After all, it's just a ride….


BFI London Film Festival 2014 Programme Reprise

lff2014As a BFI Member it’s nice to get the odd freebie now and again, and since I was out and about conducting day job activities last Thursday the prospect of jetting over to the South Bank for a preview of the LFF festivities to come seemed like a no-brainer. I’ve been to these events before and they are a useful hour of your time to see a glimpse of certain films behind a one paragraph synopsis in the programme, so I’ve picked up a few more pictures to see come October. That’s the crazy thing about Film Festivals, with roughly 250 films being screened over eleven days even if I commit to a mammoth twenty-five films then without wanting to dazzle you with my mathematical prowess then that’s a mere 27% of the total haul – yeah, eat my dust Hawkings. Anyway, the preview event takes the format of an hour-long presentation by festival director Claire Stewart interspersed with film and trailer clips to illustrate her comments, so I’ve picked up some further fascinating prospects, let’s have a quick look;

After the all round embarrassment of last years Labour Day  Jason Reitman seems back on track with this, a film about our contemporary lives lived through screens and mediated networks.  Of course this could eye-rollingly tedious as the same surface level observations are bludgeoned into the narrative (note that no-one on the trailer verbally says anything to each other which must be a conscious decision) but he can construct a decent drama with a social edge, when he has an appropriate script in place. The question is, are the FBI investigating Mr. Reitman for the curious timing of the celebgate phenomena?

Many wiser and more attuned souls than I have been going crazy about this, not much out there in the way of full trailers but this teaser just about gets the heart pounding.  It had a strong presence at Sundance this year with many allusions to ‘early Jim Jarmusch’, I’m just intrigued by the prospect of seeing the so called  ‘greatest Iranian Vampire Western of the decade’……

Anyone who’s seen Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls knows what a bizarre visual talent he can be even by Japanese standards, that trailer isn’t particularly arresting but the write-up in the programme makes the film sound stronger. So I’m in.

Can we go three for three this year with Eva Green? Greg Arakai’s films are usually worth a watch, if you get ignore some of his more abstract flourishes. Since I have nowhere else to put this and there is no trailer around I also nominate The Duke Of Burgundy which sounds terrific, Peter Berberian Sound Studio Strickland’s soft focus valentine to the soft-core exploitation pictures of Jess Franco – we saw a clip and it looks tonally perfect.

Well of course I knew this was the Golden Bear winner at Berlin this year, we all knew that, but it was the short clip of the movie they showed during the presentation that immediately convinced me to track this down – a clichéd Asian movie shoot-out with numerous nervous goons pointing weapons at each other doesn’t quite resolve itself as you’d expect. With shades of Park-Chan-Wook and the gruesome irrelevance of Miike this looks like a blast.

Can one film maintain its structural integrity with the neutron star masculinity of James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy weighting upon it? This is the American debut of director Michaël R. Roskam and anyone who saw the terrific Bullhead a couple of years ago should assume he can muscle his way through that heavyweight cast, in sadly Gandolfini’s final ever performance.

On paper the prospect of a Norwegian isotopic comedy doesn’t exactly accelerate my centrifuge but the trailer bombarded my nucleus and elicited a positive response. I’ll get my coat etc.

This has already screened at TiFF to a rapturous response, a rare film lensed completely in the Maori language which is being compared to the likes of Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising in terms of elemental, epic questing.

And then we have Foxcatcher, another film which has been quietly muttered as a masterpiece from North American festival outings. I’ll reserve judgement until I see it like any reasonable human being, but there is something about that trailer which ever so slightly puts me off this, it’s probably Carell’s ‘I’m a comedic actor in a serious role with prosthetics please give me an Oscar’ vibe which is very judgemental of me, but here we are.

