Some more gigantic monster fun that recently hatched in San Diego, this has a gargantuan strength cast, and enough visual references to have Francis Ford Coppola reaching for the litigation lawyer section of his rolodex;
Some more gigantic monster fun that recently hatched in San Diego, this has a gargantuan strength cast, and enough visual references to have Francis Ford Coppola reaching for the litigation lawyer section of his rolodex;
One of the few, perhaps the only redeeming feature of BvS was the introduction of Wonder Woman as a long awaited addition to the big-screen superhero canon. I won’t bore you with the horrific response of certain sectors of the on-line community when women are central protagonists in genre material, you’re up to date I’m sure on that depressing diatribe. But now we have the new trailer for one of comic books eldest eldritch erinyes, and as far as I’m concerned this looks fairly darn exciting;
Strange emphasis on Chris Pine in this preview though, is he the main character in this picture? Hmm…..In a vaguely connected thread I think I’m going to catch the new Ghostbusters picture and Spielberg’s the BFG tomorrow, it’s been a while since a managed a double bill and one must catch up…..
Otherwise known as the sequel with the annoying sidekicks. It was inevitable that Raiders Of The Lost Ark would return as a franchise given its box office obliteration and its origins in serial cinematic storytelling, with Harrison Ford’s imimic inhabitation of the distressed jacket and battered fedora ensuring that Indy would return for further swashbuckling adventures. Three years on however and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s domestic arrangements had simultaneously soured, and wounded through the process of scathing divorces both their pessimism allegedly bled through to the DNA of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, the so-called ‘dark’ film of the quartet. ‘Dark’ is a subjective term, and for Spielberg during this period ‘dark’ isn’t exactly a trawl through the visceral horrors of the D-Day landings or the Eastern European holocaust, its more akin to some shadowy photography, an emphasis on claustrophobic interiors and the odd glimpse of PG sanitized violence, but for an ostensive Children’s adventure movie this is quite a sobering affair. Of all the films in the franchise I remember being quite fond of the film, as a kid who tended to cheer the Stormtroopers and boo the Ewoks I embraced the darkness, giggling along to a plot which orbits industrial child kidnapping, ritualised religious abuse and live human sacrifice – perfect for a child. Infamously Tarantino has argued that it’s the strongest picture in the series, frequently airing his personal 35mm print at the New Beverley in Los Angeles, while other voices such as Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish seem to have joined their voice to the contrarian chorus. During this double bill I have to say I did find the picture lacking during some of its mid-peak longueurs and the cringe worthily Orientalism and bumbling racism is all quite despondent, with the addition of Kate Capshaw as Indy’s screeching love interest hardly equates to a Bechtel balance. But like any Spielberg film it has its moments, the glittering jewels scattered amidst the swine, if we take a very careful scalpel to the Temple’s trembling exo-skeleton…
Like Raiders before it I’m guessing you know the film intimately through numerous TV screenings, even if you weren’t treated to a big screen banquet back in those ancient Orwellian days of 1984. We’ll come into the structure and style shortly but the most glaring garments of the film some thirty years hence is the rather high racism threshold, as if this film was released today you could be sure of a storm controversy. You can’t avoid the white savior elements, with Indy literally falling from the skies in order to bring Western civilization and leadership to those poverty-stricken peasants, apart from the ruling caste of the colony who just happen to be heathen child sacrificing maniacs. The banquet scene is distasteful on a number of levels, with some exaggerated baiting of foreign cuisine and customs, although Spielberg plays it as affectionate romp it oozes from the screen like inebriated uncle lecturing you on how Brexit has given him his country back. – not even the effusive Delbert Grady can provide some much-needed decorum. Maybe this makes me sound like a hypersensitive member of the SJW brigade who is reading too much into a film of three decades vintage which in turn was playing on the common social perspectives of the 1930’s, but by any standards Doom has some cringe worthy contours, which isn’t exactly suppressed by the appearance of Indy’s love interest as a haughty, ditzy, shrieking blonde, a perpetual one-dimensional damsel in distress played by Spielberg’s second wife Kate Capeshaw. It’s a dramatic reversal of Karen Allen’s strident strength in Raiders, so you can’t help suspect that both George and Steven’s dark opinions of the opposite sex may have been bleeding in from the real world. Or, y’know, they’ve always been sexist jerks…..
