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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

cw1Oh joy and joys and an abundance of wonders, it’s superhero time yet again at the movies. It’s been a long, languid wait of at least a month since the last bout of spandex sparring, and sarcasm aside I was generally looking forward to Civil War, mostly due to the Russo brothers having proved their proficiency in the director’s chair for one of the better movies in the MCU – Winter Soldier. The marketing for the film, the 13th produced in the franchise series since its inception with Iron Man in 2008 has hinged upon the central conflict in the movie, the first of the so-called third phase in Marvel’s multiplex mastery. Are you Team Cap or Team Iron? is evidently one of the great modern mysteries of our time, a pondering which the great philosophical minds have been keenly debating which the furiosity of the Schrödinger’s cat phenomenon, whereas the intellects behind the menagerie couldn’t give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, just as long as the mental Marvel mechanics melee was as fun as its fulfilling as some of the highpoints in the franchise. In other words I just wanted to check my brain at the multiplex and enjoy two hours of pixelated mayhem, with all the requisite source material call-backs and ferocious fan service to make me reminiscent of my committed comic reading youth. For the most part Civil War delivered, with a few caveats around the critical invulnerability that these films amass – the movie has taken $200 million on it’s first weekend alone and it hasn’t even opened in Russia, China, India or North America yet……

cw2Although it is allocated under the Captain America banner the first thing to be made clear is that this is an Avengers film, with the omission of Thor and Hulk everyone else is in this, although the focus, admittedly, falls under swellhead’s relationship with his brainwashed friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Shaw). Therein lies a critical problem but your mileage may vary, as after dragging this quasi-romance over three pictures I’m sorry to say I just didn’t care, so when the central story arc isn’t provoking much in the empathy zone the film suffers the equivalent of an ultimate nullifier detonation. Other critics have wept actual tears at the film’s childhood dream fulfilling conquests, I wasn’t remotely that invested but in places Civil War did muster a mental fist-bump. After an tempo setting opening prologue the Avengers team clumsily decimate downtown Lagos when attempting to retrieve a hastily misplaced bio-weapon. Coming under intense global scrutiny the team are visited by the venerable Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) who instructs them to sign-up to a United Nations mandated Memorandum Of Understanding, submitting to the will and directives of the democratic global community. Thus the central fissure in the teams morale is struck, with Captain America fulfilling his namesake by refusing to submit to any moral or legislative authority but his own, warning of being restricted by civilian oversight in quite frankly a ill-judged and philosophical immature ideology. Stark, riven by the consequences of his arms dealing and destructive perversion of his technology hanging from previous films stands in the opposite corner, arguing that they should submit to those pencil necked dildos down at City Hall, fostering strength and defence through a mediated community. Potentially, that’s a nourishing thread to follow in the modern superhero film, here is something to be said about exploring issues of responsibility, of accountability and the consequences of collateral damage like Batman Versus Superman completely failed to do, but likes that film Civil War’s premise gradually fades away as the fisticuffs start frantically flailing, and on that front I’m happy to say the film delivers like an adamantium enhanced gut-punch.

cw3The narrative is tensile twisted travelogue, bouncing around the globe like an unruly and boisterous child, skipping from Lagos to Vienna, Berlin to um, Cleveland. The actors are fairly well enshrined in their parts through the franchise, and the schlocky nature of the material doesn’t particularly provoke room for  manoeuvre in terms of character development, but everyone commits the necessary gravitas to the material, although quite why they cast Martin Freeman in an identikit counter-terrorism official is beyond me. The film also takes some risks considering the financial fortune at stake, although the main villain is pulled from the rich decades of the multiverse they have modernised him within the contemporary context of the plot, adequately angered by Daniel Brühl whom is quietly becoming one of the finest actors of his generation. Ultimately though these films cruise on the simple, unalloyed nostalgic reflection from characters we embraced in our youth, and the wonder induced witnessing of them finally interacting and knocked each other through urban conurbations and planets in all their pixelated glory, with the sly odd quip and reference speckled across the film like the Superskrull’s alien barnacled cerebellum.

