meets Looper‘. The mogul blinks. Realizing he’s losing him the quivering producer makes a desperate fumble, ‘No sir, it’s err…it’s..’ – his eyes light up – ‘it’s Rashomon meets La Jetee‘ he anxiously beams. ‘RASHOMON?‘ barks the impatient mogul. ‘OK, OK’ the producer stammers, ‘it’s…erm…..Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day?‘, his affectation desperately raising on the last word. The mogul smiles, ‘Ya got yourself a deal kid’, a cheque for $150 million dollars mysteriously materializes and drifts down into the producer’s outstretched palm, and in two hours director Doug Liman and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are off to the time twisted races….
Based on the murderously titled All You Need Is Kill this is the Cruisers latest punt into SF attuned action-movie waters after last years mildly distracting Oblivion, for my money this is a much more direct demolition of plutonium grade blockbuster fun with an efficiently disarming pretence at its core – I think it was Churchill who said that ‘death is not the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end’. Cruise is Major William Cage, an advertising executive turned military communications envoy after a meteorite shatters into mainland Europe, releasing a horde of multi-tentacled ravenous critters who swiftly overrun the continent and threaten the very future of all mankind. After arriving in London Cage is blackmailed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) into embedding with the first suicidal wave of a major counter offensive, a mission targeted on the historical war scarred beaches of Normandy, joining a rag-tag group of grunts armed to the pearly white teeth in new robotic exo-enhanced battle skeletons. The new technology provides an ineffective defence against the dazzlingly swift octopi enemy, and not even the presence of the morale boosting ‘Maiden of Verdun’ Rita Vrataski (an emasculating Emily Blunt) can turn the tide of battle, as the enemy had clearly anticipated the offensive and mercilessly slaughter the swiftly disembodied strike force. But there is a frantic complication, Cage is rebooted after every death to the day before the offensive to begin the mission anew, and he swiftly discovers that only Rita may hold the solution to his limbo lethal destiny…..
Edge Of Tomorrow is a lot of fun, and with a few reservations due to a slightly unimaginative final act it takes its unique selling point and instructs Tom Cruise to run with it like some otherworldly insectiod shived a firecracker up his scientology clenched ass. Not having read any reviews I’d stake the planets future on a wealth of comparisons to computer game narratives given the alignment of the younger medium’s designs and story-telling infrastructure, including re-spawn abilities, memorizing game maps and anticipating ambushes, building his initial pen-pushing white-collar coward into a bad-ass killing machine as he incrementally levels up his agility, dexterity and killing abilities. It’s from these elemental origins that the film builds a thoroughly entertaining and occasionally amusing momentum, not straying into any philosophical musings on such immortal abilities, instead training its crosshairs on sheer action movie techniques by championing epinephrine over existentialism.
I was a little worried about this picture when it opened with the frankly lazy 24 hour global news montage which is at best tedious 21st century movie shorthand to set the films narrative context, what happened to a good old-fashioned title crawl eh? After this an extended character driven cold opening – a rather brave choice these days when we’re conditioned to a blistering action set-piece to get the blood pumping – takes its time to set-up the universe and then incrementally builds the action and narrative twists, quite skillfully moving through its increasingly looped structure with a dash of potential romance here, a spigot of humour there, with exultingly executed action scenes stitching together the deja-vu dystopian destruction. As previously confessed I’m a fan of Cruise and he emits his usual efficient leading man star wattage, as a native Londoner it’s kinda fun to see him strutting around a deserted war evacuated big smoke, only a star with his international clout could have convinced Westminster Council to permit a helicopter to land in Trafalgar Square, a ‘stunt’ never permitted before so full marks to the producers for not resorting to the usual green screen manipulation. Following Gravity’s enormous success Edge Of Tomorrow was almost entirely shot in the UK, mostly at Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden and around other locations in the capital with a final shift to an eerie CGI soaked & flood drenched Paris, proving that our humble island is punching above its weight when it comes to efficient modern genre tent-pole productions. With the 70th anniversary of D-Day occurring next week (when the film opens in North America) the beach storming sequences lend the film a historical echo, less repetitively resonant of the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine than an ideologically desecrated UK should the hideous UKIP advance upon their European election ‘success’ (I dunno about you but emigration sounds more like an enticing option should those racist fucking twats continue to build their poisonous support during next year’s General Election), a once diversely proud world city rendered nothing more than a deserted plateau of racial sterility and Russian oligarch property speculators.