As a villain Molar Ram, despite sounding like a particularly agonizing dental procedure is given short characteristic shrift, he’s quite clearly just a foreign devil with his unchristian heathen ways, and you never really get a sense of his motivations or ultimate purpose. So he’s stolen the mystical stones from the village and is sacrificing to appease Kali but to what end? It’s never particular clear nor why he has enlisted his child slave army to dig for…well, what? For all these diminutions the film like all of Spielberg’s superficial yarns has a pneumatic pace and energy, cribbing from the holistic cliché rulebook of good American guys and bad outsider guys, of swashbuckling swerve and exotic locales. It’s a fine technical achievement for the era, with a reasonable mixture of stunt, design and location work, moving down to the microscopic level with the miniature and model work not overwhelmed with CGI conjurations which had just started to emerge in the industry. I’ve never quite understood why some of the key and high-profile films of this period, including the Star Wars pictures for example were soundstage shot in the UK rather than in Hollywood. Sure the craftsmanship of the British crews was and remains legendary in the business, but it still seems rather expensive to house, feed and shift your entire crew across an ocean, so are the UK’s tax incentives just as attractive then as they apparently are now? If so then why wasn’t Blade Runner for example shot at Pinewood or Elstree? Alien was, so did specific studios have specific resources and deals embedded here? Answers on a postcard please…..
After thirty years of intervening on-screen adrenaline the calm construction of Temple Of Doom seems almost quaint, as it etches the contours of modern action blockbuster model just like Raiders before it, with a setting that is just a little more confined and constrictive. The open Club Obi-Wan sequence – jeez I wonder where that bludgeoning reference is culled from – is a lot of fun with the poison antidote / diamond / double crosses diptych, the inflatable dinghy escape from the abandoned plane as ludicrous as say, squatting inside a lead-lined fridge to survive a thermonuclear obliteration. The film does drag for a little as it desperately tries to force some slapstick romance on Indy and Kate, before the discovery of the Kali crypt and possession sleight of hand. I was dozing a little here, even during the PG perverting beating heart evisceration, but then a step on the accelerator spurned me to action as Steve does manage to set the film back on track with the mine-car chase and the rope-bridge gambit affecting a fine end to a intermittently successful picture. He’s on record as viewing the film as his least favorite of the franchise, citing it as being ‘too subterranean’ is an interesting turn of phrase, but perhaps it also raises the specter of a difficult period in his life which founds its way through into the eaves of the finished adventure. It does feel rote, as I said the banquet sequence is embarrassing and it has little of the charm of its predecessor, but Capshaw isn’t as quite irritating as I suspected, and Short Round does get one good line. So that’s two more key Spielberg’s finally covered, with one more slightly left field effort to examine which has become one of his most challenging curio’s, I don’t think any regular readers will have much difficult in predicting what intellectual and interpretative Matterhorn I decided to scale next. So until those oft-mooted rumors of Indy V coalesce into something more concrete we’ll let our weather-beaten hero ride off into the sunset, the unruly depraved runt of the frenetic franchise;
Hi hi hi there, we’ll keep this brief as we’ve plenty on as we transition to a new assignment next Monday – the layers of bureaucracy and security checks have been quite demanding – but I did manage to have a rather productive weekend just gone with that screening of The Neon Demon and a visit to the Daydreaming of Kubrick exhibition at Somerset House. I don’t wish to sound to overly negative but this wasn’t particularly brilliant, I am probably being overly critical and had impossibly high expectations given the favoured subject matter, but to my mind there was no connecting membrane through the exhibition, overall it never really emulated Stanley’s sour, dissective world view and many of the individual pieces were quite facile and unimaginative. Dressing up some giant teddy bears as Lolita or a leering Droog is not provocative, it smacks of all the hollow engineering of the entire YBA spawned movement as far as I’m concerned, and draping a crushed car with a large concrete cock in reference to the phallic murder weapon in A Clockwork Orange is about a staggering artistic statement as a Steven Segal inspired watercolour. There were some nice photos scattered around the place however, including an update of the perfectly preserved barn in Glastonbury where the climatic duel scene from Barry Lyndon was lensed, and this piece by Doug Foster entitled Beyond The Infinite was all very much emulating the prismatic DMT sequence in Enter The Void;
Far more effective however were two other pieces which got far closer to Kubrick’s legacy of innovation and experimentation, and these were worth the entry price alone. This piece by Toby Dye was inspired, as you walk into a room nested with four floor to ceiling projections on each wall, each transmitting a slow tracking shot through some abandoned office or perhaps hospital corridor. Just standing in a space where you are surrounded at every side by a visual moving slowly away into space is quite disorienting, while each wall features a Kubrick inspired character stalking down the corridor – a gas-masked droog, a skipping crimson garbed child, a furious lumberjack shirted Calcetti from The Wire, and a stately 18th Century courtesan and her simpering majordomo. The stroke of genius is to have these characters at certain points interact and break through into the reality of the other characters, as the Jack Torrance character grapples with the Alex De Large character, and on and on and on into infinity. Yes, it’s all very meta to use a tiresome contemporary term of reference, but it worked and actually provokes a sense of discovery and disorientation which was quite affecting.
