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Millennium Movie Musings

Another week, another list expertly designed as clickbait discussion fodder, guaranteed to generate the usual furious gentlemanly debate concerning inclusions and omissions. To be fair the BBC do seem to have approached some well established and coherent critics, and the results while mostly unsurprising do reflect some of the best work of the past decade and change. I can’t fault the top place and for reasons I’ll get into shortly I’m not going to be specific on how this gels with my views, but my first impression was it’s a bit safe isn’t it? All a bit like a Cannes and Sight & Sound playlist sanctioned by the serious arbiters of cinema’s contours, with nothing particularly controversial in there, like, say, a Trash Humpers, A Serbian Film, The Hottie & The Nottie or any glimpse of the Noe and Refn’s of this world, although Spring Breakers made the cut which is about as controversial as you’re likely to get. Plus I suppose Von Trier is represented twice with Melancholia and Dogville.

Mulholland Drive ∙ Cinematrip from K L I K O D I N on Vimeo.

Again, pushing my favourites aside we must beg to differ on the likes of Holy Motors, The Lives Of Others and the utterly detestable Moulin Rogue! and its arrogant, presupposing exclamation mark, quite honestly Baz Luhrmann is just about in the same league as Michael Bay or when it comes to my particular idiom for aesthetics. I’d cite plus Amour as a stronger Haneke than either The White Ribbon or Cache in my book, but I’ve done well with my viewing as the vast majority of these have been viewed, and even reviewed on this very site. The only films I haven’t seen are Tangerine, Toni Erdmann, Moolaadé and Yi Yi : A one And A Two, in fact if I’m honest I’m not so educated on Edward Yang at all much to my shame, but he isn’t exactly a filmmaker with a strong strong distribution infrastructure and I also didn’t realize he died almost ten years ago. So that’s that. It is quite amusing and prescient to see number 83 which chimes beautifully with something I’ve been working on for weeks, watch this artificial space…..

Lost in Translation // Her: An Unloved Story from Jorge Luengo Ruiz on Vimeo.

The AICN and fanboy delegates will be outraged at the lack of LOTR, Marvel or Potters no doubt, but have been placated with three Nolan’s which seems like a slight overkill. As others have pointed out apart from Maren Aden, the director of Toni Edelman I don’t think there is a single filmmaker on the list who became active post 2000, which is perhaps problematic for the longer health of the seventh art, although it is good to see so much Iranian material and as a loose approximation of region ‘Asian’ cinema in there which I think maps to the recent critical trends in world cinema. In that vein I would havce although at a push I would have expected a Koreeda or Hong Sang-soo, and no kudos to either Soderbergh or Guy Maddin?

the films of the 2000s from Paul Proulx & Jessica Sargent on Vimeo.

This list arrives at an auspicious time. We have my tenth anniversary coming up in a couple of months and I might, well, I just might do something on my top ten of the century. List posts are generally easier to construct and I guess that would tie back to the blogs life-cycle, and it could be fun to do. Plus it also gives me an excuse to go on a bit of a HD spending rampage to acquire any gaps in my collection now that I have finally rearranged and streamlined my entire media collection, and revisit some of these films on my new 55 inch KU6400 4K Ultra HD TV, supported by the UBD-K8500 4K player which has been s*domising my retinas since I had the system installed a fortnight ago, the latter equipment even upscales Blu-Rays to a near theater projection matching 3840 x 2160 definition which is just, well, my god, its full of stars…..

Morgan (2016) Trailer

Jesus, when will these scientists ever learn, eh? Now, once and for all, you can’t manufacture human life from cells or technology ’cause the result will always be evil as it will lack a human soul. Understood? OK, then lets move on…..

Also, apparently no-one has told Ridders that you can’t cast Giammatti and Toby Jones in the same film, its like dangerously toying with some maudlin anti-matter

Arrival (2016) Trailer

For someone who vaguely prides themselves on keeping abreast of the industry this had somehow caught me napping, not only a fairly large intelligent looking SF picture, but also the latest film from with Mr. Blade Runner II behind the viewfinder. I really like the look of this, but suspect that trailer gives far too much away so watch at your own peril;

Of course, the burning question is does this mean we can expect a Blade Runner II trailer in November? And where’s that Twin Peaks preview at?