cw4As we’ve come to expect the film ignites an entire new tranche of product stretching well into the next decade, with numerous new characters to explore throughout a variety of media delivery systems. Crucially, and most welcomingly the film realigns the beloved Spidey after his fall from cinematic grace over his last few digitised appearance, with newcomer Tom Holland balancing the perfect blend of wisecracking affability with dazzling arachnoid acrobatics. A fairly significant time is proportion to the enigmatic king of Wakanda, with the prospect of the worlds first African leading man in a major Hollywood blockbuster surrounding by predominantly African cast destined to break boundaries in 2018  – he is pretty darn badass cool in that motorway chase scene. Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man gets all the big laughs, especially during the films airport helmed carnage which is unquestionably the films highpoint, a terrifically orchestrated combat sequence which is among the best blockbuster brain buggering bruising’s of the entire franchise.

civilSo while it yields its fun fanboy moments I can’t guzzle the kool-aid on this one, and I exiting the cinema with a resigned shrug rather than a blazing smile. After that highpoint Civil War dragged on to its fairly lacklustre conclusion, answering a question I never cared to be asked – who’s harder, Captain America or Iron Man? It’s an initially  nourishing but thin gruel that the films offers in terms of character affection, interaction, and not even Stark got any of his trademark quips to land with a virbranium quivering bull’s-eye. It seems I’m alone on this one as most other critics have praised these dimensions but I just can’t see it, any my attention and affection started to wane as the film weaved into third hour of its bloated 147 minute run-time.  Maybe I’ve been spoiled this weekend by finally biting the bullet on a Netflix account and mainlining all 26 episodes of Daredevil, possibly the greatest achievement of the entire MCU as far as I’m concerned, but that was inevitable as someone who loves gritty urban noir, crime films and is a huge, huge fan of Millers Daredevil which I coincidently retrieved from storage last week. To be fair the Russo brothers are proficiently paving the way to the Infinity War which is where things could get really interesting, and it was refreshing to  a superhero film which didn’t climax with some alien extinction threatening monstrosity pulverising a major capital city before the tesseract is combined with the soul gem to plug the intra-dimensional wormhole. Or something. In summary though Civil War is more of a courteous disagreement than epoch shattering genocide which should keep the franchise fiscally frisky throughout this third phase of multiplex mastery, but for my money the Nietzschian novelty of the year is still Deadpool;

One Perfect Shot – Cinematography Montage

It’s only May, well, nearly May, and already we have sourced what will probably turn out to be this year’s most beautiful and tear inducing visual essay – this is wonderful;

Courtney of the fine cinephile collective over at One Perfect Shot. In other news, my director called me in for a little chat this week. Assuming, quite correctly, that I was being courted to head-up some major new assignments that have arisen in London since the new financial year he threw a contract extension until Christmas and a 35% uplift on my day rate at me, to continue what we have started. I’ve had worse weeks…….

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

bg1Catchphrases can be funny things. They are an indicator of whether a film has made an indelible cultural mark, as just uttering a line conjures in the mind of the beholder the movie in all its affable glory – ‘I’ll be back‘, ‘I made him an offer he can’t refuse‘, ‘Phone Home’,Nobody’s perfect’. As soon as the silents became talkies certain lines of dialogue encapsulated the film and its squawking star persona, from Garbo’s insistence of ‘vanting to be alone’ to Frankenstein shrieking ‘It’s alive’. Heck even when a bastardisation of the actual line enters the vernacular the remnants still resonate – ‘Play it again, Sam’ – the omission or addition of a single word echoing in ignorance throughout the ages. Sometimes, mischievous filmmakers take these tropes and playfully mock their prevalence, the cinematic equivalent of having your cake and eating it, simultaneously poking fun at the cliché while also flirting with their affection – after all it’s all in the reflexes. This bring us to the wonder that is Big Trouble In Little China, a film which amusingly mocks the 1980’s fish-out-of-water action paradigm, while also predicting Hollywood’s assimilation of Oriental action and martial arts cinema by at least a decade. With his career suffering a flat-line after the fiscal flop of The Thing John Carpenter hesitantly moved toward the centre with safer projects, line-assembling the Stephen King adaption Christine (probably the least discussed of all his golden era films), and inverting the alien as outsider threat with Starman which can dismissively described as E.T. with adults. Out of the rising sun came his next project, reuniting with the Mifune to his Kurosawa Kurt Russell, their fourth collaboration which hardly reversed his barren box-office boon, barely recouping 50% of its then medium weighted budget.