Heh, OK, the soapbox is now officially decanted, but one of reasonably decent SF’s chief strengths is in its underlying social and metaphorical DNA, right? Anyway, any SF film with Bill Paxton in it can’t be all bad – in this picture he’s a repeatedly glimpsed drill instructor during the opening act – as the only unfortunate wretch to have been killed by a Terminator, Predator and an Alien (though not at the same time, now that would be a movie) his brief appearance holds some fan boy fellated kudos, and Brendan Gleeson provides some hefty gravitas to the usually clichéd role of the inflexible military hierarchy. I really liked how the alien species in the picture is refreshingly, definitively ‘alien’, not another four limbed bipedal opponent with a few Star Trek inspired ridged forehead allusions to ‘otherness’, Edge Of Tomorrow also has a genuinely gloomy and murky visual palette which is illuminated with a few audience friendly cheeky Cruise wisecracks, without side-lining the always lovely Emily Blunt as some mere damsel in distress aside – with this and Looper under her belt she’s becoming quite the time-twisting trooper. So Thomas Cruise Mapother IV may find himself with yet another blockbuster hit on his hands in the genre stakes before Mission Impossible V lights a festive Christmas fuse late next year, now where was I – Ah yes. Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk……
This is an incredible feat of editing, through roughly 30 seconds per film some enterprising cinephile has constructed a full walkthrough of cinema history in just under 100 minutes – essential revision and a great starting point for any budding filmfan;
So the crimson hued carpet has been rolled up for another year, I can’t say I’ve been following events with a forensic French-trained eye, but I do always make some time for some postcoital analysis of the films to watch and the breakthrough texts which demand further investigation. The best write-up I’ve downloaded is the always reliable Jonathan Romney which has a couple of amusing moments, and his championing of one film has got me specifically excited for a movie I’d heard nothing about and which as far as I can see has received relatively little coverage elsewhere – now that’s the work of a skilled critic. I think I’ll give Grace Of Monaco a miss considering the total annihilation the film has received, I do like to make my own mind up as you’ll see from my list below but what little I’ve read illustrates that worst of combinations – a ‘bad-bad’ movie as opposed to a ‘so bad its good’ movie. If that makes sense. Finally, just to be a philistine and non-patriotic Judas I couldn’t care less about Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, all his bloody films look like BBC dramas anyway although I am passingly fond of the artist on which the film is based, I’m also struggling to find much of substance of John Boorman’s Queen & Country which seems to have had a uneventful unveiling. So here then is a very short list of the films I’ll be seeking out here in the UK over the coming months, distribution permitting;
Winter Sleep – I think you should always make an effort to see the Palme d’Or winner from a cineaste perspective, although I must admit that the prospect of a three and a quarter hour Nuri Bilge Ceylon movie – a director with whom I’ve never particularly connected – doesn’t exactly inspire me with hope. Still, we shall overcome, I’ll also keep an eye out for the Godard which sounds like quite the hallucinatory cinematic experience…
Lost River – Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut has been widely slated but I must admit my interest is still piqued, although that trailer is not at all promising. At the very least the work of the increasingly brilliant cinematographer Benoît Debieis should be worth the price of admission alone, call me an shallow, image obsessed ingrate if you like but any film shot by the same guy behind Spring Breakers and Enter The Void is worth a look in my book….
Captives – As a huge fan of Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter any film which is being compared to his finest hour strikes me as essential viewing, even if the subject matter sounds somewhat distasteful. The time fractured narrative should cause some mental gymnastics but I’m up for the challenge, a intellectual equivalent of maintaining constriction in the frosty light of a bleak and numbing winter if that trailers anything to go by…..
The Tribe - This is the one that Romney has specifically convinced me to see. Shot with non-professional deaf actors in the Ukraine in sign-language without any subtitles this sounds challenging to say the least, I just love the idea of a film without the usual visual aides and props are not available, yet the film is so powerful that it still communicates what by all accounts is an incendiary look at a youth subculture in crisis.
Maps To The Stars – Any new Cronenberg gets splattered onto my hit-list regardless of subject matter, genre or collaborators, this scathing Hollywood satire sounds like it might be in the same exalted league as The Player, The Bad & The Beautiful with maybe the corrosive cruelty of Sunset Boulevard. Among all the gloom, economic depression and political corruption invested across this portfolio something with a little humour, no matter how sour, might be welcome.
