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Wild Tales (2015)

wt1I want to talk. I want to talk about money. There has been something of a mini-scandal among the London film critic twitterati recently due to the arrival of a gleaming new art cinema in the capitals hinterlands, with the completed nine month facelift of the old Renoir cinema transformed into the newly anointed Curzon Bloomsbury. Naturally I’m no stranger to the old place having caught the likes of Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World there over the years, usually during discounted matinee weekend screenings. Like the recent Curzon Victoria the new site has raised eyebrows with its boutique interiors and state of the art cinema systems, enabling well heeled patrons to relax in plush splendor for the princely sum of £18 a ticket. No doubt about it that is rather steep for a movie, particularly since they’ve also axed cheaper costs for early screenings, causing real consternation  as it doesn’t exactly encourage punters to ‘take a chance’ on foreign or slightly offbeat non mainstream fare. I, however, am a slave to my obsessions so I couldn’t help myself but shell out the currency for a duo of screenings to celebrate the newly minted space, firstly taking in a sparsely attended screening of Argentina’s unsuccessful candidate for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar – Wild Tales.

wt2If revenge is a dish best served cold then these furious Latin protagonists certainly don’t care for temperature, as this portmanteau series of tales angrily orbit a central conceit – venomous vengeance, vigorously executed. In one tale a waitress in a quiet restaurant recognizes an extremely rude patron as a loan shark gangster who drove her father to suicide, in another a road-rage incident screeches off the tracks like a Spanish language remake of Spielberg’s Duel. A group of seemingly unconnected aircraft passengers grow frantic when they discover they all know the same unhinged person, in another sequence a wealthy businessman persuades his gardener to take the rap for the hit-and-run killing of a pregnant woman by his substance abusing son. Cannily saving the best for last proves that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, particularly a bride on her wedding day when she discovers that her newly acquired husband has been playing hide the llama with an attractive, younger co-worker. These half-dozen vicious vignettes are endemic with rage and frustration, an anthology of anxiety, dripping with despair.

wt3Being something of a jaded, cynical, dark hearted soul this film was right up my alley, and although as always with episodic structured films some threads are stronger than others  this is a hysterically funny picture, a hellacious  hymn to our corrupt and hades natures. The camera placement and occasional storytelling flourish from director Damián Szifron add a delicious frisson to the blackly comic proceedings, with some ironies and twists while eminently guessable would have an onyx hearted prankster like Hitchcock gleaming with pride. The standout is probably the final wedding from hell with a hilariously frenzied turn from Érica Rivas, although like most of the other sections it does run out of steam in its final contortions, rather than closing with a definitive, grotesque gut-punch. Wiser souls than I could probably identify some specific social commentary on Argentina’s recent corruption revelations and her economic woes, particularly with Ricardo Darín’s struggling everyman turned furious  explosive insurgent due to endemic corruption in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of rules, regulations, and turgid civil servants.

wt4As for the cinema facilities I test drove two screens during my duo of viewings (we have a bona-fide cult classic on the way specifically for you 1970’s petrolheads), catching Wild Tales in the splendor of the primary Renoir screen, and I have to say it is a terrific space with an appropriately mammoth screen, blessed with 4K projection capacity and the sound quality was simply fantastic – Dolby Atmos all the way. The facilities have expanded from two to six screens which is quite an achievement for the cluttered geography of the original footprint, with a promise of more bespoke film seasons alongside the high visibility art-house fare which should keep the tills twanging – they’ve commenced proceedings with a week-long auteur themed series. Maybe Curzon’s recent excursion into premium costs for a high-end experience is a metaphor for the wider 21st century divide between the rich and poor in terms of services, housing, travel and the generally frenzied cost of living in London, but there was one incident that perhaps says it all – Bloomsbury charged me £3 quid for a modest glass of coke. It’s enough to drive you mad;

Spectre (2015) Teaser Trailer

More grimdark in the world of movies, this time with Blighty’s favorite psychopathic misogynist. When the old seer says ‘kite’ I thought he was calling James a very rude word indeed;

As a heathen who didn’t particularly care for Skyfall I think this looks OK, and just to be a disgusting chauvinist myself Monica Bellucci = win.

