After all, it's just a ride….

Film

Paths Of Glory (1958)

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You can probably imagine my shell-shocked reaction when the May schedule for the BFI marched through my unprotected letterbox a few weeks back, heralding the news that the BFI had assembled a lovely new digital print of what can be argued as Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece – the 1958 anti-war classic Paths Of Glory. Although technically this was Stanley’s fourth feature it was his second studio commission after the breakthrough clockwork noir The Killing, a quietly acclaimed picture which didn’t exactly embezzle the box office but did detonate that all so important cultural cache – a critical calling card displaying innovative skill and ambition, marking the 27-year-old as a new recruit with a career worth watching. Enter Kirk Douglas whom with his reconnaissance of promising young directors initiated a turbulent yet mutually beneficial two picture partnership, his seeking out a young, pliant yet talented director that he assumed he could manipulate around the set resulting in on-set combat and manoeuvres which have still not be satisfactorily resolved – we’ll get into that a little later. Although the relationship was tempestuous Douglas’s respect for Kubrick’s final devastating visual acuity, for his thematic marriage of image and message was enough to hire him for the Spartacus gig a year or so late, at that time the project was one of the biggest Hollywood productions in history, so this wasn’t a bad promotion for the barely 30-year-old who would find himself directing theatrical titans Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton. I’ve never read Kirk’s autobiography The Ragman’s Son which is an oversight I really should correct in order to see just how he recalls his collaborations with Kubrick (not to mention the other fantastic films he was in, with Ace In The Hole, Out of The Past, The Vikings to name just three), although I’m sure there is a sense of grudging respect as this film remains one of the key appearances of his long and distinguished career, with his portrayal of the fundamentally decent Colonel Dax  grappling with the reprehensible sneers of the vain glorious military hierarchy being one of those star building struts, the protagonist as the moral authority of the audience, coaxing them through a bewildering battlefield.

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Based on a true incident culled from the novel by Humphrey Cobb and illuminatingly banned in France for over thirty years – we all know if a government outright bans a picture then it’s gonna be good – Paths Of Glory is a choking descent into a turgid quagmire, of human civilisation being perverted by the emotional hubris of the upper class, of capricious sacrifice polluting those hollow human constructs of honour and duty in the face of insane and indiscriminate slaughter. General Dax is a junior level officer whom is respected by his men due to his even-handed treatment and willingness to lead them into mortal battle, but the superior echelons of the division General Mireau (A blusteringly imperious George Macready) and the more suave and poisonous Major General Broulard (an acute Adolphe Menjou) are career officers aligned with all the constitutional callousness of the upper class, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority and a shameless disregard for the inferior subjects beneath them. After his men refuse to conduct a suicidal, direct machine gun roaring charge on a heavily fortified position three of Colonel Dax’s men (including the great Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey and Joe Turkell) are selected as cowardly examples and sentenced to death by firing squad, resulting in a second act legal courtroom melee where Kubrick fully exposes the insanity of the military hierarchy, marking this as an early assault on some of the same radioactive territory that Dr. Strangelove nuked a mere six years later.

pog2It’s obvious that the BFI have commissioned this digital polish in tandem with the centenary of the First World War, an acute restoration of organisational, devolved hubris, of nationalistic pride and a blinkered moral superiority which recent events have thrown into a desert blasted reliefthis film’s camouflaged criticism echoes louder than one mere global conflagration from the last millennium. With Kubrick’s screenwriting partners Calder Willingham and the savage noir wordsmith Jim Thompson the film treats the corpse choked trenches as a fulcrum to craft an emotional purity, glimmering within the overwhelming military structural insanity, a moral shriek which is drowned out by the sonic avalanche of munitions raining down with their ceaseless metallic drone. To begin with the simple form and craft of the storytelling technically this film was a monochrome tour-de force, the prowling camera rendering the trenches as a palpable Gehenna not seen on-screen before, incrementally pulling the audience into the warfare and claustrophobic diagetic space – the first full iteration of Kubricks trademark tracking shot technique. As the film punches the gut then the head the cinema style follows a precision engineered duopoly, as that grim intimacy is broken when we are hurled over the top and the emphasis switches to a detached deep focus panorama, with planned ‘kill-zones’ that Kubrick’s special effects artists grid-rigged with explosives to massacre the harshly drilled German army military extras – it’s quite a spectacle;

The compositions and controlled camera movements are astounding for the period, relentless in its tempo and the chaos bursting throughout the frames, an evident huge influence on the cinema spectacle of war and battle which found its most recent apogee with Spielberg’s storming of the Normandy beaches which was similarly celebrated this month, not to mention the almost identical homage seen here.

pog4In chrysalis form you can detect many of Stanley’s musings and obsessions which over-run the latter work, while The Killing has something of that detached and impersonal assemblage associated with all things Kubrickian that emphasis on the tarnished notions of a social and civilising infrastructure finds it’s first victorious purchase in Paths Of Glory. With an aseptic assurance the subjects of the film are dissected and dissembled with the meticulously cold and calculating rigour of a celluloid field-surgeon, exposing the fragile hypocrisy and infallible idiocy of our venerable institutions, in this case the military hierarchy where privileged officers dine in impeccable opulent surroundings, discussing their campaigns with the studious detachment of superiors moving pieces around a chessboard. This cuts and contests cruelly with the lower class grunts and infantry choking, bleeding and screaming in the mud, blasted to smithereens by the relentless insanity inducing shelling, or torn to pieces by the relentless metallic bark of an almost bureaucratic machine gun fire. The compositions frame the doomed servicemen as flies trapped in a patriotic amber, literally moved as chess pieces across the checkerboard floor of General Mireaus carefully production designed château, with any pleas for clemency or jejune justice falling on the deaf unyielding ears of the implacable governmental majority. That said it’s certainly more heart on its sleeve than Stanley’s increasingly frigid statements to come, with more devoted characterisation to the unfortunate trio which emphatically pays off when their unavoidable fate finally falls. General Dax as an ambitious career officer struggles with the twin imperatives of his own social aspirations and decent moral horror, marking Paths of Glory as more manipulatively emotional than Kubrick’s later work which moved abstractly toward observing and recording broad, immaterial and ethereal queries on intelligence, of submerged sexual desire and social fidelity, of the family unit, of social control and ambition.

