Well the gifts just keep on giving this week, here is the brilliant Walter Murch, editor and sound artisan par excellence, in lecture mode from last years Sheffield Documentary Film Festival;
Interesting things we’ve recently unearthed – American film director Wes Anderson is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ great-grandson. Fascinating eh? And how did we excavate this submerged treasure? Through some slightly distracted googling whilst an afternoon was whimsically frittered away with a screening of 1976′s At The Earth’s Core, based on the Burroughs book of the same name, that’s how. When it comes to whimsy and superficial surfaces the less charitable among you may elect Mr. Anderson as its most ardent practitioner, his so-called ‘doll-house’ movies replete with ornate production, a lively sense of colour and visual panache, all ameliorated with a visual box of delights from a camerawork as stylus approach, with whip-pans, 2D compositions and intersecting activity along different screen planes the celluloid playground that his broadly comedic characters strut their schtick. His latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to have delighted his ardent fans with yells of joy at this ‘most Anderson-esque movie yet’, a choir of celebration which has provided ample ammunition for his detractors to enhance their critical broadsides on his alleged empty style and irritating affectations. The complaints that his films are all surface with no heart, of being admittedly fun but meaningless romps, the astute and individual design a joy for anyone versed in the visual arts even as they are wallpaper hangings plastering over the cracks in an empty house bereft of genuine insight into the human condition certainly strikes a chord of truth here at the Menagerie. In his defence though must every movie have some serious intent and purpose? Of course not, and for my sins I have slowly been drifting back to the cheerleaders camp over the past few years, as the unamusing and unengaging demands of The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox have been eclipsed by the magical joy of Moonrise Kingdom which I absolutely loved and almost made my favourite pictures list of 2012. In that sense I strolled into this picture with a small sense of expectation, early word of mouth was strong and the trailer got my attention, and I think its fair to say that the film delivered exactly its intent – a fun, ornate, sporadically amusing romp with much to enjoy on a visual level, a confection box movie stuffed with more caramel swirls and tangy nougat than the rarely depleted orange creams or strawberry surprises.
An opening shot centres on a doll’s house facade of the titular hotel, as Anderson seems to be baiting his detractors and withdrawing further into his idiosyncratic style, before also amusingly nesting his narrative in a Russian doll structure – in 1986 an Author (Tom Wilkinson) speaks to camera of his experience of visiting the Grand Budapest in 1964 where he meets its secretive owner Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abrham), the reporter played in his younger incarnation with the pipe-wielding charm of Jude Law. Mr. Mustafa visits the hotel annually to wallow in a nostalgic fugue, and welcomes the chance to tell the story of how he first came to the legendary domicile in the years before the second world war, flashing back a further timeframe to his earlier incarnation as Zero (new-comer Tony Revolori) and the start of his friendship and camaraderie with the films central character, the devilishly charming Monsieur Gustave H – Ralph Fiennes in actual broadly hilarious comedic shock!! Gustave is the bedroom based scourge of continental Europe, giving the elderly nobles of polite society some small measure of sexual relief in their twilight years, but when one of them crops up dead (a heavily masked Tilda Swinton) and bequeathes the priceless picture ‘Boy With Apple’ to Gustave in her will the act of generosity is not accepted well by her corrupt son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody) or his twisted henchman J.P Jopling (Willem Dafoe), and soon the race is on to seize the heirloom and uncover the real culprit in the death, as war looms precipitately on the horizon….
This most Marmite of directors – you either love him or hate him – has baked quite a confectionary with his richest film to date, a creamy and tasty soufflé which may be hollow at its core yet still serves an appetite sating tasty treat. Taking his inspiration from the work of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig Anderson throws many more ingrediants into the pot, his affectionate references to early cinema history is deeply infectious, as whilst he channeled the ghosts of the French New Wave for Moonrise Kingdom this time he gorges himself on a banquet of even earlier film history rarely presented in American cinema these day. From Chaplin’s The Great Dictator to the bittersweet satire’s of Ernst Lubitsch, from 1930′s UK period caper-mode Hitchcock to even the casting of a spitting image simulacrum of Von Stroheim as a secret police captain, all boiled to near perfection in the cauldron of a caper movie receipe. You don’t necessarily need to be a connoisseur to enjoy the bounty however as the comedic characters strike a sharp balance with the debonair design, and it gallops throughout its breathless chase narrative with enough wit and dexterous charm to keep any appetite for more intellectually nourishing material at bay, and Ralph Fiennes is worth the price of admission alone as he is very, very funny.
Anderson visually cues each era of the onion layer plot with a shifting format of aspect ratios – 2:35:1, then 1:85:1 and finally the classic Academy ratio of 1:33:1 for the bulk of the 1930′s main course of the story, and like a prestige film from the golden period – naturally Grand Hotel springs to mind – the film is positively stuffed to the gills with his alumni troop – Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson - and new players to take a seat at the table including Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric and Saorise Ronan as Zero’s pastry chef savant love interest. Some sequences had me guffawing in the aisles due to sheer invention and delicious execution: the reveal of the Society of Crossed Keys, a EU illuminati of leading hotel concierges; the prison break which seems a perfect, brisk encapsulation of every incarceration movie made over the past century - all orchestrated to impeccably mounted lateral tracking shots, a delicious deployment of colour and dizzying whip-pan’s. Critics still complain that his films can be suffocating, of the miniscule wriggle room that his players have to shine within his densely storyboarded blueprints, the exacting control squashing any sense of the moment or improvisation in his cloistered cinema. Maybe so. But the sheer joie du vivre in simple storytelling shines through, its energy and briskly comedic pace framed in the witty banter and exquisite craft on display here, with Anderson hermetically sealed world of strict codes and enforced protocols building a robust body of work which continues to mature like a fine 1954 Bordeaux. If you’re starved of fun at the cinema then The Grand Budapest Hotel is a picture to feast upon, with just a slight vinegar aftertaste of a bittersweet period that’s long gone;
That Lars Von Trier fella is not one to shy away from controversy now is he? Not content with invoking a political firestorm at Cannes with some rather ill-judged remarks on the holocaust he was ejected from the crosiette, a further inducement to critical hatred after he dedicated his previous film Antichrist to the patron saint of Soviet cinema Andrei Tarkovsky. How dare this impotent upstart compare himself to one of cinemas great visionaries the critical firmament seemed to say, so when it was announced that his next film would be an uncompromising expose of one woman’s sexual odyssey entitled Nymphomaniac the reaction, as predicated, was further clutching of breasts, gnashing of teeth and impertinent hammering at keyboards. Curiously since the film – and just to get this straight it really is one film neatly divided into two screening sessions but I’ll come back to that later – since the film’s release the reaction has been somewhat muted from the likes of the Daily Heil anyway, an unexpected reaction as it has garnered serious praise from the expected outlets – Time Out, Sight & Sound, Film Comment - from its limited but highly publicised release considering its rather provocative and attention seeking marketing campaign. Now I had tickets to see this over at the prestigious Curzon in Mayfair during its initial release with a satellite delivered Q&A with members of the movie(s) cast and crew, the only slight complication being that this was scheduled for the evening of the same day that I saw Winter’s Tale. Consequently that frigid film knocked all inclination of spending a further gruelling four hours at the cinema out of my snowflake addled mind, and in a curious sense I had an irresistible urge to get in front of a computer and let the words tumble out of me as to that screening experience, sometimes, for some reason it just seems to work out that way. Nevertheless Nymphomaniac has been teasing me for the past fortnight, I think if anyone considers themselves a ‘serious’ cineaste then there are is a harem of directors whose work you instinctively have to make every effort to see (Almodovar, Haneke, Von Trier, Reygadas, Dumont, Martel, Weerasethakul, Kiarostami, Kar-wai and Sokurov to pretentiously name but a few) even if some of those figures certainly don’t depress my g-spot; I mean did you see the last Almodovar? It was absolutely terrible, and I thought Post Tenebras Lux was art-house engineered incoherence with a few controversial sequences thrown in simply to inflame and ‘challenge’ a pampered bourgeois critical fraternity. A-hem. Anyway, as usual I digress as we’re here to endure a particularly gruelling day at the local art cinema, to partake in extreme nudity, maximum genitals and barely legal art-house, a salacious saga of one womans worship at the altar of fornication.
England, winter, and in a slush choked sordid back alley a woman lies unconscious, bloodied and bruised. A passing middle-aged bachelor and self-educated scholar named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) takes pity on the woman and takes her back to his flat to tend to her wounds and patch her up, inquiring gently into her condition he asks her to recant her story and explain how she came to be in such dire straits. Her name is Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg, peerless and fearless) and her tale is a tawdry and tantalizing journey into the heart of human darkness, as she explains she is a nymphomaniac whose entire life, drive and purpose has been defined by her unquenchable sexual appetite. Dividing the two films into eight distinct chapters which move historically through her life this partitioning (a repeated Von Trier narrative technique in this final part of his so-called depression trilogy) betray a formal theatrical structure, interspersed with Joe and Seligman’s philosophical bedside musing on religious idolatry, the Fibonacci equation, scientific curiosity and the artistic method, as Gainsbourg’s matter-of-fact voiceover explains her slow mental disintegration. In the first film the twentysomething Joe is played by newcomer Stacy Martin with a shockingly unconscious display of desire, whilst Christian Slater is absurdly mis-cast as her father the film also features Shia LaBeouf as one of Joe’s early and crucial obsessions, the impressive cast further supported by Willem Dafoe, an extremely disturbing Jamie Bell and a career best Uma Thurman as jilted wife Mrs. H. The second film features Joe played by Gainsbourg in the more recent years and months of her life as a middle-aged woman , where the irrevocable drive of her appetites lead her uncontrollably into the dangerous realms of extreme sexual methods, and the film lurches into extremely difficult to watch areas which are not for the faint of heart or easily offended – consider yourself warned.
