When I heard that this week would see the new Edge Of Tomorow trailer I wondered why Escape From Tomorrow was getting another push given the tepid reviews it had after its modest performance in the US, clearly I am a fool as this is what they meant;
Like I’ve said I’m something of a member of the Tom Cruise Appreciation Society – professional help is being sought – so I thought this mildly looked OK, even with the standard issue post District 9 mech-armour and let’s face it, the presence of Emily Blunt always helps. At the very least the film has inspired one of the cleverest article titles of the year….
All hail John Barleycorn. One of the disgraceful oversights of last Halloween was a visit to the flicks, a particularly egregious oversight given that one of the all-time classic UK horror movies was playing at numerous venues around the capital – The Wicker Man. But like Lord Summersdale I had a cunning plan to harvest my offering to the celluloid gods, as I knew the BFI would get their hands on the new digital restored print doing the rounds of the various specialist film boutiques, so I finally snared these smouldering Satanists with a visit to the BFI as part of their Gothic season of screenings. It’s a film I’ve seen a handful of times over the years, you can’t really be a horror fan and reside in this country and not be instructed of its enormous cult cadre and idolatry among the infidels, most recently manifested as atmospheric invocations in Ben Wheatley’s disturbing Kill List. I like the film, I’m not crazy about it, but no-one can deny the impact of that infernal finale, a lovely scream inducing twist and an appropriately bleak ending with no redundant promises of potential sequels, although one did surface last year – The Wicker Tree - which I haven’t seen yet so can’t possibly comment upon (psstt, I’ve heard it’s absolutely terrible). Now, given that this film is like my good self of a four decade vintage we shall be delving into mild spoilers, I don’t think this should be a problem as any passing glance at the film’s posters, DVD covers or pretty any marketing involved with the conspiracy gives away the identity of the titular erection, a mammoth revelation which can only be equalled by the original Planet Of The Apes marketing which also kind of reveals what planet Chuck Heston’s actually been leaping around. Speaking of which, I loved it when Don Draper and his son saw that movie in the last season of Mad Men, that give it a nice touch although they neglected to do the same for 2001: A Space Odyssey which opened the same year, you’re not telling me that some of the denizens of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce wouldn’t have been grooving to that mind-blowing movie Daddy-O. Anyway, I think I’m getting a little distracted here, but I have to say that December also seems an ideal season to see this film in the run up to the celebration of ritual and spiritual
In terms of a brief synopsis then I think we can keep this brisk, repressed Christian Policeman Constable Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is despatched to the remote Scottish Isle of Summerisle to investigate the reported disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison. Upon arrival at the isolated community he finds his puritan values challenged by the dainty pagan practices of the beaming sect like denizens, including in a rather notorious scene the temptation of a rather fetching young barmaid Willow (Britt Ekland) keening to him in the throes of sexual lust – you can find the scene yourselves you soft-porn sickos. The Monarch of the Glen is the imperiously warm Laird Summersdale (Christopher Lee) in another of his iconic roles, a venom eyed presence whom may have his own ulterior motives orbiting the case, as the community appear to be hiding the cause and function of Rowan’s disappearance. It amuses me no end that the film was partially abandoned by its initial backers British Lion once they had viewed the original cut which they cited as ‘virtually unmarketable’, before summarily dumping the film into the ‘B’ Movie ghetto by pairing it on schedules with a more artistic horror statement – Don’t Look Now. One can only imagine the twin shock of staggering out of the cinema back in those days, your mind drenched and deranged with a twin pummeling of distressing shocks, from incendiary offerings to psychotic crimson garbed midget’s. Both films are widely considered as the greatest horror / chillers produced on these emerald eyes, alongside some of the original Hammer horror fare and the likes of Dead Of Night, Repulsion, The Innocents, Night Of The Demon and The Shining with which the film has some curious connections.
This was quite a transgressive period in UK film, an era of Witchfinder General, A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and The Devils, the permissive 1960′s absorbed into society and diluting the orthodox conservatism of the 1950′s, with the likes of charming souls such as Mary Whitehouse cultish demanding her Christian doctrine be enforced as censorship across all broadcast channels – hope wonderfully inclusive and peacemaking of her. In fact as I read this I guess you could read the film as a meta-commentary on the charming social codes of the times, with Howie’s strict moral censure of sex before marriage, of respecting the one true god and doing one’s duty to defend the innocence is throughly massacred by the rapacious instincts of the free-love hippy scum, their permissive ideology leading to a symbolic incestual inferno. I mentioned ‘atmosphere’ in my last Gothic themed post and this is an extraordinary film from that perspective, as with The Shining this is a film whose ripens in full excoriating sunlight, in a full blazing dainty summer which is such an inversion of the usual horror tropes, you’d think that the ominous community would be framed as suspicious bumpkins huddled in mist shrouded pubs, fearing and loathing outsiders poking their unwanted beaks into their rituals and practices as some Dagon influenced Lovecraftian inbred community secretly worshipping some eldritch horror which lurks between the shadows of their moorlands. No, the liberated inhabitants of Summerilse are positively delighted to see the Constable among them as they skip and sing through the sun dappled highlands, for reasons which of course become burningly clear with that final, fuming revelation.
As with any cult film worth its reputation there are numerous versions of the film prancing around which is almost catnip to consumers, as you can compare and contrast to see if the director’s version was upheld in the face of philistine producers, if pacing and flow issues are addressed , or if the addition of material is simply a cash-grab launched by unscrupulous producers. After the original trimmed version seen in cinemas in 1973 director Robin Hardy retrieved a original print from Roger Corman (who else?) and completed the first restored version, which aired on UK TV as the inaugural film of a certain film season legend – Moviedrome was born. In the early 2000′s further scenes were inserted by the new copyright holders Canal+ which added a little colour to proceedings, before this years Final Cut which incorporates all the various additions of the extra material into one flame lit effigy. But why I think it has cultivated such a devoted following is simple – there is almost nothing else like it, it’s an almost unique picture when considering its light tone with menacing undercurrents, and although the likes of Blood On Satan’s Claw are in the same congregation as so-called ‘folk-horror’ movies or perhaps Rosemary’s Baby as that veneer of civility masking truly horrific intentions nothing quite matches The Wicker Man for such a strange, pastrol landscape teeming with celtic pre-christian primitivism.
There is something genuinely unsettling about people mooching about in animal masks, it’s not just obscuring their faces and identity of course which I think is an disquieting experience for our social species on a purely instinctive level (hence the general antipathy to the burqa and associated garments I reckon, anyone regardless of their religion or beliefs could garb themselves in that fashion and cause hackles to rise) as there is just something so elemental, so predatory to our collective unconsciousness and dare I say it unholy about that melding of man and beast, it reminds us of our primitive origins and savage smothered natures, stripped of civilisation anything could happen. So to close yes we must discuss the hysterically hilarious and incompetent American remake – quite what a director of the calibre of Neil LaBute thought he was doing with such shocking lapses in tone and judgement is still something of a matriarchal mystery – there are plenty of making of documentaries and retrospective thoughts, and here is a fine little collection of folky frolics to give you the soundtrack to prance and offer your fruits to the eternal virility and fertility sun gods. Naturally I’m inclined to finish this with the blistering conclusion to the movie but it’s curiously absent from the usual channels, so here instead is a glimpse of the original trailer which might invite you to clutch your crucifix closer to your chest as we take one last twirl around the May-Pole;
…’whoever wins, we lose?’ Wasn’t that one of the tag-lines for one of those horrendous AvP movies? Anyway, as promised trailers are getting epic this week, first up the Wackowski’s take another stab at ambitious SF with Jupiter Ascending;
Well, Warner Brothers still have faith in them after the twin flops of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas, but I guess the chance for the marketing boffins to intone ‘From the visionaries who brought you the Matrix trilogy’ was too good to miss. I don’t wish to prejudge the picture before the probes are back, but this looks like typical Wackowski – visually stylish but maybe a little too juvenile for my tastes. Now finally, we can release the shock troops;
Stealing the soundtrack from possibly my favourite cinema sequence ever evolved is not the best start in the world, and I think this veers into the slightly too serious for its own good territory, but as previously mentioned I have a fetish for jaw-dropping scenes of wanton destruction and unimaginable suffering, so I smirked when I first saw the leaked copy of this a couple of months ago. Now that it’s got its first proper roar this is certainly something to look forward too, and we’ll see if the dude who made the terrifically impressive Monsters can wield a mammoth budget…..