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Some of the stories recanted by Douglas claim that he was horrified when Stanley approached him with a rewritten ‘happy’ ending to the picture in which the condemned are blessed with a last-minute pardon – the very definition of the Hollywood pandering cliché – as Kubrick apparently blanched at the massacred box-office potential of a war-picture ending on such a realistic downer. This would of course disrupt the entire films carefully calibrated nerve centre of shock and outrage, whilst I’ve always maintained that Kubrick always had a very keen eye on the commercial prospects of his movies I doubt this was ever a serious consideration, as movies are constantly revised through their lengthy production phases as new avenues of narrative are explored and rejected. As for the rest of the cast Kubrick selected character actors to support his central understanding of star presence box-office draw, with a few true cult favourites appearing in this picture. Firstly we have Ralph Meeker as one of the three cursed souls, his crushed demeanour being employed a few years earlier as the grizzled Mike Hammer in the noir classic Kiss Me Deadly. Timothy Carey is a real cinephile figure, a notoriously difficult spirit he worked with Cassavettes in The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie as well as appearing in The Killing, although Kubrick finally fired him from this movie after one transgression to far. Joe Turkell was hired by Kubrick again a mere 22 years later as the worlds best bartender from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon, he’s also best known as the Pharoah Tyrell in Blade Runner – the film quiz question par excellence should anyone ask you for two connections between that film and The Shining. So I think that assembly frog marches us to the  final scene of the film and a crucial moment in Kubrick lore, as it not only introduces us to Christiane Harlan whom would soon become the third and final Mrs. Kubrick, but it was also this sequence with its humanist restoration that provides an odd aftertaste to the previous carnivore cruelty. On the night of Kubrick’s death, when the news had reached LA this is what Spielberg screened for his dinner party guests out of Stanley’s entire oeuvre as a tribute to one of the greatest film directors in the mediums history, apparently not always that cold and mechanical logician of lore;


The Green Inferno (2014) Trailer

Trailer time again, I didn’t particularly care for Eli Roth’s latest misshapen atrocity but on the pure gore stakes – and I do mean stakes – this is still a tasty genre aficionado must-see;

For an aperitif my Lovefilm database advises me that a certain highly anticipated Menagerie movie will finally be in my grasp tomorrow, so I hope to find the inspiration to throw together a capsule review of one of cinemas most polarising recent efforts. I haven’t looked forward to a movie this much for quite a while….


The Wind Rises (2014)

wind1Yeah, well, despite yesterday’s predictions it looks like I found something to while away the most blazingly warm sun drenched day of the year, I mean who wants to lounge around in the park when you can lurk in the darkness of a movie theatre? Like anyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain I admire the work of Hayao Miyazaki, the stupendous soaring  sensei of post war film animation, one of the unparalleled geniuses of his particular form of storytelling whom has organically grown a huge and dedicated fan base in the West since the release of his breakthrough foreign territory film Spirited Away back in 2001. As I said I admire his work but I’m far from being a cult obsessed fan-boy, I only own copies of Spirited Away (a welcome birthday present) and my favourite of his works Princess Mononoke but in general I prefer my film material of a darker hue, more adult and less tween focused, although granted with Ghibli product you can always revel in the simple artisan beauty of the sheer craft of the animation and dedicated characterisation, of the lyrical beauty of his hidden worlds and mystical creatures, of the inquisitive elements and the simple joys of life. I could have caught The Wind Rises at the final press screening of TiFF last year but instead I opted to actually explore the city a little, a decision which illustrates my relative disinterest in the movie, but I figured with nothing else on the agenda and as an alleged film critic I should make the effort and see this cultural figures final film actually at the cinema, and since it was playing at my local Cineworld it wouldn’t much of an odyssey to sacrifice an afternoon for one last voyage on the whispering winds.

wind2For his alleged final film (Miyazaki has announced his retirement before but those dreams of flying kept him coming back to the easel) Studio Ghibli has not shied away from potential controversy, targeting the  biography of Jiro Horikoshi as a final swan-song, he being the instrumental designer of the Mitsubishi A5M and its successor the Mitsubishi A6M Zero aircraft which were both deployed to kamikaze carnage strewn by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Beginning with his early childhood and with his dreams swirling through the clouds Jiro (Hideaki Anno) becomes obsessed with the designs of Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni, declaring to his mother than one day he will also become a brilliant aircraft engineer. Years later and the newly graduated Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to work on new plane designs, en route to his new life he meets and falls in love with Noako (Miori Takimoto) but is separated from her due to the indiscriminate vagaries of fate. His promising career moves from strength to strength, despatched to Germany he studies post World War I bomber designs, as his home country slowly starts to develop its own Imperial war machine….

wind3It may be sacrilegious to say but I found this film something of a chore, a pleasant enough flight through a distanced vantage point of one mans life, but a little more turbulence in terms of excitement or event would have made this journey a far more engaging affair. Like any Ghibli film it has a few moments of stark, studious beauty – a calm wedding sequence between Jiro and his sickly wife, the ominously eerie aftermath of the shattering Kanto earthquake of 1923  which foreshadows the twin nuclear cataclysms which were to fall on Japan two decades later – but long stretches of this film were flat and unengaging,  and I never truly felt a compassionate sense of Jiro’s obsession with the simple beauty of all things aeronautic. Rooting his final film in the real world denies the ability to open the door to his Lewis Carroll alternate worlds of Laputa - Castle In The Sky or Howls Moving Castle, so the enjoyment may well rest upon the fidelity to a real man’s real life, and even here the hand waving dismissal of Jiro’s involvement of the war effort is  slightly disconcerting and distracting.

wind4I do admire the simple beauty of the traditional ink moulded animation and pushing out of my comfort zone from a technical standpoint you’ve got to admire the tenacious old-fashioned craft, as single cell progressive movements are photographed against those mercurial matted backdrops. Whilst I’m sure that some of this film was executed in a computer like all Ghibli The Wind Rises has an ethereal aura of dedicated and carefully handcrafted loving technique, bereft of visual pollution or some redundant grasp for photorealistic dazzle which clutters much of contemporary American animation. I also like the languid pacing, the insistence on allowing scenes to breathe and evolve as characters wake up, yawn, and slowly search for the eye-glasses, rather than charging breathlessly through a narrative without pausing for breath. Maybe it was my mood as it’s obviously not a bad film, more a quiet aside which I just couldn’t connect with, I just didn’t feel any magic or vigour which is evident in the likes of Mononoke and Spirited Away but others have enjoyed it immensely so I’m guessing if you’re a fan of his previous work then this will be worth a jaunt. As far as our journey goes a few things are sneaking up on the radar, we have a few unusual BFI appointments in June but July holds some real treats, including a preview of one of the UK’s great maverick filmmakers new film and in conversation, alongside one of America’s counter-culture cinema icons – groovy. Until then I can only recommend The Wind Rises to Ghibli acolytes, a dream of flying which is a vaporous enough way to while away a Sunday afternoon;


The Autobiography Of Oldboy (2003)…

Having little in the way of time or inspiration I’m afraid there won’t be much in the way of reviews this weekend, especially since there is precisely zero screenings in London which piqué my interest. Instead here is the three and a half hour documentary on the making of Park Chan-Wook’s cold-dish revenge classic Oldboy, a terrific behind the scenes look at how modern movies are made;


The Sacrament (2014) Trailer

I’d like to be posting something more substantial mid-week but this new assignment’s honeymoon period is well and truly over, and these fourteen hour days are taking their toll my friend – it also might amuse you that I’m working with the local government equivalent of the ferocious Jamie*. So here is some more horror as place-filler, early reports on the festival circuit indicate that this cult chiller is one of the best from  Ti West, one of the most promising makers of modern American terror;

* I exaggerate for comic effect of course, he ain’t that bad. He is Scottish though


The Babadook (2014) Trailer

Interesting, the genre community seem to be going crazy for this creepy little number which premiered at Sundance, allegedly the best genuinely spooky horror picture of recent years;

Being Australian it looks like it has a different feel to the usual US fare, official site here with some promising pull-quotes.


Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)

eot1Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk, as P/A’s and aides circulate the domineering space in a cyclone of frenzied activity, of invoices to be signed, premieres to be RSVP’d, of script edits to be authorised. ‘Ya got 15 seconds kid’ grunts the mogul, ‘what ya got?’ His voice quivering, the producer begins ‘well….its a gritty SF action movie,  based on a very popular Japanese novella, with humankind fighting a desperate…. ‘No, no, NO’, the mogul brusquely interrupts, ‘gimme a pitch, not war and fucking peace’. ‘OK’ stammers the perspiring producer, ‘it’s Saving Private Ryan meets Looper. The mogul blinks. Realizing he’s losing him the quivering producer makes a desperate fumble, ‘No sir, it’s err…it’s..’ – his eyes light up - ‘it’s Rashomon meets La Jetee‘ he anxiously beams. ‘RASHOMON? barks the impatient mogul. ‘OK, OK’ the producer stammers, ‘it’s…erm…..Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day?‘, his affectation desperately raising on the last word. The mogul smiles, ‘Ya got yourself a deal kid’, a cheque for $150 million dollars mysteriously materializes and drifts down into the producer’s outstretched palm, and in two hours director Doug Liman and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are off to the time twisted races….

eot2Based on the murderously titled All You Need Is Kill this is the Cruisers latest punt into SF attuned action-movie waters after last years mildly distracting Oblivion, for my money this is a much more direct demolition of plutonium grade blockbuster fun with an efficiently disarming pretence at its core - I think it was Churchill who said that ‘death is not the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end’. Cruise is Major William Cage, an advertising executive turned military communications envoy after a meteorite shatters into mainland Europe, releasing a horde of multi-tentacled ravenous critters who swiftly overrun the continent and threaten the very future of all  mankind. After arriving in London Cage is blackmailed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) into embedding with the first suicidal wave of a major counter offensive, a mission targeted on the historical war scarred beaches of Normandy, joining a rag-tag group of grunts armed to the pearly white teeth in new robotic exo-enhanced battle skeletons. The new technology provides an ineffective defence against the dazzlingly swift octopi enemy, and not even the presence of the morale boosting ‘Maiden of Verdun’ Rita Vrataski (an emasculating Emily Blunt) can turn the tide of battle, as the enemy had clearly anticipated the offensive and mercilessly slaughter the swiftly disembodied strike force. But there is a frantic complication, Cage is rebooted after every death to the day before the offensive to begin the mission anew, and he swiftly discovers that only Rita may hold the solution to his limbo lethal destiny…..

eot4Edge Of Tomorrow is a lot of fun, and with a few reservations due to a slightly unimaginative final act it takes its unique selling point and instructs Tom Cruise to run with it like some otherworldly insectiod shived a firecracker up his scientology clenched ass. Not having read any reviews I’d stake the planets future on a wealth of comparisons to computer game narratives given the alignment of the younger medium’s designs and story-telling infrastructure, including re-spawn abilities, memorizing game maps and anticipating ambushes, building his initial pen-pushing white-collar coward into a bad-ass killing machine as he incrementally levels up his agility, dexterity and killing abilities. It’s from these elemental origins that the film builds a thoroughly entertaining and occasionally amusing momentum, not straying into any philosophical musings on such immortal abilities, instead training its crosshairs on sheer action movie techniques by championing epinephrine over existentialism.

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I was a little worried about this picture when it opened with the frankly lazy 24 hour global news montage which is at best tedious 21st century movie shorthand to set the films narrative context, what happened to a good old-fashioned title crawl eh? After this an extended character driven cold opening – a rather brave choice these days when we’re conditioned to a blistering action set-piece to get the blood pumping – takes its time to set-up the universe and then incrementally builds the action and narrative twists, quite skillfully moving through its increasingly looped structure  with a dash of potential romance here, a spigot of humour there, with exultingly executed action scenes stitching together the deja-vu dystopian destruction. As previously confessed I’m a fan of Cruise and he emits his usual efficient leading man star wattage, as a native Londoner it’s kinda fun to see him strutting around a deserted war evacuated big smoke,  only a star with his international clout could have convinced Westminster Council to permit a helicopter to land in Trafalgar Square, a ‘stunt’ never permitted before so full marks to the producers for not resorting to the usual green screen manipulation. Following Gravity’s enormous success Edge Of Tomorrow was almost entirely shot in the UK, mostly at Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden and around other locations in the capital with a final shift to an eerie CGI soaked & flood drenched Paris, proving that our humble island is punching above its weight when it comes to efficient modern genre tent-pole productions. With the 70th anniversary of D-Day occurring next week (when the film opens in North America) the beach storming sequences lend the film a historical echo, less repetitively resonant of the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine than an ideologically desecrated UK should the hideous UKIP advance upon their European election ‘success’ (I dunno about you but emigration sounds more like an enticing option should those racist fucking twats continue to build their poisonous support during next year’s General Election), a once diversely proud world city rendered nothing more than a deserted plateau of racial sterility and Russian oligarch property speculators.

eot5Heh, OK, the soapbox is now officially decanted, but one of reasonably decent SF’s chief strengths is in its underlying social and metaphorical DNA, right? Anyway, any SF film with Bill Paxton in it can’t be all bad – in this picture he’s a repeatedly glimpsed drill instructor during the opening act – as the only unfortunate wretch to have been killed by a Terminator, Predator and an Alien (though not at the same time, now that would be a movie) his brief appearance holds some fan boy fellated kudos, and Brendan Gleeson provides some hefty gravitas to the usually clichéd role of the inflexible military hierarchy. I really liked how the alien species in the picture is refreshingly, definitively ‘alien’, not another four limbed bipedal opponent with a few Star Trek inspired ridged forehead allusions to ‘otherness’, Edge Of Tomorrow also has a genuinely gloomy and murky visual palette which is illuminated with a few audience friendly cheeky Cruise wisecracks, without side-lining the always lovely Emily Blunt as some mere damsel in distress aside – with this and Looper under her belt she’s becoming quite the time-twisting trooper. So Thomas Cruise Mapother IV may find himself with yet another blockbuster hit on his hands in the genre stakes before Mission Impossible V lights a festive Christmas fuse late next year, now where was I – Ah yes. Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk……


Film History In 100 Minutes

This is an incredible feat of editing, through roughly 30 seconds per film some enterprising cinephile has constructed a full walkthrough of cinema history in just under 100 minutes – essential revision and a great starting point for any budding filmfan;