The other interesting piece was from Chris Levine, and it’s probably best if I quote directly from the exhibition programme – ‘A self portrait of Kubrick is projected into the viewers peripheral vision using LED light technology. This ‘visual echo’ appears and disappears in a moment like a phantom’. Yeah, this was strange, like subliminally flash-burst blipverts registering in the mind, I think I’m still getting flashbacks a few days later. Finally it was quite amusingly eerie to be creeping about on a floorspace cloaked in that Overlook Hotel design which runs through the exhibition route like a bellowing frostbitten maniac with an axe, so after this going to see The Neon Demon at the Curzon was some sweet comic relief, cannibalistic taboo sexual deviancy and everything. It seems that some of my favourite directors including John Carpenter, Kubrick and to a lesser extent Spielberg are all getting some lavish attention this year, Michael Mann even had a season at the PC last month (but with no sign of Thief so I didn’t get round to anything), so while London and the world literally burns, I’m having the time of my time;
Well that was quick, I didn’t know they were even filming yet;
In a summer starved of intellectual or pure sensational bouquets The Neon Demon sizzles in summer roasted multiplexes like a undercooked kobe steak, rarefied, ravishing and nausea inducing in its blood streaked beauty. Never a stranger to controversy Nicholas Winding Refn’s follow-up to his universally maligned Only God Forgives has proved equally divisive, with accusations of another pretentious sequencing of imperious imagery obscuring an ideological inequity, an absence of any intellectual rigor or statements which have attached themselves limpet like to this pungent period of his career. A number of amusing similes have graced the film, with the frequent Kubrick and Lynch associations and influences dominating the discourse, my favourite pull-quote has been ‘It’s The Company Of Wolves crossed with Showgirls’ so just to throw my metaphoric hat into the ring I’ll frame The Neon Demon as Bret Easton Ellis fever dream remake of Suspiria . It’s a film which unapologetically embraces its abstract allusions, drilling into a shared psyche of a tormented society that idolizes the temporary over permanence, a disembowelling of the Hollywood dream factory that alongside Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars is as poisonous a chalice as it was during the heyday of the rigid Studio system. Like many a European auteur that presaged him Refn is simultaneously revolted and seduced by the glittering urban canyons of Los Angeles and its industries of image, crashing his titanic metaphor of the fashion industry into the iceberg of sleek, polished and sterlised iconography, the film is gorgeous and gluttonous with a symbiotic sneer against the very constructs that have packaged and sold the film all over the globe.
The Neon Demon has a Grimm’s fairy tale veneer of an adolescent entering a very adult world, with the waiflike Jesse (Elle Fanning) devoured by the fashion industry, pregnant with predators lurking around every chrome and steel laminated corner. After shooting a photospread with an aspiring photographer and signing to an elite modelling agency Jesse is befriended by make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), who seems to recognize Elle’s potentially naïve fragility given her past experiences in Tinseltown. Her two friends Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee, hot off last years Mad Max revisit) have already climbed the initial rungs of the industry, yet are already struggling to secure new assignments being too mature for photographers at the spritely age of 22. Their jealousy and anger is intensified as Elle’s star accelerates in the ascendant, with the influential decision makers in the industry literally dumbfounded by her beauty in a clear embrace of of semiotic satire. This my friends is a movie, a statement of intent which most of my recent screenings have avoided, more than just an entertainment every image and scene has a purpose, a binding construction and effort, however maligned its disturbing necrotic core. For a director most celebrated and criticized for exploring notions of masculinity and male aggression it’s curious that this is Refn’s first female fronted tale, with the men relegated to mere practitioners of gaze and adoration, if not outright misogynistic threat in the form of a strangely miscast Keanu Reeves as Jesse’s threatening motel manager.