So to close a Spanish drug action thriller because, well, why not? Here’s some further details of the imminent celebrations to whet your appetite;

Two Days, One Night (2014)

Now ttwodays1hat, as they say, was a day. Legging it over to Waterloo to meet up with one of my oldest consultancy colleagues and brief her on my current situation, then over to the elite environs of the Mall for a very promising appointment with some new potential accomplices. With the day-job responsibilities exhausted it was time to have some fun, so after a tourist dodging stroll into St. James Park we alighted on a spot of lunch at Victoria Street before an inaugural visit to London’s newest cinema, the aptly monikered Curzon Victoria. More on that later but our international readers I’m sure will be fascinated to read that as a politically attuned animal wandering in the environs of Whitehall always yields results, and this time I spotted a terrible trio of our previous mayor Ken Livingstone, Caroline Flint MP and most amusingly Lembit ‘Don’t call me Cheeky’ Opik. I was feeling a little nostalgic if I’m honest, this was right next door to Westminster City Hall where I began this career a mere dozen years ago, the entire area has changed quite dramatically from the collection of banks, sandwich shops and rather run-down primary retail establishments when this was my daily stomping ground, you can really see the public realm effects of the vast volumes of development money that has been poured into the capital over the past decade. I’ll spare you further fascinating details on the scope of economic development and regeneration as again we must divorce the day job from the blog, but it was quite striking to see a film primarily concerned with the desperate struggles of the blue-collar proletariat in such auspicious surroundings, proving that the Dardenne brothers are continuing their spirited yet subtle examinations of socio-economic divides on the continent in another masterfully made film.

2day2Unfolding through the titular time period Deux Jours, Une Nui is a snapshot in the life of Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young depressed mother who is facing redundancy from her life saving manufacturing job. Barely able to leave the house and face the outside world she faces a titanic task – to meet and convince sixteen work colleagues that they should forego their eagerly awaited €1,000 bonus so she can retain her job, a prospect made even more implausible given that she has been signed off with depression for the past few weeks. Her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione)  is empathic and supportive as he can be, but Sandra must face this humiliating ordeal alone, in order to keep her children with a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Despite flirtations with more traditional storytelling tools in their previous picture The Kid With The Bike the Dardennes have stripped their movie-making back to the austere essentials,  the style is forged with the immediacy of hand-held cameras, long takes, naturalistic performances, with absolutely no score or anything other that diagetic sounds – traffic, birdsong, distant conversation. Pushing aside the terrific performances and skill in which such a frivolous premise becomes such gripping cinema the film works as a wonderful metaphor of current austerity politics, it’s poisonous social & propaganda engineering, an effective campaign to  divide and conquer by turning the working and (increasingly) the middle classes against each other.  Propagate such nebulous concepts as ‘immigrants’ stealing all our jobs and benefit scroungers leeching from the fruits of your labour , whilst slightly ignoring the unalterable and granite economic facts of the vast majority of benefits claimants working hard and having to fucking claim benefits in order to manage exorbitant and savage rents, or of the vast net economic contribution of immigrants  which have net benefited my country, roughly speaking, since the 11th fucking century. Sandra faces this lack of solidarity and the politics of the individual  throughout the film, but it also delivers some surprises with a few reactions which almost reinstalls  a dormant faith in a common humanity.

twodays3As we all know I love nothing more than a particularly twisted horror film, of giggiling as shrieking innocents have their bowels clawed from their quivering torso’s like so much crimson confetti to feed the eternal hunger of ravenous demonic wraiths, but Two Days One Night is one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve suffered throughout 2014 from a pure emotionally violent perspective. Witnessing Sandra humiliate herself again and again is a truly gruelling experience, steadying her fragile emotional state she becomes an incredibly brave person, drawing on unseen reservoirs of strength throughout her 48 hour ordeal. Quite brilliantly some of her beeschers reactions are unexpectedly supportive, others terrifyingly violent and abusive, and Cotillard’s performance which  ricochets from humble gratitude to resigned acquiescence sweeps across her face in a quietly powerful performance.  If I had one gripe there is a major event which is swiftly glossed over in order to maintain the films oscillating structure and internal momentum, it doesn’t ring true and although the incident finds dramatic purchase in the films final scenes it does disrupt the Dardenne carefully attuned social-realism. Everything is seen through Sandra’s eyes, she is in every scene and the absolute protoplasmic force of the entire film, the camera never lingers to catch the reactions or conversations of others after she concluded her interactions, so we are firmly implanted in symbiotic empathy without manipulation – no close-ups, no character anthems, and dialogue steeped in improvised waters.

