It’s looking like a big week for franchise trailers, but doesn’t this look a little green-screen forced?;
It’s looking like a big week for franchise trailers, but doesn’t this look a little green-screen forced?;
Yes, I thought I heard a sound, as if a million pensive voices suddenly cried out in…glee?
Well, I said the old cast would look weird thirty later and here we are, and it all looks…well….pretty fucking exciting. Loved the cold opening, and this decision to play off practical effects with CGI is gonna work wonders. It just feels like a Star Wars movie doesn’t it? This bodes well, now I must retire to my mediation chamber to ponder this further……hmmmmm……
Poor sad Keanu. There he sits, moping around his ultra-modern Hamptons townhouse, mournfully reveling in the recent cancer ridden death of his beautiful wife. It was her feminine influence and the promise of a life brimming with affection and love that successfully lured the titular John Wick away from the lucrative employment of a powerful New York crime syndicate, more ruthless than the Mafia and with more success than any of the other immigrant mobs the new kids on the block are headed by American cinema’s current bête noire – the Russians. These new interlopers are embodied in the gruff exterior of chief antagonist Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a visionary wise enough to know when his spoilt brat son (Alfier Allen, best known as the tortured dude from Game Of Thrones) and his goons steal Wick’s car and execute his dog that he now has an epoch threatening foe to contend with. With nothing left to lose and his last hope of humanity cruelly extinguished Wick abandons any final pretense to a cherubic celebration, and not even his old partner in assassination Marcus (Willem Dafoe) can convince him to turn from his hellbent course to hades, as he explosively embarks on a carnage strewn mission of vengeance…
Citing a film as Keanu’s ‘greatest action flick since The Matrix’ isn’t really claiming much given his recent pedigree (did you see 47 Ronin? Sheesh) but in his directorial debut second unit stunt co-ordinator promoted to the riding-crop chair Chad Stahelski certainly knows his way around a action set-piece, and has the good sense to play the film as a genre blast without any pretensions of intellectual or ideological rigor. I thoroughly enjoyed the twilight movie world that the film conjures with its nocturnal palette, it’s a very stylized picture that operates in its own self-contained bubble, the kind of hyper-real realm where the merciless gunning down of a few dozen faceless henchmen barely makes a dent on the evening news. For the first two thirds of the picture the action scenes are outstanding, splattered with breathless carnage and peppered with more fatal headshots than a skid row Hollywood talent agency, an exquisite chain-reaction detonation of speed, editing and space that are played in long takes and unobtrusive wide shots as a conscious riposte to the shaky-cam tedium of the Bourne movie paddock. Stahelski and his screenwriter Derek Kolstad have clearly been looking at the likes of The Raid and been pining for the golden days of those heroic bloodshed abattoirs, musing that perhaps they can replicate the adrenaline overdose in a North American context, of maintaining the pace and energy of the Crank movies and manage a tribute to Jean Pierre Melville’s underworld here and John Woo’s moral codex there.
Ah, look at the cute ickle puppy, isn’t he sweet? It’s a stylish film with a clear attention paid to costume, hardware and location, and I was immediately gut-shot with a clever colour gradient to marry the plot with the surface. The washed out and bleached veneer of Wick’s lonesome life slowly shifts incrementally into warmer and more dangerous purples and crimsons as he wistfully returns to his old ways, a vivid encapsulation of his finding a new purpose and role in life, even if it is a somewhat nihilistic creed which offers no satisfaction nor salvation. We swiftly move clearly defined ‘movie-world’ of Armani clad assassins lounging around in Manhattan suites or sipping cocktails in techno ravaged nightclubs; of neutral havens such as the Prestige hotel which is considered sacred ground by the underworld which no wet-work is permitted to blight, there’s even a few faces from The Wire to put a grin on the faces of all you urban eavesdroppers and an amusing cameo from David The Warriors / Twin Peaks Patrick Kelly for guaranteed cult movie kudos.