bg2Astoundingly this was not the first time I’ve seen Big Trouble at the cinema, as it may make you smirk to learn that I actually dragged two friends to see this on its general release back in 1986, and while both heretics dismissed the film as ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ I was of course enthralled, so who’s laughing now Darren Jiggins and Stuart Townsend? Well? Despite being widely dismissed during the 1990’s the film (alongside They Live) has been reassessed in the internet age, coalescing into a dedicated cult audience perhaps more attuned to cultural and genre meldings of an elixir of dumb-ass action movie, slapstick comedy, gravity defying wuxia acrobatics and mild San Francisco focused Orientalism. Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a macho lunkhead trucker who is unluckily drawn into a kidnapping plot when his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) new mail order Chinese bride is abducted by a cadre of black garbed goons at the airport. Unfortunately it turns out that his new bride is destined to fulfil an ancient prophecy, the power to invigorate ancient sorcerer Lo-Pan (a cackling James Hong) with a reinvigorating immortality, through a rather unfortunate bought of human sacrifice. With plucky investigative reporter Gracie (Kim Cattral) also embroiled in the imbroglio the stage is set for an agile adventure secreted behind the façade of reality, where deep in the bowels of San Francisco ancient powers battle mystical forces from beyond the mysterious orient……

bg3Structurally Big Trouble In Little China is hardly a prototype of a new seething action cinema, but it was something of a trailblazer in bringing some of the mystical martial arts momentum to a less adventurous, silo separated Westernized audience – that’s what I think caused the film to fail thirty years ago. For the truly faithful we’ve always appreciated its odd mélange of styles and influences, it’s just so much dumb yet genuinely amusing fun, never taking its characters seriously but investing enough inciting mysticism and physics shredding choreography into the action sequences and internecine character banter. No doubt some could read the film slightly distastefully in 2016 with some broad archetypes of the inscrutable immigrant on display, but it’s not like it’s as immediately offensive as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles or anything, and the real hero is the dexterous Wang while Jack blunders around like a drunken oaf, intoxicated on a cheap combination of Sangria laced Sambucca. The style is comic book stylistics before the medium really began to gain traction over all blockbuster product, moving fast enough to obscure any narrative nuance, dazzling the audience with some cool stunt and editing work which papers over a rather perfunctory plot. Some of the special effects are a little on the dated side and the creature and prosthetics designs inelegantly express their 30 years, but when you get to my venerable age of cult movie fandom that’s part of the fun, the tactile, physical SFX as part of the films tensile temperature as the haircuts, costumes, or wider cultural references. If you want to really get into some of the minutiae then I’ve heard that the primary influence was Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain which inspired the revolutionary wire work, both films barely containing characters who ricochet around the sets like Percocet powered pinballs, while Jack generally asks a lot of questions;

That’s as good a montage as you’re likely to get, and this wouldn’t be a Menagerie review of a John Carpenter film if we didn’t single out the synth pulsing score for a little love now would it? It’s a more playful and flippant choral mix than you’d normally expect from the usual sonic slithering, with regular collaborator Alan Howarth providing his usual, instructive support– I’m already getting excited for October. Visually you may identify the masterful eyes of Dean Cundey at work, one of the industries most respected artisans when it comes to disguising and melding live and SFX elements. After perfecting his art in the likes of Escape From New York and The Thing Spielberg selected him to lens a modest little picture called Jurassic Park just a trio of years later. Coincidently just this week I finally saw the notorious exploitation classic The Witch Who Came From The Sea and can you guess who photographed that? He crops up as interview subject in a few short DVD extras.