If you’ll forgive the very obvious ‘pun’ this is a very hard film from a fearless director, it’s hard in terms of subject matter and its hard in terms of run-time, of unflinching realism and occasional brutality, and it raises some very hard questions about our lust fuelled drives divorced from any social decorum failsafe, of total surrender to our animalistic instincts which are controlled by our allegedly rational cognition. As you’d expect the sex is frequent and appropriately graphic but never gratuitous, it doesn’t feel that despite his public persona that Von Trier is intentionally out to shock, and not for a nano-second does it amorously weave into the area of titillation, especially in volume II the desperate coupling becomes horribly sleazy and shameful rather than sensuous or arousing. Like Joe’s seemingly infinite sex drive the film is gratuitous in terms of certain scenes and sequences which feel ill-executed and maybe superfluous to the central odyssey, but the film also has some immensely powerful encounters, particularly for me the blackly comedy confrontation between the jilted Uma Thurman and Joe where she first begins to see the consequences of her actions upon other lives, the destruction wrought by her not harnessing and controlling her lust, leaving families and lovers shattered in her wake. Given the radioactive material that he is handling here I’d also anticipated the predictable accusations of misogyny, again not so as there is not for one second any notion of slut-shaming, at least in Joe’s initial experimentation sex is shown as a natural, inquisitive and positive thing, its only when that pleasure and passion is warped into a neurosis of power and domination that it becomes poisoned and irradiated, the power of her cunt* as she so eloquently puts it to make men do her bidding. It’s a small anecdotal matter but I was interested to see how many single women also turned out to see the film, not single as in coupled up of course I mean singular as on their own sans partner or friends, a noticeable number in my theatre which I chalk down to the rarity of a film with a central female character which isn’t a fucking formula Rom-Com, it just proves that there is an audience out there for material where the Bechtel test is submissively beaten to humiliation. In one blazingly truthful observation toward the end of the film a character makes the point that if a man had conducted themselves this way, if he bedded a dozen conquests a night and left a wife and a family in order to pursue his uncontrollable sexual ambitions then it would barely elicit a shrug, a shared understanding from most members of society such are the genital politics of contemporary society, but if the sexes are reversed then the opinion becomes quite, quite different, as Joe is outcast and shunned, and ultimately forced further into the dangerous eaves of polite civilisation.
I hate to resort to the cliché dictionary but yes Gainsbourg is just fearless, she really is one of the most vehement, quietly brilliant actresses working today whom always seems to get overlooked by the likes of your Cate Blanchet’s, the Emma Thompson’s or Meryl Streep’s of the industry, and in general it is amusing to me to see American actors flock to Von Trier despite the gruelling working methods and material in order to develop their career and education. The experience seems to have quite an impact on ole ‘face of beef’ LaBeouf who has been making quite the spectacle of himself at press conferences and premieres, if he went ‘method’ during shooting it’s not difficult to see why. Whilst this was a punishing four hours at the flicks in all three senses of a physical, emotional and intellectual journey it’s an admirable achievement, and maybe a year or so down the line I can face another gaze into Joe’s abyss with the uncircumcised first episode which has almost a full half hour of material excised due to its uncompromising nature – given the severity of the flesh already being exposed I honestly dread to imagine what that might be. What I think will lure Nymphomaniac onto further trysts is the coupling of the wider social and historical musings that Spielman offers in response to Joe’s pornographic pilgrimage, it’s that union of the spiritual searching within the wider queries of the human condition which fondle the depthless mysteries of lust, of how it is possible to throw your entire life away in a pathetic quest to sate a never satisfied thirst, does the body rule the mind or the reverse? I dunno. An increasingly touching relationship stiffens throughout the film where both man and woman seem to judge each other on their own terms independent of the physical impulse, offering a small chink of forlorn hope for rational relations before Von Trier exterminates with ruthless ferocity any optimism just as the credits roll. Nymphomaniac is the work of an elite filmmaker working at the peak of his powers and bravery, asking difficult questions of an adult audience, unencumbered by the demands of box-office appeasement – carnal, essential viewing for those who like to watch;
*Well, it’s taken six long years but we’ve finally deployed the ‘c’ word here. I thought I’d save it for something special….I’d apologise but I reserve your clemency for the Morrissey quote………
Having just got back from a swiftly successful stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel I was all fired up to share my stories, it’s a fun picture and I enjoyed it with minor reservations (if you’ll excuse the pun) until I was solemnly informed that today is the 15th anniversary of Stan’s passing, and obviously we can’t let such an auspicious occasion slip away without some small, modest tribute. After a gruelling work week I’m not mentally in the mood or mind-space for anything approaching some deeply insightful examination of his life, his achievements or his legendary craft, but I reckon I can at least spear some interesting material to share with you as I haven’t been on an electronic safari for quite a while – it’s been at least a month hasn’t it? Quite fittingly one of the trailers prior to Budapest was the European promo for Under The Skin, including a US derived critic tagline proclaiming that ‘we’ve finally found the next Kubrick’, I’ll leave you to consider that statement at your leisure when the film opens next weekend. This indulgent collection is framed around recollections and interviews rather than specific lensed material for a change, so let’s begin with a surface level, overview documentary;
I could be wrong but I don’t think I’ve ever posted this UK Channel 4 commissioned piece from 1996, it’s a fine surface level introduction to the director, and I always find it intriguing to see opinion and conclusions buried in the past, in this case three years before he died and we got to see the much maligned Eyes Wide Shut swan song.
A little time capsule for your delectation, I’ll bite my tongue on my opinion of Mr. Marriott and his assertions that taking two years (gasp) to make a film is far too long, so let’s just agree to disagree, yeah?
From the extras on the EWS disk, I do enjoy Spielberg’s enthusiastic recollections. Whatever you may think of Tom or Nicole their memoirs are also quite instructive, particularly the emotional reactions, and in true obsessive form those links are the full versions of the interviews which only aired on UK TV once and don’t appear on the home entertainment disks. The fact that Steven shot the Raiders ‘Well of Souls‘ sequence on the same besmirched ground as the Overlook’s main lobby is something isn’t it? Well, from a pure movie lore perspective anyway, but that’s not a matter that should concern you, at least not at this point. Drink up….
It used to be a rarity to actually hear the alleged J.D Salinger of the movie realm speak other than that 1966 extended interview and the footage from the Making Of The Shining documentary but gawd bless the internets for bringing this to our ears. Michel Ciment and Alexander Walker are probably the best ‘serious’ critical archivists of Stan, as they were both in his relative trust and actually gained set access, as opposed to much of the tabloid framed material which has emerged since his passing….
Upon reflection music was arguably just as important to Stanley’s work as the phenomenal cinematography and other elements in the process of seducing an audience in the artificial world of the movie theatre - an appropriate pitch of performance, sublime pacing or the fracturing of traditional story structures in service of the tale, intrinsic and envelope pushing SFX, embedded and organic sourced production design. As far as I’m concerned only the really great filmmakers, contemporary and past understand and appreciate this, apart from the silent period of course. Now that’s a whole other blog-post…..
OK, here’s something for the real aficionado as I vaguely pad out this post, Stan’s second documentary from 1951 during the genesis of his career which isn’t particularly revelatory, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? To take some corporate gigs to learn the basics of your craft from a technical standpoint before you can wield your imagination and ideology into that instrument of communication?
Time is pressing on and whilst I’d have liked to get into some more of the more venerable moving pictures material and have delved further into the still photography I think I’m exhausted. So above is a quick look at the current unicorn tear of the Kubrick canon, that all so elusive original The Shining ending which was filmed and which allegedly appeared in some original screen-test prints of the US release, but was recalled and excised before the film went wide in the US and the further trimmed (and in my opinion) superior European print was ignited. Who knows, maybe there is some holy grail out there, that original version of the film which survives with the original ending intact, but I seriously doubt it. Then again I’m told that if you are sufficiently blessed with the right connections you can access the BFI archives and see the similarly legendary custard pie-fight footage at the end of Strangelove which lingers in the vaults, that is however genuine but only accessible to serious, cinema accredited scholars. I’d best start work on that book then eh?….
Some further ephemera as we come to a close, given the self referential impulse of cinema here I think is the only fictional representation of Stanley on-screen from 2004′s The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers which of course I went to see in Richmond when it opened purely because of the Kubrick angle. It’s not a great film but I thought I’d throw this in for something a little different, more context here which is great. I doubt we will ever get, or more importantly will ever need a fictional Kubrick bio-pic, so let’s close with the obvious, a cosmic ‘fucking’ montage as a final nod of appreciation;
Long awaited for fans of the noirishly violent original, here’s a thing;
After the disappointing Machete debacles let’s hope Rodriguez is back on track at last, and for this correspondent any film featuring Eva Green = Win.
Found a new thing from US comedian Tom Heidecker, a slightly subtle satire of that most hatred of modern creations – internet era movie critics;
I’m working my way through all three seasons, and it has some superb deadpan moments, and I like how everything gets five ‘bags of popcorn’ star scores….
Seize the day eh? Well, given that the opportunity presented itself to take a day off work, and if events in the Crimea deteriorate then this may be the last Academy Award ceremony before we’re tearfully strolling through an irradiated wasteland, I bit the bullet and actually stayed up to ‘watch’ the Oscars this year – well, when I say watch, I mean look at a computer and follow various feeds. As always I want to make it clear that I’m no celebrity whore, I don’t particularly care for the red carpet commentary and associated fluff, but as a movie fan there really is only one ceremony to indulge in, and hope for an amusing speech or strange win that distracts us, for just a moment from the inevitable absurdity of life. If I was smart then I would certainly have amended some of my initial predictions in the light of certain pictures and nominees achieving some genuine traction over the past few weeks, but rules are rules so I must stick to my initial instincts, however ludicrously ambitious some of them now seem. In terms of scores I’ve usually averaged a 50 to 60% ratio, but I’m usually pretty good on the major awards (actors, picture, director) with a few more technical predictions that bump up the average. Commentary will as usual jump around as the awards are announced in a different sequence than the hierarchy listed below, but overall I’m quite happy with the results, with a small swell of jingoistic pride for Gravity’s numerous positions. Apologies in advance for the vodka fuelled, late hour hallucinatory inspired typos and immediate and unconsidered commentary in advance….and I’ll tally the score later….
It’s quite rare, but sometimes when you’re watching a film a small voice is whispering in your ear that ‘this is it’. What I mean by that is that sometimes a subject, an injustice and a period is getting the attention it deserves. Sometimes this incomprehensible period is reflected in this most magical of art forms, and crucially every other representation of that era, of character, position or ideology will be measured against that yardstick. This is one of those pictures and a deserving win, I won’t remember being that dumbstruck when the credits rolled on this one for quite a while. The Academy got this one correct.