It’s such a groaning shame then that the film just can’t suspend the high wire act of teeth rattling action and genre japes as it runs out of ammunition around the 2/3 mark, straining and limping like a gut-shot goon into its inevitable final act showdown which involves a helicopter escape, the docks, and a Kurosawa cribbed burst of inclement weather. Potentially entertaining characters that have been introduced earlier stand around looking as uncertain as the cul-de-sac plot contortions, particularly wasted is Adrianne Palicki as a sexy nemesis / liquidator whose presence seems to have been sheared down to the cutting room floor, and I always assumed that the first rule of action movies was to save the best for last rather than jamming your weapon with a stilted and servile conclusion. Still, it’s worth the price of admission alone for a couple of set-pieces which have thrown the gauntlet down for the best combat sequence trophy of the year (its kind of a spoiler but if you can’t resist then here), and given his newly restored respect it should be interesting to see what Refn does with Keanu’s bone crushing zen persona in the Neon Demon which is currently shooting in LA.. In style and literal execution John Wick is several octaves more frenzied and frolicking than the Wanted of the current action battlefields, but for genre aficionados Grosse Point Blank still clips this puppy from 2,000 yards;
I guess the good news is the full trailer looks better than the teaser some months back, be warned however that its pretty spoilerific. I’m calling it now, this is the first Marvel movie that will underperform but still do well in much the same way that The Amazing Spiderman 2 ‘only’ did $700 million, so let the inevitable ‘Edgar Wright would have done it better’ speculation begin;
Speaking of spoilers DO NOT watch the new Terminator trailer as it gives away the entire film, plot beats and all. Also, for a Terminator film the SFX looks positively primitive, almost laughably bad. I have a very bad feeling about that one, as if we thought the last one was terrible……
What was that about not posting TV material? Well, after a rather hectic weekend I haven’t found the effort or inclination to finish my John Wick review, so instead let me join my voice to the chorus – c’mon Showtime, give Lynch what he wants, for everyone’s benefit;
Just to be a disgusting, facile male Madchen and Sherilyn are still looking cherry pie eh? Here’s some ephemera from the extra material of the FWWM Blu-Ray disk, sweet and unsettling dreams to all;
I don’t normally resort to TV postings but hey this has movie stars in it, so it counts – OK?
When I was younger I went through a few distinct phases of celluloid celebration and fascination. I’m something of a auterist you may have noticed which means that whilst specific genre attracts me there are also a handful of filmmakers whose work I will go and see immediately upon release, regardless of story, stars or subject matter – Scorsese, Spielberg, Sono, Mann, Lynch, Haneke, Herzog, Nolan, Fincher, Malick, the Coens, P.T. Anderson and on and on and on*. Back in the dying embers of the 20th century I went through phases where I became fascinated with and ruthlessly hunted the work of certain directors, from Carpenter to Coppola, from Oliver Stone to Abel Ferrera, Cronenberg to Tarkovsky. These obsessions stretched across borders, genres and styles, but it may surprise you to learn that one of these filmmakers wasn’t that proponent of the German New Wave but the other one, the chief mechanic of the meditative road movie Wim Wenders. It’s probably all down to the soaring Wings Of Desire, that rare art-house & film festival crossover hit that catapulted him into a different stratosphere of fame, combined with a VHS release of some of his earlier, funnier work, alongside some musical kudos due to his connections to quite a few favorite menagerie musicians of the time. In 1990 the announcement of an extraordinarily ambitious continent leaping SF millennium mood piece was quite a eye-watering prospect for the adolescent Mint, with expectation levels appropriately elevated.