twodsays4As for the cinema its outward appearance is duplicitous, like much of central London the developers have delved deep into the earth, as a modest initial concourse descends to a relaxing plaza with an ornate bar and seating areas, annexing out to the cinemas five modest screens. It’s all Curzon brand spanking new with cosy and newly upholstered fixtures and fittings, and as you’d expect from the a chain dedicated to the ‘cinema experience’ the screens are legitimately sized with state of the art sound and image projection. It might be a little pricey for some at 15 quid a ticket – especially since some of the fare on offer like Two Days, One Night was simultaneously available on VOD through the on-line platform – but the matinée screenings are more modestly pitched at 9 quid. I’m assuming you can guess my preference to seeing a film on a big screen as god intended, compared to streaming to a fucking laptop or worse yet a fucking phone? Anyway this was a terrific film ideal for the Curzon brand – art-house aligned but accessible, prestigious and thought-provoking, and Cotillard continues her reputation as one of the best actresses currently at work;

BFI 58th London Film Festival 2014 Programme Announcement

cvIt’s all go isn’t it? Not twenty four-hours after I smugly accept an invitation to the press screening of the newly hewn digital print of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the BFI’s exclusive screening rooms over in Soho next week (pauses…..takes a big breath) than the offers of on-line screeners from TiFF start to trickle through, I’m not even in the fucking country and I’m being thrown the proverbial celluloid bone. To compound matters further the full 2014 London Film Festival Programme streaked across the ether today, and as usual lo there was much rejoicing and gnashing of teeth. You can read my official blurb here if you are so inclined, my initial reaction is slight disappointment at the lack of any major surprises, but as always when you comb through the programme a few treats are coaxed forward. So here as usual is a Menagerie specific round-up of what I’ll be making specific efforts to see, alongside some of the more widely distributed trailers for the gala screenings which may also float your film cruise boat. I’m off to the official public launch at the Southbank tomorrow evening after a brutal itinerary of day job appointments, although I have managed to schedule in a matinee screening of the Dardennes latest at the recently enshrined Victoria Curzon, just to keep the momentum going.  So let’s begin with the big opening night extravaganza;

I happen to think that Cumberbatch is hugely overexposed at the moment and maybe should be selecting projects with a little more strategy, yet another ‘prestige’ British film is so predictable if you ask me. Also, as fascinating as Turing and Bletchley Park was it’s hardly new territory in terms of recent coverage, and I can pretty much envisage the entire film from that trailer, right down to the final scene blurb which inevitably will reference Turing’s recent pardon and his rehabilitation within the establishment. If it’s sandwiched between other material and I’m already embedded in a screening room for the day then fine I’ll see it, but I won’t be pulling the stops out for that one…….

Some of the denser pictures have lumbered over to London from their Cannes celebrations, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s dense metaphor on the modern Soviet body politic seems scarily apt, given the current not in the slightest terrifying rumblings of conflict on the news cycle. Following the Cannes plaudits I checked out his earlier film The Banishment which was pretty much 157 minutes of serious Soviet severity, a film you admire as you endure. I expect more of the same.

This Sundance scorcher has been getting some strong praise, it looks like J.K. Simmons could be in for acting awards come the statuette season, who knew that Jazz could be so violent?

Speaking of violence I’m so happy to see this made it over, such a fascinating premise of a full cast of deaf-mute non-professionals exposing urban and social displacement. If you think Boyhood has this years most original technique then consider this – the film has no subtitles. Alongside Interstellar, these are the two films I’m most excited to see for the rest of the year.