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
12 Years a Slave - WIN
The Wolf of Wall Street
Dallas Buyers Club
A tricky result. Scorsese was great but rethreading old ground, as was Payne, just with a veneer. Russell was aping Marty. So that leaves McQueen and Cuaron, both equally great in what they achieved. So some small tears for McQueen but I can’t be too upset with this win, they were both equally brilliant in the films they controlled and delivered, and as I write this I guess the final assessment is being made…
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
David O Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity – WIN
Alexander Payne – Nebraska
Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
There are rumblings that the traction under Matt given his recent TV successes has fostered this win – that the Academy voters punt their appreciation more on industry potential than genuine brilliance in one, and let me stress that one role – but I can’t say I’m surprised. I’d have preferred Ejiofor who gave a electric performance which was absolutely devastating, but in a different way so was this. He centres that reasonably affecting film and just to be obvious it ticked all those Academy boxes, so it goes….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Christian Bale – American Hustle
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street
Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club – WIN
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
The omission of Adele Exarchopoulos for Blue Is The Warmest Color still stings, but here we are. I like Blanchet and think she is fantastic in many projects but haven’t seen Jasmine, so will reserve judgement on this win. It’s 4:57. Kill me. PleaSse.
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine – WIN
Amy Adams – American Hustle
Sandra Bullock – Gravity
Judi Dench – Philomena
Meryl Streep – August Osage County
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
An early assault from Dallas? I’m told Jared’s speech was OK (as I said I’m not watching live, just following the chatter), so good for him I guess….but Fassbender was better. I’m already tired…..(yawns)…
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club – WINNER
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Excellent, great result. Hawkins aside (again I haven’t seen the movie) this was my best of the group, and I look forward to seeing her in other material soon. Is this the start of Slave defeating Gravity? It’s 3:28. Clichés abound….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave – WIN
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Julia Roberts – August Osage County
June Squibb – Nebraska
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
No surprises, not seen it so can’t comment, although a nod for Miyazaki would have been nice.
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Despicable Me 2
Frozen – WIN
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Another righteous win, no complaints here. That film was superbly structured; it connects in all the small spaces, although I’m calling it now – there will be much grumbling about the time frame initiated in the film’s title which isn’t necessarily achieved;
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke – Before Midnight
Billy Ray – Captain Phillips
Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope – Philomena
John Ridley – 12 Years a Slave – NO
Terence Winter – The Wolf of Wall Street
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
If there is one shock for me, before we get into the final ‘big’ four, then this is it. Allen is unsurprisingly frozen out but all the others also focused on characters, but not in such a modern way. Another great result, although this pitches my average back down. Has he matured from the Kaufman collaborations? Evidently. Still, curse you Spike Jonze (waves fist)….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Eric Warren Singer and David O Russell – American Hustle
Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine
Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack – Dallas Buyers Club
Spike Jonze – Her – WIN
Bob Nelson – Nebraska
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Having seen The Great Beauty a few nights ago night I was appreciative of its pedigree until about 3/4 of the way through the picture, but then it seriously lost focus for me and kinda drifted away from its withering Berrlusconi era satire of facile beauty, despite the clear conjuration of a social & spiritual void, the beautiful photography and of course the cinephile appeasing references to such international heavyweights as Da Sica, Fellini and Rossellini. Still, out of the others in this category I’ve seen it was the most memorable, and it retains a foreign prestige for the Academy I guess….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
The Great Beauty (Italy) WIN
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Reality is collapsing, I simply don’t care, but another tick on the Minty side is welcome. I hear the Obit sequence was fairly gruelling – Ebert, Gandolfini, Karen Black, O’Toole, Leonard and of course the Hoffman…..
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Let It Go – Frozen – WIN
Ordinary Love – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Alone Yet Not Alone – Alone Yet Not Alone
Happy – Despicable Me 2
The Moon Song – Her
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Hmm, a minamilist score wins, I’m not sure how excited I should be about this….(I’m sorry)….it’s 4:20 for fucks sake…
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
The Book Thief
Gravity – WIN
Saving Mr Banks
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Academy always do this, I think it must be a thing with international distribution. Not only do they nominate some very strange, unknown choices (at least from a European perspective) but they award the gong to pieces which make most go ‘what’? Remember Hoop Dreams being ignored? Anyway, I don’t even know what the winner is about, let alone it’s qualities, so good luck I guess..
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
20 Feet from Stardom – WIN
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Sounds like this was apt given the timings, so no bad blood on this mis-step of mine. I need another drink though (hic)….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life – WIN
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
BEST FILM EDITING
What was I thinking? 20th century obviously. The technical brilliance continues for Cuaron and co., can they maintain the trajectory for the big wins? I think this is a nod to brevity, I assumed that the members of this clan would admire the attachment to various characters over different space and time (as seen in American Hustle) but maybe technology methods are dictating form. It’s 3:43. I have no idea what I’m talking about…
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity – WIN
12 Years a Slave
BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING
My first win, although it’s a shame Bad Grandpa didn’t cause an upset. That could have been quite a speech…..
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Dallas Buyers Club – WIN
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger
BEST SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Mr. Hublot can fuck the fuck off. I hear Kim Novak made an appearance which would have been nice to see, a small sliver of Hollywood pre-1981. It’s half two, this is far too much work…..
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
Get a Horse!
Mr Hublot – WIN
Room on the Broom
BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
A lucky strike. I usually make an effort to see some of these shorts but I must admit my laziness this year, I will pay my respects when they finally get on-line. I’ll also avoid the obvious Gravity / Helium gags….;
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Avant Que De Tour Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Helium – WIN
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Tedious decision, incredibly old-fashioned. Her was brilliant, Gatsby was old school and obvious. That film was so predictable on every tactile visual level. I’ve lost score of my wins to losses ratio’s now, and I care even less…..stupid awards (hic)….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
The Great Gatsby – WIN
12 Years a Slave
BEST SOUND EDITING
See below first. Good stuff, completely deserved, I’m not hearing (heh) much about the hosts performance or anything in the way of amusing ceremony moments. Sounds (heh) a bit dull. Sorry for the puns. It’s 3:16…..;
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
All Is Lost
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
BEST SOUND MIXING
No love for the Coens, and the inevitable technics of Gravity continues. Sounds (heh) like I dodged a bullet by missing U2′s nominated best song performance. And that is from a lapsed (1988 – 1994) fan….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Gravity – YES
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Well, no intergalactic shock with this one – outstanding work from the boffins at Framestore which is the new benchmark for the medium, and the first win of the evening for us Brits….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Gravity – WIN
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek Into Darkness
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Hmm, they always go for the aged stuff don’t they? Evidently the 1970′s wasn’t old enough. I guess the costume design was one of the better elements of that tedious film, so no major complaints…..
DID I GET IT RIGHT? No
The Great Gatsby – WIN
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave
One of my favourite slots, I usually get this correct, and the stars are in alignment for the mischievous genius that is Lubezski. Nice tiny nod from Bill to his mate too, I wonder if last minute panic has got Rensais into the ‘In Memordium’ section….
DID I GET IT RIGHT? Yes
Gravity – WIN
Inside Llewyn Davis
Some more sad news, as one of the most demanding and obtuse continental filmmakers sadly passes away at the venerable age of 91. There’s not much more to say that isn’t collected here, and if you must see one of his films then I’d suggest the enigmatic masterpiece that is Marienbad;
Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be going back to being terrified at the prospect of WWIII…..
For some reason I’m feeling kinda listless as we move into the weekend, I can’t even find the effort to construct my thoughts on this which has been cleaving its way through Internet discussion boards, as clearly Soderbergh has been indulging himself in his so-called retirement. As is my idiom I have perused the film listings and both Stranger By The Lake and Only Lovers Left Alive should be screaming for my attention, but for some lazy reason I simply can’t be bothered. We haven’t checked in with our Minnesota chums for a while, so here for your amusement is their opinion on a trio of classics which look exceptionally entertaining;
In other news, some of my film critic brethren were exposed to 20 minutes of the new Godzilla picture this morning and the reaction has been unanimous expectant awe – looking good. If you’re in the mood for something a little more cerebral when it comes to the moving image then I think I’ve struck gold with this, forty documentaries collated together across film history which is quite a find - I’ve not seen that 3 hour Cassavetes documentary so that’s my weekend sorted…..
Enough of this maudlin comedy nonsense, I’ve deliberately let the fallout settle for 24 hours before we get back to the movies, and the welcome awakening of a positively incandescent lizard;
Pretty exciting huh? I like the look of them going back to the 1950′s and pulling some earlier movie series history into this, probably best if they avoid any sightings of Matthew Broderick though. I also like the look of the cast with Japanese and French faces frozen among the dumb struck terror, which of course seems apt given the history of nuclear testing in the Pacific. After Monsters there is a lot of faith in the director Gareth Edwards who managed to not only master his limited SFX resources but also insert some potent metaphors in his debut, so let’s hope he’s up for the job in these turbulent years of floods, storms and increasingly distressed thermometers. However it turns out, I’ll bet it’s no Mechagodzilla though;
Eagle-eyed scouts scouring the trailer may have spotted evidence that this 2014 detonation of the beast may have more than one creature arising from the radioactive depths……
Spare a lonely, moonlit moor set howl for the poor old movie mongrel The Wolfman. He’s kind of a second tier monster isn’t he? When you think of the old classic creatures of yesteryear the first images that spring to mind are the bolt-necked lumbering mannequin of Frankenstein, the cape draped festering & leeching royalty of the Count, or the tattered oriental shrouds of The Mummy isn’t it? Nevertheless the old dog caused quite a stir when he first snarled through screens back in 1941, with The Wolfman proving the first of a five film litter, with horror hero Lon Chaney Jr. continuing his father’s proud history of make-up and special effects sorcery to conjure another iconic figure in the annals of atrocities. One of the major attractions of these seasons I conduct is the modicum of research they require, as I was rather shocked to learn that this wasn’t the first iteration of the lycanthropic beast to appear on-screen, and in fact Universal had produced a picture known as Werewolf of London back in 1935 which I’ve never seen, and that alone means that I’ve learnt something new – this old dogs been thrown a new bone. Six years later this film set up the treatment of the monster for decades to come, a legandarium complete with silver bullets, moon initiated transformations, pentacle pointed protections and charms which were not lifted from popular myth and memory, but largely the invention of screenwriter Curt Siodmak’s fevered imagination. Such was the cultural import of these fabrications these designs which went on to infect novels, comic books, TV and just about every other form of media, all the way up to the present day with the likes of Tru Blood and Hemlock Grove. If the zombie is horror’s comment on blind, ravenous consumerism of the bourgeois class and the vampire is the elite upper scions literally feeding on the blood of the masses for their exalted position, then The Wolfman has to be your working class joe, the blue-collar guy who is transformed once a month (presumably when his pay-check comes in) into an intoxicated and ravenous violent beast, taking that oppressed rage out on his family and friends at his inferior status, a bruised animal raging impotently at his reduced lot in life. Well, he’s either that, or just a guy who turns into a wolf under the gaze of a full moon ’cause of some occult curse…..