Unfortunately when Until The End Of The World finally arrived in cinemas across the globe it was something of a pedestrian pause, a film containing some fascinating ideas and a tempting travelogue narrative yet was as stilted and devoid of dramatic divergence as the weakest of Wenders work, and it subsequently sank without trace into the depths of cult movie obscurity. Naturally Wenders claims that the film was butchered by the executives who forced him into releasing a severely shorn version which diluted his vision, yet he cannily retained copies of all the material he shot, which was assembled and quietly released on Italian DVD in 2004 following a few exclusive festival screenings. The plot in both the ‘trilogy’ (the film is now spread across three disks) and the truncated version stands at the cusp of the millennium, with a malfunctioning Indian satellite threatening to crash to earth and irradiate great swathes of the planet. Against this imminent doom taciturn Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin who wrote the screenplay with her then partner Wenders) traverses a nervous and confused earth, her distant demeanor contorted in a miasma of plot strands, mostly concerning a prototype machine that can record human perception – a Google Glass 0.5 perhaps. This cybercypher of new horizons has been stolen by an enigmatic 1940’s garbed hitchhiker (William Hurt, when he was seriously considered as leading man material) with a rogues gallery of bounty hunters and government officials on their trail, all at the behest of sinister industrialist Max Von Sydow who it appears is just as old in 1991 as he is in 2015 – has anyone checked his basement for Wildly influenced portraits?
I hadn’t seen this film in literal decades but my curiosity was piqued of absorbing an extended cut, being a SF and road movie fan this odd hybrid should have been on my radar, and as a completest I’m a slave to my obsessions thus the princely sum of £16 was extracted from coldly gripped talons . The experience was something of an epic journey as stuffed with a hideous cold I suffered through all 278 minutes of this film in one sitting – whilst I don’t wish to dazzle you with mathematics yes that is just shy of a five hour movie – and even through a Lemsip and Nurofen fuelled delirium haze I can confidently opine that although it is certainly improved by the deeper emphasis and time with the characters the film still suffers from some crucial engine failings. Opening in a slightly exhausted and decadent Venice the picture is immediately signaled as an internal journey for Claire writ large on the landscape of the near future world, she feeling disconnected and distant from various spheres whose wider problems and triumphs fail to trouble her emotional and internal journey. The vessel of delivery is the road movie genre with a speculative twist, the road dictating the intersection of lives and experiences with other travellers on their own individuals sojourns, where the characters yearn to understand and accept themselves amidst the irreverent highways of life.
Some of the films futuristic trappings are rather quaint now in their pre-social media, infant internet and cellphone saturated ignorance, instead the computerised clairvoyants are out in force including such marvels as (gasp) way-finding journey guidance applications that speak to drivers through some global system of positioning or something, international (get this) video phones where you can actually see the person you’re talking to, and some global information system which you ‘surf’ with digitized avatars in order to get answers to questions and unearth classified queries. I do find those elements fascinating from a social document perspective, a film set eight years ahead of its 1991 release which is now fifteen years past its fictional date that is receding in the rear view mirror, a periodical on the cultural issues, fashions, developments and designs of its making just as much as it cranks its neck to predict the future. As a SF film it dwells on the usual themes of dehumanization and detachment that our tools engender to all citizens of the world, the central McGuffin is a machine which enables subjects to relive and share simulacra of their dreams. Until The End Of The World is centered on images, their recording, archiving and retrieval, for a film bookmarking the surface visual excess of the 1980’s it still seems oddly prescient today, with our contemporary narcissist disease of selfies, snapchat and sextortion – now where is that pesky asteroid apocalypse to send us the way of the dinosaurs again?
If memory serves the film would have been conceived, assembled and shot just as concepts of globalization and unfettered trade were dominating discourse in the late 1980’s, as the wall fell and the soviet satellites were assaulted with shock-doctrine dissidents, so the globe hopping from Paris to Lisbon, Moscow to Beijing to Tokyo and beyond certainly keeps the narrative fresh from a visualised cosmopolitan perspective. The car stereo playlist which soundtracks the journey is an extraordinary collection of purveyors of fine aural pleasure, with rare and previously unreleased tracks by (big breath) Depeche Mode, U2, R.E.M., Julee Cruise, Talking Heads, Daniel Lanois, Patti Smith, Can, Neneh Cherry, Elvis Costello, Nick Cave, Lou Reed and others committing contemporary or previously unreleased material from what in hindsight can be considered the apex of their careers. In this enhanced version they all get their chance to really shine in combination with full plays of their contributions rather than snippets in the abridged cut. One of Wender’s primary filmmaking gifts is embroidering these aural delights into scenes and sequences in a fashion that feels natural and instrumental to the overarching plot, in fact you can see just how important an art form music is to him in subsequent work such as Pina and Buena Vista Social Club which form the loose quintet of his highest regarded works.