This looks visually alluring although I find some of the recent crop of Chinese financed epics a little cookie-cutter. I’m much more excited to see if this makes the programme once I get my paws on the full list tomorrow, that sounds amazing from Mr. Body Hammer himself.

Whilst I’m particularly nonplussed by the special guests this year – the closest approximation is legendary documentation Frederick Wiseman whom is promoting his new film National Gallery – we always need to seek out a strong documentary, and this has been exploding across the global circuit so I’m glad to see it here. No trailer yet hence the alternate hilarity above, a bit of whimsical pyrotechnics among the serious fare, if you will.

OK this made me laugh, Godard at the fucking IMAX? In 3D? That could be quite an experience, and full marks to the LFF programmers for getting a slot at the biggest screen in Europe which isn’t exactly the usual home of such continental curiosity. I’m no massive fan of his and find most of his recent films quite tedious, but his latest is supposed to be an absolute cracker, if you’re in the mood for some extremely self-reflective meta-wallowing on the art-form.

Well, it wouldn’t be the LFF if they didn’t give us more Sono who always gets favourable treatment, I think they’ve brought every one of his films over since I started attending. I’ve posted this before but it takes us to a nice round ten movies on the hit-list.

Scorsese and the BFI’s patronage of the immortal work of Powell & Pressburger continues with a 4K restoration of the beloved Tales Of Hoffman, which is incidentally George A Romero’s favourite film. I won’t bother with the inevitable ‘film being raised from the dead’ quip….

And here is the closing night gala, more WWII themed explosives which I get behind with a little more passion due to David End Of Watch Ayer in the driving seat, but the war-wounds of Monuments Men are playing up when I watch this old chap, it looks a bit like those bloody yanks have decided to win the war single handedly again the bloody rotters. So that’s that, more to report once we’ve had the chance to review the programme a little more forensically…..

Pasolini (2014) Trailer

Well hasn’t this got some film fanatics in a right old tizzy – the prospect of New York demon Abel Ferrera chronicling a similarly controversial figure, the Marxist homosexual Italian cinema firebrand whom was allegedly killed at  the secret orders of the government. Now due to some genius in the marketing department the trailer is blocked from sharing – because of course nothing gets the word out best about your movie than actively suppressing the fucking trailer – but you can go direct to the source here, instead here is Abel providing some context;

Abel Ferrara à propos de Pasolini from La Cinémathèque française on Vimeo.

Whatever the result this will be essential viewing from the movie fan perspective, I’d say that Willem Dafoe could be genius level casting. Whilst we’re on the subject of Ferrera I revisited King Of New York recently as it stands up very well, out on a lively Blu-Ray transfer which enable you to appreciate one of Walken’s more persona cementing performances….

As Above, So Below (2014)

aboveMeet Scarlett Marlowe, multiple PHD graduate, fluent speaker of several current and dead languages, with an unfortunate streak of Oedipal rage and her dead fathers obsessively fuelled suicide. When we first spy this impulsive, some may say foolhardy young woman she is sneaking across the Iranian border, secretly filming her furtive expedition to an archaeological tomb which is under threat of destruction by some destructive religious zealots. It’s found footage in technique and frantic whip-pan pacing all the way as Scarlett uncovers ancient clues pointing to the location of the legendary philosophers stone, the holy relic which is able to turn base elements to gold, the search for which she drove her beloved father to his death. Her friend Benji (Edwin Hodge) is recording her search on the streets of Paris as she enlists her old friend George (Ben Feldman ) to translate some clues from ancient Aramaic, leading them inexorably into the medieval Paris catacombs with a couple of gallic hipster tour guides in tow. As the descent proceeds through the eerie caverns the spookiness closes in with thumbscrew intensity,  as images and spirits from the entire parties turbulent pasts are animated and made flesh, the cramped  lunacy drawing them to the labyrinthine homestead of Old Nick himself…..