The hirsutely accursed Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) is beckoned back to his ancestral home in Llanwelly, Wales (told you it was a horror story) after hearing of the tragic death of his younger brother in a hunting accident. Previously estranged from his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains) Larry slowly makes amends for his absence, and decides to hang around the old place and retain some bearing in his life. Like a dog in heat, and despite the gloomy circumstances Larry soon becomes interested in a local broad named Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) who runs the village’s modest antique shop. Adopting a silver-fox persona Larry purchases a silver-tipped walking stick decorated with a wolf motif, a subtle sign of his virile ferocity which doesn’t quite throughly seduce Gwen, although it does seem to pique her interest in this mysterious stranger. Some gypsy types stroll into town and whisper urgently of the legend of the werewolf, the legendary lychanthrope which changes man into canine beast at certain preordained peaks of the lunar cycle, as Gwen’s friend Jenny (Fay Helm) has her fortune read by the inscrutable Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya). Fate intervenes that evening when Larry is bitten by a big bad wolf that he repels from devouring poor Jenny out in the moors, and although he slays the creature with his new cocky walking cane the bad news is the wolf was actually Bela, son of the gypsy fortune-teller. She warns Talbot that he is now cursed to undergo the same lupine initiated terror, placing the whole village at risk including his beloved Gwen who is looking increasingly tasty….
The film is a weird mongrel of old and young, with scenes of 1940′s upper class gentry mating roughly with 19th century Romany posturing and spooky medieval proclamations, contemporary motor cars prowling through the Welsh village as horse-drawn carriages lurch murkily through mist drenched steppes. It’s really only in these scenes that the film comes alive, that glorious expressionist lighting and claw twisted vegetation design creating a genuine moody menace, as quite frankly the rest of the picture away from the broad horror trappings is rather laborious and sleepy. I always make this point but I’ll make it again with the rugged obedience of a panting labrador, yes the SFX have inevitably dated and the Lap dissolve technique – freezing the camera and taking another exposure repeatedly over ten hours as the make-up is applied to Chaney, so when the film is cranked back at 24 frames per second the transformation occurs over a period of twenty or so seconds – doesn’t quite equal the expertise of 2010′s Wolfman reading, but this earlier breed pants with an exhausted eerie atmosphere of misty moors and infected blood lines, of man submitting to his savage submerged spirit. Claude Rains is always watchable as the Van Helsing type of mature expert in all matters of the occult and uncanny, and given his connection as the Wolfman’s father in the picture it’s just occurred to me that this film might be harbouring a rather interesting subtext now that I think of it…..
With all the best will in the world Chaney Jr. is not the worlds greatest actor, it must have been very difficult to step into his fathers enormous ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ shoes but he did manage to carve himself a little morsel of Hollywood history, not quite in the same monster movie league as Lugosi or Karloff but genre fans appreciate any actor who managed to play Dracula, The Wolfman and The Mummy at one point in his booze sodden career. Like so many stars of the era the man was afflicted with a terrible drink problem, culled in part possibly from his fathers treatment of him which included informing him throughout his youth that his mother was dead (she wasn’t, he wrestled custody from her and locked her out of their lives) and his fierce resistance to his son following him into the acting game (through either love at the harsh business or a misplaced sense of competition) must have boiled a seething cauldron of psychological distress in Junior’s mind. It’s some small consolation of his memory that he was one of those self loathing drunks who internalized his rage and shame, rather than strike out and cause pain to his friends and family, as all agreed that he was a gentle hulk of a man, even if he could be incapacitated from working by late afternoon during his darkest days. So this gives us a film with Chaney Jr. in his iconic make-up role, in which he is transformed by independent forces into a slavering force of violent nature, and is finally beaten to death by his estranged father in order to eliminate the hereditary curse – paging Dr. Freud. As with the rest of the Blu-Ray set the doggy treats are generous, including documentaries on Chaney Jr., make-up genius Jack Pierce and the movie cycle in general hosted by John American Werewolf Landis, plus an illuminating commentary from film historian Tom Weaver to round-out the pack. So now we’ve put this mangy old cur out of its misery its time to stop slumming it with these disgusting stinking working class plebs, if you’d care to join me I suggest we waltz off to the opera….
Another sudden loss, can we please cut it out, just for like a month? I don’t talk a lot about comedy here, but if I ever turn my quill to a top ten list this would certainly be on there;
And of course there is one of the instrumental blockbusters of my youth, up there with Raiders and E.T. and other pictures of that era, with his great straight guy turn in front of the camera. I hope you’re rocking out with Pryor, Bill and Carlin dude….
This is probably the most difficult review I’ve faced for quite some time. It’s difficult because the source of this new romantic fairy tale flick is Mark Helprin’s 1983 magical realist masterpiece Winter’s Tale, a book which I broadly consider as the greatest novel I have ever read. Let’s just let that sink in for a while, this is my favourite book of a fairly voracious reader, all 750 pages of which I’ve plundered through three times, although I’ve resisted going back to it in the past decade for another well-earned pass for reasons I’ll get into a little later. In an ideal world the film adaption would be a $200 million three-hour epic directed by some Frankenstein hybrid of Scorsese’s intimate and affectionate understanding of his birthplace, Tim Burton’s (when he was good so pre 21st century) frosty sense of doomed romance, with just a lightly feathered dusting of Spielbergian magical awe and wonder. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect universe so if my heart sank when I heard the news that Akiva Batman & Robin Goldsman was attached for script and writing duties then it stratospherically plummeted when that retch inducing first trailer started cantering throughout the internet, it appearing that Ron Howard’s go to scribe had decided to aim his translation of this epic, sweeping, hyperborean magical masterpiece at 14 year-old doe eyed adolescents. Resistance levels were high when I strolled into the Greenwich Odeon to finally face this potential travesty, but before we get into the resulting two-hour experience I will not be adding the redundant ‘A New York’ suffix which the films marketing department have stupidly appended to the title, because only in Hollywood would associating your product with the scribblings of arguably civilisations greatest ever playwright be regarded as a bad thing, presumably as the Shakespearean connotations might cause certain imbecile punters from avoiding the picture for its lofty language. This film in many, many ways, by any objective reality is simply a terrible movie, but that didn’t stop me from perversely falling a little in love with it, and not just because Menagerie favourite Jennifer Connelly is in it*.
In a rather clumsy opening we follow the soon to be named amnesiac Peter Lake (Colin Farrel in full oirish brogue) as he wanders distractedly through the city so great they named it twice. Master thief and engineering savant Lake is an orphan whom Moses alike was tearfully despatched to the city by his parents on an infant sized ship back in 1895, now an adult in 1914 – the film leaps between the present day and the Belle Époque period – he is on the run from the snarling clutches of Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and his disposable henchmen for transgressions which remain somewhat uncertain. Spying a potential lucrative score in a Central Park brownstone he slips into the domicile, only to find that not all the occupants have fled the city for a festive themed holiday, as he alights upon the luminous Beverley Penn (Jessica Brown Finlay), a delicate young beauty who tragically only has months to live due to a lethal bout of fiery consumption. True love soon blossoms amidst the algid New York winter, as Peter and Beverley’s romance faces the twin fury of her medical condemnation and Soames cloaked, sulphurous vengeance….
I suspect I’m going to regret writing this in the morning, and maybe it’s the scotch swilling through my system which gives me some sense of dutch courage , but I’ll admit it – tears were shed at the simple, unadulterated joy at seeing this beloved novel finally rendered on-screen after a quarter century of devoted patience. It’s been a labour of love for Goldsman who has struggled to get the film made for many years, accelerating his passion and drive for the project following the sudden death of his wife some years ago (which also gives the film a meta-context if ever there was one), and whilst I admire his persistence the film is also by turns deeply infuriating for concupiscent devotees of the novel, as in one section he gets everything right, by the next section everything falls apart. The central pulsing core of the novel, the romance between Beverley and Peter convinced me despite the overwhelming sentimental framing of Goldsman’s tone and approach, so I’m sure the crucifixion of the picture by my learned colleagues in the critical fraternity (well, I’m assuming a little here, the first unimpeachable rule of my approach to film criticism is to never read any reviews until you’ve composed yours) is completely justifiable and accurate, but my god in places this really got to me whether by osmosis or sepia tinged recollection – the film is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.
Alas there is no concrete sense of New York as a breathing and brazen entity, a clanging, imperfect yet inspirational smokestack colossus pregnant with an imperious and optimistic beauty, the personification of the American dream as the young country transitioned from the rural to the industrial at the turn of the century before two world wars soured the starlight which illuminates Helprin’s piquant prose. Other facets of the 750 page epic are also sacrificed at the altar of brevity, most disappointingly the warring newspaper moguls and some of the books peripheral characters and contortions, but then there is the Lake of the Coheeries amaranthine frozen aesthetics, some exquisite nods to the books historic ameliorations, and on occasion a cloudy sense of wonder and awe which vigorously infiltrates the picture in one scene, only to dissipate at the arrival of the next like the slow cerebral disintegration of a fading dream. Utterly indefensible however is the cartoonish bellowing of Russell Crowe, if they had got this central and beloved character correct then the majority of the films other fluctuations could have been overlooked, but as the primary antagonist of the picture his failures – both in malignant presence and accent atrocities – pull the film down whenever he devilishly butchers a scene. It’s always a problem when in your mind’s eye you have a conception of a character which is not correctly mirrored on-screen, and the intervention of a certain character not in the novel to enable a throughly redundant A list cameo is woefully inadequate, it serves only to crowbar in some clumsy plot motivation which is alluded in the novel but unnecessary in this truncated medium. These scenes are as badly written as they are clumsily edited, if literally for Christ’s sake you’re gonna put The Lord of Lies in your picture then please get someone with a menacing presence to step into those sulphur soiled shoes.