Maggie (2015) Trailer

The first thing this reminds me of is those rumors of Ahnoldt circling Ridley Scott’s proposed adaption of I Am Legend in the 1990’s, and then it goes all emotional and moody. I don’t think I like a weeping Terminator, and lets face it all his movies since he came back to the screen have been relentless three star affairs. Alas after a promising start this looks no different;

Werner Herzog Season – The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

kaspar1You certainly can’t accuse Herzog of being trapped in the same geographical or historical epoch in his movies as we move on to the next disk in the BFI box set, alighting from 16th century South America to the fatherland in the late 19th century, a rather quaint and rural environment seen through extraordinary eyes. Taking his inspiration from the true 1828 story of Kaspar Hauser Herzog finesses the mysterious yarn with some slight embellishments to serve his specific vision, and brought to screen one of the most unusual leading men of any period. Bruno Schleinstein was raised in poverty and was ruthlessly beaten as a child, enduring a brutal upbringing in a sequence of care homes and state shelters. Sensing a remarkable affinity Herzog cast him as the titular Hauser who appears in a quiet Nuremberg square after being released from a lifetime of captivity in a stable, having never seen the sky, or a tree, or absorbed other human contact other than a mute man draped in black who fed him throughout his bizarre upbringing. Consequently Kaspar has no concept of language or social conditioning that we all unconsciously digest, marking him as a remarkable vessel to observe the world and the structures we have erected around us, the veneer of polite civilization gnawing at the animal within.

hauser2Apart from a shuffle of intelligible grunts and snorts there isn’t a word spoken for the first fifteen minutes of this film, before Kapar’s mysterious jailor takes him into the wild green yonder, his purpose and motives a total mystery straight through to the film’s final reel. In intent if not quite in tone  Enigma is a clear precursor to Under The Skin, the narrative orbiting a surrogate vessel to observe with acute detachment the strange vagaries of the human condition, our rituals and customs, the polite protocols and economic iniquities, these strange affectations which a visitor from an alien background might find difficult to discern. One is reminded of Herzog’s story of his own childhood, in the destitute poverty stricken rural lands of immediate post-war Germany, where he distinctly recalls seeing his first orange which he hadn’t even seen a picture or a photo of, tactile in texture and taste an artifact as exotic as a Martian egg. With the insights of an innocent or an inquisitive child Kaspar queries the unspoken rules of the land, asking ‘why do only women cook and sew?’ and ‘I cannot see how God made everything, that is absurd’….well, from the mouths of babes and all that….

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The film opens with a hazy, almost sepia soaked images of landscapes and geographic features, fading like the withdrawing wisps in the  purlieus of a fading dream. It’s the past, a time of mysterious intent and understanding, foreshadowed with a telephoto aperture mounted on a wide angled eye lens, giving the interstitial imagery an alien effect as the wind gently caresses corn, as a clock tower strikes another hour lost. These are artefacts rendered from an almost interstellar origin, perhaps Herzog’s attempt to give us Kasper’s inquisitive POV, his conditioning and understanding as far a reach from his contemporaries as a 19th century soul viewing our chaotic 21st century proscenium. The mysterious interloper is treated humanely, as more a curiosity than any threat, given shelter, sustenance and warmth, not treated as a freak monstrosity by his fellow men even when he turns to desperate employment at a travelling circus to pay his way and earn his keep.  The film would have failed without Schleinstein’s otherworldly, naturalistic performance, if performance is even the appropriate word for his utterly convincingly aura of being from almost another dimension, like a bemused, clomping Bowie who fell to earth a century before this Nuremberg materialization. The clergy are bemused with Kaspar’s ideology and his oblique transmutations of all matters ecclesiastical, toward the end of the film he becomes a fashionable attendee at court for the chattering classes, an oddity politely subsumed into gilded society, before they tire of him in favour of the next unusual phenomenon or discovery. Through these story phases we see the lengthening of 19th century European enlightenment, scientific method and rigour weakening the Church’s rigorous grip on the reigns of universal truths and phenomenological plurality, Kaspar a metaphor of the epoch when new molecular and medical mysteries were supplanting the ancient warding of ritual and religion.

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There is a lovely moment on the commentary when Herzog explains how during the morning of Kaspar’s discovery he applied a rhythm to the pacing in order to present the city waking up, making the film ‘hold its breath’, and one of his anecdotes of how people with diminished physical statures view the world in a very different way is, well, it’s just ‘classic’ Herzog. Over an uncertain period Hauser becomes a gentleman of modest status and prestige, through time cuts which Herzog never signals through traditional methods (slow dissolves, inter-title cards etc.), discreetly drawing a lilting vale over the entire ethereal enterprise before Hauser is enveloped in history. In the real world Bruno Schleinstein became something of an Outsider Art scene posterboy before his passing only four years ago, although there is another entrancing performance of his in the Werner canon that we will turn to shortly. This oddly disembodied and dreamy film is dedicated to the great critic Lotte Eisner, one of Herzog’s early champions and inspirations, igniting within him a flame to bring to cinema a ‘ecstatic truth’, of our world seen through the eyes of a dreamer whose mysterious life and transcendent tragedy echoes through the mists of time;

Mission Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation (2015) Trailer

I do like the Mission Impossible series, apart from the second one they have been a consistently entertaining sequence of fun big budget delirium. Here’s the teaser for the new one which a nervous Paramount have moved forward to July, so they don’t go toe to toe with J.J. Abram’s intergalactic assault on Avatars crown of the biggest box-office ever;

EDIT – Well now here’s the full trailer, looks pretty darn exciting. That money shot of Cruise clinging to the side of the plane has already become something of a ‘thing’, given that he did actually do it the bloody mentalist. I cant actually remember the last blood thumping action movie I really enjoyed, at least one that wasn’t some SF hybrid. Still, John Wick’s out soon so there’s that to beat…..

