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Malick Musings….

Inevitably the backlash has been arrested with a backlash, with some defending Malick’s recent mystery. I’m still percolating, and as I said I think I need another couple of viewings, but it has been playing on my mind beyond the surface issues. At the very least an American director interrogating and refracting on previous world cinema heights is to be celebrated, a quite rare incident these days, as illustrated here;

Maybe Marvel should give him the first slot in phase 4, although they’ve probably missed a trick with the imminent Dr. Strange movie. His take on yet another rebooted Fantastic Four picture might make it right, complete with a philosophical Silver Surfer and an imperious Galactus silently pondering the nature of the infinite, the indiscriminate cycle of birth and death, although this pitch might not be as wise as my nomination of Sophia Coppola to direct a Halo Jones adaption. OK, OK, hear me out – Malick directs mildly Angry Birds 2?

I, Daniel Blake (2016) Trailer

Congratulations to Mr. Loach and his team, I’ve not really been following Cannes but anything inspiring strong political debate on the fucked up illusion of ‘austerity’ nonsense gets my support. Here’s a flavour;

Following certain film critics as I do the inevitable x,y, and z was robbed seems to be the usual reportage, while grudgingly admitting that the winner was a good picture. C’est la vie….

Dog Eat Dog (2017) Teaser

What’s this, hot out of Cannes we have a) a new Paul Schrader movie that b) actually has received a wealth of positive buzz, unlike, say his last decade of efforts? Colour me excited;

Anything based on Eddie Bunkers novels will always clock into the Menagerie interest vault, so I’ll be instructing my narks on the street to keep their eyes peeled for a London release later in the year. Alongside the news that Scorsese will finally team up with De Niro, Pesci, Al Pacino (really? Blimey) and the gang for one final crime film and I’d judge this as a positive week…..

Escape From JC

Oh how original I hear you cry, yet another bloody JC music post eh? Well, it’s my blog so you’ll just have to suffer the consequences, and this sounds great in full HD;

He’s confirmed he’s doing many of the classics alongside his new material, I eagerly look forward to the setlist when the tour begins, and it should be interesting to see how else is in the crowd at the Troxy come Halloween given that its his only UK date. Now, if the BFI can get their act together and convince him to do a Q&A when he’s in the vicinity……

Fine Art Film

This is nice, a secret of all those famous fine art compositions that cinematographers have imitated and homaged over the years;

This has turned me on to the film below which I’d never heard of, quite surprising as if you put gun to my head then Hopper would probably be cited as my favourite artist;

Knight Of Cups (2016)

kn1Ah, a new Terence Malick film. Like the pulse of the tide the attitude of the critical fraternity ebbs and wanes with the Texas tested preacher, and as I vaguely understand it from skim-reading initial thoughts from last year’s festival ornithology his latest hymn wasn’t exactly wooing the faithful. ‘Treading water’, ‘lapsing into self-parody’ and ‘self-indulgent and pretentious’ seems to be the consensus, with this his mere seventh film in his forty year career. There is a long and illustrious history of filmmakers satirizing the hand that feeds, of pouring their scorn and derision on the industry and trappings of Tinseltown, its vacuous inhabitants and never ending thirst for success, prestige and power – think Billy Wilder in Sunset Boulevard, Minelli in The Bad & The Beautiful, Altman in The Player and more recently Cronenberg in Maps To The Stars. Given the sour subject matter and critical opinion it’s a miracle that the film managed a release at all, distributors were evidently nervous about the films commercial potential despite the presence of such a heavyweight auteur before the project, and his last film To The Wonder also didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Nevertheless I kept a cautious eye on the release schedule, and was relived to see a paltry 7 days window release on just three screens in the capital, somewhat limited my screen9ing options in tandem with the schedule. At the end of the day it is a new Malick picture and such kinship means that a cinema viewing is absolutely essential, so I trundled over to the Curzon Soho which has had something of an internal facelift last week, to see what all the fuss was about. The result is quite a difficult experience to decouple and decant from thoughts to words, and a mere philistine might belittle Knight Of Cups as I did with a friend as essentially ‘the Sean Penn sequences in Tree Of Life stretched out to two hours’….