That’s not to say the women are given an easy break, when they are not being stalked or treated as flesh and bone commodities they are preying on each other, feasting on a narcissistic orgy of self interested spite. It used to be that narraccism was a sin and modesty a virtue but look around at the preponderance of social media, personal accounts divulging the most personal intricacies of their hosts life or self satisfied and opinionated blog writers (Erm?), and we’re in a new gilded age of selfish symbolism, an area that Refn mines at its ultimate apogee – the fashion and visual culture industries. He understands that moving images need sound to seduce the senses so the appointment of probably the most liquid composers currently at work is a stroke of brilliance, alongside the incredible orchestrations for Soderbergh’s The Knick Cliff Martinez outdoes himself with another seething sonic snake, coiling and squeezing the venom out of Refn’s exquisitely engineered visual sequences. The film often slides into total abstraction, a cruel public audition session contorts into a horror movie climax, while Jesse’s catwalk debut melts into pure image and sensation, with a vaguely vaginal symbolism moistening the screen with a strobe-lit starkness. As such this is not a film for everyone and I am unsurprised at the vitriol that predictable elements like the sexualised violence and bludgeoning visual metaphors have attracted, suffice to say if you gravitate to film genres such as lurid hysterical giallos, Under The Skin or even Mullholland Drive then you should find some sustenance here.
As provocative partners you can almost sense Refn giggling in the back of the class with his henchmen Gasper Noe’s sexual inhibition, Tarantino and his indiscriminate machine gunning racial slurs and Von Trier’s gruesome gender politicking, each urging the other to up the ante and stage some new affront to delicate decorum and stirring the pot of cultural outrage. After Noe gave us the worlds first 3D cumshot in last years Love Refn is similarly unafraid to lunge down some very dark alleys, and it was quite refreshing to hear a director on the marketing circuit calmly admitting that he has deliberately sexualised the violence which goes against every possible protocol, Through the squirming narrative that he has written with his two female co-writers mary Laws and Polly Stenham they explore some taboos which I’ll keep cloaked for fear of spoilers, suffice to say the narrative plunges into unexpected areas which holds the attention and remain unpredictable, so after a few solid months of blockbuster modelling it was nice to be surprised with a film which I could not predict the climax. The beauty of whether these are justified has to lie within the gaze of the beholder, I think it was deeply pretentious and lacking in subtlety, two deficits which are overwhelmed by the sheer sense of sensation, sonic and visual sequencing which lingers in the mind far beyond its Vogue afflicted visions. Utterly shameless, sordid and strangely…erm..satisfying is The Neon Demon one of the best film films of the year? Probably not. is it one of the most appropriate and necessary features in these turbulent times? Absolutely….
Chances are, if you’re of the same generation as me who grew up in the 1980’s then when it comes to your formative cinema heroic idol you have two titans to choose from – Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Both are swashbuckling, cheeky, self-confident rogues with an eye for the ladies, nesting within a rather indiscriminate and suspect moral codex. Solo of course was not averse to cold-bloodingly murdering a rival in a crowded bar, with plenty of witnesses and damn the consequences – what’s that? No, LALALA I can’t hear you. The other is less bloodthirsty but equally ruthless, effortlessly dispatching hordes of heinous henchmen and gormless goons as he prances across the world stage, obliterating numerous priceless archaeological sites in order to glean the glory of the international adventuring community. The other connection of course is Harrison Ford, one of the most beloved and popular Movie Stars that emerged with the rise of the blockbuster era, a more slightly more humane and relatable idol than the cartoon caricatures of Ahnoldt or Stallone whom men and women of whatever orientation would like to emulate or fuck. Being the contrarian that I always equate Ford as Deckard, but that didn’t stop me being enticed to take in a pulse-pounding double bill at the BFI, as one of the more gruelling grimoires of their celestial Spielberg season – all four Indy movies, back to back, from midday to midnight. It’s been a long running Menagerie ambition to cover Raiders Of The Lost Ark as a key post-war American film, and I assessed that I could commit to two films in the franchise and then bow out gracefully, having already seen the following instalments on the silver screen – Crusade during its initial theatrical run in 1989, and Skull way back in an already historic 2008. Suffice to say I will deny controversy and assert that this first film in this incredibly popular series remains the pulsating pinnacle, a clear bridge between Hollywood old and new, with a captivating cartography which remains the template of major action adventure releases to this day.