This is beginning to look like an epic week, trailers for the Wackowski’s new SF epic Jupiter Ascending beams down tomorrow, and later in the week that Godzilla trailer finally escapes from the caverns of the sea, and a certain beastly film franchise gets its second installment – given the glowing reviews I’ve skimmed on twitter I’m actually getting quite excited although not everyone agrees. It also looks like a late push of quality fare might disrupt all these end of year lists, with American Hustle and Wolf Of Wall Street going gangbusters, critically speaking, in the States. A vintage year perhaps?;
Oh yeah, and the first trailer for some new film by some British guy should also touch down – I’m sure that won’t go unoticed…..
It was a gloriously eerie Sunday afternoon as the wispy tendrils of the NFI’s Gothic season continued on London’s South Bank, as I nervously navigated the fog choked streets of ye ole London town to catch a ghoulish double bill of old-school undead. One thing I can’t fault the BFI for is value for money, as when scheduling a double bill of these two ghoulish classics they only charged for a single ticket, so this was a nice opportunity to up the ante on my murky coverage especially since I’ve long waited to see the second film of the schedule on the big screen for reasons I’ll touch upon below. As I’ve mentioned before prior to 1968 the idea of a screen zombie was a very different beast from the shambling brain ravenous hordes of recent decades, as the mythological concept of the zombie was originally founded within the religious practices of indigenous African and Haitian cultures, adorned with somnambulist slaves and glazed-eyed automatons under the puppet master instruction of some voodoo sorcerer for his own nefarious plots. On screen these elements are infused with a pungent ’fear of the other’ related to immigration and racial suspicions, a tangent which you’d think would still be still ripe for a contemporary plunder given the pathetic prejudices of certain ignorant quarters of the population whipped into frenzy by the right-wing press. Yet we still seem to frame the zombie as our ultimate metaphor for mindless consumerism, a symbol of our spiritual malaise caused by the ubiquitous importance of reckless corporate domination in the physical sphere, our souls and incorporeal searching smothered by the omnipotent pulse of capitalism. it’s either that or a symbol of the braying, mindless, violent mob, a political metaphor of our ferocious partisan political divides and tabloid beguiling, as it can be no mistake that the only way to overcome our differences and win the social argument is to shoot your opponent in the head / intellect. Since the zombie trope is still exhausted in popular culture infecting as it has mainstream TV series, numerous films lurching into direct to DVD coffins year after year after year, computer games (Dead Rising 3 looks tasty) and comic books (not to mention world-wide flash-mobs and genre affectionate gatherings) it was pleasing to return to the polluted source, to divine the origin of this horrific successful virus of movie monster archetypes, and perform a grim autopsy of its sweltering and sweaty Caribbean genesis.
Well, actually this won’t be a detailed excavation as I don’t have a huge amount to say about these films, what was most instructive of the session was a chance to see how film grammar evolves over time, to analyse how movies are constructed from a pacing and performance position and how a tale is presented to an audience through a similarly brisk expiration period – both films run an approximate 70 minute run-time – or to put that in a slightly more succinct way one film was made in 1932, the other in 1943, so lets compare and contrast. White Zombie was a very clunky piece of work which I had seen before, as a horror completest any Karloff picture is an immediate must-see, but while his hilarious performance is worth the price of admission the story around it is less than compelling. The movies were still in the final birth pangs of the transition to sound in the early 1930′s so like Dracula and the early Universal films they have that exaggerated acting style more attuned to theatrical playing to the gods, the main heroine does nothing but hurl her hand wrist up to her mouth, take a major step back and gaze to the heavens every time some bad news is inflicted upon her precious psyche, and the intonation and stilted movements around the enclosed sets is teeth grindingly thudding in places. The plot is straightforward – a newly engaged couple travel to the West Indies be wed under the wing of their mentor, but he is under the spell of the wicked wizard (Karloff) who has some weird plans which are never fully explained – so it moves sluggishly through its paces with only a few early genre machinations to really make its mark. There are some innovations unusual for the period, particularly the use of split screen to denote a time-aligned plot being driven across parraell actions, and it also retains the silent movie motif of moody double exposures, Karloff eyes superimposed over the fey heroine to signal his malevolent hold over the unfortunate creature, it’s a great old movie mode of communication without dialogue, the collusion of images making meaning, essentially what separates cinema from the other art forms. For genre fans what a treat Karloff is, no-one manages such…..elongated…….and……..ponderously………….pregnant……line deliveries, its camper than a John Waters XXX loyalty card but he’s just so much darn fun, despite chomping through the scenes in a fashion which is positively ludicrous. The final set-piece is quite hilarious to digest when compared to contemporary explosive antics, this is the 1932 equivalent of Ahnoldt facing off against a silver morphing cyber-assassin with state-of the art special effects;
In contrast I Walked With A Zombie is now considered something of a classic, and simply from some of its stitched on enhancements - character development moments, a dreamy voice-over contextual apparatus, a circular narrative structure which returns to its inception by way of an eeriely crafted promenade across a spooky West Indies – a grimm fairy tale with adulteress flirting of the dead. Why I really wanted to see this at the flicks was to immerse myself in its greatest and most pungent quality, as what this film has in spades is atmosphere, that evocative quality so lacking in todays abyss of remakes, re-imaginings and hollow updates, almost every frame of this film is drenched with a melancholic dread and uncertainty of those infinite spaces between the stars.
Director Jacques Tourneur was a master of craft (see also Cat People) through the careful deployment of sound effects and score (an ominous rhythmic distant drumming perforates the film) and slanting lighting patterns which cast the film as moody shadow-play, the madness and lunacy of this old slaving family now cursed with its past sins haunting the present. This atmosphere is enhanced by the ambiguity of the uncanny, there is no definite villain as such operating the events from behind the scenes, so the supernatural elements are distorted and transparent, and perhaps more tangible than any spiritual slumber from beyond the grave. The film and the lineage bleeds through to the Hammer cycle and the Italians emphasis on mood and picture, sound and severity, so in its quiet way it’s as influential as chillers such as The Uninvited or The Innocents before events turned more visceral in the late 1960′s. So this was an instructive double bill and another genre classic is finally ticked off the list, before next week when I have an investigation up in Scotland with some pagan miscreants….
Let’s solemnly pad this out with some comments on the full top 30 list of Sight & Sounds films of the year, alas it’s not on-line but here’s a reminder of the top ten. Unsurprisingly some of the highly acclaimed art-house auteur angles such as Norte, The End Of History, The Great Beauty and Lawrence Anyways naturally made the cut, as usual I was aware of these and would have caught them at TiFF or the LFF but the opportunity didn’t quite gel with my other priorities. We UK critics can be a parochial bunch as electing Wheatley’s A Field In England seems a little too partisan - it was an interesting film but hardly the best of the year – and in the critic specific breakdown (always a cinephile highlight to trawl through) the highly amusing super-troll Armond White managed to offend everyone by not just championing Man Of Steel but also Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, what a bait-click seeking maverick eh? I’m mostly furious with myself as despite making close to a hundred visits to the cinema this year I still missed Basterds, A Touch Of Sin and Stray Dogs which are perhaps more in my wheel house than four-hour long Proustian fables, and I guess I have to see Blue Jasmine now as part of the inevitable Oscar nomination crush come January. So lets close with another fine montage of the years alleged best from David Ehrlich, and his top 25 film countdown of 2013;
So the critical plaudits are already rolling in from the advance screenings of Spike Jonze’s quirky modern-day romance, lets take a look at the new European trailer;
Ah Minty your mischievous scamp, that’s not the trailer to Her, but a preview of 1984′s cyber liaison classic Electric Dreams!! Well, this is the first thing I thought of once the plot synopsis started flying around, but I’m told it’s something of a modest masterpiece as a ‘film about how we live our lives now’, and I’ve clearly mis-remembered the computer being female back in 1984 in that pre-Siri era. Her opens in the UK in January, whilst in other news the trailers for next years tent-poles are starting to swing into action;
And so it begins, yes it’s already that time of year again so a polite warning – material may contain peril and pathos;
I do like these US focused Sleepy Skunk efforts, they are well constructed, and I’m sure Criterion will shortly be issuing their world cinema riposte….