kn2Christian Bale is the distant and slightly shambolic Ricky, a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter adrift on the turbulent seas of life. Rootless and encumbered he embarks on an internalized quest to shatter the spell of his dismay, embarking on a series of dalliances with a sextet of alluring women: the spirited Della (Imogen Poots), his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), exotic fashion model (Freida Pinto), an affair with the married Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a Las Vegas sojourn with playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer), and a final interlocution with Isabel (Isabel Lucas) who sparks some succour for his ailing soul. Ricky is also grappling with a tremulous relationship with his faintly estranged father (Brian Denehay) and his substance recovery healing brother (Wes Bentley), seemingly the only settled segments of his life revolving around commerce and the fiscal seduction of the film business. The romances and interludes and in Ricky’s life are dissected into chapter headings culled from the Tarot, signalling the yearning for a spiritual epiphany which Ricky desires, as prowls a vision of Los Angeles as a jungle of glass, asphalt and chrome, and whatever Knight Of Cups may or may not be is it’s unquestionably one of the most beautifully photographed films of the year.

kn3So, another film about an obscenely wealthy, enormously privileged white dude who has to endure the soul sapping prospect of fucking numerous hot starlets and attending a carnage of Hollywood parties and screenings, if you listen very carefully that’s the sound of the world’s first molecular scale violin playing for Ricky’s lamentable ennui. Well, that attitude seems to be the prevailing view of Knight of Cups which I’ll admit oscillates between tear inducing sublimity to wrenching boredom, Malick growing even more defiant in his rejection of classical storytelling modes, in this his most outlier and oblique film to date. The dramatic dilution has never more rigorously enforced, in standardised cinema scenes are arranged to erect some sense of a procession of events and incidents that build a character and their story, a tradition which this has been murdered at the altar of pure sensation and aerial affinity, as the film dances between location and whispered voiceover to provide a choir of yearning, seeking symbiosis. One section for example sees Ricky being robbed by two hoodlums in a frantic home invasion, a sequence which Malick pares back to about 30 seconds, drowning out the barked orders in favour of Ricky’s internal monologue. In other films that event would have been mined for all its threatening empathy, in Knight Of Cups it’s a mere aside, an empty gesture which forms another indifferent thread on his tapestry of life. Judging by the credits he’s exhausted no less than three editors on this film, parsing the incredible volume of material his improvisation technique produces , and he must be the only director working within the A list who manages to get his films funded, made and distributed without having any sort of script or storyboards to anchor the actors and performance. In terms of the closest film that this reminded me of was Fellini’s 8 1/2 which takes a similar approach to life as carnival, as a pandemonium procession of empty experiences that serve no nourishment for the soul, with a conflicted and apathy stricken protagonist wandering through Emmanuelle Lubetski’s glorious, celestial spanning environments.