asabove2If I were to reduce the film to the usual Executive pitch I’d cite As Above, So Below as one part Indiana Jones, one part The Descent with a quantifier of The Blair Witch Project, suffice to say that if you are in any way claustrophobic then you’d best steer well and truly clear of this cramped descent into a garbled but occasionally spooky hell. To its merit the film builds a certain momentum and sense of claustrophobic terror, but it takes a little too long to raise the mortal stakes and at the risk of sounding sadistic it really needed to be much more creatively  ruthless if it was aiming to get the hackles arisen. It also labours with that perennial problem of found footage pictures, they usually fail to end the picture on a suitably shriek inducing point which is really the entire point of these rollercoaster rides, you’ve got to leave the audience exiting the theatre with a slight chill and something to clutch each tightly as they make their way to a post atrocity drink, something which the makers of Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch instinctively understood. The cast is adequate with Perdita Weeks as Scarlett not being as irritating as the trailer and opening scenes suggest, and apart from the now clichéd ‘characters walking across behind characters which they don’t see but the audience does’ tricks of the trade the film does offer a couple of genuinely creepy uncertainties.

asaabove3What are we to do with the whole found footage genre eh? It’s been drunkenly lumbering around for years now, a convenient premise to hang your cheapo budget picture upon, and maybe it still yields with some fading bloodstreaks of the social immediacy of new technologies omnipresent and an increasingly interconnected world. The problem is with credulity and maintaining that spell of authenticity, when we are presented with material edited in a clear linear fashion without extraneous redundancy, and of course quite why the fuck you would continue filming when under assault from horrific supernatural forces is usually beyond absurd. To its credit As Above, So Below evades the latter pitfall with a coherent and logical filming premise, it also efficiently slaughters the threat quenching saviour of mobile communication devices due to the subterranean locale, but it fails in having a French character long-lost in the catacombs encounter the party and immediately start speaking English without explanation – that’s just lazy writing. So a solid three fathom effort which will immediately dissolve from the memory when you stumble back out into the light, it’s a shame they didn’t give a little more thought to some of the mechanics and basic rules of the genre. Now, in a frantic effort to pad this post out to a half reasonable length I guess one should remark upon this years Frightfest, it was a strong year I’m told with a few brutal contenders for future dissection, the aforementioned The Babadook won the audience over with genuine creepy chills, Coherence continues to build significant cult movie buzz following US festival screenings whilst Wolfcop delivers the horror-comedy grins and Creep won the real aficionado’s souls – no trailer yet so we’ll have to make do with this again;



Lucy (2014)

lucy1Whatever happened to Luc Besson? Back when I was a fledgling cinema junkie this self taught filmmaker wowed the world as a integral member of the cinema du look, crafter of cult favourite Subway and aquatic student fave The Big Blue, even while the critics rather sniffily disregarded his films for overemphasising style over substance, of embracing spectacle over character in a manner akin to the American multiplex product of McTiernan, Walter Hill or early Bruckheimer fare. Completests such as I scrambled back to see his little known dystopian debut The Last Battle before we screech to the film which best prefigures his latest release Lucy, before its inevitable Hollywood remake Le Femme Nikita was his first dalliance with a kick-ass female protagonist, and for his last interesting movie. Sure The Fifth Element has its fans but I couldn’t stand it, the visual clutter and incomprehensible script intensified by some horrific casting and performances, but it was a modest hit and spurred him on to an incredibly successful producer career, including the turgid Taxi series and of course the faintly racist Taken franchise. I was however pleasantly surprised by his by-the-numbers yet distinctly moving bio-pic of Aung San Suu Kyi called The Lady, and when the trailer for his undetected latest movie crossed my desktop I was amusingly intrigued, despite my reservations I’m a fan of ScarJo despatching henchmen with ruthless efficiency as much as the next red-bloodied male, so I thought I’d give Luc another chance at the flicks despite the lukewarm initial reviews. Never again as once bitten twice shy, despite a potentially intriguing premise – a drug culled from pregnant women which activates dormant brain power which may usher in a new phase of human evolution – this is a colossally stupid and insulting movie, which soon exhausts its reassuringly short 89 minute run-time.