A couple of weeks ago I partied with and hosted some of my best friends here in Limehouse, and they presented me with a belated birthday present which was quite the Kubrickophile xerox relic - Awesome. Time moves on, the seasons slumber so a couple of days ago I conducted a little light admin of the flat and finally corrected myself by hanging this little heirloom up as befits such an affectionate gift. After arriving home following an atypical gruelling day at the typewriter I entered my flat to witness my TV ablaze, and I know for a fact that I was the only person to enter my domicile during that period. Weird. The morning after I awake and find my fucking front door unlocked, closed to the frame but still appealing to howling outside elements. I think tonight I may scurry away to a hotel;
Looks like I’ve found my honeymoon destination, just so I can finish my work. OK, there has been some Shining material floating around recently which I thought I should share, but I’m 100% serious on that weird fucking TV / front door oddness. If you’re fucking with me then bring it on Mr. Grady……
After all this Room 237 nonsense I reckon someone should get properly dedicated and identify the original source of that photo sans Jack – I’m sure it’s in the Elephant & Castle archives – and then perform some genealogical analysis on whom was actually in the original print, who they were and the situation of their descendants - now that could be an interesting hook for a documentary. What’s inspired this post? Well, its been a while since we’ve taken a stroll around recent Stanley discussions, and the recent crop is foisted by illiterate nutters as per usual, but it also just happens that 2014 sees a certain film achieve its 50 year anniversary and one has tickets to a special screening at the BFI – lovely. This is always worth a revisit;
Premature, or quite cannily throwing their proverbial hats into the ring before the annual maelstrom of ‘Best Of Year’ lists begin in earnest? Well to be fair I think S&S always promote their December issue in this way aligned with the French contingent, in any case it’s a fascinating little synopsis with some terrific commentary – the full print issue should arrive through my letterbox tomorrow. I saw The Act Of Killing last night and am still processing that uniquely disturbing piece of work, here’s the trailer;
As you may gather it’s not just the horrific unrepentance of the murderers which is incomprehensible, it’s the melding of the historical horror and the reconstructions by the perpetrators which is just….well. Herzog and Errol Morris have heralded it as a masterpiece, and the final scene emits a mystery that may never be solved. Nevertheless my list has remained concrete for a good few weeks now, just today I’ve finalised my list for submission to the similarly titled Sound On Sight, and yes there are a few alignments between competing strands although our Canadian cousins won’t publish for another fortnight or so. I particularly loved S&S editor Nick James assertion that Zero Dark Thirty ‘made the pathetic charade of Homeland impossible to watch’ and its immensely pleasing to see Upstream Colour getting the accolades it fragmentary deserves. I may try to reel-in Leviathan this weekend although I’ve already got a Gothic double bill scheduled for Sunday, I’ve been hearing great things about that fishing ‘documentary’ since it cruised the festival circuit back in 2012. Check this out;
It’s taken me many months to track this one down but I finally nailed it, if you’ll excuse the rather suggestive expression, last weekend. Ever since it stormed Cannes in May and in an unprecedented move secured the prestigious Palme d’Or shared between the two lead actresses and the film’s director this has been a priority on my cinematic sensors, but alas it eluded me at both the Toronto and London festivals due to alternate priorities, as I figured that such a high-profile film was bound to get UK distribution at some stage. So, scanning last weekend’s release schedule I was pleasantly aroused to see that it was playing at my local Cineworld, quite a surprise as a three-hour subtitled so-called ‘gay’ drama isn’t exactly their métier, as I assumed I would have to journey to a Picturehouse or Curzon site to finally see what all the controversial, panting buzz was about. In what is perhaps the most brilliant scrabble scoring cast list Blue Is The Warmest Colour is the story of Adèle (a phenomenal breakthrough performance from Adèle Exarchopoulos), a fifteen year old French college student who instigates a hesitant romance with Emma (Léa Seydoux) a slightly older, more mature blue coiffured openly gay fine artist. That’s it really when it comes to the plot, it’s very much a melodrama focusing on Adèle’s sexual awakening and her romantic relationship moving from a tentative teenage lust into complicated adulthood amour, although in terms of context I should also mention that producer & director Abdellatif Kechiche has adapted his film from the 2010 graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh. The author is determinedly not happy with the film, a position shared by Seydoux or Exarchopoulos although their antipathy toward their acier auteur has somewhat cooled since complaints emerged over his alleged unprofessional and wretched behavior, with his crew also voicing concerns over his gruelling shooting practices and Union baiting violations. Fiction and non-fiction collide as clearly this film has passionate elements coalescing around its tear streaked core, with a pulsing passion embracing its ideological, narrative, visual and production levels.
My expectations were high given the overwhelming praise the film has received in tandem with concerns over its tyrannical manufacture and muddied sexual politics, so I’m not being prurient when I assert that this is one of the most intimate films I’ve seen in quite a while and no I’m not simply referring to the explicit fucking (which we will get to eventually) but more Blue’s overall empathic sense of a single character’s life and loves. Adèle is framed constantly in close-up, even when sleeping, traveling to college on the bus or simply going about her daily business, and make no mistake that although the two leads are sharing the kudos (quite rightly I have to stress) this is defiantly Adèle’s story as opposed to Adèle and Emma’s story, as she is in every single scene and the entire film plays from her perspective. Over the course of three hours you the film sculpts Adele as confidant, to see and struggle with her through an intense process of empathy which is forced and forged by the camera placement, further enhanced by the lack of an extraneous umbilical slicing musical score. This visual closeness has caused some consternation which again I’ll cover a little later, but in terms of other designs food and consumption is also a constant motif, I know the French are famed as a nation of gourmets but be warned that this film may decimate any potential diet, with the constant framing of events and character progression over family meals, dinner parties and café encounters which suggest our desires linked to the satisfaction of biological urges, elements which are essential to survival, both chemical and spiritual.
Many of these scenes are also pregnant with sociological charge , as Adèle’s romance with the artistically attuned Emma suggests an intellectual mentoring of sorts, small divisions which are gently manipulated in a cluster of domestic scenes - Adèle’s upper working class parents serve a traditional bolognaise while she keeps their intoxicating relationship secret (Emma poses as a student helping with her studies) whilst Emma’s parents serve a fine chardonnay and luxuriant shellfish as bourgeois bohemians who respect their daughters sexual identity, openly supporting her unorthodox identity. It wouldn’t be a French film without an Existentialist discussion at some point and what do you know at the start of the romance that’s exactly what we get, but not in a pretentious posturing mode but as example of Emma’s world view and credo, of being true to one’s self and schema in a ideological imperative. As a straight male viewer it also provided an illuminating insight into areas of human experience which we heterosexuals may not consider, how the most elemental of romantic entanglements can be complicated by a gay identity; meeting your significant others family and friends; public displays of affection; musing a potential long-term future together and the possible rearing of children. On a construction level the film has also received some mild criticism for its rather basilar attitude to story ellipses and the movement of time, with cuts of months and potentially years in the narrative not being signalled with a usual slow dissolve or other signalling techniques such as dialogue exchanges or seasonal montages, on the contrary I liked this loose and slightly distracted approach which gives the film a spritely quality, a sense of vivacious movement which is captured in a number of scenes through Adèle’s fondness for dancing, an expression of her spirit bathed in poignée d’amour.
And so we alight upon the films controversial explicit sex scenes. Well, the first thing to say is yes, they are extended and yes, the camera lingers over details for what seems like provocatively extended periods of time (the first encounter charts at about eight minutes I believe) and yes I did actually feel a little uncomfortable watching them, but not because I’m some prude or tittering adolescent which I understand plagued the films LFF public screening. No, I felt slightly uncomfortable because the scenes genuinely feel like an intrusion into an incredibly private and intimate relation between two people, I didn’t think it was even remotely lit or edited like a mainstream porn scene which some detractors have alleged, but as we have already built up an empathic rapport the scenes while powerfully charged do seem like a trespass would could have been curtailed to half the duration. We can understand why Kechiche lingers on these moments as they provoke an erotic charge and unequivocably instruct just how deep the well of passion is that both women draw upon, their sexual compatibility and passion, so they foreshadow the future problems of the emotional dimensions of their difficult romance. I can only speak as white, male, middle class straight observer – and almost every review I’ve read has seen the author take pains to contextualize their gender, class and sexual orientation which in itself is an interesting group response to a film – but I found the scenes essential as , and they also frame the future events of the film with a passionate authenticity. I have had these beliefs slightly challenged by an incredible review by Sophie Mayer in this month’s S&S however, its one of the best half-dozen film critiques I’ve read all year as it happens, where among a number of brilliantly astute observations – the rack focus from Adele to silent movie star and lesbian icon Louise Brooks during the dinner party scene, how the colour motif evident in the title migrates from Emma’s hair tints through the lighting patterns every time Adele directs her objectified gaze of desire – she slightly admonishes the film for its male perspective. For the uninitiated cinema has long enjoyed feminist born readings of texts, like the psychoanalytical model following Freud and Lacan’s models of consciousness feminist theory works from a position of gender inequality and patriarchal hegemony, and if you’re shaking your head in mock disbelief at the contention of these readings then I suggest you take more than a cursory look at just about any advert, music video or mainstream blockbuster these days. It’s brilliant to have your initial reactions challenged and that’s exactly what happens through this piece, as she points out that ’her body is subject to a constant disassemblage by framing and editing, reducing it to parts for consumption’ while the POV is directed from the (predominently) conventional male gaze of the audience.