Focal Focus

This is quite a illuminating discovery, some filmmakers collective of some such which covers the work of some well regarded, upcoming cinematographers. Lens choice is not a ingredient that could covered in most reviews, so I found this fascinating;

I’ve also found a new movie to christen my new work environment, with the Curzon Mayfair a ten minute walk from Parliament Square across the patrol bliss of St. James Park I reckon I’ll be able to squeeze this in before the weekend;

Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) Full Trailer

Another trailer, but this one’s a death stared doozy. I can’t be the only lapsed Star Wars fan to have been coaxed reluctantly back to the fold with some of the elements of Episode VII, with a cool suspicion of these so-called side universe films and the associated world building that is fragmenting Hollywood cinema into the mediocre and actively terrible. Rogue One however looks fantastic with a genuine tone and spirit coursing through the previews, I just hope that energy pulses in the final mission;

In other news my long cherished dream for a modern day update to Elite has finally been realised. There is no way I am purchasing a copy of that, as it would essentially dominate my life / career / reason for existence over the next, say, two or three decades. Must resist……..

Bad Santa 2 (2016) Trailer

Jeez, and I was only making one of those perennial British jokes about Christmas decorations appearing earlier and earlier in the lift this morning. My annual Christmas movie list mostly revolves around re-watches of Die Hard, It’s A Wonderful Life and Menagerie favourite Scrooged, but I’ll always find time for the original Bad Santa as it was deliciously bad taste funny. Now we have a sequel, although it seems a little early to start trailing this?;

London Calling

Well, that was a day. Fifteen years ago i embarked on this phase of my career, finally I return to the bustling environs of Whitehall, with a significant wealth of skills and experience under my belt – despite some little delays with a start date we finally got on site and I couldn’t be more relived. You may recall that I have a small, rather pointless checklist through which I assess the efficiency of any organisation, and allocate proficiency marks on a new employers efficiency through their provision of  a) a desk, last-top, phone and sign-in, b) security pass programmed and c) some elementary induction pack, business case, Cabinet report, Terms of Reference, that sort of thing. Suffice to say this was a ten out of ten on all counts, apart from b) as I slowly proceed through the second tier of security vetting which can take the FCO up to a month to complete. I was a little nervous I must admit, I’m not saying that watching too much media can prejudice you to the cut and thrust of Westminster, but whilst I was potentially facing this;

….everyone couldn’t have been more welcoming and enthusiastic, in fact they were perhaps a little too friendly <narrows eyes in suspicion>. For the layman It looks as if I’m going to be delivering a joint initiative between the CO and the LGA, influencing the submission of EoI’s and inevitably evolved MoU’s from CC’s and BC’s across the OPE programme, utilising regional mechanisms such as the LEP’s to build relationships across DfT, NHS, DwP, MoJ, MoD and so-called ‘Blue Light’ stakeholders – a little like how the DCLG would oversee and manage ERDF initiatives, but of course you already realised that <chuckles appreciatively> Who says that government burearchy  is dead, eh?

It’s just so brilliant to be working back in London after 18 or so months out in the gulags of Surrey and Essex, those assignments have led organically into this opportunity so I can’t complain, and with a new Mayor in post and from my working on what my initial analysis seems to be an exceedingly high-profile program I’ve had a very optimistic induction, another major achievement for the year. Also, leaving the office and being back in Canary Wharf in 30 fucking minutes is just….it’s…it’s just beautiful………<wipes single tear from eye>……

Suicide Squad (2016)

ss1And lo, Warner Brothers feeble attempts to establish a cinematic universe to rival their Marvellous competition did once again fail to deliver. Anticipation for Suicide Squad, the studios third stab at bringing their intellectual properties to the big screen was relatively high, mostly following a colourful pastel bruised marketing campaign and a promised new take on fan favourite The Joker. In the industry however the turbulence behind the scenes as set the gossip pages gloating, with tales of a fractious shoot and heavy executive artistic meddling, as the clueless suits attempt to steer the franchise up to a furious fiscal firmament. Charming director David Ayer has towed the party line but the studio’s decision to test-screen two versions of the film back in May has caused ruptures, do doubt in part due to the critical mauling that Batman Versus Superman quite appropriately received back at the start of dilly season. His preferred, measured take on the material was overridden with a more jaunty, fractured introduction to the characters and their space in the universe, complete with millions of dollars of reshoots and frantic reassemblies, and the dire effects of all this molestation is all too apparent on-screen. I’ve never read the comics but the prospect of staging the villains as the main protagonists could have been an interesting take on this most exhausted of modern serialised entertainments, when as the dust settles and the film limps into multiplexes it sounds as if the arduous making of the picture would be far more garishly entertaining.