bg34Before the arrival of Jackie Chan, before John Woo, before Ang Lee but after Bruce Lee, Hollywood of the late 1980’s was struggling for new hooks to hang its genre templates upon, casting their net wide to co-opt foreign genre successes which they could then mould into their classical narrative templates – a bit of romance with no actual sex, a three act structure complete with inciting incident and equilibrium restoring climax, some misguided yet not entirely stringent distrust of foreign customs and clients. Rumours persist that the film was rushed into production as some effort to slipstream in the success of Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child, or maybe the whole interest in the orient as source material was just another of those zephyous passing studio executive fads. There is rather odd underlying philosophy lurking in the corner of these pictures, Carpenter does seem fascinated with the possibility of forces behind the fabric of reality, of the potential of permeable barriers between dimensions, personified in the sage-alike Obi Wan character Egg Shen (Victor Wong) which bleeds nicely into his next picture Prince Of Darkness and the final scream of his apocalypse trilogy In The Mouth Of Madness. I remember his enunciation of these interests during a fondly remembered BBC transmission called Horror Café, a late night discussion panel where he was joined by such gruesome luminaries as Clive Barker, Roger Corman and Ramsay Campbell, a rediscovery which I stumbled across like a menacing tree root in a fog shrouded graveyard, and you can exorcise it here.

bg4Somehow the boisterous boffins at the Prince Charles have sourced a wonderful, pristine 70mm print which hung on the screen like an animated lìzhóu, the colours and combat popping like a delicious dish of sizzling szechuan chicken. Big Trouble isn’t the greatest action film ever made, it’s certainly not the most dazzling martial arts film ever made, but it is a confection of tightly coiled fun, unabashedly goofy and playful, and Russell’s perfectly calibrated performance goes a long way in maintaining that deliriously devoted cult audience as yet another personification of Carpenters cynical, wisecracking anti-heroes. There is evidently something in the water as after the January Kubrick season and this Carpenter programme what is coming up at the Prince Charles in May? Oh, only a blinking Michael Mann season which means I can finally see Menagerie favorite Thief and perhaps The Keep on the big screen, you’d think I’d brought shares in them or sold my soul to some sort of slithering celluloid cacodemon. But we’re not done with Mr. Carpenter just yet, as to infiltrate the bank holiday we must worship at a very special triple bill, which means I can finally get those tachyons pulsing and revisit the year one….nine….nine…..

Snowden (2016) Trailer

Controversial political firebrand Oliver Stone is back after a short hiatus, and this time he’s delving into one of the crucial stories of our electronic era;

I used to be something of a fan of Stone but he has been coasting at best over the last decade or so, this looks a little better than his usual efforts. I’m fascinated by the dimensions and details of this tale of intrigue, so I think I’ll give this a discrete download….

 

Trent Fucking Reznor?

OK, I’ve done my best to just let this slowly evolve and come together as thinking about it too much might just jinx it, but the reveal of the cast list today has actually made me double up with laughter – Trent Fucking Reznor? That is fucking brilliant. Perhaps most exciting is the appearance of Naomi Watts, a decision which has of course fuelled a frenzy of speculation of Lynch linking this, his potential final ten hour storytelling effort, back to Mulholland Drive which is his undisputed masterpiece. Time will tell, until then lets go for a quick drink at the theatre;

Michael Cera? Mulder’s back as well? Ashley Judd? Tom Sizemore? Harry Dean Stanton, in possibly his last role? Jennifer Jason Leigh? My favourite character, Agent Rosenfield, back for another bout of lecturing on Ghandi? What about Laura Dern linking back to Sandy in Blue Velvet? I’m not sure that my heart can take a series with Monica Bellucci and Sherilyn Fenn in it, but here we are, David you magnificent bastard……

Minty’s Moviedrome Menagerie…..