With its designs echoing the realism of the Dardenne Brothers or the cinema of Ken Loach this is a powerful and affecting liaison and whatever its gender politics or potentially disquieting dimensions I found the film to be a deeply moving piece with a heartbreakingly poignant performance from Exarchopoulos, if she doesn’t walk away with just about every award that the foreign intelligentsia can offer then their really is no justice in this godforsaken world. Veering away from specifics but in Blue there is one absolutely devastating scene which was almost as difficult to watch as some of the gruelling sequences in 12 Years A Slave, with emotional torment and violence almost equalling the physical punishment that is inflected upon Soloman Grundy, I don’t wish to belittle the experiences of a man enslaved and tortured for a dozen years against a seemingly inconsequential cyclone of romantic turbulence but in terms of a wrenching force emanating from the screen then they are almost peers. It’s certainly one of the most essential films of the year from a cinephile perspective, although I don’t think it’s going to quite crack my top ten which I’m finalising at the moment it’s definitely glanced into the next tier of quality, so for what it’s worth Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a beautiful sapphire of a film, with a burning blue soul;
Just a quick post as I have other priorities but I finally tracked this down, and whilst I’m instinctively opposed to his politics he’s an overlooked guy of the second golden Hollywood era, and if he hadn’t stormed the Ivory towers of the studios as their seventy year grip disintegrated into ashes the American cinema landscape could have been very different. The gangs all here, reminiscing on how they followed through the portal that he opened to begin their own careers whilst offering their fascinating cinephile anecdotes – Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, Lucas, Murch, Dreyfuss, Mann, Schrader, an almost animated Harrison Ford etc etc. – so obviously it’s essential Menagerie;
Did you know that Milius, along with Malick, wrote a certain urban drama which enshrined this little ditty?;
I haven’t seen that for a long time, I kinda like how Clint is less perturbed by the carnage than he is about the sacrilegious blood on his clothes. Red Dawn has entered the 1980′s lexicon but it’s actually a pretty bad movie even if you push the reactive jingoism aside, but still a fun to watch if you’re in a retro-fun mood;
Be sure to send the remake to a remote Siberian gulag, at least the original was howlingly entertaining – Wolverines!! Let’s keep this short so you can enjoy the documentary on your own terms – just like the man would prefer – and I know I should finish with the scene that will be etched on his tombstone but early on Steven finally puts some rumors to rest – yes John barked a ten page speech over the phone almost by instinct, but Robert Shaw cut it down to five pages and made movie history;
For me, one of the surprise blockbusters of 2012 was Jennifer Lawrence’s young adult literature franchise The Hunger Games, a phenomenally successful book to screen adaption which seems to have speared the post Twilight screen demographic firmly in the bull’s-eye. I found the first film adequate fodder which was unsurprisingly diluted from its original corrosive premise, novelist Suzanne Collins stating that the idea of the books came to her whilst idly channel surfing through the American media panoply and seeing images of reality TV and celebrity obsessed drivel dovetail into horrendous footage of young men and women being shredded in the deserts, cities and plains of Iraq and Afghanistan. After the success of the first melee Katnis (Lawrence) finds herself as the unspoken symbol of a potential revolution, her symbolic romance with her collegial survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) now used by the oppressive dystopian regime as another media simulacrum to beguile and distract the masses. Understanding her potential burgeoning symbolic power the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) orders a new iteration of the gladiatorial games, foisting previous survivors of all ages and aptitudes into a merciless battle to the death in a deadly new realm designed by the hilariously monikered Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). In order to navigate these threats Katnis enlists the aid of her colleagues including the booze sodden Haywitch (Woody Harrelson) her costume designer Chinna (Leni Kravitz) and aide-de-camp Effie (Elizabeth Berkerly), a flamboyant sort whose wardrobe makes Lady Gaga look like Mother Teresa.
I am mystified at the $130 million tag attached to this picture, I don’t particularly care for analysing dreary box office league tables but when you’re looking at movies from a cultural standpoint the economics can be instructive, the opening couple of days has recouped the production budget so evidently there is a strong affection for the material but here’s my point – I cannot for the life of me see where that money has been spent. For the first hour Catching Fire comes across as a 1990′s Dolph Lungren actioner from a production design standpoint, complete with stock stormtrooper garb, sub-par futuristic weaponry and a grubby charcoal filter of photography, they really could have gone much further with the Soviet / Roman influences which buttresses the dictatorship but director Francis I Am Legend Lawrence seems to have very little imagination in a directorial or visual sense. If anything it has the dimensions of a modest SF TV series when assessing the coverage and pacing, and the fact my mind slipped into this analytical mode says it all when considering the emotional pull of the characters or an interest in what turns the plot may take.
But this is the entire ambit of the picture, it has zero directorial influence and mostly unfolds in standard two shot close-up models whilst the action scenes err on the side of pedestrian, so even when the film slightly switches gears around a dreary hour in it is much to late to immolate a medal once the competition starts. It’s quite frustrating given the potent charge that the material can engender, a disaffected but passionate youth thrown literally to the wolves in order to maintain the corporate status quo, when entertainment is a propaganda tool which is not perhaps as proficient as its practitioners pray.
When the games begin the coverage remains within the combat zone aside from an all to rare cutaway to Hoffman prowling around his control room or to provide redundant insights into Presidents Snow’s ineffectual oversight, the film could have benefited from a wider perspective of this future world, of the drones and mentally enslaved glued to the combat from their homes and hovels, so as such the film feels very isolated and tame, the satire fizzles when it should defiantly spark. With no emotional charge being generated from either Katnis’s colleagues or her opponents I’m guessing that Jennifer and Woody are simply enjoying a nice fat pay cheque, particularly the former after her Oscar win with that fantastic turn in Silver Linings Playbook and holding her own with grizzled veterans such as De Niro. It also has one of the most blatantly signposted twists of the year which of course I’ll not reveal, and when you can’t even get a freaky turn out of Amanda Plumber who has spent her entire career specialising in fractured loons clearly not even lip-service is being paid to performance.
Lawrence is a terrific actress and she is simply wasted in this franchise, although she does entertain a curious mix of vulnerability and strength the dialogue doesn’t serve to her strengths , and only one character beat with her sister is the films only desperate grasp for poignancy. Instead the film prefers to tread a barely interesting romantic triangle between her District 12 dreamboat beau and Peeta’s confused fumblings which the Onion’s esteemed film critic firmly incinerates here. Now yes I believe I can hear your eyes rolling from here, the film is clearly not to my demographic, it’s a film perhaps designed for teenagers and fans of the books so perhaps I’m being ridiculous for criticising such priorities in design and youthful execution, but I do think that its slightly patronising to its target audience in that regard and a little political satire and would not have gone amiss. The closing credits warbling of the oh so tepid Coldplay is Catching Fire’s final temperature - this is a film which generates no heat, thematic or kinematic;
I must admit I’m a little uncomfortable posting this for obvious reasons, but then again we’re all adults and Von Trier is certainly one of the most notorious and dare I say it ‘important’ world cinema directors currently at work, so here is the extremely NSFW full trailer for his controversial new movie;
Well, I do think this should be an interesting experience if I can frame it that way, you can almost hear the moral majority sharpening their pitchforks and searching out flaming brazier bulk-buy deals as we head into Christmas….