So we’re back in the cinematic realms of wide-eyed, beguiled characters staring off-screen to some scintillating marvel, as the camera slowly tracks in to an enraptured close-up as the John William’s score crescendos in the background. This was Spielberg’s first official collaboration with his old friend George Lucas, he sandwiched between the intergalactic successes of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, when during a well deserved vacation they came up with a character cloned from the Republic Serial avatars of their cinema-going youth. Both men were struck with the archetype of an indestructible, lantern-jawed fortune hunter whom defies certain death at every turn of their globe-trotting adventures, through a combination of athletic pugilism, chaotic chutzpah and ingenious improvisation, a hark back to a simpler media time before those pesky adult themes and ambivalent shadings crept into the American cinema of the 1970’s. Raiders was a smash, the biggest film of the year which ushered in one of the most recognizable and beloved franchises of the modern era, a stalwart of Bank Holiday TV and big screen revivals which still generates feverish speculation on any new instalment to conclude this phase of this character. Although I’m guessing that you can predict and mumble through every scene and story-beat the films remains as entertaining and energetic as it ever has, unlike some of its brethren which do look geriatric compared to today’s CGI catastrophes. The first thing that struck me was the sheer pace and design of the film, opening with a now iconic set-piece to establish the tone, followed by a long and talky exposition scene – we need to get this MacGuffin in order to prevent the antagonists from taking over the world – before setting out on a metronome sequence that oscillates between character beats and actions sequences, all the way through to it’s strangely inanimate finale. Well, I say inanimate but I mean that in a protagonist sense, but we’ll come back to that…….
It’s the combination of spectacle and spectator that has carried it through the years, the sheer energy and drive coupled with Ford’s charismatic exhaustion which has reverberated over thirty-five years of entertainment. Indy arrives as a fully formed hero as if we’ve seen him in numerous tales beforehand (which in a sense we have of course, in archetype) whom undergoes precisely zero development or learning throughout his globe-trotting trials and adventure. However he isn’t a dyed in the wool American screen Übermensch of the era as screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has given Indy some human frailties, his fear of snakes may seem trivial but in fact becomes a clever plot point to provide some humanist empathy, and Ford’s constant expressions of surprise, bewilderment and exasperated exhaustion all add to a human figure prospering through extraordinary circumstances, lightening the tone with a zephyrous comedic tilt. This time around I just thought it a little weird that for a man so driven with the thirst for knowledge and the protection of sacred ancient treasures Indy was not exactly averse to utterly demolishing numerous ancient dwellings and site of spectacular archaeological interest, but I guess a two-hour, $80 million translation of Time Team might not have had the same universal appeal. At least he does get to do some intellectual detective work, a quality which seems sorely absent from the latter instalments, giving a chance to slow the pace down a little and reveal in a little mystical adventure and wonder, a natural fit with Spielberg’s cinematic raison d’être. Alongside Ford the films secret weapon is Karen Allen, a spirited damsel in distress to be sure which is a shame given that her initial, memorable introduction, but she remains a major character throughout the movie with occasional shards of her own agency, constantly striving to extricate herself from her circumstances, and isn’t afraid to give Indy a smack in the chops when he deserves it.