Composing Movement

Yeah, yeah, I know there’s that great montage doing the rounds comparing opening shots to final shots of films, but I’m hesitant to post it as it features some recent movies, and we always want to avoid the dreaded spoilers – make your own mind up here. Instead here is a little essay on movement, and sensei Kurosawa;

Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Blade Runner (2007) Final Cut: Re-Release

After the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey last year and a re-release of Blade Runner this year I have to wonder – have the BFI been intercepting my calls? Two of my all time favourite films given another airing in subsequent years? All we need now is a John Carpenter season, now that would be….something. Here’s the new trailer, having seen the film three times at the flicks I doubt I’ll bother with another sojourn to LA circa 2019;

Oh fuck it, who am I kidding, of course I’ll go and see it again – I just can’t help myself. It might be fun to give it another pass and throw some thoughts together for 2015, in the light of the sequel announcement and the imminent calendar catching up with the meta-narrative – just four years and eight months to go. You know what though, what would really get me excited is a screening of the original 1982 domestic or European cut, as I’ve never seen either version on the big screen, voiceover n’all – that would be completest paradise. Here’s a reasonably written overview, for the best fun skip to the comments for some quite hilarious trolling……

Hyena (2015) Capsule Review

hyena1 Whilst I’d have loved the opportunity to support a fairly promising British film with a full review time is short and I have other obligations, so forgive me with something of a brief capsule review. I was going to open my commentary with some discussion on how difficult it is to capture the real aura and spirit of London on film, no doubt igniting exaggerated eye-rolling and accusations of southern prejudice from any UK dweller north of the Watford gap, but I stand by my premise – for every Eastern Promises, The Long Good Friday or Naked there are a dozen Notting Hill’s and mockney imitations of the loathsome Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. These texts all seem to operate in this cartoon mirror of London rather than the real ethnic potpourri, of the squalid chicken cottages couched next to the opulent architecture of Belgravia and Bermondsey, of the rain sodden flagstones caked in gum, of the coffee shops and pubs awake with the chatter of Chechens, Chinese and Canadians. Does the world need yet another gritty, moody cockney crime caper featuring more bent coppers than Magneto in a mischievous mood at a Southend penny arcade? Probably not, but director Gerald Johnson seems to have drawn from the best pedigree of crime films for the inspiration for Hyena, you don’t go directly replicating Michael Mann’s font and neon glow title card for Thief for your sophomore movie without nuzzling up to dangerously vicious members of the  pack.

Narcotic squad leader Michael (Peter Ferninando, unrecognisable from Johnson’s first feature Tony) isn’t a completely crooked cop, he does look out for the innocent and cares about the exploited and vulnerable, he just happens to have a few lucrative allegiances with some of his manors most notorious crime gangs and its never entirely sure if this is just a bluff to get deeper into their operation or he’s just Dot Cotton. Like any pressure cooker movie he’s beset on all sides with a thumbscrew tension – he and his coke snorting crew are being investigated by Internal Affairs and an old nemesis David Knight (Stephen Graham) has mysteriously returned from Brussels to lead the hunt for a vicious Turkish people smuggling gang. His partner Lisa (MyAnna Buring, the first of two thespians from Kill List including Neil Maskell) is also losing  patience with his behavior, and the Albanian syndicate he’s in cahoots with is finding itself under pressure from some new dogs on the block. It’s with this panjandrum of pressure that the film fumbles and falters, as Johnson can’t quite keep the various strands in the air, and the plot becomes a little convoluted and confusing among the warring factions and Michael’s perjurious project management. Where it excels despite a miniscule budget however is in aura and tone, it’s a melancholic, inevitable and reflective piece among the usual testosterone tug-of-war  (Michael’s friend whom I can best describe as Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher on steroids steals the film with some terrific humorous asides), with the filth hovering up more coke than a syndicate of street dealers, propelling the film forward with a frenzied and fluid charm.

