Listen to this, some great examples, and a potent reminder that I must finish my Once Upon A Time In The West review which I saw at the BFI back in February. And the half dozen Scorsese reviews that are outstanding. So lazy;
In other news and completely unrelated, here is a fantastic appreciation of Se7en which I thought I’d share. Love that movie, made only through an initial mistake that an original draft was mistakenly circulated to Fincher with the infamous bleak ending, still one of these genuine ‘how did this get made? discussion points some twenty years later…
Stephen’s back! Having revisited a number of his recent movies I am beyond happy to see that his retirement was premature, I really do think he is one of the most underrated US directors of the past twenty or so years. This looks like a lot of fun, with an expansive cast, and Daniel Craig looks like he’s having a laugh;
I’ve not been closely following much of the Cannes coverage this year, but nevertheless a few films have leapt out as ‘must sees’ as the awards are parcelled out this evening. As a big fan of Lynne Ramsay its great to hear she’s back on track with this, after that Jane Got A Gun debacle;
More sad news givn yesterdays terrible events in Manchester – Roger Moore has retired his licence to kill. He isn’t the first Bond to leave us, there was David Niven of course and Kubrickophiles will be aware that Barry Nelson, the General Manager of the Overlook Hotel is technically credited as the first actor to have played Ian Fleming’s misogynist psychopath. I’m not a fan of Bond movies in particular and I think we can agree that some of the later Moore’s were pretty poor cash-grabs, but be brought a twinkle in his eye to the role, and as a young kid I had soft spots for both Live & Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun;
To say that the Menagerie was excited for the return of Twin Peaks, or rather more specifically the return of David Lynch after a decade hiatus is a spectacular understatement. It is a wider cultural event, with an arch-auteur who has struggled in bringing stories to any screen adding his swansong chorus to the so called third ‘golden’ age of TV broadcasting, by returning to one core text which set the foundations of the modern media landscape of long-form, small screen entertainment. More importantly for me is the simple prospect of another 18 hours of Lynch’s mind – and what a strange, ethereal and occasionally petrifying mind that is – given that he is directing every episode and writing again with his original partner Mark Frost, the stabilising force whom arguably kept Lynch in check to enable some mainstream penetration back in the midst’s of 1990. Given the import of this phenomenon I embarked on a herculean effort of preparation, going to see Mulholland Drive at the cinema which itself was the result of a cancelled TV series, I revisited the criminally unappreciated Fire Walk With Me, squeezed in a screening of Inland Empire and tore through my third re-watch of the original two seasons, all 30 episodes, in a binge watching bloat of three days. To say I am severely Lynched out is another understatement, further compounded by a lovely Sight & Sound reappraisal in this months issue which makes some illuminating observations – given the undercurrent of psychological dread and abuse it references the series Freudian oral fixations (Coffee, Cherry Pie etc.), it situates the series as an early sprouting of contemporary media ‘Hyperdiegesis‘ around narrative properties citing ‘the creation of a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is every directly seen or encountered within the text’ and from a cinema history perspective summarises Twin Peaks contours as a molestation of Norman Rockwell Americana by European surrealism, primarily the vein championed by Bunuel and Cocteau – Yeah, I think we may have detected where that serrated Black Lodge zig-zag production design element may have originated…..