Classic cult cinematographer of the 1980’s and 1990’s Robby Müller articulates some handsome travelogue vistas which award the film an appropriate scene of psychiatric scale equivalent to the epic run-time, photographing a kaleidoscope color pattern of back-lit neon and primary reds, blues and purples, with just a dash of neon blazing futurism reminiscent of the work of Lili Lakrich and Bruce Nauman. Clearly Wender likes to slowly dolly his camera into scenes and situations after a wide-shot to establish the environment, an inquisitive movement before searching for the emotional tempo of the sequence, and he evidently never passed a gloomy bar where he couldn’t treat his protagonist to a maudlin drink to the melancholy strains of a desperate jukebox. For one versed in HD screenings this DVD transfer has a crisp, modern quality I wasn’t quite anticipating, although it might suffer from its German heritage with a lack of subtitles during some opening scenes unless you’re conversant in French. Again, in some meta-way this also seems to fit with the films expansive, sub-geographical framework though, and if you’re entirely retarded in foreign languages as I am you can still follow the brief of the action through tone and editing patterns alone.
So what’s the final score? Solveig Dommartin’s central presence gives the films the international flavor it sorely craves and Sam Neil’s ex-boyfriend/author role is hugely expanded away from the emphasis on William Hurt in the domestic cut, a decision which must have been at the executives instruction to better sell the movie to the English language market. It’s a fascinating curiosity, not particularly emotionally satisfying or illuminating, lacking any tangible human dimension in its near future speculation yet its languid, sprawling spread was strangely perfect for a cough-racked choke of Easter indulgence. When it is in Nostradamus mode the film is much more successful under its embryonic cyberpunk chassis, furthermore as a SF fan I enjoyed it as an artifact from a quarter century ago, but even with a run time double that of its original incarnation it still seems hesitant and uncertain, not entirely dissimilar to its visual and thematic period twin Strange Days with some odd echoes of Inception in its final dream weaving 90 minutes. When it comes to Wenders I’d love to review Paris, Texas which is a film I have a great deal of fondness for, and I recently rewatched Wings of Desire which stands tall as a film that was also very much a product of its cultural and social time, with Berlin still divided and the cold war thaw wrecking changes in heaven and earth. Until The End Of The World has similar lofty ambitions which drop from the sky like the EMP afflicted planes at the films mid-point, riddled with corrupted code, with shards of ideas and shrapnel of musings which while keen still never quite cut with the films meandering plot. Then as now, no-one wants a car or a computer which is prone for a crash;
I wish there was more women and international figures in that list but here we are, just to redress the balance I also really get excited about anything from Kathryn Bigelow, Gasper Noé, Kelly Reichardt, Alfonso Cuarón , Nicholas Winding Refn, Sophia Coppola, Kyiosha Kurosawa…..
It’s been a long, dark road, moving from the silent Rhineland epics to nefarious noir classics, but I think I’ve finally exhausted my Fritz Lang season. Looking back over the program I thought it appropriate to conclude matters in the 1930’s given the coverage I’m managed to accrue for the other decades of his career, with a little known, more obscure work to kill things off. Made shortly after Lang had fled to America from Nazi Germany You Only Live Once was only his second studio picture, funded by United Artists and the first of Lang’s numerous collaborations with legendary producer Walter Wanger. Social conscience pictures were the preserve of Warner Brothers at the time but never being afraid to ape their competitors many of the smaller studios also turned to the newspapers and periodicals for lurid story ideas, for any morsel to sate the insatiable hunger of the public for a thrill and a kiss, and maintain the ravenous production machines established by the whip-cracking executives.