suicide2Taking events further after the gloomy ending of Batman Versus Superman the government has decided to activate a clandestine programme in order to tackle a future attack by a so-called meta-human, instructing the ruthless Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) to use any methods necessary to combat the threat against international security. We learn this through an extremely choppy opening dinner scene between Waller and some faceless executives, giving Ayer a chance to really strut his MTV montage moxie, as a confusing cacophony of characters and backstories are scuttled against the screen. Through this ugly technique we meet the super-acurate ballistics expert Deadshot (Will Smith), a hired assassin who isn’t all bad as he welly wubs his wuverly wittle 11-year-old daughter, ensuring that Smith’s good-guy persona isn’t too tarnished, despite the hundreds of people he has presumably and ruthlessly massacred. Next up, animated Lolita rag-doll Harley Quinn (Gillian Jacobs Margot Robbie), a psychiatrist who has somehow fallen in love with everyone’s favourite playing card The Joker (Jared Leto), he’s still on the run, she’s practicing her gymnastics while her guards pant like those creatures that spot an attractive lady in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. Beyond these two main characters me meet the leathery Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) the pyrotechnic Los Zetos El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), haunted blade wielding super-ninja Katana (Karen Fukuhara), the faithful sticked Captain Boomerang  (Tom Hardy Jai Courtney), tartan flavoured adamantium tree-trunk wielding Khyberman (Sean Connery), and Paella-lass, a scorching beauty who wields her lethal cooking utensils with as much spicy severity as her favoured Mediterranean dish (Penelope Cruz). OK, OK, I might have made some of those up but is this really the best we can do, ensuring that each ethnicity sports their countries identifying melee weapon of choice? That is, when they’re not mercilessly mowing down hundreds of goons during the most pornographic celebration of firearms since last year’s double-booked AVN/NRA convention – but we’ll come back to that…

ss6This film is a mutilated mess, and not of the amusing or entertaining kind. Characters are introduced then re-introduced ten minutes later, plot lines and motivations have obviously been dissected and reassembled in a patchwork fashion which betrays the overall hesitant treatment, with lip-service paid to the potentially interesting question of sending the bad guys in to do the good guys work – isn’t that the central query of the film? You’ll have no idea of who or what the major big bad is, its plan, its minions or its motives, other than the usual so tired cliché of obliterating everything in sight then sending some phallic blue beam up into the heavens as a rather convenient rallying point for our erstwhile anti-heroes. Clearly I’m getting my multiverses muddled as I thought the Enchantress was a Marvel villain from the same Asgard realm as Thor and Loki, in the DC pantheon it appears to be some incarnation of an immortal Aztec spirit priestess, allegedly with the ‘powers of a god’ which Waller grimly intones at some feeble attempt of dramatic gravitas, while in reality her powers stretch to levitation, speaking with jagged subtitles and possessing numerous squadrons of doomed servicemen which our ‘heroes’ proceed to massacre with gruesome glee. After their introduction and introduction to theatre Suicide Squad is essentially a collection of confused and brutally violent action set-pieces which sets them on a journey to meet and confront this character, an expanded first and third act without any intermediate exposition, but maybe our new friends will find a little out about themselves on the way, prove that they’re not all bad and all that robbing, murdering, kidnapping and pain they have inflicted was just a glitch of their misunderstood nature? It’s a dark film in many ways, from its contempt for an audience who enjoy such antique notions as plot, nuance or originality, to the cinematography which bathes the screen in enough flickering shadows and cyclones of dust and detritus to make you squint through the 3D glasses to see who is punching who, not that you’ll actually care or be invested in the consequences.