What ungodly sorcery is this? Is this lunatic blogger attempting to create some mockery of man by welding together two preceding films seasons into one scientific monstrosity? What kind of mind, plagued with delusions of cackling grandeur could possibly hope to amalgamate his year-long Universal Monster movie season with the BFI’s spooky Gothic celebration? Well, this deranged mind that’s who, as with the arrival of the November programme I saw my opportunity to stitch together two competing priorities with the shriek scorched screening of one film forming in Asmodian alignment – The Bride Of Frankenstein. It is an oft used phrase but the film is a corpse cold classic, it’s not often that a sequel can be considered the superior to the original but a strong case can be made in this instance, as the lumbering Karloff returns as the iconic creation of the gibbering maniac Dr. Frankenstein, locked in a nebulous nexus of mortality and madness, malevolence and murder. I’m not entirely sure why but the BFI flew over Karloff’s daughter Sara to introduce the picture, it was quite humbling to see the film with second tier Tinseltown royalty in attendance, and she quite disarmingly opened her remarks by asking ‘What the hell are you all doing here? Don’t you have anything better to do?’….
Screening as a gleaming new digital abjuration the film opens on a curious beat, a framing technique of a storm-swept Chateau housing the literary romantics Lord Byron, Percey Shelley and Mary Wollenscroft Shelly (Elsa Lancaster who makes a dual appearance in this film), she continues her story of man tampering in god’s domain of creation with a tale that immediately follows the explosive conclusion of 1931′s Frankenstein. The hulking monster has survived the pitch-fork wielding mob by hiding in the basement of the ruined windmill, awaiting his chance he clambers back to civilisation and ostracised by humanity he roams the gloomy countryside in search of a sympathetic companion or friend, another wretched soul who will not judge his horrific appearance. Meanwhile the apparently slain Dr. Frankenstein (a loon eyed Colin Clive) quite fortunately isn’t, as he sparks back into life with no apparent explanation - don’t ask, don’t tell I guess – after being sequestered back with his fiancée Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) at the family castle. Vowing never to interfere in the infernal arts again his vow is shattered approximately 30 seconds later with the arrival of the blackmailing Doctor Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger, director James Whale’s eccentric theatre mentor) a professor who urges Frankenstein to continue his experiments with his support or he will reveal to the authorities his colleagues satanic meddling with creation, and soon the twin tyrants decide that perhaps the abominable beast can be tamed and controlled with a female companion…..
The first illustrative word that struck me when I mulling over this film is hysteria. I’m not just talking about the frequent screams and faints that many of the films characters emit when confronted with the hulking homunculus but also hysterical in its comedic sense, as the The Bride of Frankenstein is so obviously a sly satire on the printed tale with a performance style so ridiculously high that even Navajo construction veterans would suffer from vertigo. It’s shrieking blast of a film, a howl of sly obscenity and chaotic intellectual inquiry, with a necrotic beating heart at its centre which frames the monster as the poor persecuted soul who just wants what we all want from (un)life – a little friendship, a smidgen of affection, a tolerant respect. It’s so very difficult to take this scene seriously given just how effectively Mel Brooks demolished its metaphors in Young Frankenstein, but once these memories are quelled it does retain a quiet solemnity, cruelly punctuated by the interference of foolish hu-mans. Karloff wasn’t keen on the project as they made the monster talk – quite ironic just as the movies were finding their voice and shifting from silent to sound – and it was Whale you impugned his wicked imagination on the picture, including Lancaster’s dual parts as the Bride and her creator Mary Shelley, the bizarro world miniature sequence, crafting in celluloid clay a sequel which which was an enormous success the equal of a Jaws or Avatar of its day. Some of that success is due to the retention of his primary henchmen from the first movie including Jack Pierce’s groundbreaking make-up designs, by proliferating the film with cold tombstones protruding from the ground like rotten teeth framed in expressionistic lighting, and Franz Waxman’s key throbbing score (one of the unimpeachable best scroes of the 1930′s) which herald impish Wagnerian character beats for the principal puppets in this lunatic shadow-play.
The initial cut of the film was considered deeply subversive by the newly enshrined Breen Office, those moral charlatans curtailing the blasphemous religious iconography and subtextual teasing of society, forcing Whale to cut the film by a couple of reels down to a modest 75 minutes and incurring the loss of an entire child murder subplot which is erroneously blamed on the creature. As previously revealed I’ve been reading The Genius of the System which deserves its own detailed blog posting, nevertheless it grazes over the film in terms of the industrial infrastructure of Universal in the 1930′s and their production methodologies which drove the entire horror cycle, its fascinating stuff in comparison to todays package deals and modern production techniques as the picture went a generous ten days over schedule and cost a creepy $397,000, a relative bargain for an A list picture of the period when you compare that with a $250 million risk for something equivalent like the The Dark Knight Rises some ninety years later. Some of much of this is cliché now but if you push aside its firm infection of popular culture then there is so much to enjoy, the production design and ghoulish atmosphere is second to none, even as its plot veers from the ridiculous to the sublime in a stuttering heartbeat. Why give the monster a bride? Well, just because we can seems to be the imperative, as the kidnap of Frankenstein’s fiancée by the monster forces him to reprise his bubbling beaker and storm charged experiments they all lead to a hair curling conclusion which is amongst the best in the genre.
Enter the bride herself who makes the irrevocable impression, I’m struggling to think of any other female horror monster with an equal historical presence (the Alien Queen maybe, although that’s really not the same thing?) as she is on-screen for a maximum of 60, or maybe 90 seconds but her bird-like twitching physicality is firmly stained into cinema history, indeed no less than authority as legendary critic Leslie Halliwell cites the sequence as the ‘most bizarre and incredible six minutes in Hollywood history’. I’m not sure I’d go that far but it is a wonderful creature wracked moment which is arresting and heartbreaking at the same time, the poor beast dooming them all to a second plunge into the abyss as his abhorrent form is rejected by the living and dead alike. Some of these confusions around creation have led to readings of the movie as a gay film and I guess that’s one reading of it, the notion of an outcast from society seeking affection among persecution, or the scheming Pretorious enamoured of Frankenstein’s skills pulling him away ‘from his bride on their wedding night to engage in the unnatural act of creating non-procreative life’. Well, I guess it’s a notion which gains a meta-momentum given Elsa Lancaster’s status as the wife of the secretly gay Charles Laughton in what was obviously a marriage of mutual career convenience, of Whale’s admitted and open and Thesiger’s presumed sexual orientation, in any case it’s an example of a richly thematic film which hums with many potent symbols and charges, concluding on a satisfying emotional climax which reasserts the hetronormal status quo as Frankenstein is reunited with his wife. In terms of context the film Gods & Monsters charts Whale’s career in Hollywood and recreates the scene with amusing affection, Bride is one of Del Toro’s all time favourites and you can see his affection and affinity with the monstrous throughout his work, but hark is that a distant howling I hear that echoes eeriely from the moors? Be swift Igor, fetch my blunderbuss and silver shot, it’s a full moon tonight so we must hunt and slay that lethal lycanthrope and finally expunge that scourge of our kinfolk;
As I grapple with breathing life into my latest infernal creation – it just needs a little stitching around the decaying limbs and the infusion of an incendiary electricity – please permit me to signpost you wretched souls to the BFI’s repository of all things macabre, the awesome Gothic season website which lists all the events, screenings and video material of things best left undisturbed around the UK – its not just a London thing. Here’s the more recent season trailer for the second phase of frights;
I also have a curious urge to go and see the reissue of Gone With The Wind in all its 4K, four-hour restoration majesty over the Christmas season, mostly due to my finally finishing this fantastic overview of the studio system which really deserves its own report, one of the all time studio era classics could finish the year off in epic style. Before that we have a cabal of more Gothic chillers next month, but this weekend I think I will finally track down that elusive Cannes controversy….
Yes I know I’ve not seen the sequel, and I know that since the original was a major disappointment we really shouldn’t expect anything from Machete Kills but this faux-trailer to Episode III did make me smirk;
An Unexpected Party indeed, for tonight I shall be feasting on the expanded The Hobbit: There & Back Again movie Blu-Ray which has just dropped through the letterbox. It should be interesting to see the additional footage as with the LOTR inflated editions, and there is a merciless nine hours of production material to wade through – say what you will of Jackson’s bloated epics but from a cinephile perspective the filmmaking insight should be precious;
Hopefully I shouldn’t be to exhausted for tomorrow’s plans, a BFI wedding visit which I plan to precede with the divisive The Councillor. I don’t think I’ve seen a film so argumentatively split critical opinion since, well, that film which we no longer discuss, but a combination of a Cormac McCarthy script, an A grade cast and Ridders visual sheen demands big screen consideration. That trailer is pretty uninspiring though…..