Henry Fonda is uncharacteristically cast as a bad guy or at least a grey guy driven to bad places, a small time crook facing a long stretch in the puzzle house when his getaway driver shtick goes sour on an ambitious robbery. Released three years later he hooks up with his main squeeze Joan (Sylvia Sidney) and is unrepentant in his hatred and venom toward the justice system, so when another robbery occurs with him in immediate the vicinity he finds himself on the run in a picture that prefigures the likes of noir classics They Drive By Night, Gun Crazy or even Bonnie & Clyde exactly three decades later. I think people forget that back in the 1930’s these iconic American gangster figures weren’t ethereal legends, they were real criminals that the papers breathlessly emblazoned over lurid headlines each and every day, depression weary audiences silently cheering on the anti-hero striking back against the establishment, and there’s always been some swooning seduction to a doomed lovers on the run narrative hasn’t there?
Considering its vintage this is striking film, from the enclosed shadow play bruising Fonda and Sidney’s yearning faces, from a shockingly violent Breen-code validated bank heist which plays like an early Michael Mann set-piece, and Lang’s true fascination with the intrinsic moral core of the story – Fonda’s guilt or innocence is wilfully elided in the narrative. He is a sneering, sweaty revelation considering the pragmatic statesmanlike roles that were to come, and there’s an amusing appearance of Margaret Hamilton whom is instantly recognizable as a truly wicked actress a couple of years before she took on an iconic role. You Only Live Once is deliciously ambiguous, teasing the viewers instincts as to whether our persecuted hero is a criminal deserving of judgment or penitence for his crime, with Lang lacquering the film with a visual codex and editing sleight of hand to evade clear-cut moral absolutes. After the scandalous quagmires of the 1920’s Hollywood’s self-imposed censorship code meant that felonious behavior couldn’t be celebrated or tolerated without consequence, lending the film a doomed trajectory as the frantic, hopelessly in love criminal couplet struggle to escape the city for the peace of the wilderness, a yearning for happiness that Lang crushes with his ruthless Teutonic efficiency.
Considering this was only his second American film Lang certainty lacked no confidence in deploying the fathomless studio resources to his full advantage. In the film he plays with unconventional angles and compositions, inverting reflections in water, and placing his camera at low levels to shoot upward and distort both Eddie and Joan, placing a fairy tale fulcrum around their doomed escapades. In contrast the robbery plays out like a prototype Michael Mann stanza, a hard-edged armory of Warner Brothers. social realism (although this was a United Artist film directors aped each others styles even then), conducted by a quite sinister gas masked figure who hurls smoke grenades to bewilder his prey which is oddly violent and menacing for the period. It’s highly reminiscent of the sorcery and mesmerizing methods of Mabuse, with Lang’s pleasure in obscuring the frame with obfuscation and mystery decanted from his European fantasies to the North American noirs.
So that’s Fritz Lang my learned friends, after eight movies over 18 months this hasn’t been the most productive of seasons, but given that I’ve had to stitch this in with other BFI activities and new releases this feels like a natural end – we managed two silents, two films from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, including his two widely regarded masterpieces – not a bad score. I would have loved to interrogate one of the aforementioned Mabuse films which seems like a criminal oversight but here we are, and rest assured as soon as Scarlet Street gets a screening at the BFI I shall be breathlessly reporting back. Speaking of the BFI things have been quiet but a couple of Members Special Screenings are programmed for this month, but for now let me leave with you a couple of essential articles on the Teutonic titan that has deeply influenced the likes of James Cameron, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan to name just three, one of the great pioneers whose shadow still looms long on film art and achievement;
If that teaser last year wasn’t exciting enough then wait until you get choking on these exhaust fumes;
Good fucking Christ in a sidecar that looks exciting, you can see George Miller’s visual wit and style just like the originals and that has got my engine running. I see its just been announced that the official full Star Wars trailer is previewing ahead of The Avengers II which is quite a combination, but that still doesn’t beat the anticipation for the return of Max around Menagerie towers. I’ve only watched that trailer once and will drop a curfew now until the movie crashes into cinemas, nice of them to screen the picture out of competition at Cannes to give the other movies a sporting chance eh?