So let’s start with some fleeting observations on Lynch’s genuine masterpiece, now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of this teenage century, 2001’s Mulholland Drive which has been blessed with a 4K restoration as part of the surrounding hysteria. I’ve already reviewed the film so this will be more of a collection of further reflections and detections that this screening yielded. Firstly the transfer is exquisite, it heightens the tones and stark symbolism of Peter Deming’s cinematography (a long time Lynch collaborator he’s also back on board for the Twin Peaks revival), which reminded me of David Thompson’s lovely phrase that the opening vistas of LA by night reminded him of ‘a scattering of precious diamonds over a black velvet drape’. For all the deconstructions and analysis of the film that has occurred no piece has ever done the film full justice in my mind, in this hopeless pursuit of connecting the narrative and excavating all the mysteries. Great art should always leave some space for the viewer to bring their experiences to the table, and whilst much of the DNA of the film has been codified I prefer for some elements to remain ambivalent and uncertain, as that makes every viewing a deeply satisfying and diverse experience. Case in point – I’ve seen the film a couple of dozen times over the years, and have never noticed that the man who partially comperes the club sequence is the same man as Justin Theroux’s landlord in the sleazy part of town, another doppelgänger in a film infested with mirrors and obfuscations. I’m sure I’ve digested this elsewhere but the fact that we do indeed see the Cowboy (a Hollywood genre stalwart)after his original appearance another two times signals something, Betty/Diane/Rita’s costume when they discover
their a corpse is clearly modelled on Madeleine/Carlotta/Juila’s attire in Vertigo, (oh, also found this which is good), I’d forgotten how funny the film is (the botched assassination, the audition scene, Billy Ray Cyrus) and for me the entire Silencio sequence still remains one of the most eerily magical orchestrations ever committed to celluloid;
After this screening and that hearty binge watch I was suitably buzzed for the 2am UK transmission, after a patient wait of 27 years to return to this bizarre architecture of cryptic giants, menacing dwarves, and crimson draped para-dimensions. I was adrift in expectations after digesting the revelation that the first and last shots of the entire original series, after the title sequences that is, are both scenes refracted in mirrors – and of course similar elements play heavily in Season 3. Welcome to the labyrinth, perverting genre concepts of the soap and procedural mystery show and driving them into more different and dark terrain, as when all is said and done Twin Peaks gravitates around a disturbing orbit of incestual sexual abuse and murder, revealing a web of moral degradation that lurks within an entire locality. I’m a thick skinned viewer but the killing of Maddy, and the ultimate reveal in episode S2E14 is distressing, even in comparison to today’s thresholds I can’t believe the former got through Standards and Practices a quarter century ago.
As an article upstream notes ‘Lynch convinced a major entertainment conglomerate to pay for 18 hours of new material by David Lynch, at the budget he needed, and with complete creative control. He hasn’t had this kind of financial support since he made Dune in 1984.’ That achievement alone is staggering, no? I loved staying up for this, a shared event around the world with like minded maniacs, and boy did if fucking deliver – as others predicted this is pure, uncut, undiluted Lynch, and I’m still processing much of the first four episodes which are positively infested with his earlier work, including long abstract stretches which are pure Eraserhead. So some scattered thoughts with MINOR SPOILERS – The title sequence elicited a Proustian rush, I was shocked at how much of this was set within the Black Lodge, and it was quite touching to see Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer back on screen, reprising an earlier incident way back in the European pilot. The appearance of Lynch alumni from other material – Brent Briscoe, Naomi Watts, Patrick Fischler & Robert Forster – sets the mind spinning on a shared universe which I’m sure other cerebellum of the internet are already formulating. I thought the Michael Cera scene was fucking hilarious, and that encounter early on, well, I’m genuinely apprehensive at giving it another watch. Especially at night. I am sure it has baffled and agitated some of the audience, even the die-hard fans given where a certain character is taken, but I for one am fully on board as the pieces started to make sense around episode 4, although we still await a revisit to some core characters. Make sure you revisit this series this at night with the lights turned off and the audio on high, as the sound mix alone is staggering. Welcome back, old friend;
I’m a little late to the wake on this one, but felt I had to pay my respects. What a fantastic name and presence this dude had with a long running collaboration with the similarly robust Walter Hill, and he was also terrific in such cult favourites as Red Dawn, Deadwood and Sin City. I have a soft spot for Vietnam allegory Southern Comfort however, a important and frequently rewatched movie n my youth;
I think it might have been a mistake to revisit both Alien and Aliens in high-def 4K prior to catching the latest franchise instalment, Alien: Covenant, on the big screen this weekend. They both remain masterpieces of the form, the first one of the greatest horror and SF films ever made, the second arguably the greatest US action film committed to the screen, so how can anything possibly compare? Well, after the glaring failures of Prometheus and the initial trailers for Covenant I had adjusted my expectations accordingly, but we live in hope that Ridley Scott might have one great film left in him, and to all the naysayers that repeat the mantra that the originals can never be bettered I point to the Mad Max reboot which meekly disproves that position as one rare exception to the rule. For cinephiles of my vintage the first couple of films are akin to our first viewings of Star Wars, indelibly seared into our memory of what cinema, and rather more specifically genre cinema could achieve through atmosphere, themes and design. They are corrosively etched into our shared popular culture, a nodal point for all future endeavours to be benchmarked and compared against as long as storytellers look to the indescribable depths of the universe and ponder on what immortal terrors may be lurking between the distant stars. Have they equalled these peaks with this latest mission? No, of course they haven’t but this film isn’t without its merits, while also working as a wider metaphor for all the frustrations of franchise filmmaking in 2017.