Although this was a digital print, another factor which teased my antipathy it was one of those transfers which has been carefully balanced to align modern clarity with ancient grain, retaining a period visual sheen which seems a perfect marriage to the 1980’s imagining the 19330’s source material. Now I suppose you’d like some of the trivia, huh? Well, I haven’t bothered to do any research and I’m sure given the fanbase that plenty of excavations of the film’s production have made to a forensic detail, but I do recall that Klaus Kinski was first offered the creepy Tott henchman role, and the prospect of seeing that psychopath screaming through a Spielberg production could have been quite a historic treat. Tom Selleck was a major TV star during the production and he was first in line for the fedora, and if I recall correctly there was some apprehension that Ford could be typecast given his explosive fame as a certain Correlian scoundrel, but he won the part and the rest, as they say, is history. Some of the matte and compositing work has naturally dated but not to any major disruptive degree, what really pops on the big screen is the astounding stunt work, knowing that this was all conducted for real really makes you nervously grip your seat-arm, despite sitting through the film numerous times. This wouldn’t be the Menagerie without some tenuous Kubrick link, so I’ll just report that it was during the filming of the Well Of Souls sequence for Raiders that Steve met and made friends with Stan who was shooting his horror masterpiece on an adjoining Elstree stage, shortly before his Overlook Hotel stage burnt to the ground in suspicious circumstances, necessitating an expensive and exacting reconstruction which pushed his production back for weeks. I also had to chuckle at the film’s most glaring logical failure, when in the immediate pre-climax scene Indy cautiously boards a diving submarine, followed by one of those cartographic montages which details its re-emergence on the a remote Aegean island many hundreds of miles hence. So how, exactly, did our hero manage to hold his breath for what, three or four days in the churning chaos of the South Atlantic?
Another point that is buried beneath the films pyrotechnics is an odd secular dichotomy. At one point the great Denholm Elliott, Indy’s sober academic colleague ominously warns of the perils of toying with forces beyond our feeble comprehension, as the biblical power of the Lost Ark is more dangerous that mortal imagination. Indy replies that it’s all mystical mumbo-jumbo, and he’s only in it to rescue a treasured artifact so it can be properly be preserved and examined. During that memorable climax that induced a thousand hours of adolescent nightmares there seems to be a change of faith in our hero, as he instruct Marion to close her eyes in a last-minute conversion to the holy vengeance of these terrifying, devastating djinn. Raiders is an umbilical link from ancient to modern as it connects the silver screen idols of yesteryear, the Errol Flynn’s and Douglas Fairbanks’s to the more modern action hero, still much far more charismatic and charming than the current crop of identikit french-cropped robots. Oddly, I don’t own any of the films in the franchise but I grew up them on constant rotation, I guess they’re on TV so much I never feel the pressing urge to fire up Temple Of Doom or The Last Crusade, but they never fail to make a couple of hours fly by in a throughly entertaining fashion. I will resignedly go and see the BFG despite the middling reviews because hey, it’s Spielberg, and my tradition of following certain influential entities must be maintained to retain some long cherished traditions. His latest films haven’t exactly set the box office alight, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings to inherit his mantle as we move toward more augmented reality for our leisure pursuits. I’m clearly getting older and older as it’s taken me a few days to divulge why various social media streams have been so choked with Pokémon related paraphernalia, until I understood that this new game heralds a definitive new charge into virtual interaction while Minority Report’s predictions seem increasingly medieval, maybe that glum assessment of cinema being an increasingly marginalised experience are all too true. But we’re not quite riding off into the triumphantly John Williams scored sunset just yet, as the next stop on our journey will take us to the mysterious Indian jungle for one of Steve’s rare ‘dark’ movies….
It’s not often I divert into TV territory but a combination of small town eerie Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Winnona means that yes, I will probably be giving this a d20 Charisma check for interest;
From this month’s Sight & Sound, a little analysis on the new Polish film Pitbull 2. Apparently a social media campaign persuaded the distributor to release the film in the UK, due to overwhelming demand, led by the UK’s immigrant Polish population. The film opened on a measley 32 screens yet still managed over £500K sales, which I think goes to prove the global nature of the film business. I missed it but it does sound like a film I would have enjoyed, as any brutal urban crime drama. It looks a bit generic but I just love how a grassroots operation can bring a supposedly ‘foreign’ film to these shores for a theatrical exhibition, so I think I’ll start with the original 2005 film which I’ve just loaded to the Lovefilm account;