Cannes Carnage 2014

cannesSo the crimson hued carpet has been rolled up for another year, I can’t say I’ve been following events with a forensic French-trained eye, but I do always make some time for some postcoital analysis of the films to watch and the breakthrough texts which demand further investigation. The best write-up I’ve downloaded is the always reliable Jonathan Romney which has a couple of amusing moments, and his championing of one film has got me specifically excited for a movie I’d heard nothing about and which as far as I can see has received relatively little coverage elsewhere – now that’s the work of a skilled critic. I think I’ll give Grace Of Monaco  a miss considering the total annihilation the film has received, I do like to make my own mind up as you’ll see from my list below but what little I’ve read illustrates that worst of combinations – a ‘bad-bad’ movie as opposed to a ‘so bad its good’ movie. If that makes sense. Finally, just to be a philistine and non-patriotic Judas I couldn’t care less about Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, all his bloody films look like BBC dramas anyway although I am passingly fond of the artist on which the film is based, I’m also struggling to find much of substance of John Boorman’s Queen & Country which seems to have had a uneventful unveiling. So here then is a very short list of the films I’ll be seeking out here in the UK over the coming months, distribution permitting;

Winter Sleep – I think you should always make an effort to see the Palme d’Or winner from a cineaste perspective, although I must admit that the prospect of a three and a quarter hour Nuri Bilge Ceylon movie – a director with whom I’ve never particularly connected – doesn’t exactly inspire me with hope. Still, we shall overcome, I’ll also keep an eye out for the Godard which sounds like quite the hallucinatory cinematic experience…

Lost River - Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut has been widely slated but I must admit my interest is still piqued, although that trailer is not at all promising. At the very least the work of the increasingly brilliant cinematographer Benoît Debieis should be worth the price of admission alone, call me an shallow, image obsessed ingrate if you like but any film shot by the same guy behind Spring Breakers and Enter The Void is worth a look in my book….

Captives – As a huge fan of Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter any film which is being compared to his finest hour strikes me as essential viewing, even if the subject matter sounds somewhat distasteful. The time fractured narrative should cause some mental gymnastics but I’m up for the challenge, a intellectual equivalent of maintaining constriction in the frosty light of a bleak and numbing winter if that trailers anything to go by…..

The Tribe - This is the one that Romney has specifically convinced me to see. Shot with non-professional deaf actors in the Ukraine in sign-language without any subtitles this sounds challenging to say the least, I just love the idea of a film without the usual visual aides and props are not available, yet the film is so powerful that it still communicates what by all accounts is an incendiary look at a youth subculture in crisis.

Maps To The Stars – Any new Cronenberg gets  splattered onto my hit-list regardless of subject matter, genre or collaborators, this scathing Hollywood satire sounds like it might be in the same exalted league as The Player, The Bad & The Beautiful with maybe the corrosive cruelty of Sunset Boulevard. Among all the gloom, economic depression and political corruption invested across this portfolio something with a little humour, no matter how sour, might be welcome.

Two Days, One Night - I’ve never been thoroughly seduced by the Dardenne Brothers and their post neo-realist pictures, but I must admit the entire premise of their hugely acclaimed has me brimming with excitement. Another terrific performance from Marion Cotillard doesn’t hurt either, and the political allusions to this nausea inducing age of austerity should prove to be social dynamite. The title reminds of the kitchen-sink dramas of the UK of the 1960′s such as Saturday Night & Sunday Morning….

Leviathan – This sounds like a big one, a seriously dense political allegory which wades into deep and complex waters – Russian corruption, political cruelty, the theatrics of the state puppet masters in juicing the system at the expense of the innocent. Certainly a film which one needs to be in the requisite mood to immerse oneself, until then I’m also hiring Andrei Zvyagintsev’s previous film The Banishment as a little aperitif…..

The Rover – And finally a film which has received largely mixed reviews, but those more aligned to genre cinema away from your Film Comment and Sight & Sound’s of the film world have recommended this dystopian ozzie grimfest. Having recently traversed the Mad Max trilogy on Blu I reckon a return to all things dystopian would be a fun trip, and David Michod seems to be one of the more interesting filmmakers to emerge from ‘down-under’ for quite some time. I think this has been picked up for US distribution next month, the UK is due for August…..

 


X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

xmenpBloody mutants eh, coming over here and infesting our timelines, diverting our shared destiny and butchering continuity in order to re-set the infrastructure of a multiversal golden goose franchise. Send ‘em all back I say, to a horrific Terminator inspired near future where in a gloomy azure arclight schemata homo-superior and their homo-sapien sympathisers are being exterminated in the thousands by the all omnipotent Sentinels, lethal kill-bot androids able to absorb and emit their quarries powers with merciless efficiency. Our heroes the X-Men are fighting a frantic rear-guard campaign in the face of certain extinction, so when Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) realise all is lost they formulate a desperate plan alongside their reluctant comrade Magneto (Ian McKellan), desperate times calling for desperate bedfellows. Conveniently enough Kitty has a limited capacity to phase consiounesses through time in one of the films most hand-waved fulcrums, so with only Logan’s enhanced healing capacity able to withstand the psychic pressures he is despatched to the bellbottomed garbed year of 1973 to convince the alternate dimension predecessors of Professor X (James McAvoy), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and the imprisoned Magento (Michael Fassbender) to prevent the shapeshifting seductress Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from assassinating  the prejudicial scientific director Reginald Trask (Peter Dinklage), a terrorist action which activates the blood soaked chain of events which sparks the annihilating future.

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Linking the two franchise strands of Bryan Singer’s 2000 inaugurated movie X-Men, essentially the first issue of the current dominant cycle of superhero blockbusters and the more recently groovy X-Men First Class was quite a logistical feat, an intertwining of time frames and cast members which for the most part Singer’s return to the franchise excitingly executes, but being a perfectionist sort and at best a passing fan of this series I do have my reservations given the screenwriters callous disregard for series (SPOILERS) continuity and some of the films frantic failures – yes I’m afraid this is going to be one of those geekazoid reviews. It’s certainly the most exciting and action packed instalment following the classic Dark Phoenix storyline of X-2, and for the most part DoFP obliterates the no-prize of Brett Hackner (sic) X-Men: Last Stand, a film which I can recall precisely zero details such was its ineffectual impact. Singers film juggles the competing imperatives of super-powered combat set-pieces, source material sympathy and thinly stretched character arcs without dropping the balls, but it is a stilted and anxious performance which functions as a breezy blockbuster, not fully convincing in its mutant mission to dazzle and delight.

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The pendulous problem with this sprawling is too many cooks spoiling the broth, or rather too many mutants infecting the bloodline, with competing characters of Professor X, Wolverine, Mystique and Magneto all competing for their space and position in the film, jostling for position so much that push each other of the frame which resulted in a unfocused and character devoid spectacle. The film narrative pivots on the choices of Mystique and her psychological motivation, but other than a few alluring gymnastic sequences we have no idea of the levels of persecution which drives her fury, of why she is so charged to commit the ultimate sin, the normally brilliant Jennifer Lawrence reduced to a single note cypher with a performance that frankly suggests she wishes she was back in the frigid Ozarks. This leaves Wolverine to cleave through the murky plotline as our main hirsute hero but he also feels side-lined, encountering a drug addled Charles Xavier whom is suppressing his telepathic powers and spinal injury with a facile addiction metaphor, somehow he’s depressed at not being paralysed anymore and has managed to synthesise a medical miracle – in 1973. This character conflict is all resolved in a single scene,  an emotional equation which further obfuscates the films formula. Much of the series underlying ideology and pleas for miscellany and tolerance are lost in the time travel truffle shuffle, this is a shame I think as all our media be it from Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood and in whichever delivery form needs to be celebrating and promoting diversity, especially in the wake of some increasingly terrifying (if provocatively slanted) local and European election results.