I must admit to being somewhat bemused by this project. Given that he’s the screenwriter is Aronofsky trading on his post Black Swan clout to finally get that thwarted epic out of his system after the downgrade of The Fountain? Is he genuinely a religious type who feels compelled to tell this story? Is it a cynical ploy to court the religious dollar? Either way I think it looks like a biblical mistake;
Maybe its me but I’ve had enough of Ray Winstone as an unconvincing tribal sort, and Anthony Hopkins left credibility town many years ago. What a strange-looking film……
Let us open with what can charitably be anointed as a joke – Zombie Lord ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?’, Zombie Horde ‘BRAINS’, Zombie Lord ‘WHEN DO WE WANT ‘EM?’ Zombie Horde ‘BRAINS’. Well, fuck you, it made me laugh. The Lord of the Zombies as we know them is the almighty George A. Romero, the Bronx born, Philadelphia based industrial training filmmaker turned horror maestro with his 1968 macabre Midnight Movie masterpiece The Night Of The Living Dead which seismically changed the foundations of horror cinema. This black & white, independently made staple of the drive-in and grindhouses sparked a cultural nerve during a period of social turbulence in the US, we’ll get into that a little later but its certainly one of the top dozen most influential post War horror films, so the opportunity to see Romero in conversation as part of the BFI’s Gothic season was an opportunity that was impossible to miss. It’s difficult to imagine but prior to this picture zombie cinema meant Lugosi in White Zombie or the eeriely atmospheric I Walked With A Zombie, two golden era tales where somnolent mannequins were being manipulated by Haitian voodoo warlocks to yield to their bidding, and only in 1968 was the idea of reanimated, brain ravenous mouldering corpses regarded as the cultural manifestation of the term ‘zombie’ which has since seized popular culture by the groaning throat. Now the undead hordes are everywhere, my weekly Lovefilm perusal of new releases can barely contain the epidemic of shambling cyphers which are of an increasingly deteriorating quality, alpha status stars are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into blockbuster translations of the pandemic, and of course the fantastic The Walking Dead has devoured the TV schedules – if you’d have told a teenage Minty that a popular, uncompromising, incredibly violent and gory long running series revolving around a groups fragile survival in post outbreak universe, well, hmph, I would have had no choice other than to impale you to a tree with my trusty spear-gun and strip your still twitching corpse of all reasonable resources and rations, whilst shaking my head in an excited glee.
Again with Alan Frightfest Jones in the interviewer chair the first thing that struck me was just what a humble and easy-going chap he was, I think he’s quite down to earth due to the relative financial returns of his movies, despite the wider cultural meme that his work has entombed and enjoyed over the past half century. I wasn’t aware that he started as career as general blue-collar production assistant on North By Northwest no less although alas he never met Hitchcock, before moving on to making commercial and industrial films he finally made the plunge into fiction filmmaking with the epoch defining Night Of The Living Dead. It was quite clearly an attempt at commercial success as horror movies generally enjoy the most efficient cheap production / maximum profit schemata of the entire industry, he wanted to make a return of course and pay back the crew whom all worked for free, but he said he was too busy working on his next project to pay much attention to the critical praise and financial success which was mostly diverted to their rather shady distributors. The deployment of a black & white patina to this hungry nightmare was fostered as a a financial decision, but he does feel that an alternate unsettling aura can be veiled over a film with monochrome photography, I think I know what he means when you consider films such as The Haunting or The Innocents which excel in the brooding and evocative over the gruesome and glutinous. This remains one of the great all-time horror film openings;
Socially speaking this was a
miletombstone for the genre, and Romero revealed that the night he and his producer partner picked up the first answer print from the lab and were driving back to the studio the radio crackled into life to inform them of the horrific news of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The sense of social malaise, of a society turning in upon and devouring itself is Night’s great gift to the masses, not to mention the racial undertones of casting a African American guy in the lead (Romero still maintains that this was purely because Duane Jones was the best actor, I’m sure he was but he must have appreciated the cultural undertones this casting would have inflamed in 1968) whom is executed by red-neck hunters in the final reel, not necessarily because he is black, but at a distance he appears to just be another shambling threat. Jones was quite rightly worried about his starring role given that at one point he has to slap a hysterical woman in order to bring her to her senses, and feared for his own safety after being seen on-screen as a black dude striking a white woman. Cities were ablaze, beatings were the norm, as the civil rights infestation struggled to infect the conservative body politic.
Next was Dawn and after an amusing head-splicing clip (this got a massive series of laughs and a round of applause, heh) he was a little dismissive of the 2004 remake, not as a film per-se or of Snyders filmmaking prowess but he questioned the point of the project (other than commercially of course), if the film really had anything to contribute as to its setting, themes, or musings then why even re-appropriate the title? Whilst I enjoy the movie the man is correct that there is really nothing that isn’t simply trading on the name, it could have been any other above average zombie movie regurgitated over the past decade, and there is no illustrative interplay between the characters so aside from a few amusing set-pieces there really isn’t much to recommend it – other than running zombies but let’s not exhume that coffin again. Alas there wasn’t much mentioned about my favourite Day Of The Dead other than they had to significantly scale back the ambitions of the production due to financial constraints, and a few action scenes and visions of a post zombie apocalypse city landscapes were abandoned, man I would have paid good money to see some of that. A quick detour into Creepshow territory then followed which marked a long friendship and series of collaborations with Stephen King – I keep meaning to revisit his (if memory serves) adequate but largely unremarkable TV adaption of The Stand which has probably dated quite badly – and he expressed surprise that this film which has built a steady fan-base over the years is the only film which he hasn’t been approached for a re-issue with a director’s commentary or retrospective reminiscence, or indeed any remake options for either the first or second installment.
He was quite candid on how Orion pictures generally fucked up two of his 1990′s efforts Monkey Shines and another Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half with their amendment of the final reels and the rigid enforcement of their horrendously restrictive contracts, a flirting with the mainstream which has soured Romero’s liaison with any studio ever since as he still sources his budgets independently by mostly trading on the waning kudos of his name. I have to say the last two Dead films have been terrible, whilst he is undoubtably a major figure in genre history (see also cult curios The Crazies, Martin and The Season Of The Witch) he has lost his touch which is no surprise as you get longer in the tooth, although I do still quite like Land Of The Dead which at least had a sense of coherence, horror and mild social commentary. For the connoisseurs this is his real contribution to the banquet of horror, a strong sense of social critique whether it be racial tensions, consumerism or the military industrial complex - three areas which are just as potently pungent as they were back in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties – as it’s the interactions and groupings that the survivors form after the outbreaks which are really the films spines, the micro examples of macro politics and groupings, whilst the gelantious gore and eviscerated entrails are the abhorrent icing on the cake.
You may be asking why I didn’t follow-up this with an actual screening of Night and the answer is quite simple – digital. They showed the clip above which looked great on the big screen, but it was obviously that this was a pixellated presentation and it just looks a little too sanitized, a little too clean for my tastes. I think we’ve established that I’m no tedious purist or Luddite when it comes to new technology, I just think that a film like Night of The Living Dead really should be savoured as a distressed print on the big screen, with sound glitches during reel changes, with claw and gnaw marks across the frames, with a sense of a diseased scrambling through the dirt if you’re really going to do justice to the films apprehensive aura. One day I’ll track it down alongside Day and Dawn (the Prince Charles regularly programmes trilogy all-nighters) but we already have quite the frightening feast to get through with this season over the next two months, with a further scares this weekend and a delious double bill at the start of December. In any case a genre nuclear reaction of Argento and Romero lurking in the same room with a throughly appreciative audience was one of the high-point of the year cinematically speaking, so let’s close with a fine montage from their chilling collaboration which asserts ‘when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth‘;
It makes my soul supernova with an intergalactic glee to see how this film has really gripped the popular imagination now that is has launched into multiplexes throughout the world, it’s pretty darn rare for such an anticipated film to meet such lofty expectations, so although I have already written my review having seen the film for a second time with friends at the weekend I thought it was appropriate to briefly craft a revisit here at the Menagerie. For my money it has been one of the most debated and dissected films of the year, not exactly starved of coverage given its epoch defining technical achievements, with many critics citing the film as a return to the genesis of cinema by invoking Melies, Griffith and the purely spectacle side of the art-form which have been sorely lacking through a decade of deadening digital pyrotechnics. The numerous scientific audits have amused me as of course the Cuarón’s have been faithful to the spirit of space exploration whilst some of their shortcuts are necessarily unrealistic, as even on a second viewing I could swallow a narrative which essentially can be reduced to some vertiginous game of Frogger. The rather odd narrative flourish at one point in the film which I thought could be problematic was diminished on the second viewing (if you’ve seen it then you probably know what I’m talking about) but whilst the intention was to run a diagnostic on some of the films manufacture I found myself genuinely swept up in the story again, and although the emotional framing is a little sleight I do think you needed some arc in order to really get a satisfying splashdown.