lucy2Presumably selected as some token seduction to the Asian market Lucy opens in a chaotic Taipei, as broad-minded student Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) has been partying hard and fallen into a loose relationship with her dishevelled, slightly suspect new boyfriend. He convinces her to take a locked briefcase into the reception area of the prestigious Westin Hotel (the product placement throughout the film is as intrusive and nauseous as Michael Bay’s Hasbro horror’s) and the goons immediately meld out of the woodwork, execute her boyfriend and spirit her away to the presence of local psychopathic crime-lord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik, best known as the Octopus feaster of Oldboy). Enlisted to the syndicate whether she likes it or not, Lucy is surgically altered into a walking drug mule along with three other Western sourced victims, hosting a portion of the briefcase contents in her stomach before being retrieved back in Europe, the contraband recovered, and she finally being allowed to resume her devastated life. The slight complication in the mission arrives when she is beaten by some particularly odious hoodlums whom rupture the internal package of her synthetic provisions, releasing the compound CPH4 into her system and  slowly enabling new superhuman abilities as the drip-feed of narcotic enhancement elevates her brain power and abilities to incredible and illogical capabilities . This is clumsily conveyed with some utterly unconvincing cut-aways to famed international scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman in cheque cashing mode) lecturing his students on the brains alleged untapped potential, interspersed with some globalisation & environmental montages showing just how crazy and diverse life on earth really is maaaannnnn, as the action beats get pummelled into the ground when the emphasis shifts back to Europe and Lucy’s against the clock quest to get the material extracted before she peaks at 100% and potentially dissolves into a mulch of primordial goo.

lucy3On the plus side I can admire Lucy’s first half hour as it wastes no time through an accelerated economic efficiency, it powers through the set-up and getting to the clandestine contents of the mysterious briefcase. Alas then the superpowers begin to be wielded and any sense of jeopardy or threat immediately evaporates, as poorly manufactured set-pierces are interspersed  with those juvenile allusions to our entire species evolution via sub-Koyaanisqatsi high-speed imagery, these asides are clichéd and dull in the extreme and even offer unwelcome laughter with a furrow browed homo-sapien and risible CGI. With one exception (to give him his dues Besson knows how to stage a car chase) the action scenes spark all the excitement of a wet weekend in Windsor – a fairly catastrophic result for an ostensible action picture – before severely plumping the depths with a plot which becomes more incredulous and insulting as Lucy’s fate attempts to meld the metaphysical with a numb fear of nanotechnology. The inclusion of Freeman intoning his celestial wisdom is a mere prop to some staggeringly risible dialogue and exposition, and although Scarjo tries her best to appear to be some superior complete with robotic enquiry and mechanised figure movement she’s galaxies away from her magnificent turn in Under The Skin.

lucy4I kid you not, this is a film which is so unbelievably insulting that a cop whom takes an interest in the case – a plot development which is also used an excuse to shoulder barge in a little romance as of course you can’t possibly have a female lead not be seeking the assistance of a man – has lines such ‘gosh, you made those men fall down with the power of your mind, should I be afraid?’ It also terrifiedly softens up some of the more amusing interludes glimpsed in the trailer with the ‘Do you speak English?’ moment being diluted by an off-camera ‘My leg!!’ snatch of dialogue, another concession to one assumes scared studio executives who can’t possibly accept a ‘hero’ figure willing to kill as part of her quest. I may run the risk of sounding elitist or snooty as those critics whom similarly sneered at Besson’s early work but that’s not my intention, I like and admire a silly yet exciting action movie as much as Michael Haneke’s latest affront to our hypocritical bourgeois comfort, but there is a full locked and loaded hollow-point magazine of difference between a well-engineered formula picture and an actively lazy genre effort, polluted with a barely conceived plot and immature scientific navel gazing. McCarthy and Lennon situated their secret mind-enhancing celebrations by placing Lucy in Sky with Diamonds, Besson gives us a narcotic comedown shivering with depression and a terrible case of the DT’s;

Writing with Light: Vittorio Storaro (1992)

Here’s a little something for the weekend, a terrific overview of one of history’s all tine great cinematographers -Vittorio Storaro:

Coincidently enough The Sheltering Sky has been playing on UK satellite channels over the past couple of weeks, but always at ridiculous times starting at 1:00am or something – I must try and track that down again as although I remember being fairly distanced by the drama some of the imagery was incredible…..