suicide4But you all want to know about the Joker, right? Right. Well, I welcome various takes on such iconic characters and there is nothing wrong with trying something different to previous successes, but I for one am not falling for Leto’s albino Cuban gang-banger interpretation, coated in bling, garish gulag tattoos and prowling about like Keith Flint in a discarded Prodigy promo. In Suicide Squad the little we see of this beloved super-villain reflects the lack of care or inspiration this time around – apparently volumes of material were shot and discarded – and he gets no good lines, no maniac psychopathology, and does little more than spew out a few rounds from his gold-plated AK47 while cackling like a castrated hyena. That was a reaction I mirrored during the action scene speed-ramping technique which which I loathe for its pornographic impurity, when its not obscuring the aural space with the most tedious song montage choices – The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes. They’re all good bands and tracks but its just been done to death in other films, while the main score seems to be little more than an updated and libel avoiding barley concealed rift On Her Majestys Secret Service of all things. With one exception all the other characters that are complete non-entities, with the possible exception of Killer Croc whom they didn’t even bother to flesh out with a mouth-watering origin flashback.

suicide3I did like the take on Harley Quinn however, she might be the single saving grace in the picture, she at least seems to have some kind of personality and purpose, with a couple of memorable comic book inspired moments even as the camera lingers on her attributes with all the chaste atonement of Michael Bay on Viagra. Some of the production design had its merits, the smoky, charcoal world gone to hell aesthetic sheen and the costuming and make-up smears out beyond the grimy lenses, adding a small sense of characterisation against a seemingly endless urban malaise. But where’s the camaraderie, the quips or playful interactions? The sense of a team coming together as bunch of loathed misfits? I’d be lying if the inner fanboy didn’t quite a twinge of arousal when we get to see the likes of Arkham Asylum but these glimpses are few are far between, scattered over further character inconsistencies and plot  that I can’t purge due to spoiler screams. Its an exhausting, bruising and near depraved picture, quite honestly the fetishisation of firearms leaves a nauseous coating to the entire enterprise, alongside the repeated, exasperating scenes of Deadshot pining over his estranged daughter (hey dude, wanna get back to you daughter, then maybe STOP KILLING PEOPLE?), all the way down to the studio mandated, sequel signalling finale which has quite obviously been tacked on after some test screening analysis. The Justice League and Wonder Woman pictures are gonna have to be Dark Knight quality offers in order to resuscitate this feeble franchise, yet another 9mm nail in the coffin of Hollywood’s slide into obsession with mere content and product and lining up the next installment in the series, while such ancient notions as drama or energy are thrown out with like the proverbial focus-grouped baby with the bath water;

 

The BFG (2016)

bfg1The timing is exquisite, the content gigantic. Steven Spielberg’s latest film thunders into multiplexes just as the BFI’s season fades into the distance, a programming decision I’m sure want at all engineered by the boffins over at the South Bank. Growing up in the 1980’s it was impossible to miss the children books of Roald Dahl as it was to avoid reading J.K Rowling in the noughties, and although I couldn’t remember a damn thing about this story I’m sure I must have digested it at some point. Speaking frankly I had no interest in this picture from the perspective of story or adaptation, but as a man guided by traditions I have to see any new Spielberg at the cinema, as I have since Saving Private Ryan in 1995. If you’ll forgive me for delving into pretentious waters for a change (stop giggling) in the light of the BFI season I was more interested to see the film in the context of his earlier work, and attempt to divulge why SS decided to make this film at this point in the Autumn of career, you’d think that like Scorsese he would be wielding his considerable yet waning clout to get all those cherished projects on-screen, while he still has the energy and infrastructure to get through another long, gruelling shoot and post-production stewardship. His career has always oscillated between the pure, adrenalinsed first-class entertainments and his heritage, historical pictures, whilst this firmly thunders through the former category as a SFX laden, four quadrant kids picture it is also, I’m sorry to say, perhaps his worst film. And yes, I’m including The Terminal, Always, Hook and 1941 in that Ambling analysis.

bfg2The setting is reminiscent of Hook, as we are tethered into some romantic, quasi-Victorian version of London devolved of ethnicities or graffiti, like some fevered pre-war UKIP wet dream. In this reverie we meet Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill), a precocious young orphan girl who is carefully creeping around the corners of the vast institution. When she clandestinely spies a Big Fucking Giant ferreting around the London streets she is whisked off to some emerald spectred isle which seems to have been mystically unnoticed by the authorities, by the kindly titular behemoth played in motion capture mediation by Spielberg’s recent muse Mark Rylance. Although the BFG is fucking massive he is dwarfed by the dozen or so of his kinsmen who are absolutely fucking colossal, whose stature is matched only by their bullying and sneering demeanour – giant on giant action, will the madness never end? So the digitally deviated stage is set for two hours of green-screen mediated mediocrity, no doubt faithful to the book but severely lacking in charm, persuasive or Spielberg’s trademark sorcery. Obviously the film is not aiming at me, I’m not the target audience here, but juvenile story aside the entire enterprise presents itself as dull Disneyfied product, diluted of Dahl’s darker, slightly subversive edges which made him so popular in the first place.