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I’ve always argued that for a superhero film to work you must have a strong villain or you’re dead in the water (counter-examples please?) and in DoFP Trask is given no compelling reason or purpose for his fear and hatred of the muties which seems like a waste of Dinklage’s obvious talents and acting chops A.s the main antagonist his motivations are similarly unexpressed and undercooked although I will give the filmmakers admiration for never once commenting on or using his physical dimensions as some facile motivation for brooding a poisonous brew of hatred for the ‘other’, his presence does provoke some curious contradictions of a character whom you’d have thought would be able to empathise and sympathise with a species of creature which suffer prejudice and ridicule due to the failure to conform with ‘normality’. The constant exposition spouting platitudes from the villains and heroes alike becomes as grating as Wolverine bone brittle claws being dragged down the danger rooms blackboard, and I found it unclear why the screenwriters decided to frame the frantic time travelling frogger against the waning embers of the Vietnam war, with subplots involving peace summits and political negotiations offering little more than Singer being able to shoot in some Zapruder-esque jilted film stock in order to ameliorate the period authenticity.

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Just to sound like a complete contrarian and despite slating the film for three paragraphs broadly speaking I did enjoy the picture, most of those above listed concerns were blasted away the some of the films CGI enhanced kinetic charms which can’t be denied, to be honest I don’t expect much of these movies and like Godzilla which I enjoyed immensely) the films more pernicious, structural failures around arrangement, characterisation, tempo and plot mechanics concern me less than the roller-coaster aspect of multiplex silly season. With superhero pictures and franchise fisticuffs firmly embedded in the summer fulcrum no matter one’s age the sight of adolescent Marvel avatars in maleficent digital melee will always be entertaining, for my magnetic money it’s Fassbender’s Erik Magnus Lensherr who warps away the ‘coolest’ nerdgasm moments, the Quicksilver scene was inventive and amusing, and some of the transport wormhole combat transmogrifications in the future was, and permit me gentle reader to surreptitiously deploy a scholarly cinephile critical term, pretty fucking awesome. I love blockbusters as much as the art-house, horror genre atrocities or broadly accepted historical cinema classics (I think if you audited my top tens over the past few years there will at least a couple of big-ticket items nestling among the auteur entries and cult mayhem) and for me I do something to get my teeth into intellectually speaking, and the morsels were slim to none in Days Of Future Past, and as the saying goes slim’s just wandered out of town….

xmensI also didn’t like the design of the future world Sentinels but now I’m just being ridiculous. As usual a post-credits sting alludes to the next instalment of the franchise which you can see here, I didn’t stick around for it as this new ‘Apocalypse’ storyline doesn’t particularly chime with me, occurring as it does after I stopped reading comics religiously – I’m beginning to feel old as some of the X-Men seen in this movie were also unknown to me whom I have subsequently tracked down as Blink and Warpath. Where now for the superhero movie? Well in lieu of seeing Guardians Of The Galaxy and the odd news that after eight years pre-production that Edgar Wright is exiting the Ant-Man picture due to the obfuscating ‘creative differences’ I do think they need to move away from the usual templates and like Captain America attempt some contemporary depth to proceedings, even if your product is four quadrant aligned to the widest potential demographic, not everything has to follow the Nolan route of psychological depth or drive and fidelity to to a harsher in-universe realism, but please have the writers respect the audience intelligence and not lace every dialogue exchange with plot specific purpose – I lament the loss of the action-movie quip. For a film that purported to be a bubbling nexus of grimdark armageddon X-Men: Days Of Future Past as light and transient as a cheekily mustered Storm induced zephyr, softly arousing but soon transiently forgotten;


Mintys Musical Malestrom 2014

I think a quick from all the movie nonsense may be in order, as would you believe I’ve managed to attend not one, not two but three gigs recently, not a bad haul since I shamefully didn’t attend one single solitary musical evening last year. I’ll keep it mercifully brief as I still have a back-log of movie reviews to attend to, but here is a brief overview of what has been massaging the menagerie appendages over the past few weeks – apologies in advance for the rather amateur quality of some of the AV but here we are;

The brutalist enclaves of the Barbican may seem like a strange choice for a third wave post techno earbleed act, but they recently hosted the Bleep Records 10th anniversary celebration with a central set from the rather rudely named Fuck Buttons. I was less enamoured with the support act Mount Kimbie who didn’t particularly get my blood pumping, but the main act’s thundering aural assault had me harkening back to the summer of love and college years. Quite amusingly then even provoked the enthusiastic crowd to break with stuffy protocol and tradition and actually take to the dancefloor by leaping out of their seats, quite a result for the studious atmosphere of the Barbican – rave on brothers…..

A couple of weeks later and we were at the Barbican again but this time for a rather more dour and movie related musical experience, as  Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead fame curated and performed an evening featuring his take on Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 and the score to Menagerie favourite There Will Be Blood with the BBC Royal Philharmonic – details here.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to see Trent and his accomplices back on the Menagerie bill, this is the third gig I’ve seen since I started the blog, once again over at the exceptional convenient location of the Greenwich o2. As usual the dudes detonated a fantastically gloomy yet electrically charged show, the power and energy of NIN’s industrial anger managing to fill the cavernous stadium space, all accompanied by their atmospheric stage and lighting design. I think I prefer them in the smaller venues for sheer concentrated and compacted noise, but as always they fucking rocked it…..


The Two Faces Of January (2014)

I’m a little busy forensically combing through the results of last nights local election results - stultifying boring for most I’m sure but essential revision for the likes of moi and the day job to see which authorities have changed hands and are having their major programmes and initiatives disrupted, but I have managed to throw together some thoughts on last week’s final cinema screening which you can visit here. X-Men review will be up over the weekend, until then here’s the trailer of The Two Faces Of January  which ironically might be simultaneously the best and worst Greek Tourist board advert ever devised;


Life Itself (2014) Trailer

Something a little more niche trailer wise this evening, civilians may be less than interested in a full length reflection on the life and times of a film critic, naturally for us on the other side of the divide this is essential viewing;

Now, having just got home from viewing the latest X-Men  movie I have a few fucking questions, we’ll get into that over the weekend….