Birdman (2014) Trailer

Whilst I watched this trailer when it nested a few months ago it slipped my mind in terms of posting, it seems I’ve made a grievous error as the opening night plaudits from Venice have hailed this as a near masterpiece, including such remarkable claims as Keaton being in Academy Award contention (yeah, I know, whatever the merit of quality the Oscars are eh?) and more intriguingly that this is Alejandro González .G Iñárritu’s best film yet – hmmm;

We shall see, upon a subsequent viewing this looks like a very insular prod at the industry which are always popular at insular festivals, so maybe that impetus is soaring through the screening houses. In associated news my application for the LFF is in progress although day job priorities may make such commitments immensely complex, although I’m sure this movie will migrate to blighty as part of its increasingly proficient migration. I’m distinctly unmoved by the opening and closing night gala announcements (as usual) but I am being drip fed some early indicators from this years TiFF, nothing high-profile as I’m certainly nowhere near that important of course, but it is nice to have a few on-line screeners being hurled this way…

Sin City 2 – A Dame To Kill For (2014)

sinc1Whatever the merits or lack thereof of Robert Rodriguez’s new film Sin City 2 the manufactured controversy around that risqué film poster made me grin in amusement when it was tantalizingly revealed earlier in the year. To me it proved that the B-movie aficionado like his grindhousing ancestors understands the nature of moral molesting publicity, the sight of a couple of nipples generating more column inches than any straight-laced marketing campaign could ever hope to generate. That said the film has opened with all the concussion of a poorly detonated squib, barely seducing a $10 million haul out of 3,000 worldwide screens, proof perhaps that the cinema going public prefer the day-glo heroics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe© to the hyper-stylised chiaroscuro noir of Frank Miller’s graphic novel series. The critics have also mauled the picture for its abstract failure to drive the series forward thematically or technically a near decade after the original films release, as well as slamming the film for the inherent misogyny which we can all agree springs from Miller’s  rather one-dimensional presentation of women – trophy whores, scheming vixens, murderous prostitutes or at his most progressive diligently mute wives. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before I was fortunate enough to attend the first film’s Leicester Square premiere way back in 2005, I enjoyed the film immensely as a fan of the graphic novels despite being slightly troubled at the film and the series central moral nexus – all females are sex objects of one sort or another, and every problem can only be resolved through bone-crunching violence. If that confession makes me some horrible hypocrite then so be it, I love noir and perhaps I was overwhelmed by the incredible visual dexterity, despite loathing Miller’s gender and partisan  politics (his Occupy rant was nauseous to behold) I’m ashamed to say I had much the same reaction  to A Dame To Kill For. Yes, evidently I’m a bad, bad boy as I thoroughly enjoyed this film with a few technical reservations, even while I instinctively reject some of the wider problematic pitchforks as a genre exercise this was another welcome prowl through the cities dank and noxious green-screened streets.