So minor quibbles aside I’d judge this as almost a masterpiece, an unquestionable step forward for SFX in the digital wake of Avatar, I almost don’t want to know how they achieved some of those effects and movements from a technological perspective as that peek behind the curtain might spoil some of the fun (oh, OK here’s some intel), but from the dark side of that moon I’ve heard that these revelations have actually deepened fans appreciation of the film stratospheric reputation so I’m torn - in any case this mission is definitely getting a debut day Blu-Ray acquisition in 2014. I’d wager that technical Oscars across the board are guaranteed, with further nods but no wins for Bullock and Cuarón, as there is still some prejudice against this sort of thing from a best picture or acting perspective and besides, 12 Years A Slave has those categories locked down next February. Here is a instructive is a technical article I’ve sourced, and isn’t it interesting that the overall aesthetic intent was specifically looking to achieve as long a shot as possible, a gravitational reaction to the hyper cutting, serrated and frayed edges of Greengrass et al. and the still prevalent vogue of so-called ‘chaos’ cinema?
One arena I couldn’t get into before was the 3D presentation and its increasingly firm cementation as a viable format, would you Adam n’ Eve it but even the legendary bulwark against the format Mark Kermode has even reluctantly come out and said that yeah, you really do need to see this one in stereoscopic surroundings. My position has always been clear, when used appropriately the format is just as proficient, illuminating and illustrative as any other stylus in a filmmakers arsenal – sound, colour, composition, pace, figure movement, set-design, performance styles, film-stocks and treatments, and well, I could go on – as long as it’s deployment serves the story, and given that the approach in Gravity is to plunge the audience into high-orbit I think they’ve achieved their goals, and incidentally tackled the whole light-loss complaint that often provides ammunition to the detractors. Speaking of sound the soundtrack is astounding (from the UK’s Steven Price) and the sound design is a whole other continent, a fantastic addition to the jaw-dropping visual sheen, after Director mate Del Toro convinced Cuarón that his original intent to keep entire sequences silent might be scientifically accurate but alienate the wide audience he was hoping to reach. I’m also told that in the spirit of international co-operation they approached David Fincher for advice, he said they’d need to wait seven years for the technology to realise their ambitions (it took just under five) whilst James Cameron thought while it sounded fantastic it would cost $400 million – they did it for a cool hundred.
In terms of the films themes or assignations I don’t have much to add, I just love it when creative souls have a vision so vast, so galactic that the technology itself to represent that imagination needs to be constructed in order to be achieved. It’s a process of discovery and experimentation which in turn shapes the designs and the final piece, as reading around some of this films five-year history has deeply reminded me of the similar gestation period and organic evolution of Kubrick’s 2001. Simple and pure human ingenuity, a sense of spirit, perseverance and endurance which can be considered a meta level component of the film itself. So finally I have been amused to see that co-screenwriter Jonas Cuarón has filmed the reverse scene of one portion of the film which should be interesting, and here is a fantastic discussion with Emmanuel Lubezki whom is one of the great cinematographers of our fragile new millennium. Some of the smarter reviews I’ve consumed have remarked on the film’s interior qualities, of how this is a tale shining with a sense of cool melancholia, both with a sobering austere reduction of our attempts to conquer this impossible horizon and a programme which looks inward and back to a return to Earth, rather than outward to the infinite cosmos and the stars. The padded gauntlet has clearly been thrown down for 21st century filmmaking, a film marrying ideals of survival and loss under the digital infrastructue of modern cinema - so over to you Jim and J.J. for 2015 eh?…..
Be afraid, there’s a maniac in town. Yes, that’s right, the second phase of the BFI’s Gothic season materialised last night in the form of one of the masters of murder, Italian maestro Dario Argento was in London town to discuss his work before a beautifully rendered screening of his macabre masterpiece Suspiria. Argento’s reputation precedes him, he can be a rather difficult and prickly fellow which may be in part due to the rather wretched quality of his output over the past twenty years – even his greatest fans reluctantly admit that his films have been terrible since the early 1990′s – but his iconic status is assured for a number of genre classics which revolutionised the murder movie back in the 1970′s, mostly due to his ‘Three Mothers’ trilogy (of which Suspiria forms the original entry alongside Inferno and 2007′s Mother Of Tears) and the gruesome giallos Tenebre, Profoundo Rosso, Phemomenon (a personal favourite – it is fucking nuts) and the glittering titled film which began his career The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. I’m a little on the fence when it comes to his work, whilst like Brian De Palma I can admire the craft of certain sequences, the loose commentary on cinema as cinema rather than an oblique storytelling ruse, a use of camerawork to map out the space of terror and a glorious use of mise-en-scene to reflect his characters fractured psyche’s terror I do find that there isn’t much lurking beneath the surface of his blood drenched degeneracy, and generally I prefer a little more meat on the bone to gnaw upon when it comes to the wider context of themes, obsessions, statements and illumination – in effect some scenes are great, but the overall films can be poor. However, as a technical artisan he is probably amongst the top dozen to have ever specialised in the horror field, and Suspiria in particular was a film I have been anxious to revisit given its rumored remake (by David Gordon Green whom has apparently stepped away so the project is circling Hollywood again) and the movies exalted position in the pantheon of pain, it’s a firm cult favourite whose wide-screen vistas scream to be seen on the big screen.
Interviewed by Frightfest warlock Alan Jones Argento seemed in good spirits through his slightly hesitant and heavily accented English, as we wandered through his birth into a family of movie executives and photographers, up to his first assignments as a film critic before he came to work as a screenwriter for Sergio Lenone on the Western classic Once Upon A Time In The West. Understanding that he would have to make something stylish to differentiate himself from the pack of cheap, quickly constructed horror movies (a cheap genre that usually had a solid ROI in those days) he turned to the lurid and yellow jacketed murder mysteries now known as giallo for inspiration, before directed his debut which went on to be a minor worldwide hit – he’s very rarely stepped out of the genre since. Some of his observations were quite telling – ‘dialogue is boring, cinema is looking and seeing’ hew said he learnt as mantra from Leone, but there was something of a disdain for American cinema which is a little hypocritical given his adoration of Hitchcock (he may be an Englishman but his masterpieces were made under the Studio System), as he remarked that he was disappointed with his second film Four Flies On Grey Velvet as it ‘looked like a US film’. Still, there was some banter on his involvement of the production of Dawn Of The Dawn and the subsequent alternate versions of the film (domestic and European versions), and his predilection for the band Goblin to score many of his triumphs (they have gained some cult kudos recently and playing a popular world tour), so all in all this was a pleasant re-cap of his career to date – although they really shouldn’t have closed things with a clip from Dracula 3D as it looks laugh out loud terrible.
These concerns were expunged by the shrieking screening that followed, I won’t waste valuable words on a detailed synopsis as plots aren’t exactly Argento’s strong point, it’s really his evocation of a delirious, phantasmagoric atmosphere which silhouette his films out from the majority of the gory pack, alongside a Hitchcockian imbibed ability in building cruel tension shredding set-pieces with are then punctuated with graphic and horrific violence – he’s a master of the kill scene. As Suspiria opens Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American ballet student arrives in Munich during an ominously gloomy storm-swept night in order to enroll at a mysterious and prestigious dance academy in Freiburg. After finding the building locked down and braving the threshing weather she decides to decants to town, but not before a harried figure exits the building and desperately whispers a phrase into Suzy’s ears – it’s quite a delicious mood setting opening which none other than John Carpenter has specifically praised;
The distressed evacuee is Pat Hingle, a recently expelled pupil who rushes for protection from a local friend before rather clumsily getting herself disemboweled in the bathroom by a knife wielding maniac, her twitching corpse crashing through a glass fresco which in turn impales her benefactor beneath a severe rain of piercing glass and metal. Suzy and her new friend Sarah (Stefania Casini) soon believe that these and other murders are part of some sinister plot lurking behind the Academy’s halls, for purpose, or purposes unknown. The film is first distinguished by the use of anamorphic lenses (similar to Carpenter’s adoption of the same for Halloween) which broadens the density and breadth of the images, whilst the giggling lunatic behind the camera soaks the frames in delirious flashes of colour, jarring off-centred framing, distorting focus effects and a gnawing sense of breathless anxiety, pummeling through with Goblin’s cacophonous electronic score. The effects are expedited by the imbibition treatment of the Technicolor film stock, a process which gives a lurid, lustrous sense of colour in the image which glistens on-screen, and I have to say that the print that the BFI have sourced was immaculate, pin sharp and vividly detailed, yet you could still tell it wasn’t a digital projection due to the cigarette burns and occasional distress mark.