The set-up seems gestated in an Alien franchise screenwriting nest, drawing DNA strands from previous instalments in a simmering SF stew. It is the year 2104, and the 15 soul crew of the colony ship Covenant is progressively hurtling toward a remote planet, Origae-6. Some two-thousand colonists are also slumbering in hyper-sleep, monitored by an upgraded android named Walter (Michael Fassbinder), the next generation of synthetic that we previously knew as David in Prometheus, the bio-technical pinnacle of the sinister Weyland Yutani corporation. After a solar flare damages the vessel the crew are thawed, and in the ensuing chaos receive an enticing transmission from a nearby system, revealing a potentially fertile world for their colonising ideology – the planet yields an oxygen atmosphere, acceptable gravity, and a promising array of vegetation and hydration. The missions terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterson) objects to the diversion, but is overruled by acting Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), so with a new course set an away team investigates the source of the message and naturally all hell breaks loose, in all the gruesome glutinous violence that we franchise fans have come to expect.
Let’s seed this review with some of the fertile positives before we reluctantly turn to some of the more problematic elements of Covenant. Firstly, it’s a Ridley Scott joint so naturally the aesthetics are just stunning – the gloomy production design, the tech, wardrobe and uniforms, the typography and cinematography are all state of the art, effortlessly building a believable and tactile future universe which is worthy of a big screen experience alone. I loved the desaturated, misty palette, and no-one shoots a klaxon shrieking, steam bathed strobe-lit bulkhead corridor better than Ridders. The first two-thirds are compelling and for much of the time I had a nagging belief in the back of my head that we might have another great Alien movie on our hands. It takes its time to build the story and assemble the narrative pieces on the chess board, but then like Prometheus the effective set-up and activation of plot nodes stumble into an increasingly fractured climax which – and this is difficult to articulate but bear with me – seemed to be assimilated into Covenant from an entirely different Alien franchise film. It is a very strange shift in pace, emphasis and events, where the supposed incessant demands for CGI set-pieces obliterate the previous control of structure and symbolism. The orignal Alien, and to a lesser extent Aliens orbit some very elemental human characteristics which pollenate across cultures and creeds while impregnating some unconscious essentials of human nature – the semen flushed fluids of the artificial androids, vague vaginal threat, inverse concepts of male rape and insemination. In opposition Covenant seems neutered, displaying a distinct lack of sexuality in terms of its emphasis or acuity, even the concept of the crew being populated by colonist couples working together as professionals regardless of their gender in some post misogynist landscape is largely supressed and discarded. Now, for the record this isn’t some SCW agitating, this is a concept that was present in the series from day one if you watch the various documentaries on the development of Alien, even before Ripley was transferred from a male to female antagonist through the script development process. Hell, even Alien III dropped a woman into a isolated culture of rapists and other criminal miscreants, where an ‘Alien’ outlier could at least be understood and tackled, querying where the real threat might be lurking.