When the film’s narrative shifts back to the present day the affectations appear as an afterthought, so the thawed run-time prevents the final act to build the resonance and crucial empathic connections with the preceding elements, rendering it nigh impossible to develop any abiding affinity or warmth with Jennifer Connelly and her daughters contemporary plight, a flaw in the potential diamond which is perhaps the films most grevious blemish. The cinematography however illuminates the love and attention refracted through the picture, Caleb Deschanel’s (father of Zooey magic pixie dream-girl fans) ecumenical palette streaking the frame with lens flares and candle lit interiors which echo one of the books trifling, peripheral concerns - the magical transformative power of light, of a spirit powered by a pure and unadulterated love being potentially able to defeat even death. Like the novel’s binary temporal structure Winter’s Tale pitches between algorithmic peaks and valleys, soaring in one moment and then plunging the next, a rather frustrating experience which nevertheless retains some shards of the novels immense ambition and sorceress asymmetry.
So we finally canter to a stop with the realisation that in six years we have a Menagerie first – this is a film which in good conscience I simply cannot recommend to those ignorant of the source material, nor ironically can I champion this to fans of the book given its glaring omissions, yet Winter’s Tale was not the frigid atrocity I expected and I think on final reflection I have to confess that I kinda liked it, as some of the achievements may just manage to eclipse its shivering flaws. I cannot justify this on any sort of rational basis, it’s certainly a cloying, suffocating, deeply sentimental piece which normally would have me running and shrieking for the exits, so maybe it caught me in a rare, contemplative and forgiving mood, although I’m certain and will immediately confess that my deep love for the novel has definitely clouded my judgement. Whatever future viewings may yield the film has inspired me to make two strategic executive decisions – the first to re-read the book again for the 4th time, always a dangerous proposition as going back to such important texts in your life can be devastating if they don’t age well and confirm to your idealistic prejudices, or maybe I’ll simply opt for this fabulous frosty find. The second is to make some serious enquiries into covering the New York film festival later in the year, I visited that incredible metropolis a terrifying fifteen years ago and loved the place with all its chaos, cosmopolitan history and unadulterated ambition, and I’ve loosely been planning to return for quite some time. Sometimes a small sense of inspiration is enough…….isn’t it?
* I really really really really really really really really really really really really really like Jennifer Connelly.
If you’ll bear with me I’d like to tell you a story. My first exposure to the work of Fritz Lang, other than being passingly aware of the silent pedigree of Metropolis as a SF film fan, was his 1953 noir classic The Big Heat. I’d recently embarked on my first tier of academic study of film at my local secondary college, and the first strand of investigation was genre theory, the detective movie being our initial line of inquiry. Watching this film was actually issued as homework and I internally groaned like a gut-punched pimp at the absurd imposition, a black and white film from them there olden days wasn’t exactly within my comfort or interest level back in that immature, embryonic film obsession era. Still, a dutiful student I conducted the autopsy and a curious conclusion was unearthed – I actually liked the film, I enjoyed watching it and could even partially strip away its historical trappings of dialogue, style and monochrome presentation to peek at its nebulous core, an urban framed story of vengeance and vindication set against an ichorous back-drop of institutional corruption. As I began to read more about how genre as a concept worked in that golden era, when the studios essentially established one of the crucial infrastructural pillars of film form, where they framed the production line of their product to clearly imposed models (Film Studies 101 basic overview here), my understanding of this ethereal form of entertainment begin to take on new dimensions, and we’ve never looked back since. I’ve always been partial to a dark, urban crime story in any format, devouring the work of Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy and others over the years, so it’s as certain as a double-crossing dame that I’d gravitate to that sub-genre of movie which the French coined as film noir, and since Fritz Lang was one of, if not the most brilliant practitioner of the form our paths would cross eventually. Lang loved urban settings, he loved the freedom and contradictions of America, its social cultures and concepts which obscured some less salubrious exhibitions of the human condition, the struggle of the figures who operate on the fringes of acceptable society and those tasked and stained with apprehending and defending us from those malignant miscreants….
A gunshot fills the opening of the picture with the acrid stench of gunpowder, the suicide of troubled police officer Tom Duncan setting the investigation in motion. Assigned to the case is Sgt. Dave Bannion (Glenn Ford, best known today as Pa Kent in the Reeve era Superman movie), a determined iron-jawed sort who soon discovers that his colleague was playing the field with local floozy Lucy Chapman (Dorothy Green), with a wife back home his indiscretions being a potent blackmail opportunity should some n’er de well seize the opportunity. Bannion discovers that Duncan had two houses, impossible to afford on his salary, and after he interrogate’s his colleagues widow on their financial situation he gets a dressing down from his boss, who is under mysterious orders from the boys ‘down-town’ to shut and forget the case. Meanwhile local crime kingpin Mike Lagana (Alexander Scourby) tries to scare Bannion off the scent with various threats after Chapman washes up dead a couple of days later, resorting to the rather indiscriminate method of bombing his car and killing Bannion’s Katie (Jocelyn Brando) by mistake. With nothing to lose and realising that his colleagues are also in the kingpin’s pocket Bannion goes rogue on a righteous path of vengeance, dragging his noble spirit into the gutter when he starts putting the pressure on lower tier Syndicate enforcer Vince Stone (Lee Marvin in one of his first screen roles) and his fiery moll Debbie (Gloria Grahame)…..
As a fan of gritty, urban lurked crime pictures you have to see The Big Heat simply for Lee Marvin first memorable appearance, he’s a hulking, gurning, physical presence in the picture who would go on to snarl through classics such as Point Blank, Bad Day At Black Rock, The Killers and The Dirty Dozen, as well as lesser known cult efforts such as Prime Cut and the Professionals. As so often occurs a star was born after the introduction of one notorious scene, a moment of scandalous, scalding violence which was the Reservoir Dogs ear severance of its time, prompting cultural commentators and critics to ask if violence in the movies has gone too far – I wonder what they would make of, say Crank 2? I’m also a massive fan of the delectable Gloria Grahame, she was frequently cast as a smoky gangsters moll type, the sassy, wise-cracking sort whom exudes a dangerous sensuality, she even cropped up as George Bailey’s potential temptation in the festive classic It’s A Wonderful Life. The film was much more stage-bound and studio manufactured than I remembered, it’s all shot on the Columbia back-lot in that period before a new phalanx of lightweight cameras released studio directors from their sound-stage chains and released them out into real locations, although of course they can control a set much more effectively in terms of lighting and coverage without these pesky impediments of permits or weather. In terms of direction Lang throws in a few subtle touches which he snuck under the studio system’s blueprints, a tri-panelled mirror isolating our hero before he interrogates his colleagues wife, a composition which signals her cloaked intentions, his soon to be distorted life and the uneasy deception between them. More generally the technique is gliding and procedural, scanning through the sets to give an uneasy sense of momentum to the odyssey, a prowling hunger which the characters harbour both sexual and material.
The Big Heat is less overtly stylised than 1940′s noir which emitted a much higher contrast between the blacks & whites in the negative, and the film seemed to me to have a faded veneer with less reliance on slanting blinds bisecting image or the usual trick of some sleazy blinking neon from exterior bars and nightclubs, quite frankly it looks more like the TV of the period rather than a stand-alone studio picture. As well as the visual trajectory the plot focus is on the procedures and politics of a syndicated system where corruption is endemic, and instead of cutting between dialogue bursts the shots are held in discrete masters, only cutting in on reaction shots or crucial line readings, a formal preservation of the procedural format of the movie expressed by Bannion’s unswerving dedication - the DNA of the detective genre. This is a recurring theme throughout Lang’s expansive career, he was fascinated with systems, of society being inalienably corrupt and self-serving on both sides of the increasingly intangible notion of ‘law’, a sense of morals and duty as medieval symbols of righteousness which have decayed and faded over the centuries to the point of irrevocable redundancy.
The film also toys with some of the core noir conventions which by 1953 was over a decade into its original cycle (the first widely accepted noir film was 1940′s Stranger On the Second Floor but contrarians of course have championed earlier pictures), the femme fatale motif of purring poisonous felines slaying her quivering mate at the pictures climax (usually before dying herself or taken into custody – the censorship conventions mean you couldn’t get away with anything back in the 1950′s) is inverted by the death of all the female characters in the film, whether saintly (Bannion’s wife) and satanic (well, just about everyone else). In its final death throes The Big Heat is an oestrogen holocaust, with a curious caress of having the crime lord Lagana fractured with a Mommy’s Boy Oedipal fixation which throws even deeper, darker shadows across the films sexual politics. So, in the final analysis perhaps the film isn’t as assured and corrosive as cast-iron classics of the genre – Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Build My Gallows High – but there is still plenty to enjoy in Grahame’s provocative betrayal, Ford’s stoic persistence, Marvin’s big screen breakthrough and one of Lang’s most illustrative distillations of his own criminal obsessions – case closed;
The first tranche of blockbuster trailers are starting to drop, and this could be fun;
The only thing that interests me is the presence of James Gunn, he of Super, Slither and the writer of the Dawn Of The Dead remake fame, I like his warped sense of humor so hopefully he’ll do something interesting with these rather self-important Marvel pictures….