kn4Regardless of the final perceived pretension of the film which may rest in the eye of the beholder I just have to admire any filmmaker who is pushing at the envelope of his own, uniquely formed aesthetic, with Malick is pushing his style even further into the purlieus of paradise. The production anecdotes reveal a completely liberated filming experience, with no confining structures such as marks or dialogue shackling the performers to any sort of plot, but those ideological underplays can provide a clear roadmap any comprehension on the part of the viewer. The film frequently abandons sequential time and instead adopts visual representations of consciousness, with a total absence of what could be classed as a purely functional shot, an insert to convey story information say, as instead every sequence holds some symbolic or representative power which although overwhelming in places can occasionally link together to evoke a truly divine drive. Narrative, the absolute unimpeachable nucleus of classical Hollywood cinema is pushed to the margins in favour of emotion and internal debate and that is radical as modern Hollywood seems to offer. The steadicam work hangs slyphlike on the borders of a scene, unwilling to penetrate, instead surefootedly interrogating the internal empathy of the sequence and the thoughts and yearning of consciousness’s trapped in these frail physical vessels. However regenerative these techniques there is no question that the presentation of women is problematic, through the whispered voiceovers and lingering shots of Ricky’s conquests the only figure to emerge with any coherent personality is Blanchet as his semi-estranged ex-wife, unless the film is subtly suggesting that this is how Ricky sees his numerous paramours, as inscrutable creatures placed aloft some lofty pedestal to be worshipped until their novelty is spent. At the very minimum this will require future viewings and as a fan I did enjoy this experience, despite some of the problems inherent in the approach. Overall it’s not been a particularly banner year so far, of the films I elected as the most exciting for the Menagerie in 2015 Hail Caser was terrible, The Reverent and Midnight Special were fine but not particularly potent, and now this screening which I defiantly enjoyed but am sympathetic to the naysayers complaints of Malick disappearing up his own magic-hour sunset. He shoot his upcoming picture Weightless back-to back with Knight of Cups with some of the same cast, so we shall soon bear witness of this remains the direction of travel. At one point ‘No one cares about reality anymore’ is asserted by one of the degenerate denizens of Hollywood, a fine apropos of our times, but Malick’s sacred saturated solution won’t be for everyone with Knight Of Cups squatting in the minor arcana of his transcendental travelogues;

Cutting Corners

Another fantastic video essay on the art of movie making from Tony Zhou, this time focusing on editing process, decisions and technique;

Prince Of Darkness (1987)

POD1The hideous horror of balancing an eldritch exhausting day job and this squirming corner of the internet continues – look, I’ve been busy, OK? It’s not just that full reviews have been scant on the ground, finding the time to even get to the cinema has also been scant, but I’m hoping to correct that before the weekend. In any case we still have an earlier expedition to explain, returning once again to the creepy canon of John Carpenter with the underappreciated oozing Prince Of Darkness. Like many of my first viewings of his corpse choked chillers initial memories are of the effect on the audience, not surprising given Carpenter’s expert manipulation of space, cause and effect, and the mischievous masking of double bluffs to relieve the audience before driving the blade home. I will never forgot my first viewing of The Thing – who does? – at around the age of 13 when I staggered home from a post-school-friends-house screening to confront my growling dog, remaining somewhat wary around her for the next 48 hours 9 years. As reported during the last slice of Carpenter coverage I also recall Big Trouble In Little China at the cinema during its initial run, swooning over a contact high of martial arts mayhem and action movie antics. I remember with fond lip-smacking affection the raspberry slushy I consumed when watching Starman for the first time, a family Saturday night VHS viewing, the soundtrack of which haunts me to do this day. I remember seeing the The Ward just a few years ago as the only punter present in the 400 seater Empire Leicester Square, a lonely, mania inducing experience which immediately reminded me of this. Finally when it comes to Prince Of Darkness I remember a mullet of my oldest friends clustered around the film in pitch darkness just after the movie had hit VHS, his mother ‘chaperoning’ our BBFC violating viewing which in this context means clutching two pillows in front of her face and screaming at every creaking door and bout of vagrant violence. So when the Prince Charles cinema announced a screening of all three of Carpenters so-called Apocalypse films – The Thing, Prince Of Darkness and In The Mouth Of Madness – as the climax of this season I cackled with hideous delight. As you may recall I have seen both The Thing and Madness at the cinema already but the chance to revisit Prince and complete the hideous incantation was simply not to be missed, especially since I haven’t worshipped the film at in any format for many neglected years. Hmm, ‘Thing’, ‘Madness’ and ‘Prince’ – sounds like a appropriate summary of this year’s popular culture headlines…..