Overall the film provokes a woozy, half conscious, nightmarish amelioration, it’s very much a roller coaster movie with a swirling blend of image, sound and severity which coagulates in the mind, co-written with Argento’s frequent muse Daria Nicolodi (the star of many of his Argento’s films, his ex-wife and the mother of Asia) the film has a brooding fairy tale veneer, of an innocent penetrating a seductive and dangerous metaphysical world where a murderous id runs amok. As much as I do find these films are little more than expertly orchestrated sequences stitched together with the most ridiculous and ill-conceived plots (not that its clear what the plot was as the final credits roll on this one), I do love Joan Bennett’s appearance in the film as the pulverizing principal of the Academy, keen Menagerie readers should recall that she is the crimson clawed femme fatale of one of my favourite films Scarlet Street, and her star presence helps obliterate the rather feeble performances from the majority of the doomed cast which of course is not particularly aided by the dubbed dialogue which is hilariously stilted and bad, I don’t know if the words themselves are this trite and ridiculous in the original Italian but frankly its some of this incongruities which fans like and admire about these malevolent little movies, they like the arch-kitsch dimensions of the speech in conjunction with the violent slayings which are operatic in tone and intent, a shrieking siren of a movie which hacks away in an eerie, mist drenched psychosexual pain. So that’s that, for my money Argento’s last watchable effort was an imprint of the Masters Of Horror TV series called Jennifer which is quite the memorable little tale, but here is the conclusion to the film (so, erm, SPOILERS) which is quite the deranged little ditty;
Critical horror mass was successfully achieved this evening with the presence of two of the remaining legends of the industry in the same place, at the same time. I’ve made a hesitant start on last nights Argento event but to see him in the audience this evening as his old mate George A. Romero received the interview treatment was quite the genre occasion, with a terrific buzz of excitement in the air. Now, since I am entertaining guests this weekend I won’t be crafting my thoughts until far into next week given other work related activities, so here’s a quick placeholder which will hopefully sate your ravenous, ghoulish appetites;
The screening of Suspira was good fun, not to pre-judge things but I’m not a massive Argento fan, but this was a fantastic print which made for quite a double-bill. Then of course there is the king of the zombies;
All in all a terrific twilight close to my exceptional movie year thanks to the BFI, I may be mopping up with some further Gothic screenings next month……and of course yes, this cult favourite was mentioned…..
Well, at least I think it’s the final trailer, you never can tell these days with teasers, pre-trailer teases, and other nonsense dreamed up by idea vacant marketing executives;
I have to say that whilst yes of course I’m looking forward to this I’m not, like, counting down the days like I was with ROTK or anything, but I guess that may change when we hit December and my pre-ordered copy of the extended edition of the first one arrives. I’m also keeping my powder dry on the ‘controversial’ inclusion of Legolas and Tauriel, let’s just see how it pans out in the movie shall we?
Tom Hank’s cunning pincer movement to net another best actor gong is represented by two films this year, the Disneyfied courting of the author of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr Banks, and as the distressed ship’s captain facing down ruthless Somali pirates in Captain Philips - I’m not sure which is more terrifying. Personally speaking a cruel elixir of Disney and Mary Poppins is likely to induce a sea-sickening nausea in yours truly but I’m more than happy to board Paul Greengrass’s hulking political metaphor, as in the Indian sea a vast shipping container attracts limpet criminals to a capitalist whale, overflowing with an abundance of goods and products and the prospect of mercenary material gain. I quite like Hanks, in interviews he always comes across as an extraordinarily friendly and genial sort in interviews and junkets, a genuinely nice guy whom over the years he has moved steadily and proficiently from the frat-boy humor of his early roles to the towering seriousness and Oscar pulsing bait of big ‘important’ pictures. He has a definitive screen charisma which anchors an American pragmatism in both his historical and contemporary roles , a modern Henry Fonda you’d enjoying grabbing a hotdog with or maybe a less remote Gary Cooper you could grab a beer with, I can even forgive him for the offensive politics of Forrest Gump but that, as they say, is another story. But maybe, just maybe there is a black-hearted career driven psychopath beneath that genial carapace which would throw his own mother under a bus if it furthered his career*, as I think you can never fully trust a man who sports two christian names - think George Lucas, Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, or Prince Charles.
Based on a true story whose authenticity is inevitably being questioned – apparently the non-fictional counterpart was allegedly a lot more renegade with his crews and passengers safety – the film is lifted from a 2009 incident where the Maersk Alabama , a civilian cargo ship was assaulted by a desperate group of Kalashnikov wielding Somali’s, their khat chomping leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his erratic henchmen being briefly sketched as rather desperate young men driven to such extremes by the desperate socio-economic conditions of their broken country in an opening, context setting sequence. In fact the film is a surprising two-hander with Philips and Muse’s positions being given almost equal station, Philips remarking to his wife (Catherine Keener in roughly 90 seconds of screen-time for some odd reason) in a similar first act manoeuvre that ‘everything is moving so fast these days’ and ‘our children must learn to navigate a very different world’ which flares the directors thematic intentions, of desperate and confusing times presaging increasingly desperate measures.
Screenwriter Billy Ray has based this tense testimony on 2010′s breathless A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea and as you’d expect from a filmmaker with the adrenaline pumping calibre of Greengrass after that opening the technique is urgent, nervous and as choppy as the waters under which the drama unfolds, but I am simply tired and exhausted of his now distracting roving camera and frenetic editing rhythms, what once could signal an urgent momentum to his pulse racing narratives is tedious, alienating and confusing, he really needs to evolve as a filmmaker as he’s starting to resemble a clichéd bore. Speaking of dinosaurs this is might be my mood but I could not generate one iota of sympathy for the hi-jackers despite these submerged intentions, I wanted these violent idiots to be executed as swiftly as possible, and some rather signposted lulls in the action are exploited to punch a political message which falls well short of pathos or potential. Of course Greengrass is slightly more mature than the likes of a Michael Bay, a McG or other action directors of that ilk, and although he doesn’t get Hanks to hip-check a pirate into the drink, grasp his AK47 and begin pouring down a holocaust of hot leaden vengeance on the hoodlums he does have something of a hard-on for the military hardware once it arrives to muddy the waters, whilst I’m a bloke who enjoys exterminating faceless goons in computer games such as Military Industrial Recruitment VI: The Clones Of Saddam as much as the next Neanderthal this quiet acquiesence to overwhelming American force stands in an odd displacement to the previously deployed thematic depth-charges.
Hanks is desperately convincing as the terse Philips whom is just about keeping his head above a swamping sense of panic as the situation grows increasingly desperate and claustrophobic, and I must admit that the final sequence is exceptionally arranged with a terrific final scene which is just about worthy of the preceding two hours of uneven and turbulent intentions, but it takes a long time coming so for me I find it difficult to recommend this other than a home viewing option when it lands on disk sometime in the new year. Maybe I’m slighty miffed as evidently commentators with swifter pens than I have identified a trend of survival movies this year – I had already plugged this observation into my gestating and increasingly mammoth Films of The Year post (which is marinating very nicely thank you) so whilst for me this doesn’t assail the urgent heights of Gravity or All Is Lost your fathomage may vary, but make sure you reserve some resources to see next weeks major interstellar release;
* Yes I’m joking of course, my favourite Hanks story is this – on the pre-production of Saving Private Ryan as directors like to do Spielberg sent the entire team on a brutal regime of basic training to manufacture a sense of a group who lived together in an intense combat situation, to create a sense of close camaraderie. That big, burly tough-guy Vin Diesel led a revolution against the programme after 24 hours claiming that the exhausting process was pointless and stupid, and it was Hanks who quietly took him aside and instructed him to ‘man-the-fuck-up’ as they were representing heroes who had made the ultimate sacrifice for Europe and America – they all meekly reported back for duty the next day.