sinc2Centring on two loosely intertwined stories from the second graphic novel of the series A Dame To Kill For returns to the noir drenched environment of Sin City, a realm which takes the paradigms of the genre to a nebulously accelerated nadir, including a darkly corrupt urban milieu, duplicitous sultry females, gravel voiced psychopaths (and that’s just the cops) and venomous, vengeance laced lust. In the first tale Josh Brolin steps into Clive Owen’s boots as Dwight, a blackmail proficient photographer who receives a seductive visit from a blast from his past, the titular dame Ava Lord (Eva Green) which is casting wrought from some bizarre vocabulary coincidence. She allegedly still holds a flame for her seething and panting former paramour, trapped in a trophy marriage she deploys her feminine assets to convince Dwight to murder her society husband, but of course you don’t have to be Mike Hammer to suspect that other angles are being weaved with a black widow’s brutality. In the mirroring tale a cocky young gambler (Joseph Gordon Levitt) flirts with disaster by besting the powerful Senator Roarke (the growling Powers Booth reprising his Deadwood persona) in a high-stake backroom poker game, after being violently curtailed for his  impetulant lack of respect he seeks restitution, unearthing his secret history which promises a lethal conclusion. The membrane muscle between the tales is the hulking figure of Marv, played with the usual granite stone incredulity by Mickey Rourke, as a few other characters from the first tale also get some face time including the flashback framed Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and the troubled Nancy (Jessica Alba) who also has her own murderous designs on the corrupt  regime of the all-powerful Roarke……

sinc3Whilst I don’t wish to sound like some pathetic and panting idiot male there’s no dancing around this as I suspect that Eva Green’s voluptuous charms has once again disrupted my logical & critical facilities – I thoroughly enjoyed this film and in particular her delirium inducing femme fatale which anchors the film among the same manipulative depths as Barbara Stanwyck or Rita Hayworth.  Just like 300: Rise Of An Empire I find myself completely out of lockstep with the rest of my critical brethren, but in my defence perhaps my reaction was partially due to seeing this movie twenty minutes after the first of a double bill, the first phase of which was an actively terrible movie but more on that mis-fire later.  Upon further reflection I am failing to understand what a faithful, stylish and amusingly violent translation of Miller’s comic book was going to be, other than an appropriately stylish, accelerated and violent rendering of the source material. Is it ridiculous, morally suspect and garishly fierce? Yes. Will it have you shaking your head in mock disbelief at some of the testosterone fuelled antics and wince inducing S&M costume designs? Absolutely. So here then is the nodal point, if you understandably dislike Miller’s comics then this film clearly isn’t going to change your mind, as a guilty pleasure however the admiration is in the eye of the beholder, and  pushing the gender politics discretely aside both noir and comic book fans should appreciate the transference which is obsidian pitch perfect in tone and technique.

sinc4After the lacerating disappointments of the Machete movies Rodriguez has built a seething morally void universe through this franchise with much to entertain the more discerning viewer, the 3D is discreet but punches the frame into deeper waters, although like Miller’s comic the deeper nihilistic genius of the noir genre is sorely absent. Although this has the visual trappings of the movement it does lack the fatalistic core of the original cycle of films, the doomed struggle against an implacable and silent fate, of simple coincidence damning the righteous to burn in an unyielding moral void. Some of the action scenes are deliciously executed (the mute ninja  Miho is back in all her lethal glory despite being recast from the original) and the visual design remains as intoxicating as the original Sin City, you can almost smell the rotting garbage, overflowing ashtrays and stale bourbon bubbling in the strip joints and flop-houses, standing in stark social opposition to the opulent mahogany homes of Roarke and his elitist oppressors. It’s a great collection of faces despite the badly miscast Gordon-Levitt, he doesn’t have the noir aura of his companions and his sequences in the film don’t quite smoulder with the required sulphurous tone, but his trajectory which has caused much disarray in the reviewing fraternity does, in reflective analysis, make perfect narrative sense. The central A Dame To Kill For lifted sequence however is fantastic due to Green’s pernicious performance,  not to mention some small winks to exploitation fans including a hilariously grotesque Stacey Keach lurking like a moistened tuxedo clad slug. Not for everyone then but I mostly fell under the films stimulating spell, as comic book movies go at least someone is giving us lapsed fans a welcome stumble down memory lane;

As Above, So Below (2014) Trailer

Claustrophobic? Too fraidy-cat to watch The Descent? Then this probably isn’t for you;

The whole found footage thing is getting increasingly tired but this could be fun, it at least has a kinda interesting Paris catacombs premise……


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