POD2

As the bearer of an extremely mild OCD personality I’ll always admire how this series of films are prologued with an aligned title sequence design, the same font set against the same stark background, just like Stanley’s beloved sans serif. Even as a kid unwise to the worlds of typography and graphic design it unconsciously developed a sense of a coherent and connected body of work emanating from the same warped mind, all interlacing and retracing back on each other like tachyons ricocheting across time and space. Deeply influenced by the Quatermass stories of Nigel Kneale – and in retrospect the Nolan brothers might have absorbed Prince Of Darkness as part of their Interstellar programming – this is a film interested in the pivot between scientific rationality and the insubstantial rhapsodies of faith, the tangible material versus the ethereal immaterial. Although it suffers from one of Carpenter blandest leading men in the form of Jameson Parker the premise overshadows the charcoal etched characters, our main man playing a theoretical physics student finalizing his Ivy League dissertation. His lecturer Professor Birack (Victor Wong, fresh off wise sage duties in Big Trouble In Little China) gives a little speech to his class about quantum mechanics and the collapse of classical reality at the subatomic level, setting in motion the limits of our understanding as it collides with notions of good and evil, dream and consciousness. Interspersed with the rational streams of the story we also witness the quiet passing of a Catholic elder, with subordinate Priest (Donald Pleasance) inheriting the knowledge of a terrible, epoch shattering secret – and all this before Dan Brown’s conspiracy clutter took the tin-foil beanie brigade into popular culture. An ancient cylinder with physic defying properties has been secretly sequestered beneath an abandoned Los Angeles church, and at the Priests request Professor Birack and his team are brought in to examine and investigate the relic over the course of one fateful evening. Something malign and unsympathetic is slowly corrupting the local environment and vagrant population, an ancient evil awakening from its infinite slumber…..

POD4

As something of a Carpenter acolyte who hadn’t seen the film for a while this was a revelation, and whilst it doesn’t muster the heights of his highest achievements it ominously lurks among the second tier triumphs of The Fog or They Live. Firstly the concept of Prince Of Darkness was fairly original for the horror genre back in the late 1980’s, so even if portions of the execution are lacking it always has its quantum speed quotidian of nameless horrors gnawing at the very fabric of our reality, a shivering landscape in a period when genuine Lovecraft adaptions were veering from the schlocky to comedic. Carpenter keeps his camera moving, shooting with wide-angle lenses, which combined with his trademark  anamorphic format formulates a level of disruptive distortion around the frame, with sequences carefully cut to his foreboding funeral dirge soundtrack. The overall effect is slightly destabilizing and delirious as the horror accrues and the claustrophobia intensifies, draping the film with a strangling shroud of doom. The entire premise of quantum theory dovetailing into human ethical constructs such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, of reality collapsing into infinite vortexes that our puny insect minds cannot register or comprehend is just great stuff to feed the intellect, and this was well before concepts such as string theory or dark matter escaped his academic confines and infected the national conversation. Traditionally horror sharpen its shocks and scares against more social or cultural urges, violence against women, promiscuity, communist scares to name just three, but I’m actively struggling to think of another picture which really aims for the constellations and the yawning gulf between time and space. All these long running debates over the remaining possible remakes of Carpenters films with Big Trouble and Escape still on the agenda seems to overlooked this picture, I’d postulate that this story is ripe for reinterpretation, maybe Jeremy Saulnier or Jeff Nichols could do such a project proud – the church is still standing, so I might add a visit to my Blade Runner pilgrimage in 2019….