So no doubt you’re looking for some commentary on the soundtrack given that it is provided by Matt ‘The The‘ Johnson, brother of the director, and one of the Menagerie’s all time favourite musicians. The highest compliment I can pay which the movie murderously earns is that I barely even noticed the score, so carefully it was embroidered into the films liquid lighting and urban estrangement, reminiscent of the Infected B sides and instrumentals for you real fans out there. Hyena howls for slightly more coherent and orchestrated things to come, but in terms of place and time it reminded me from a mood perspective as something approaching a contemporary capital Get Carter, powered with  thick rails of Peruvian flake rather than a pint of bitter in a thin glass…….

Fritz Lang Season – Human Desire (1954)

hd1Poor old Gloria Grahame, the grand dame of movie femme fatales has got herself in another murderous pinch with her old man. She plays Vicki, the slightly bored working class wife of Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford), a railway worker with a drinking problem whose just got himself fired following a drunken altercation with his boss. Seeking to make amends she visits the higher-ups and convinces them to reinstate her husband, but in another drunken rage he suspects she has compromised herself and takes his rage out on his boss with murderous results. Framing the death as a robbery to keep the bulls off their tail Vicki now realizes she is in mortal danger from the psychopathic brute, so she turns her feminine wiles to Korean war vet Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) who’s just looking for a peaceful and uneventful life at home – be careful what you wish for soldier. One of the great pleasures of a film season is the chance to track down some missing pieces in the celluloid puzzle, alongside this I’ve also seen The Blue Gardenia and Man Hunt for the first time, and revisited While The City Sleeps, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt and Clash By Night to refresh the Lang lithography, and as a late period piece in his extensive career this is a slight, yet entertaining hors d’oeuvre.

hd2The story had been filmed twice before: La Bête Humaine (1938) directed by non other than the cinephile champion Jean Renoir and Die Bestie im Menschen (1920), both loosely based on the novel by Emile Zola – bloody remakes and reimagining’s eh? What a thoroughly modern inconvenience. The film plays as much as a melodrama than a clear noir although it shares much of the inky iconography – sexual manipulation, a murder plot, urban uniformity, a tragic trajectory. Rather than soured gin-joints or rain-sodden streets however the film develops in modest domestic environments or on the railroad train tracks, an intersecting criss-cross of humming vehicles foreshadowing the impact that Vicki will have on Jeff’s quiet and modest life. The serviceman returning to normality is a noir trope but has shifted from the Pacific and European theatres of World War II to Korea in Human Desire, but the crepuscular concept remains the same – broken and scarred men struggling with conformity, yearning to be domesticated and rekindle the suburban American dream.

hd4Re-teaming the sizzling duo of Grahame and Ford from 1953’s The Big Heat reminds me of the Joan Bennett & Edward G. Robinson double act that Lang cast back in the 1940’s, an effective advertising hook for the studio marketers to proudly proclaim  ‘SEE X & Y BACK TOGETHER AGAIN’, just like Bogart and Bacall, Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire, and many other purring pairings. Human Desire reminds one of the murderous seduction of The Postman Always Rings Twice, although Grahame isn’t just the cruelly manipulative femme fatale of most noir nightmares, she’s more a desperate women increasingly pushed into a desperate corner. She sure knows exactly what she’s doing and what buttons to press on those panting men but her will is propelled from a position of terrified survival rather than cold greed or stiletto sharp cruelty.

hd3There is a more naturalistic approach to the material than one would normally expect from Lang’s blackly American grotesques, its palpably evident that the film was produced at the tail end of his career,   a diluted noir which may be for genre completests only. Although the film  pivots on a love triangle its Grahame’s film through and through, she playing a silky game of spinning her web of desperate deceit and desire, as the plot moves to its inevitable and inexorable, switchblade silvered conclusion.Overall the film does feel a little hurried, more of a quota quickie spun into production and swiftly out into theatres rather than a tale deeply considered and  contemplated,  but noir fans should enjoy the delicate frisson between Grahame and Glen, with a few scenes that burn with a sharpened intensity. In this iteration of Lang’s universe it is lethally dangerous for the train of life to divert from its prelaid tracks, and desire is a destination not to be trusted;

Mad Dog 1:85.1

Something of a placeholder this evening as I’m frankly exhausted after an irritating indoctrination on a new assignment, this one has a phalanx of precious obstacles but I think we have a growling strategy. I did manage a new movie this week however, so my review of Hyena is this weekend’s priority. At some point. Until then, this;

What Is Composition from Press Play Video Blog on Vimeo.

If you are interested then I have managed to craft some coverage on the London Human Rights Festival which commences next week – summary details here. You can maul my specific mutterings here, here and here. Regardless of my material please give the festival some support if you have the time and geographical ability,  as this brilliant festival shines a crucial light on some neglected corners of recent history, celebrating a global movement for justice and reconciliation…….

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