Interesting stumble down memory lane this weekend, as I finally received numerous boxes of books, DVD’s, comics and assorted paraphernalia that I’ve had in storage for a near decade. So with a nod to the future and a glance to the past I’ve decided to institute a new activity, a Sunday night tribute to the sorely missed Moviedrome season that was a essential learning experience for any budding 1980’s cinephile. I’m not gonna be constructing new reviews around these re-watches – I don’t have the time nor inclination to commit to yet another strand of writing – but I might throw together some capsule reviews, dependent on my temperature. First up for tonight’s entertainment? A 1970’s urban minimalist classic;

EDIT – Ahhh, there are far more interactive and instructive links out there on MD such as this and this, oddly I always thought that I first discovered The Driver through this programming perfection but apparently not as it was never on the schedule. In any case Walter Hill’s best film is certainly within the spirit of such fantastic stuff…..

Jason Bourne (2016) Trailer

So lets get this out the way then. No, I don’t wish to sound dismissive, I quite like the Bourne movies (especially Ultimatum), I just kinda feel that the stories has been told in the trilogy so there’s not much traction in going back to this uber-spy. The trailer suggests this will be proficient enough, but all that Las Vegas stuff feels like its been compromised from another franchise;

Ƭ̵̬̊ RIP

Just logged into twitter, saw the prompt ‘What’s happening?’ in the search field. Twenty seconds later I muttered ‘god-damn right, what the fuck is happening?’;

BFI Alan Clarke Season – Made In Britain (1983)

mib1Although competing priorities are conspiring against me I did manage to program a second visit to the BFI’s Alan Clarke season, primarily driven by the rumoured appearance of a certain special, gutshot guest. Whilst I would have liked to devote more time to this specific British brutalist other priorities have smacked me in the head like a sock filled with snooker balls, although if I’m honest whilst I would have liked to have seen the ruthless Elephant again Clarke only other notorious film Scum didn’t particularly appeal on the big screen, especially considering its harrowing scenes and darkly depressing infrastructure – I guess I’m getting soft in my advancing years. So that left Made In Britain on the agenda, another one of Clarke’s most controversial TV pieces, initially airing to an inevitably hostile tabloid response way back in those grim, Thatcherite reigned early 1980’s. In his very first screen acting role Tim Roth is the snarling yet undeniably intelligent skinhead Trevor, estranged from every institution of civil society, hovering on the brink of an inevitable tumble into serious crime with no recourse to reverse his self-inflicted imprisonment and isolation from his teachers, his family and community – and he’s only fifteen years old. Exiled from the parental home Trevor drifts through a bureaucratic limbo, the only authority figure showing him a modicum of interest being his song suffering case worker (Eric Richard, whom UK viewers may recognise from The Bill), shuffled from one Council shelter to assessment centre as he rages against life like a belligerent bulldog. Even those with the patience of saints have a breaking point however, so when Trevor’s attitude and behaviour results in another spate of racist spewed violence he risks being completely exiled from the care system, a semiotic symptom of a wider indifference toward an entire class and strata of society in the dawning of the neo-liberalist era.

mib2I think then That We Need To Talk About Trevor? Scathing performances and grim social purpose aside you have to admire of Made In Britain for the utter rejection of providing any answers , of suggesting any ‘solution’ to Trevor and his ugly idiot ideology, his demeanour arising more from frustration and ignorance than any genuine streak of vicious psychopathy. The piece was commissioned for the then terrestrial post-watershed schedule, back when there were only three channels in the UK, an ancient broadcasting landscape when any vague controversy concerning sex, violence or political subterfuge would get the establishment and its right-wing media lackeys salivating with self-righteous outrage. It’s a symbolic state of the nation constructed work as we follow Trevor’s descent through the tired and disinterested care and social service system, not without its genuinely committed and skilled officers but still representative of a unyielding and cold, suffocating state. Whilst it is obvious to loathe Trevor, recoil at the pathetic racial epithets he barks and the thuggish destructive he wields you also feel his impotent, seething rage, no matter how self-inflected and repugnant his actions and juvenile attitudes. This is one of the key points of the film, of somehow trapping that sense of misdirected and ethereal rage, channelled through a contemporary bogeyman – the skinhead. Unsurprisingly, the shock and outrage of the gutter press after transmission was another example of hypocritical double standards, bleating complaints of igniting copy-cat behaviour which of course their misleading editorials and manufactured stories never do, with accusations of celebrating not slamming the dispossessed and feral youth of the 1980’s which seems to re-emerge on a cyclical cycle every few years – Trevor is clearly a prototype to the Chavs, to rampaging inner city multi-racial gangs, to being ‘swamped’ with immigrants and other middle-class directed hysteria.