With very little time the characters are hastily sketched, some twitter reviews I’ve scanned have praised Waterman although I can’t agree, she was something of a nonentity on-screen for me with just the bare bones of backstory. Billy Crudup’s captain makes some early intriguing references to his religious beliefs which is a thread that is promptly discarded, a casualty of an evolving script development one suspects. I’m not sure why they made Amy Seimetz , initially a competent, spacefaring professional pilot into a hysterical shivering mess so quickly, but it’s nice to see the Mumblecore and Shane Curruth alumni getting some higher profile roles. With the exception of the miscast Danny McBride – I just can’t take him seriously in a dramatic film – the rest of the crew are identikit red-shirts, so it is left to Fassbender to save the day. He plays the synthetic with the same intriguing gravity that he brought to Prometheus, an artificially created specimen with all the just slightly off delivery of speech and figure movement, internally questioning the integrity of his flawed creators*. I just wish the screenwriters didn’t resort to the cliché of crowbarring numerous literature references into his occasionally portentous dialogue beats – Shelley and Keats to name but two, and also a spot of Wagner – when a few allusions to the other Shelley and the Frankenstein myth would have sufficed. Rather more mischievously I admired the films bloodthirsty intentions, it is graphically violent with shredded puny meatbags being repeatedly ground into mince in a most amusing fashion, making me chuckle in glorious gorehound glee.
The major problems with the Alien franchise, now in its sixth (or eighth) gestation and near four decade hereditary are these – the entire direction of travel, the effort to create some franchise universe is unnecessary, and it is distracting. When they brought in the pathogens, those alabaster hued engineers and the swirling pixels of nanotechnological viruses it just obscured the pathological, elemental, primordial terror of the Xenomorph and its, well, it’s utterly alien nature. Why couldn’t they have just taken the series to earth, or take a petrifying sojourn to the beasts homeworld? Elemental myths and fears of the mystery of creation, of isolation and cognition, gender, evolution and birth swirl around these recent episodes of the series but they are simply not wielded to anything as potent as the sheer terror of the unknown, of lifeforms without remorse or pity subjecting us to their superiority and horrific, incubating lifecycle. To be fair the artificial life, synthetic philosophising is fascinating from a SF perspective and is contemporary with the growing unease and progression in IRL A.I. evolution, and this gets a lot of play in Covenant which might be this film’s singular saving grace – time, contemplation and a few re-watches are required. Some of the callbacks to early instalments are great fun – I really loved the revival of Jerry Goldsmith’s music cues from the original which is one of the most overlooked triumphs of the original film – but this now being 2017, and not 1979 or even 1986 there is this hideous necessity to incorporate some ‘thrilling’ action scenes which are also unnecessary and distracting, shattering the screen fidelity and immersion in the world, and dancing around spoilers one plot development late in the film is so spectacularly obvious it’s almost insulting when they detonate it. It’s funny, I initially was a lot more forgiving of Covenent when I exited the theatre, I mostly had a good time and enjoyed the experience, but gathering my thoughts here has exposed the glaring errors of what could have been. In summary then I’d rate this as on par with Alien III, flawed, irritating but still pulsing with some of that glutinous, gruesome fascination that the first two masterpieces incubated. With three more instalments already in the works I’ll keep a flickering flame lit amidst a melancholy musing over what course we might be on if they’d let Blomkamp have a crack at this still fertile, but frustratingly ferbile franchise;
* Maybe Fassbender could get together with Scarlett Johannson’s succubi in Under The Skin in some weird SF sidebar mythology. And fuck. This is how my genre crossover mind works. Professional help is being sought……
Having lived in the Limehouse area of London for a few years until my recent decant this interests me, and the book was fairly interesting;
I’ve waited 35 years for this, and it is good;
Finally, after those intriguing teaser trailer we get a proper look at Nolan’s first historical feature. I think it looks pretty epic and worthy of an opening day matinee, even if it all seems a little, well, clean and sanitised, cinematography style speaking – is that just me? As I’ve mentioned before the onslaught of post Brexit, post election think-piece musing is also going to be horrific, if todays local election results are anything to go by;