bfg3Let’s begin with the performances. Sophie as a character is quite irritating in certain sequences, it’s not her fault as I’m sure she’s merely following instructions, but any of that innocent that Spielberg managed to muster in CE3K or E.T. is sadly absent. I am mystified at the praise Mark Rylance’s motion capture performance has engendered, for me he was merely an unconvincing CGI rendered colossus, whose every utterance of garbled English is meant to be charming and goofy, but is merely garbled and ugly. To be fair there’s a couple of clever touches with the behemoth darting around the crepuscular nocturnal shadows of London, and the film strives for a faint wisp of Spielbergian awe and wonder when he and Sophie travel to some mystical pool where dreams are birthed or something, and about 15 – 45 seconds of the evil giants hunting for Sophie in her friends tumbledown lair has some fraction of clever orchestration from the man who gave us the Indiana Jones and the Jurassic Park pictures. Alas, that is slim pickings among the detritus of this downer. I came at this in the shadow of the recent Spielberg season, intrigued to see how this stacks up against his other work and the manipulation of the SFX, the size disparities, the motion-capture rotoscoping, the CGI work-streams. Maybe, just perhaps, through his elemental skills as a story-teller he could lever some interest and intrigue into this tale I reasoned, as this is a filmmaker who has seduced and beguiled audiences for decades. Well, I was wrong, the answer to all these vain hopes was dashed on the rocks of mediocrity. The integration of Sophie into the oversized proportions of her environment is glaringly mediated, she and all the other characters just don’t integrate into the story visually or narratively, and the episodes and story beats throughout the film hang limp and lifeless on the screen, as if Spielberg has had his finesse and skill crushed through the digital engineering and processing.

bfg4If my general disinterest and antipathy was wallowing for the first hour of the picture, when the story turns to Sophie and the BFG for some reason meeting the Queen (Penelope Winton) and engendering a British Forces assault on the Land Of The Giants plunged me deep into the waters of outright hostility. I really, really began to dislike the film at this point, the deference to authority, the tacky tourism postcard semiotics, the scatological humour which is really not to my comedic taste. Again, yes this film isn’t for me so perhaps I’m being unfair in rejecting something written for young kids – that is a fair criticism, but I am mystified to why Steven was drawn to this project given its desperate qualities. I can only assume that he loved reading the book to his kids so this is the result of one of those vanity projects, and I’m sure he wanted to keep up with modern technology just as he did with the Tintin project, but to paraphrase Dr. Malcolm from Jurassic Park ‘your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should‘. That this is Melinda Mattheson’s postscript, she wrote E.T. back in 1981 and recently passed away seems so sad, so the closing credit tribute reminds you that once this team could produce a genuine work of global wonder. It gives me no pleasure  to be  relentlessly negative with almost every review over the past quarter, but its a sobering fact that the relentless march of routine, uninspired material has been the mainstay of this years blockbuster season, normally by this stage of the year I would have picked up two or three pictures for my selection for the end of the year, and frankly I haven’t seen anything since March that I would consider even remotely in that category. So, ever the optimist I’m going to see  Suicide Squad shortly to see if we can salvage any wreckage from this terrible summer of movies, and judging by initial reports that’s gonna be one tough mission…..

Dunkirk (2017) Teaser Trailer

When I first heard what Nolan’s next project was going to be I was a little nonplussed, of all the untold stories of World War II I thought that the Dunkirk retreat was a little strange, Kubrick for example always wanted to make a film about this battle. Now we have a teaser, or announcement as they are calling it, and yeah I guess I’m in for this one;

If you listen carefully, you can already hear the hum of post=Brexit cultural analysis being wielded to the picture, the British bulldog spirit in retreat and defeat, a full year before deployment….

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