Two Days, One Night - I’ve never been thoroughly seduced by the Dardenne Brothers and their post neo-realist pictures, but I must admit the entire premise of their hugely acclaimed has me brimming with excitement. Another terrific performance from Marion Cotillard doesn’t hurt either, and the political allusions to this nausea inducing age of austerity should prove to be social dynamite. The title reminds of the kitchen-sink dramas of the UK of the 1960’s such as Saturday Night & Sunday Morning….
Leviathan – This sounds like a big one, a seriously dense political allegory which wades into deep and complex waters – Russian corruption, political cruelty, the theatrics of the state puppet masters in juicing the system at the expense of the innocent. Certainly a film which one needs to be in the requisite mood to immerse oneself, until then I’m also hiring Andrei Zvyagintsev’s previous film The Banishment as a little aperitif…..
The Rover – And finally a film which has received largely mixed reviews, but those more aligned to genre cinema away from your Film Comment and Sight & Sound’s of the film world have recommended this dystopian ozzie grimfest. Having recently traversed the Mad Max trilogy on Blu I reckon a return to all things dystopian would be a fun trip, and David Michod seems to be one of the more interesting filmmakers to emerge from ‘down-under’ for quite some time. I think this has been picked up for US distribution next month, the UK is due for August…..
Bloody mutants eh, coming over here and infesting our timelines, diverting our shared destiny and butchering continuity in order to re-set the infrastructure of a multiversal golden goose franchise. Send ‘em all back I say, to a horrific Terminator inspired near future where in a gloomy azure arclight schemata homo-superior and their homo-sapien sympathisers are being exterminated in the thousands by the all omnipotent Sentinels, lethal kill-bot androids able to absorb and emit their quarries powers with merciless efficiency. Our heroes the X-Men are fighting a frantic rear-guard campaign in the face of certain extinction, so when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) realise all is lost they formulate a desperate plan alongside their reluctant comrade Magneto (Ian McKellan), desperate times calling for desperate bedfellows. Conveniently enough Kitty has a limited capacity to phase consiounesses through time in one of the films most hand-waved fulcrums, so with only Logan’s enhanced healing capacity able to withstand the psychic pressures he is despatched to the bellbottomed garbed year of 1973 to convince the alternate dimension predecessors of Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the imprisoned Magento (Michael Fassbender) to prevent the shapeshifting seductress Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating the prejudicial scientific director Reginald Trask (Peter Dinklage), a terrorist action which activates the blood soaked chain of events which sparks the annihilating future.
Linking the two franchise strands of Bryan Singer’s 2000 inaugurated movie X-Men, essentially the first issue of the current dominant cycle of superhero blockbusters and the more recently groovy X-Men First Class was quite a logistical feat, an intertwining of time frames and cast members which for the most part Singer’s return to the franchise excitingly executes, but being a perfectionist sort and at best a passing fan of this series I do have my reservations given the screenwriters callous disregard for series (SPOILERS) continuity and some of the films frantic failures – yes I’m afraid this is going to be one of those geekazoid reviews. It’s certainly the most exciting and action packed instalment following the classic Dark Phoenix storyline of X-2, and for the most part DoFP obliterates the no-prize of Brett Hackner (sic) X-Men: Last Stand, a film which I can recall precisely zero details such was its ineffectual impact. Singers film juggles the competing imperatives of super-powered combat set-pieces, source material sympathy and thinly stretched character arcs without dropping the balls, but it is a stilted and anxious performance which functions as a breezy blockbuster, not fully convincing in its mutant mission to dazzle and delight.