mib3Roth is malignantly magnetic as the explosive central character, arguably one of the most incendiary screen debuts of the past few decades, but it’s not entirely his show. The prowling, anxious steadicam work, piloted by the great DP Chris Menge’s became Clarke’s trademark in its seething Made In Britain debut, shadowing his characters restless intensity as it arcs through space and civic spaces, character and craft meeting in symbolic symbiosis. Clarke explained to Roth during shooting that he should ‘treat the camera as his eye to the world’, the mechanism to pull them into Trevor ugly reality, confronting an audience rather than comforting them. During one incredible scene led by one of Trevor’s senior welfare case workers (Geoffrey Hutchings) we witness what I can only describe as a social worker soliloquy, an unbroken speech talking Trevor and by osmosis the audience through his inevitable descent to prison after his school has referenced him to the LEA officer, the Lea officer has referred him to a care officer, the care officer referred him to an assessment centre, the assessment centre, a dark inevitable whirlpool down to prison and a life of opportunity terminally wasted. That may sound like Clarke is conjuring some sympathy for Trevor and his mindless violence, but on the contrary the piece is never patronizing, it never suggest any empathy for Trevor as a person or a character, instead it inverts the world back through that magic lantern lens and murmurs ‘this is a problem, what do you want to do about it?’ Location wise it’s the grimly sour, near dystopian vision hellscape of cluttered Council estates and concrete jungles, with the searing image of Trevor striding purposely through the Rotherhithe tunnel being one of the iconic images of 1980’s broadcasting.

mib4Hosted by Clarke cultist Danny Leigh the Q&A featured writer David Leland, producer Margaret Matheson and the coup of Tim Roth mediated through a stable Skype reception as he was currently shooting in Scotland, so it was nice of him to find the time to pay due respect to the man who launched his career unlike some personalities who never bothered to attend this season *coughsraywinstonecoughs*. Alas the emphasis meant that there was no time to discuss Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs, no honey-bunny in Pulp Fiction, no Archibald in Rob Roy (an underrated villain), nor Prince Rainer in the spectacularly terrible Grace Of Monaco, but it’s probably best to ignore the last one. Still, Roth was terrific fun, relaxed and gregarious, talking through the almost miraculous luck of being spotted and cast in his first professional role, embarking on a career with a class of director of Clarke’s pedigree which has spoiled much of his subsequent experiences. The producers delved into the controversial history with the profligate swearing and questions about the play being asked in the House Of Commons – it seems that 1983 was a more placid time when it came to such moral transgressions – while soberly remarking that despite the explosion of delivery options, companies and corporations the likes of Channel 4 and the BBC just don’t commission pieces like this anymore, and that Made In Britain was actually an ITV commission. Questions were asked, as they always are at these events, of the potential of a sequel updating us to where Trevor would be now, You’re probably on the same wavelength so it won’t surprise you to hear the panel muse that he’d probably be a hedge fund analyst quaffing oysters and crashing Ferrari’s in the city, a smart individual with undeniable talents, raised in an utterly selfish and self obsessed ideology that firmly emphasises the individual ahead of the collective and cohesive good. It’s scathing, severe stuff which hasn’t dated in the last thirty years, with another arrogant and elite obsessed government in power whose leaders and families scorn and sneer at those outside of their privileged experience, proof again that the more things change, the more they stay the same;

De Palma (2016) Trailer

I’m far from the worlds biggest De Palma fan, but as a general all-round movie nerd any documentary tangentially related to that so-called ‘golden’ period of 1970’s ‘new’ Hollywood brats is always gonna ring my cinephile bell. He is, at the very least, an interesting director from a craft perspective, and faults and all I can’t disagree that the likes of Scarface, Carlito’s Way and Dressed To Kill are essential viewings, to name just three. So this will be worth a punt;

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