War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, so goes the cry, but if you’re a fan of excitement, inspiration and heroic derring-do then film history is littered with tough little numbers set against the backdrop of the 20th centuries second world war. There’s the caper movies like Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen or The Guns Of Navarone where a misfit group of reprobates are set on some suicidal mission, there’s the historical epics such as The Battle Of The Bulge, Midway or The Longest Day which zero upon crucial conflicts in the war’s evolution, and then there’s personal favourites such as Where Eagles Dare, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line which take more unusual approaches to the civilisation threatening conflict, not to mention brilliant films made as the war was actually raging such as Colonel Blimp and a geographical piece called Casablanca. Director and actor George Clooney has rather brazenly thrown his helmet into the melee with his new film The Monuments Men which also treads the path of a mission being undertaken in occupied Europe, based on the non-fiction book non-fiction book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel the initial dossier on this suggested a potentially entertaining star-laden and unusual approach to the material, but I have had my intelligence officers summarily executed by firing squad as they couldn’t have been further from the truth, if you thought the Robocop reboot was bad then there’s a new abomination in town….
In 1943, sustainable progress is being made by the Allies in denying Hitler the victory of his poisonous Third Reich, as the Axis forces are pushed back into Europe and the imminent landings at Normandy signalling the beginning of the end. Despite the optimism Frank Stokes (George Clooney) persuades the US President that any victory will be hallow if the art treasures of Western civilization are vaporized in the melee, either lost through bombing campaigns, through theft and simple greedy looting, or specifically destroyed on Hitler’s insane orders. Pleading the case of a specialist group of servicemen to mitigate the potential cultural catastrophe Stokes is sanctioned to enlist a unit known the “Monuments Men” comprised of art specialists Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) and Pvt. Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban) , architect Sgt. Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), sculptor Sgt. Walter Garfield (John Goodman) and displaced Parisian museum director Lt. Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin). In occupied Paris, Claire Simon (Cate Blanchet) is also a curator who is forced into collaborating with Nazi officers whom are assembling the highest pedigree of material for the proposed Führermuseum in Linz,when they’re not diverting pieces to the personal estates of senior commanders like Herman Goering, much to her embittered disgust. Frustrated by the good guys refusal to adopt their tactical options for the sake of preserving architecture Granger and his crew’s mission becomes more urgent as the war escalates and German units retreat to the homeland, with vengeance laced orders from the Führer himself to torch every item of artistic merit as the Allies slowly set their sights on Berlin….
Cutting to the chase with the efficiency of a Luftwaffe blitzkrieg assault I’ll open up remarks by stating that this is a terrible film, from its unstable structure through to its lacklustre script, from screaming tonal distortions to doodlebug deadly dialogue deficiencies. Crucially it can’t decide whether it wants to be a rompish guys on a mission caper movie or a serious muse on the role of art as a buttress of civilisation, the former is always difficult with the spectre of the holocaust hovering every World War II picture, the latter simply beyond Clooney’s directorial prowess as it clumsily shoves speeches into characters mouths and quite frankly treats the audience as idiots. If someone can explain to me how you can cast someone as intrinsically funny as Bill Murray, give him a reasonable volume of screen time and not elicit one, I repeat one single gag then I’d love to hear it, he is completely wasted as is any sense of camaraderie or honor among the fighters or indeed any sense of threat, peril, excitement or animation. Also torturous was Alexanders Desplatt’s invasive and grating score, its one of these intrusive pieces which occupys the ears and tells you what to be feeling, complete with mournful strings and twinkling piano dirges at the sad bits which are almost laughably overwrought. Sacrifices are made but to zero emotional effect, all illustrated by a strafing run of barely radioed-in performances from a cast whom look as disheveled and uncomfortable as their ill-fitting khakis.
The storytelling is scattered like a storm-tossed paratrooper brigades landing pattern, flitting from one character to the next across the theatre eliciting zero tension or excitement, so with one Macguffin art-piece exception aside there is no idea of any mission, or what this unit was formed to achieve and the stakes that are involved, if you’re aiming for comedy then you need an ammunition of gags, if you’re scoping for drama then you need some emotional investment in character and situation. Toward the end of the piece the dramatic crescendos are reached by I kid you not discovering a mine, a dramatic achievement roughly on par with opening a door or painting a wall, when you’d think that an event with the scope of a world goddamn war might have more to offer in terms of drama and conflict. There is one moment, at a push, where the film came alive, when Blanchett is interrogated by a SS goon in her apartment and you see the calibre of her acting as the sheer terror of her situation crosses her face, but that aside she like all the other characters is fundamentally underwritten, a thin gruel of commitment in this sloppy, choppy mess. Clooney has proved his mettle in the directors chair before, but usually with character driven, modest scale pieces such as Good Night & Good Luck, and one senses that the sheer of a sprawling World War II epic was simply beyond his prowess, and he has singularly failed in every facet of his campaign. Like an Anne Frank request for drumming lessons, this is one to avoid at all costs;
On face value, the thought of someone falling in love with their computer seems stupid, but if you take the time to consider the context it doesn’t seem that detached from reality. Think of how some aficionados queue up all night in freezing conditions simply to have the next iteration of technology which happens to have a fruit etched upon it. Think of those hordes of exhausted commuters umbilically linked to their socially augmented devices, or the many hundreds of hours a month you spend in front of a humming hard drive, for business or pleasure. The prospect of a potential cybernetic union is the central premise of Spike Jonze’s new film Her, rushed into cinemas just in time for last weeks Valentine’s Day, in an effort for some kind of alleged (and unfairly characterised) hipster romance counter-programming to the usual Rom-Com dreck which pollutes February’s screens, usually starring someone from Friends or Katherine Heigl. Now, for various reasons I’ve been programmed to have zero interest in romantic entanglements so I tend to approach these movies with a bemused scientific detachment, intrigued at the unusual behaviour and illogical affairs of the heart, so it’s a very rare occurrence when such material penetrates my firewalls and ignites any sense of empathic connectivity, any emotional reaction echoing the sun-kissed pangs of a flush cheeked first love. Then again maybe I fell more for a brilliantly realised future world, the most plausible and fascinating glimpse into our shared future I’ve seen on-screen for many a year, think of the near-futurism of Robot & Frank or Minority Report hybridised with the quirky affectations of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and you’re halfway there…….
15 minutes into the future, Los Angeles, and we are introduced to Theodore Twombly (a subdued Joaquin Phoenix), a quiet, reserved young man who works as a letter writing intermediary in some pastel hued start-up. Theodore is in the final throes of an exceptionally painful divorce to his childhood sweetheart Catherine (a porcelain Rooney Mara), briefly glimpsed flashbacks detailing their genuine love for each other slowly eroded by his reserved inability to articulate his emotions, to make a lasting and bonding connection. In this world computers have become even more ingrained into our society and civilisation, organically subsumed into the fabric and environments of society and culture, with a new iteration of self-aware Artificial Intelligences released on the market in order to aid in the organisation and functional efficiency of our lives. Theodore boots up a new OS voiced with the Bronx-born purr of Scarlett Johansson, she self-christening herself as Samantha as an affectionate bond grows between the physical and digital, an organic ardour which initial stretches credulity but gradually becomes convincing. Theodore’s friends such as his best mate Amy (Amy Adams) face the irrevocable difficulties of meat-space binary compositions, remarking that relationships are a form of ‘socially conformed insanity’, but both Samantha and Theodore evade the central hurdle of their algorithmic dalliance, enjoying the first pangs of true love without necessarily facing up to intrinsic reality….
I think the first thing to say about Her is simply how fearless the film is, and the skill with which it takes its implausibly ridiculous premise and makes it not only believable and genuine, but moving and affecting displays a new-found maturity and skill from Spike Jonze’s imagination. Whilst it neutrons fire through the usual rom-com code it feels fresh, even as the ‘best friend down the hall with her own romantic complications’ act as a greek chorus to the central romance, as the first flushes of initial romance are expressed through some giddy dates on the beach and at the fair. It’s fearless in tackling head-on the rather sticky subject of consummation of the romance, it handles the intimacy question quickly and deftly so the film can get long with its real manifesto, of examining how we may interact and grow with our technology in the years to come, and the restraints inherent of the bonding of any two entities. Phoenix is an abrupt 180 degree turn from his recent volcanic performances, a slightly meek, withdrawn but affectionate man, and not in any way the creepy nerd which the film’s premise immediately conjures. Similarly Johansson exclaims a fully realised character simply through her voice, it was a crucial last-minute re-casting decision, as previously Jonze had cast the similarly lovely Samantha Morton in the role but for some reason realised that her affectations and the emotional timbre of her voice simply wasn’t working in the editing suite. The film is shot very softly, subtly suggesting Theodore’s isolation and dislocation through reflections and framing, whilst the films Arcade Fire soundtrack thunders in the background like the distant patter of rain on windowglass.
Regardless of the film overt genre the vision of a near-future reality is simply magnificent, not just technology wise but even down to interior decoration and costume, we’re not talking silver hued jumpsuits of the 1950′s SF reality but a pastel hued lo-fi sensibility, no shiny surfaces and glassy ergonomic beauty that the current Silicon Valley denizens promulgate, but warm woods and delicate shading, the boolean seamlessly integrated into the fabric of life. I’ve always found Jonze’s films to be funny, entertaining and unusual but retaining little in genuine depth, and I think he has finally tapped an emotional core which his earlier ‘kooky’ and off-the-wall work hasn’t suggested, and it’s a film which lingers in the mind after the credits have faded as it asks a number of questions which require meditation and mediation. Her can be read in a number of ways, of accepting someone for whom they are and all their intrinsic qualities good and bad, or on a more sociological level a film about how we live now, how our tools and gadgets refract back our own humanity and emotional requirements, and crucially how these tools and advances cannot satisfy certain core requirements or at the very least are warped and refracted around such intangible concepts as ‘love’. Don’t worry, as always I’m avoiding spoilers but I think Jonze as sole screenwriter kind of wrote himself into a corner so he didn’t quite execute an ending which has the strength of the infrastructure, but he does manage to slip in a number of plutonium grade comedy moments including probably the best ‘in-world’ amusing observation which won’t make sense until you see the film – yes I’m talking about a certain context of infidelity. This is a warm, melancholy and moving film which manages to exceed its potentially ridiculous premise, of how technology can simultaneously bring us together even as it sets us apart;
Just got back from this and I’ll join the choir – it’s a fantastic film, Spike Jonze’s best yet, and simply fearless for reason’s I’ll get into later. For now though this was inevitable wasn’t it?;
This, as they say, has been a week. Sodden day-job chaos aside we’ve managing to lodge three vaguely expansive reviews, and another of my sidebar film season reviews is essentially finished bar a final polish, so I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a romantic breather before a weekend of further indoctrination – Lovefilm evidently have caught my temperature by delivering this for Valentine Day viewing;
Tis the season so the essential, ‘quality’ cinema releases are stacking up like mysteriously funded Tory heartland sandbags, thus the real purpose of this post is to share this which is fun for cult movie list fans, and this which I was saving for Shining paraphernalia but you may as well have this gliding terror now. Me? I’ll wade into the weekend with both Her and Monuments Men in the firing line…..