The pendulous problem with this sprawling is too many cooks spoiling the broth, or rather too many mutants infecting the bloodline, with competing characters of Professor X, Wolverine, Mystique and Magneto all competing for their space and position in the film, jostling for position so much that push each other of the frame which resulted in a unfocused and character devoid spectacle. The film narrative pivots on the choices of Mystique and her psychological motivation, but other than a few alluring gymnastic sequences we have no idea of the levels of persecution which drives her fury, of why she is so charged to commit the ultimate sin, the normally brilliant Jennifer Lawrence reduced to a single note cypher with a performance that frankly suggests she wishes she was back in the frigid Ozarks. This leaves Wolverine to cleave through the murky plotline as our main hirsute hero but he also feels side-lined, encountering a drug addled Charles Xavier whom is suppressing his telepathic powers and spinal injury with a facile addiction metaphor, somehow he’s depressed at not being paralysed anymore and has managed to synthesise a medical miracle – in 1973. This character conflict is all resolved in a single scene, an emotional equation which further obfuscates the films formula. Much of the series underlying ideology and pleas for miscellany and tolerance are lost in the time travel truffle shuffle, this is a shame I think as all our media be it from Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood and in whichever delivery form needs to be celebrating and promoting diversity, especially in the wake of some increasingly terrifying (if provocatively slanted) local and European election results.
I’ve always argued that for a superhero film to work you must have a strong villain or you’re dead in the water (counter-examples please?) and in DoFP Trask is given no compelling reason or purpose for his fear and hatred of the muties which seems like a waste of Dinklage’s obvious talents and acting chops A.s the main antagonist his motivations are similarly unexpressed and undercooked although I will give the filmmakers admiration for never once commenting on or using his physical dimensions as some facile motivation for brooding a poisonous brew of hatred for the ‘other’, his presence does provoke some curious contradictions of a character whom you’d have thought would be able to empathise and sympathise with a species of creature which suffer prejudice and ridicule due to the failure to conform with ‘normality’. The constant exposition spouting platitudes from the villains and heroes alike becomes as grating as Wolverine bone brittle claws being dragged down the danger rooms blackboard, and I found it unclear why the screenwriters decided to frame the frantic time travelling frogger against the waning embers of the Vietnam war, with subplots involving peace summits and political negotiations offering little more than Singer being able to shoot in some Zapruder-esque jilted film stock in order to ameliorate the period authenticity.
Just to sound like a complete contrarian and despite slating the film for three paragraphs broadly speaking I did enjoy the picture, most of those above listed concerns were blasted away the some of the films CGI enhanced kinetic charms which can’t be denied, to be honest I don’t expect much of these movies and like Godzilla which I enjoyed immensely) the films more pernicious, structural failures around arrangement, characterisation, tempo and plot mechanics concern me less than the roller-coaster aspect of multiplex silly season. With superhero pictures and franchise fisticuffs firmly embedded in the summer fulcrum no matter one’s age the sight of adolescent Marvel avatars in maleficent digital melee will always be entertaining, for my magnetic money it’s Fassbender’s Erik Magnus Lensherr who warps away the ‘coolest’ nerdgasm moments, the Quicksilver scene was inventive and amusing, and some of the transport wormhole combat transmogrifications in the future was, and permit me gentle reader to surreptitiously deploy a scholarly cinephile critical term, pretty fucking awesome. I love blockbusters as much as the art-house, horror genre atrocities or broadly accepted historical cinema classics (I think if you audited my top tens over the past few years there will at least a couple of big-ticket items nestling among the auteur entries and cult mayhem) and for me I do something to get my teeth into intellectually speaking, and the morsels were slim to none in Days Of Future Past, and as the saying goes slim’s just wandered out of town….
I also didn’t like the design of the future world Sentinels but now I’m just being ridiculous. As usual a post-credits sting alludes to the next instalment of the franchise which you can see here, I didn’t stick around for it as this new ‘Apocalypse’ storyline doesn’t particularly chime with me, occurring as it does after I stopped reading comics religiously – I’m beginning to feel old as some of the X-Men seen in this movie were also unknown to me whom I have subsequently tracked down as Blink and Warpath. Where now for the superhero movie? Well in lieu of seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy and the odd news that after eight years pre-production that Edgar Wright is exiting the Ant-Man picture due to the obfuscating ‘creative differences’ I do think they need to move away from the usual templates and like Captain America attempt some contemporary depth to proceedings, even if your product is four quadrant aligned to the widest potential demographic, not everything has to follow the Nolan route of psychological depth or drive and fidelity to to a harsher in-universe realism, but please have the writers respect the audience intelligence and not lace every dialogue exchange with plot specific purpose – I lament the loss of the action-movie quip. For a film that purported to be a bubbling nexus of grimdark armageddon X-Men: Days Of Future Past as light and transient as a cheekily mustered Storm induced zephyr, softly arousing but soon transiently forgotten;