An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

autumn1Not that I’m in any way jealous you understand, but the continual drip feed of Cannes announcements, invitations to glittering screenings and exclusive press conferences from certain mailgroups I was recruited to during last year’s Toronto expedition has inspired me to delve your more into arthouse waters back home in sun blushed blighty – doesn’t sound like I’m missing much anyway, right? Any film which is judged as being worse that last years Diana bio-pic which was intergalactically terrible in every possible manner, well, I suspect that a film even more catastrophic would actually suck all the spirited qualities of all the films screening around it on the croisette, like some ravenous celluloid neutron star. But I digress gentle reader, as wishing to milk the dying embers of my career break I naturally turned to the BFI schedule to see what was on offer, and was immediately struck by an opportunity to boost my pretentious credentials with a screening of the newly restored An Autumn Afternoon, serene sensai’s Yasujirō Ozu’s final movie. You may recall that we have broken bread with the great man before with the masterpiece Tokyo Story a few years back, as an enormous fan of Japanese cinema I have seen maybe a dozen of his films on the small screen, but like a stuck record I must always make the case that seeing these films on the big screen as intended is quite a different experience, minus the potential distractions of smartphones, political canvassing callers, or any of the other accruements of modern life.

autumn2So in terms of context Yasujirō Ozu is one of the most lauded and appreciated film directors of all time, working almost exclusively for the Shochiku studio between 1927 and 1963 alongside Kenji Mizoguchi and the more Western leaning Akira Kurosawa he is a central strut to any claim of Japan being one of the most accomplished cinema nations of all time. Where the latter was more enamoured with Westerns, with male camaraderie and a moral code operating in socially ambigious frameworks Ozu’s films are more micro level mediations on the individual, gentle fables on family, blood and the ties that bind. Shūhei Hirayama (Ozu favourite Chishu Ryu who appeared in a staggering 52 of his 54 films) is a gentle, soon to retire widower with three children;  his 32-year-old married son, Kōichi (Keiji Sada), and his two younger siblings who still reside in the family home – 24-year-old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and a 21-year-old son Kazuo (Shin’ichirō Mikami).  Kōichi has moved out to live with his spirited wife Akiko (Mariko Okada) and begun his career in the new economic evolution of post war Japan,  leaving Hirayama and Kazuo to be looked after by Michiko, the traditional female role being to adopt the domestic duties at this period. Hirayama frequently meets with his school friends for quietly wistful sake soaked reunions where they collectively ruminate on their lives, the activities of their children and what fortunes and hurdles may lie ahead.

autumn3What a wonderful, gentle, moving mediation on time’s inexperable march, the bittersweet shift from one generations priorities to the next as the shadows lengthen, as the inevitable creeps up on us all. This is not a stark, existential, Nordic querying on the purpose of life in the severe strain of a Bela Tarr or Bergman however, An Autumn Afternoon as its title suggests is a fading consideration of aging as the seasons move their celestial cycle, brimming with affection and humour as the pathos wrinkles and warps in an auburn glow. It is quite amusing to see just how much booze was consumed in this movie, as legend has it Ozu was a presdigious drinker himself whom would wade through carafe’s of sake during the scripting stage with his screenwriters.  I kid you not, if you applied the legendary Withnail & I drinking game to this picture you’d be in hospital before the credits rolled. Almost every scene has the salarymen throwing back the scotch, sake or beer whilst gently ribbing each other and ruminating on their changing lives and loves, I’d forgotten just how amusing Ozu can be when the mood takes him, as it invests his humour as a sharp antidote to any descent into melodrama . In terms of an historical document it’s also quite fascinbating to watch a film with an increasing ‘Westernised’ society following the American occupation still cleaving to its ancient patriarchal structures, with arranged marriage being the cultural norm regardless of class of creed. I’m aware that broadly speaking Japan is still something of a culture in which women are expected to commit to domestic servility at the expense of their career aspirations following marriage, so to see it presented without prejudice or social comment in favour or against back in 1962 marks this as an important social document. There are even some sly observations of the American occupation and the corporate arising of the salaryman culture and the idolisation of commodities, as Koichi’s unconsulted purchase of some expensive second hand golf clubs become a symbol of bourgeois achievement and advancement, another example of a shift in attitude and ideology as one generation eclipses the previous.

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Of course we have to touch upon Ozu’s almost unique filming methods, the low centred camera which concentrates material in untraditional spatial schematics (compare and contrast with the usual American & European establishing shot / two shot / reverse shot methodology), the slowly creeping establishing march through exterior space to the intimate interiors of his characters homes and domiciles, the idiosyncratic pillow shot,  and most unusually the total violaton of the eye line match (also known as crossing the line) even in this, his last picture after a half century career. This unusual technique, so striking and jarring for Westerners weaned on a diet of Hollywood classical narrative model places the viewer as a sponge in the centre of the scene as two characters converse with each other, instead of the eye line match convention which deflects the passive viewer into a spectator mode, an observer rather than a participant in the films emotional and thematic nucleus. Techniques such as this unconsciously broach identification with the characters and their quiet, still but slowly evolving lives, stimulating unmelodramatic queries on our own lives,  through poised and realistic performances from Ryu, Sada, and the rest of Ozu’s perfect troupe. Having seen this before on DVD it was as always a revelation on the big screen, a quiet, gentle, tender comedy with a resigned but not dismally melancholic acceptance of times inexorable passing, Ozu’s final incontrovertible masterpiece;


Gordon Willis RIP

The ‘prince of darkness’ has left us, and the world of cinematography is somehow smaller. Nothing more to say than the obituary and this is a wonderful written tribute, for my money it wasn’t just Manhattan and The Godfather that made him as key an artist of the 1970′s as the likes of Coppola, Malick or Scorsese, it was also work like this;

This is however extraordinary, the studio executives genuinely thought the rushes had been damaged or the DP was incompetent and threatened to fire him when they saw this;

Here’s an illuminating discussion with the great man himself, in 2003 the ASC elected him as one of the ten most influential cinematographers in cinema history…….


Guardian Of The Galaxy (2014) Trailer #2

Commuting then, who exactly invented that? Up at 6.30am today, home at 7.30pm – this will severely interrupt the movie schedule over the next few months. Actually it wasn’t that bad, I was almost nostalgic for connecting through Baker Street and Harrow out to work as this my route when I first moved to London over a dozen years ago, except this time I live in Canary Wharf rather than just work there – life eh? Here’s the new Guardians trailer;

Yeah, looks like good fun, I’ll be there opening weekend…..


Mad Max Trilogy – Blu Ray (1979, 1981 & 1985)

mmtDespite having reviews queueing up like elderly buses there is one final article I’ve been meaning to craft for the past few weeks, a shotgun blast capsule review of the trio movies that formulate the roaring Mad Max trilogy. Recently acquired on little rays of Blu I’ve been meaning to give these beloved dystopian drives another trip round the block, even if  it’s difficult returning to any of Mel Gibson’s work in the wake of his unforgivable behaviour, both racist any misogynist. Truth be told I’ve never particularly cared for him on-screen (nope, not even in the Lethal Weapon movies which never connected to me, and his efforts behind the camera I think have massive issues in terms of tone and the approach to violence, but his presence as the super-cool road warrior on my generations primitive adolescent minds is unquestionable. The first two in the cycle are ozploitation cult classics with some potent social satire purring under the chassis, the third a transplant onto Hollywood sound stages which I honestly haven’t seen for at least 15 years. Before we get into the trilogy which I ramraided through in one accelerated Saturday night I thought you should know that the early word on the production plagued re-fit is surprisingly positive, with Tom Hardy providing the requisite hulking fury – until we see a trailer I guess we’ll just have to take the rumor sites word for it. So start your engines and wait for that checkered flag to drop as we begin back in 1979, with the world on the brink of resource and environmental catastrophe;