OK, enough of the worthy and heartwarming pre-award accolades, given that the UK is being saturated with the worst weather since the 18th century it’s a fine time to wallow in some NSFW filth;
SURGEON GENERALS WARNING – Ingredients may contain Sybil Danning, Biker Carnage, Ghetto-Petting, Sid Haig, Thai-Fu, Kevin McCarthy, Unapologetic Sexism, Henry Silva, Euro-Horse, Prison Cannabalism, Goblin Satanism, Dixie-Sleaze, Bronx Sadism, Tomisaburō Wakayama, Marijuana Terror, Pimp Bondage, Paul Bartel, Co-Ed Stalking, Pam Grier, Negro-Fear, Linda Blair, empowering Lesbian Avengers and Beach Party Trash Bangs. Oh, and McBain Walken…..
The McConnaisance continues. After blasting his way out of rom-com hell with Killer Joe a few years back, Matthew McConnaughey has seen his career warp to new heights following memorable turns in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, as the chanting fiscal tutor in Scorsese’s Wolf Of Wall Street, and a central turn in what I’m hearing is the best show since The Wire, HBO’s barnstorming True Detective. In the meantime he’s also managed that miniscule feat of securing his first Oscar nomination, a best Actor nod for the role of AID’s afflicted hustler in Dallas Buyers Club which I decided to take in this week as part of my final preparations for the Oscar ceremony – please allow me to explain. I don’t bother staying up to watch the pointless paraphernalia of the live broadcast anymore, I’ve never thought that the nominees necessarily represent the highest quality fare of the year on either side of the camera, but as an obsessive film fan it is nice to have something of a schedule of screenings to work toward, so with this, Her and Blue Jasmine which should arrival on my rental queue shortly I should be able to get most of the major contenders under my belt before the ceremony occurs. Again there was some buzz around this from TiFF which has steadily grown internationally over the past few months, reading around the margins of the film is does sound like a rather unusual project beyond its secluded subject matter, but one thing is clear – this is a film of exceptional performances, culled from a true story of a spirited triumph against adversary both medical and bureaucratic which the Academy often admire, and I reckon that Ejiofor is on for a serious contender for the best actor gong despite his brilliant performance in 12 Years A Slave.
Texas, 1985 and masculine moustache man Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) is something of bloke’s bloke, fond of a beer or three, with an eye for the ladies he refuses to accept reality when he is diagnosed with AID’s after a rush to hospital following a drug induced collapse. Like his blue-collar friends he dislikes ‘queers’ whom he slurs at every opportunity, physically threatening anyone ‘fruity’ who has the misfortune to cross his path, initially viewing his medical situation as misdiagnosis as AID’s is just a homosexual pathogen. Only when he researches the illness beyond his ignorant horizons does he discover that the virus can be transmitted through straight sex as well, but still refusing to succumb to the inevitable he finds coldly himself ostracized by both family and friends. At such an early stage in the disease before extensive research was conducted it’s complications were relatively unknown, but Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) offers Ron a sliver of hope as a member of a testing team of a solution called AZT—an antiviral that might delay the inevitable, and the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for human trials. Given the corporate restrictions of the treatment Ron angrily rejects the assistance, and deploying his con-man grifter style skills he is soon sourcing alternative treatments across the border, his enterprise exploding with popularity after he reluctantly partners up with the effeminately fading Roy (Jared Leto). Ron’s clever ruse of offering the drugs under a membership framework in order to circumnavigate the FDA’s draconian enforcement rules sets him on a path of conflict with the prejudicial government, so the stage is set for a David versus Goliath sized battle against the clock which ticks against a mortal coil….
In many ways this film has Oscar bait written all over it, on some level it’s a heartwarming struggle against adversity, with a terminally ill central protagonist, with a sub-text of a little man’s struggle against bureaucracy thrown in for audience empathic measure. It also has the visible factor of McConaughey’s gaunt weight loss dedication which critics like to methodologically seize upon – see also Raging Bull, The Machinist and The Meaning Of Life - and there’s also a ‘brave’ performance from Leto, assaulting prejudice and Hollywood normative gender roles as a cross-dressing gay dude, but you’d have to be bearing a heart of stone not to be moved by Ron and Raymond’s plucky plight in the face of such lethal certainty. Crucially this is a fairly uncompromising picture, it’s very coarse in language, in drug use and in sexual activity, in presenting Ron as an extremely unsympathetic figure for the majority of the movie, he’s clearly out for No.1 even when he sets up his life-enhancing network, remaining somewhat ambivalent toward his homosexual customers whom he initially views as income generators for his own wider research. The medical unease is also not sugar-coated as figures vomit blood, become disfigured with pulsing lesions and are afflicted with other associated symptoms, let me be clear that this is no film with a sepia-toned angelic portrayal of stalwart heroes quietly passing away to a heavenly choir as the tear-stained soaring score rises, it’s ugly, it’s scrappy and is filmed with a scorching verite frisson. Whilst I can see why Leto’s supporting turn has been signaled out for attention he verges on Julian Clary levels of camp at times, but with his requisite couple of character scenes he projects himself gracefully, although I still didn’t feel I got a sense of the obviously terrified man behind his facade. McConnaughey however is in a whole other league, his movement from ignorant homophobe to desperate champion is organically paced, his increasingly shattered and exhausting frame inverting with the slow erosion of his deeply etched prejudice as the situation becomes increasingly grim.
What has fascinated me about the film beyond the central story is its pre-production struggle, the subject matter as you would imagine was hardly a honey-pot for investors (its taken over twenty years to get the film financed since screenwriter Craig Borten interviewed the real Ron back in 1992) so like McConnaughey’s titanic struggle the project was finally great-lit on a emasculated schedule of 25 days, and just for context most films of such a equivalent scale would the luxury of twice that period. As such given the numerous set-ups and coverage demanded by the schedule each and every day there was zero time for improvisation or for coaxing out alternate takes whilst exploring scenes, and that urgency bleeds through to the screen in its sense of realism and hurried, anxious immediacy. Natural lighting is used throughout the film as no lighting rigs were feasible, when the dust settled the picture cost a paltry £5 million to make which is barely Kraft Services on a franchise picture. I enjoyed the film a great deal and found it moving and angry inducing in equal measure, even Garner’s potential love interest didn’t fully assimilate the usual Hollywood rules, appearing unadorned and shorn of make-up she also made for a mostly convincing figure. Has it got the strength to cradle those heavy gold statuettes come the ceremony in March? Well sometimes Hollywood likes the plucky underdog which is what the films represents on a both a fictional and non-fictional level, although the subject matter may still be something of a turn-off for the elderly, conservative sorts who compose the majority of the membership, but then again Tom Hanks won for Philadelphia twenty years ago which is a film which is in a similar territory. In any case the two front runners have emerged, as much as I enjoyed both Bale in Hustle, Dern in Nebraska and DeCaprio in Wolf the performances are not even remotely as accomplished and fully fleshed in terms of trauma, and on that front alone Dallas Buyers Club is worth an investment of your time;
One of the crucial oversights of last year’s festival efforts was Claire Denis’s provocatively poised Bastards, a transgressive title for what I can now report as an uncompromising and difficult film. To smugly concede some context although this was on my radar last year due to Denis’s reputation of one of European cinema’s pre-eminent auteurs its importance was enhanced when I got chatting to a fellow festival patron at a bar one evening, if memory serves she was the Senior Film Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin or somewhere and she heartily recommended it as one of the best films of the festival. I’ll admit that Denis is something of a blind spot for me, I have seen White Material as I’ll see anything with Isabelle Huppert in it and the acclaimed Beau Travial has also been watched, for all you Holy Motors fans that also features a striking performance from the gnomic Denis Lavant. Although I haven’t seen her 2001 film Trouble Every Day is has been on my watch list for quite a few years, mostly because it is often cited in the same breath as the ‘uncompromising visions’ of Gasper Noe, Nicholas Winding-Refn or any of the recent circus of so-called ‘extreme’ French cinema, as we all know I’m a sick puppy so such claims always lurch onto my radar. Her films take an unwavering look at notions of masculinity, femininity and the Venn diagram overlaps between the two, often a turbulent point of egress which results in conflict and disruption in the role models that society pre-generates as part of the cultural infrastructure. Like Trouble In Mind this new film mines these particularly dark shores of the social psyche, a noir themed twist on complicity and the very darkest stains of human cruelty.
Opening on images of movement, of streaking shapes moving downward it’s not immediately clear whether we’re looking at a POV of a figure moving swiftly through a long-tailed field of grass, or gazing upward into the face of a saturating thunderstorm, before a hard cut to a naked young woman hesitantly stumbling through a midnight Parisian suburb. Another woman named Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni, whom apparently is the daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve) is being interviewed at a police station, and we clearly discern that her father has died and she has ‘no-one else left now’. A year later and Raphaëlle has married a wealthy businessman, and she and her son are ensconced in a spacious Parisian apartment. The vacant space above them is leased by a taciturn ship’s captain named Marco (Vincent Lindon) whom is on shore leave, and seems to be taking some specific interest in Raphaëlle and her new husband. He also has other matters at hand, his sister is shielding some dark family secret concerning the sexual abuse of her young daughter at the hands of some unspecified aggressors, so when Marco and Raphaëlle finally fuck – and I use the word ‘fuck’ as opposed to ‘make love’ advisedly to clarify the difference – we’re not entirely sure what exactly his motives are beyond functional satisfaction…..