POD3

I will insist on shrieking my usual mantra but the film comes alive in full widescreen, as originally framed and photographed, as there are definitive choices here that have been masked by years of VHS cropping. Carpenter was always adept at manipulating different frames of foreground, mid-ground and background to impart story information and threats to the audience while keeping the characters ignorant of their danger, and these have been lost by the Philistines on the pan-and-scan duty. Although this revival has rekindled my affection for the movie I’m certainly can’t claim that it’s a perfect film, and like a lot of Carpenter’s crafts there are strengths and weaknesses in equal measure. Chief among the former is the distant performance and presence of our erstwhile hero, having some wise cracking cynic wouldn’t have assimilated into the tone of the film but he really is something of a non-entity, with a subsequent career fade to theatre. I like a bug-eyed, scenery chewing Donald Pleasance as much as the next man but he verges on self-parody here, intoning enough breathless anticipation   ‘ I’m also not sure of the Alice Cooper stunt casting, although I guess it may have attracted some music fans to the movie he doesn’t really do much other than look gormless and hover. Structurally it moves at a fairly brisk pace by assembling the characters and setting the context of the imminent apocalypse nesting within the Church, but it still feels a little pedestrian and localized until the final act kicks events up a gear, with a great climax that fulfils the movies modest $3 million budget. The negatives are overwhelmed by the positives for me, as I just admire the ideas in the film despite their imperfect realization, and as a Carpenter worshipper some of his stock trades and techniques are enough to keep me visually and aurally stimulated with another brooding and bruising score.

POD5Like other puny offerings you could read the film as a mirror of social class which predates his next film They Live, the street people are the gutter dwellers easily seduced by the malign and ancient alien presence foisted upon them by the Church, the bourgeois the questioning well-educated scientists enslaved by the illusions of science and rational logic. Am I clutching at straws in this analysis? Maybe as I can’t really evolve that strand, but it strikes me as a thread in the wider tapestry of Carpenters works which threads the genre needle to weave his anti-authoritarian instincts. Yes, that dream sequence remains as spine shudderingly eerie as it always was, a half buried transmission coiling in the purlieus of a waking nightmare. As you’d expect the siege film dynamics are expertly orchestrated, erecting a sense of space and tone which most artisans rarely effect, but they pay off in the final act when we have understood and absorbed a definitive sense of interlocking space and character positions, particularly when isolated figures are being frantically rescued by their companions as the evil draws its plans to fruition. The makeup effects are a little dated but thats to be expected, but some of the imagery remains slippery and pungent on the frame, and I’m amused how this temple of elemental evil is situated in some modest LA suburb, less than a keening howl from the Hollywood citadels  themselves. The whole final sequence is just great genre cinema, a pulsing sense of genuine dread and apprehension of exactly what is advancing on our reality across the 5th dimension, I like to thing it might be the daemon from Ridley Scott’s Legend as they certainly share the same sulphurous skin tones. Normally I aim to take down one film by one of my favourite directors per year on here, a loose ambition that isn’t always achieved. To have claimed the scalp of no less than three Carpenter films by May has me beaming like possessed emissary. As I see it we only have one remaining major film of his to cover, Escape From New York, and I must find a screening of They Live soon, and I will consider any convenient opportunity to see some of the others like Christine, Starman or maybe even a deep cult cut such as Bad Moon Rising. I implore you however, for all that is holy in the cosmos don’t ever expect a Ghosts of Mars or Village Of The Damned reviews – I’d sell my soul to avoid them;

The Woods (2016) Trailer

There’s one every year isn’t there? One breakthrough horror film from the festival circuit which slithers into the imagination and injects some new blood into the purifying genre. Last year it was The Witch, the year before that It Follows, the year before that The Babadook. This year the chittering fiends of the on-line community have been cowering in terror of The Woods, directed by Adam Wingard who is forging quite a promising career after The Guest and You’re Next;

Apart from the obvious echoes of the Blair Witch and The Shining there’s not much to go on from the trailer, which is usually the best way to go. Consider my interest kindled…

The Handmaiden (2016) Teaser Trailer

Park Chan-wook is back after his less than successful foray into the English language format with Stoker, and judging by the energy and…well, the discomfort of this trailer here’s hoping he’s fully back on delirious track;

On a vaguely related front concerning strange foreign language films, may I humbly recommend the Spanish seething Marshland? Despite inevitable comparisons to True Detective we’re in a sunbaked 1980, the country is slowly adjusting to the abdication of Franco as the rural set procedural sees two cops investigating the rape and murder of a number of young women. So far so obvious right? Well no, as the atmosphere is very carefully crafted, the photography is outstanding, and the slightly offbeat setting is just exotic enough to maintain interest – here’s a trailer;

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