The first thing that strikes me with the first of the series is the continuity that it sets up for the series, it’s like the cataclysm is in its birthing pangs as the majority of polite, civil society is still in operation, with an opening crawl telling us that its set ‘a few years in the future’. Fuel may be scarce and resources wilting with the forces of law and order being stretched by a growing chaos, forcing the uncompromising officers like Max into compromising acts of violence, but at least he has a comfortable life with a wife and baby kid at the start of the series – but not for long. There is some slightly Loony Tunes / Merrie Melodies framing which I’m sure was intentional on the part of writer / director George Miller (whom helmed all three pictures), but I’m not sure the structure works as its well over an hour into the run-time before the inciting incident occurs which gives Max his titular fury, leaving only a small fragment of time to get all Straw Dogs on the punky biker interlopers. But this was a very small budget with an untested crew, that they managed to accelerate any tension is a testament to their dedication, and some of the action beats and car chases cut across that earthy, leering, slightly scatological Australian sense of humour. Great ending as well as you can see above, ‘Mad’ Max? He’s bloody furious at the end of this one….

1981, that was a good year for cult movies wasn’t it? This was the year of Escape From New York, Time Bandits, The Burning, Diva, Southern Comfort, Cutters Way, The Evil Dead, Polyester, Scanners, Looker, An American Werewolf In London and a certain fedora hatted thieving archeologists first crime wave. It was also the year of one of the all time great action pictures which doubles up as one of the best dystopian films ever made, the primitives roaming gangs meets DIY punk tawdry vision which still casts a long shadow on an entire industry of B movies and computer game franchises. This is post-apocalypse cinema par-excellence in full Cormac McCarthy The Road hell-on-earth total disintegration of society mode, where you’ll be killed for the tattered shirt on your back and most probably roasted and eaten. The action scenes are just terrific in their extended imagination, brilliantly paced, ingeniously plotted and executed, with the genuine thrill of in-camera stunt work which is so lacking these days. Framing the film around Max’s mythic persona gives the film an extra furious bite, an invocation of the perennial screen classic Samurai or ruthless American west anti-hero, and an environmental warning three decades ahead of its time. I just love how jagged and twisted the film is, the cruel sense of humour, with frankly one of the most bizarre hulking screen villains of its era - Max? Oh he’s fucking incandescent at the end of this one.

I haven’t seen this in years and if memory serves it wasn’t up to much, a cheap Hollywood imitation of the The Road Warrior (the US title of Mad Max 2) softened for the American market. While you can perhaps enjoy some of the production design it is a rather tedious and tepid affair, the first half of the film centring on one cluttered location when Max should really be roaring through the orange flamed, dust choked Australian veldt in search of precious booty. He’s also much more Mel Gibson than Max by this point, the anti-hero façade faded in favour of quips and the mustering of a Lord Of The Flies-lite children’s army – I’d completely forgotten about that little plot twist – to take on the bad guys and restore faith for humanities future – bleerugh. Final score – Max may be relaxed and chilled as he mysteriously wanders into the sunrise, but I’m the furious one…..

I’d just like to finally close with a strong recommendation for George Millers quiet film Lorenzo’s Oil for a total change of pace, he was actually a doctor by trade until he entered the movie business so he provides an illuminating insight into this deeply moving drama of a couple (Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) taking on the medical industrial complex after their child is diagnosed with an incurable disease. As for Max fans as well as next years reboot we have David Michôd’s The Rover to Wake In Fright to, also set after ‘the collapse’ and uncompromisingly brutal it’s being sniffed at by the mainstream broadsheet critics but the genre press are  giving a castrated thumbs up – good stuff.


Dune (1975) Extended Trailer

Inevitable given the documentary and Giger’s passing, but this is very well done;

Silver Strain – The Jihad of Muad’Dib [Dune] from Silver Strain on Vimeo.


Interstellar (2014) Trailer

After that teaser launched last Christmas the expectation for the new Chris Nolan film has gone…now what’s the word…..oh yeah - ‘big’. Now the full trailer has finally touched dowen;

Intriguing, it has a different feel and look than what I was expecting, and that’s usually a good thing. I’m exhausted, it’s been quite a day as after meeting my new partners in crime in the City yesterday to go through masses of legal agreements and signings I paid a visit to this as it was just round the corner, then I went to see this at the BFI before taking a lovely sunlit stroll to a screening of this new thriller over in Mayfair, alongside director Hossien Amini (screenwriter of Drive and others) and  a special musical guest whom started to go ‘out of this world‘ today. Surprised the Q&A had no questions on that certain franchise which just goes to show what snobs that audience were, until I wrestled the mike from the interviewer and demanded to know what colour his lightsabre was…..


Twin Peaks – The Entire Mystery Announcement

If you thought Godzilla was the biggest thing to arrive this weekend then think again, as this news of the long awaited transfer of Twin Peaks to Blu-Ray and a stunning collection of extras has Lynch fans going all Log-Lady. I’ve got the 2007 Gold Box which has every episode and a few extras, but the promise of the inclusion of Fire Walk With Me (perhaps Lynch’s most underrated film) and a Black Lodge of extras from the film including at least 90 minutes of sacred unseen material  - well it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve got to look forward to;

Delving further we are promised ‘an epilogue providing a fascinating glimpse beyond the cliff-hanger finale of the TV series.’ and Between Two Worlds, in which “Lynch himself interviews the Palmer family (Leland, Sarah and daughter Laura) about their current existence in this life and the next’ – damn fine coffee!!

Very, VERY excited about this, looks like it’s only available on pre-order for US region players, I was looking to celebrate my new assignment with a equipment upgrade so I guess going all-region Blu-Ray player shopping is in order.  In lieu of any new film announcements any Lynch is welcome round these parts, and just some cursory revision has led me to find this which is just fantastically cut together – don’t go having any nightmares about Bob now y’hear?;

35 Years of David Lynch (Film Tribute) from Michael Warren on Vimeo.


Godzilla (2014)

god1This years Hollywood blockbuster season roars into action with the surfacing of a new franchise, Gareth Edwards eagerly awaited reboot of one of movie monsters most invincibly irradiated creations – behold the mighty Godzilla. Edwards arrived on the filmmaking scene with his guerrilla debut Monsters, a terrific little movie which was one of the Menagerie’s favourite of that year, since the critical acclaim he retreated to the deep to craft this $160 million blockbuster (not a bad promotion from his debut print cost of $500K and I’d wager at least half of that was P&A) as monster movie maniacs anxiously swished their tails in nervous anticipation  – don’t fret as broadly speaking he’s pulled it off. In terms of context I’m respectfully in awe of the 1954 original, it’s a unimpeachable benchmark of the fantasy / SF genre, but I wouldn’t consider myself in any way a kaiju enthusiast as I’ve only seen it twice I think and have only ever seen maybe three or four of the Toho sequence, although as a completest I do keep meaning to plunder and pillage through them all one day. I have less than fond memories of the late Nineties reprisal which is widely considered as one of the marketing strategy precursors of current summer behemoths, and if you’re of a certain age then of course I have to excavate this. I have been looking forward to this as I’ve been in the mood for a big, broad Hollywood howl of a movie recently, and nine figure budgets and state of the art digital carnage are always welcome around these parts. Minor spoilers will occur and I do mean minor, nothing more than the first twenty minutes of the movie which can all be gleaned from the first two trailers anyway but consider yourself warned – this movie obliterates the kindergarten affectations of last years waterlogged Pacific Rim, move over Del Toro as there’s a new titan in town…