This was quite a change in terms of design and style to recent Menagerie morsels, it’s a film firmly positioned in the adult school of serious cinema, not quite into Art-house territory but certainly a mature film for mature audiences. It’s a film which requires some work, it requires concentration, not just to absorb the subtitles but also assemble the plot points and developments which are parcelled out in small indiscriminate pieces, with zero exposition and a specific dearth of dialogue leading to speculation on its artistic merits and models of communication. It’s a frigid and cold film, a distancing work with virtually nothing in performance, location or camera technique to thaw its frosty percipitation, a modern noir alike investigation of two souls traversing lifes dark highway and finding purchase in each other’s arms, both harbouring murky secrets and clandestine motives. Some of the plot details turn down some of the darkest recesses in terms of perversion and power, a grim mirror to current revelations of nauseating urges which are haunting the Western world on both sides of the Atlantic, from Sports coaches and film directors in the US to aging TV personalities and politicians in Europe. For all its expertise and grim execution I find myself unable to recommend it at least on a first viewing, it’s difficult to article given that films of this temperature from the likes of Haneke, Bresson or Kubrick are usually among my favourites, I just don’t think this quite managed to perforate its tendrils under the skin and the narrative mechanics moved to a rather sluggish conclusion rather than a disquieting growl. It may be I wasn’t in the mood and I would say that the two-hour run time flew by so it wasn’t a case of mid-week exhaustion, I really liked the Tindersticks score whom alongside cinematographer Agnès Godard are frequent Dennis collaborators, providing a sense of cluster and impenetrable sustainability to her body of work.
A rather stilted Q&A followed, although I have to say the quality of query was of a higher quality than normal, if veering toward quite serious academic concerns which was punctuated with the odd technical question – this was Denis first digital lensed film and that always prompts debate. One question coaxed out quite an amusing reading of Hitchcock’s Vertigo which illustrated her idiosyncratic approach to story, she quite rightly asserted that the common sex roles promulgated by Hollywood during the era is throughly inverted in that film, with the so-called hero being elderly, incompetent at his job, failing in romantic engagements and almost insane with obsession by the end of the picture – not exactly the picture of solid, dependable masculinity. These musings over representations of gender roles and their constructions within texts run through her work, with Bastards offering a similar critique of traditions, I’ll avoid plot spoilers but the usual stereotypes are somewhat twisted especially when considering the usual protagonist / antagonist schemata. She loathes the label of auteur and considers it as a badge of boring, repetitive filmmaking which in her experience is much more collaborative and built by committee than the auteur model suggests, nevertheless you can sense the same themes and topics being revisited throughout her work, alongside certain aesthetic choices (Natural locations, gelid framing, economic deployment of music, compositions reminiscent of still photography) informing how her chracters interact with each other and their physical surroundings within the cinematic space.
Next up when it comes to gruelling art-house flirtations the Nymphomaniac double screening is coming up in a fortnight, including a simultaneous satellite Q&A broadcast around screenings in the UK, I’m still trying to work out just how long (stop sniggering) a back to back (stop sniggering) double (stop sniggering) bill (eh?) will take to digest, I think this must be the shortened version(s) as I can’t see over five hours of material exposing itself along with a Q&A even if the programme begins at 6pm. The Berlin premiere seems to have generated a fair lick of controversy which of course never happens with Von Trier pictures, I’m avoiding specific reviews of course until I’ve had a chance to take in the show, but after mostly Hollywood designed fare I have to say I’m becoming positively excited by the prospect of something a little more dangerous. It’s either that or I take my chances with The Monuments Men which has been positively blitzkriegied critically speaking (I’m still going to give it a shot) or I risk the wrath of furrow browed parents by storming screenings of the Lego movie as an individual middle-aged man, I think I’m a little too old to construct an opinion which builds upon this structural sycophancy so I’ll let you child rearing souls make your own mind up…
To many SF movie fans of a certain incept date Paul Verhoeven’s violent SF Christ fable Robocop retains a fond place in their cybernetic hearts. The film has aged well, its corporate satire of Reagan and Thatcher era ideology proof of its speculative accuracy, with the near ubiquitous downsizing, privatisation and dismantling of the social structure as chillingly inhumane as Murphy’s humanity being subsumed by the cold logic of 21st century capitalism. It was no surprise to hear that the inevitable remake was commissioned some years ago given Hollywood’s appetite for repackaging existing media concepts, especially those biologically linked to SF dystopias, action pyrotechnics and a violent protagonist which Executives assume are the meat and potatoes of their core 14 – 24 Male White marketing demographic. Early rumours began to coalesce of a troubled production which began with the exit of director Darren Aronofsky during pre-production, the nervous producers hurriedly casting their replacement net wide and retaining the services of rising South American star helmsman Jose Padhila, (Bus 174 and the impressive Brazilian action smash Elite Squad). The problems continued despite the change in personnel, with on-set wrangling between the hot-headed director and interfering studio cretins diluting some of his more flamboyant (e.g. expensive) ideas, and a general sense of web dismay at the project appearance once the initial design and costume photos were leaked last year. So far, so internet but recent emanations from the film have been more positive, with supporters insisting that entering the project with the right frame of mind – to largely disregard the original and approach this on its own terms as a separate entity – then its an able enough movie, entertaining, action packed and with a smattering of social critique. Clearly we have entered into some bizarre mirror world as that is simply not the movie which I saw, as Robocop in its current incarnation s quite simply the worst film I have seen at the cinema so far in 2014.
In 2028 the United States has occupied Tehran and in the name of bringing casualty free democracy to the Middle East has deployed combat drones and Tactical Pacification Units (the beloved ED-209 units of the original) to the sand swirled urban centres, supposedly winning hearts and minds back home as no more American boys are coming home in body bags. The right-wing cultural barkers, represented by Samuel L. Jackson as some odd Glenn Beck / Billy O’Reily simulacra demands to know why a Senators opposition to deploying these units on home soil is so contentious, overriding his concerns of the lack of human empathy leading to potentially lethal miscarriages of justice with the simple mantra of ideologies – reduced costs, reduced government, reduced crime. Enter the terrifyingly named Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton and casting catastrophe number one), the cybernetic pioneer behind the explosion in apprehending automatons whom with his moustache twirling villainy has a secret plan to override the Senators bill and drastically enhance his market capitalisation, if only he can find a human spin on his metallic golems. Meanwhile guess what? Yeah, dedicated street cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman as casting catastrophe number two) is in a spot of bother as his recent investigation into arms buying points suspicions of his colleagues ‘misplacing’ material from the evidence locker which seems to find its way out to the streets, with his marriage to beautiful blonde (Abbie Cornish as casting…well, you get the idea) and a twinkle eyed son in tow disaster strikes when a car-bomb blasts him to smithereens shortly after his partner Jack (Michael K Williams) is gunned down in a rain drenched back alley. You can guess the rest, as reluctant bio-tech genius Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) resurrects Murphy shattered physical form within a powerful bullet-proof exoskeleton, and crime has a new cure in the face of the impervious Robocop……
Since seeing this film on Saturday I have been somersaulting through mental gymnastics in order apprehend a single, positive facet to balance this review and I’m sorry to say this effort has been unsuccessful – this film is terrible in almost every way, even when you completely divorce yourself from any affection for the original. The plot is perfunctory complete with clichéd injured partners and poorly performed family characterisation, and this is clearly a Hollywood where middle-tier cops happen to own expensive homes and return from a gruelling day dealing with these stiffs at City Hall to see their beautifully composed wives, caked in make-up, simply for cooking supper and putting the kids to bed. Crucially Kinnaman is a total charisma vacuum in the ilk of Sam Worthington or that bloke from Tron, and the decision to base all the emotional arc of his gruelling fate on the simpering doe-eyes of his unlikable kid or the distant performance of Cornish gives the story no traction, as you simply could not care less. None of this would be particularly problematic and could be overlooked if the other material was adequate, if the combat, the satire or action set-pieces provided the requisite big-screen thrills, but I don’t think I’ve seen a tamed and more pedestrian directed film since the Twilight tedium, the action scenes are utterly unexciting and redundant, the future world designs barely registering for a nano-second. I don’t wish to labour the point but the original had a trio of superbly snarling villains in the likes of the be bespectacled Clarence Boddicker, the deliciously malicious Ronny Cox and the yuppie-path Miguel Ferrer, there is not one captivating bad-guy in this movie as Michael Keaton is completely forgettable and doesn’t even register on the plot, and his hired goons are mere stuntman casting from the pulsing henchmen spawning bio-growth pools. Gary Oldman just about comes through this unscathed but let’s face it even a cursory scan of his CV reveals a wealth of genre dreck, marking this effort as new low alongside his (presumably) alimony satisfying efforts in Lost In Space or Red Riding Hood, or even the diminutive classic Tiptoes….
Now I don’t expect every film to harbour some secretive agenda, to be a repository for cultural or social commentary or shredding satire, sometimes making things go ‘boom’ is fun enough and state of the art effects can be their own reward. But to set-up some fertile ground with the films Tehran set prologue which is awash with echoes of the current dark drone stain on Obama’s presidency seemed to hint at a fertile infrastructure for future satire, an opportunity which is thoroughly squandered. The film is like a direct to video 1990’s effort with slightly more budgetary baggage, the Cold War contortions of the original mournfully absent, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Fox News future anchorman incarnation providing all the satirical bite of a toothless gnat. I promise you I went into this with an open mind, I like the original a lot but it’s not a film I rewatch religiously, heck I even gave 2010’s Total Recall something of a pass even though that was unquestionably a mildly diverting three star film, but at least that a couple of sequences where some mild pulse of excitement was generated, in this movie I kid you not I actually feel asleep during one combat scene which says it all really. Finally, shoehorning in lines and quotes from the original really does nothing to curry any cybernetic favour, they hang on the screen like a crashed 16 bit progress bar, a clumsy fumble for fan-service and reminding us that these two hours could be better spent watching just about any SF film from 1987 (Slipstream anyone?) which would be far more entertaining than this shattered remake detritus washing up on the shores of mediocrity, so pounding out the original Robocop theme over the opening credits was the first crime of the year. Make no mistake this is the worst film of the year so far, and everyone involved should be arrested and their filmmaking credentials terminated with extreme prejudice…..