godzillaAfter an impressive title sequence with a redacted design – and it’s quite refreshing to even see a committed title sequence these days as most Hollywood behemoths get straight into the action – the film plunges into its gargantuan annihilation. It’s 1999, and scientist duo Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, mumblingly bemused as always) and Dr. Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) have been summoned to investigate the presence of a mysterious chamber excavated underneath a tropical mine, an ancient antechamber which bears the ominous infrastructure of a colossal rib-cage. Something has recently made an escape, and is rushing across the pacific to the Japanese coast, on a collusion course with a nuclear reactor manned by Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche). Chaos ensues, a cover-up is erected after the installation is flattened, as Brody’s adolescent son Ford is whisked to safety from the alleged earthquake. Fifteen years later and the boy is now a man, returning from foreign theatre Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) is reunited with his wife Elle (Elisabeth Olsen) and his young son. This happy reunion is shattered however when his father arrested and he has to fly to Japan to escort him from the authorities, the old man has refused the official version of events and keeps infiltrating the restriction zone surrounding the quarantine area which was the site of his beloved wife’s death. Joe has surrounded the forbidden zone with clandestine sensors which are picking up some strange results, after talking his son into one final incursion to honour his mothers memory they stumble upon an apocalyptic secret which is slowly beginning to arise and is very, very hungry……

god3Clearly someone has been supping at the Spielberg serum as Godzilla is radioactive with the good man’s technique, and I thoroughly mean that in the most positive and laudatory way. Dumbstruck awe-shots at impossible creation? Music cued pull ins to rapt faces before CGI embellished titanic reveals? A displaced family seeking emotional and geographic reconciliation? Its Close Encounters by way of War Of The Worlds, as civilisation faces its greatest threat from a creature long dormant in the fathomless depths of a planet we thought our puny species had conquered. With some minor reservations this is a terrific blockbuster if all you’re expecting is the requisite digital shock and awe, a celluloid cheeseburger and fries which should satisfy any bombastic cravings. Pacing wise despite a rather bloated opening once the film gets into its stride around the hour mark it picks up a galloping speed and never looks back, the set-pieces build a momentum and for me (as I said not I’m not particularly kaiju crazy) it has some goosebump inducing moments as Edwards and his team build to some terrific monster movie moments. The CGI shimmers with a glistening gloomy threat (helmed by industry titan Jim Rygiel and it was great to see veteran John Dykstra on the credits), as Alexander Desplat’s frenzied score cheers on the cataclysm.

god4The film is played with the utmost sincerity and seriousness without descending into parody, so it should be applauded how Edwards and his monstrous crew have managed to keep the picture fertile for a wider casual audience and also maintained a few monster movie touches which the diehard crowd will adore. There is one climactic moment in this film toward the end which had me giggling like a maniac for about ten minutes, an early contender for genre movie moment of the year. The environmental instincts contaminate the film with tremors of every catastrophe of recent times, from the shattered buildings of 9/11 to the Indian ocean tsunami, the Fukushima deluge to the sterile serenity of Chernobyl, a quietly staged scene traversing a devastated landscape which nature has partially reclaimed instantly invokes some of the more quietly orchestrated moments of Monsters. I note from twitter that a few critics have mauled the film for lacking any human dimension, I don’t think that’s fair as quite a lot of the screen time is devoted to Ford, his relationship with his father and his dangerous attempts to be reunited with his family, whether or not these efforts succeed is another matter (emotionally they don’t) but at least, I guess, they tried. Truth be told these are the parts of the movie which will have me reaching for the remote upon a re-watch, when I go and see a Godzilla movie my overriding instinct is to see the fuck getting fucked over on everything, and on that front Godzilla shrieks like a supernova – skyscrapers shatter, cities in carnage, deafening sound design with the delicious delight of destruction.

god5If I have some reservations it’s primarily the lack of a connection to our main character Ford, he’s something of a charisma vacuum so the peril in which he is repeatedly plunged doesn’t really connect. There are some rather eye-rolling concessions to Hollywood convention where characters happen to be in exactly the right spot at the right time which bellows the coincidence gong, not to mention when you make your main character a clearly explained military ordinance defusal technician it’s clearly signposting where a certain plot strand is going to detonate. Then again and very carefully avoiding spoilers I really liked the film universe infrastructure, the genre genesis which christens the chaos inducing critter, although one element was a little confused but I can’t possibly get into that yet – maybe a missed a dialogue reading which brushed something away. But these are gnats buzzing on Godzilla’s broad back if you’re in the mood for cataclysm and CGI electrified carnage, with stentorian set-pieces the silly season has started with a Shiva induced salvo;


The Evolution Of Visual Effects

As a prelude to tomorrow’s gargantuanly anticipated fearing of Godzilla this seems apt;


H.R. Giger RIP (1940-2014)

gigerIt’s always Tuesday isn’t it, the day of bad news? Well another behind the scenes movie icon has left us today, this one from the production design side of the business, as well of course as being a well-respected and established fine-artist in his own right. Interest in his work was resurrected a little with both the launching of Prometheus (the sequel of which was officially announced recently) and last years Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary, I think you’d have a strong claim for electing the Alien design as one of the top half-dozen movie monsters of all time, up there with other icons such as Frankenstein and the soon to be revisited Godzilla, so its with a solemn severity that we pay tribute to the Swiss nightmare sculptor H.R. Giger – a purveyor of pure nightmare fuel;

A lot of film fans cite the likes of Chris Fosse, Moebius and Ralph McQuarrie as the all time great SF designers, I always gravitated more to the likes of Syd Mead and Giger, as apparently you can’t eradicate those cyber Gothic instincts completely once they’ve begun their slow  adolescent  infection. It’s a shame he didn’t get more work although he did fall out somewhat with the movie industry over the usual squabbles about rights and licencing, some of his other designs were quite striking even if the quality of the films around them wasn’t always quite so…moistened fresh;

 Here’s a detailed old-school documentary on the man and his work on the cornerstone SF Horror quadrilogy, if you’ll forgive me I’ll return to the first-world privilege of signing up my new accountants and incorporating my new business, arranging my professional indemnity insurance for my imminent assignment and associated compliance functions – that my friends is pure 21st century horror;


I Wrote You A Letter….

A wonderfully diverse list is doing the rounds, an apt reminder that I still haven’t seen the legendary Miami Connection yet – any film with acting of this calibre must be devoured;

In case you forgot, here is the B Movie equivalent of Citizen Kane’s explosive trailer;


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