Time for one more, just one more story, before the snows settle in, and a rogue, death-star sized behemoth seizes multiplexes for the remainder of this frosty year. Now I like Jim Jarmusch, he’s one of those genuine talents whom started in his own idiosyncratic way in the American Indie scene of the 1980’s, whom has resolutely followed his own path rather than court the favor of the big studio’s or gone chasing more populist, mainstream fare. Sometimes that can work either way, I’d state his output since the millennium although regular has been a little repetitive, lightly treading circles in the water in terms of themes or style compared with the philosophical triumphs of Dead Man or Ghost Dog back in the 1990’s. However 2013’s Only Lovers Left Alive seeded a return to form, his louche take on the screen vampire mythos given an effortlessly cool inscrutability, and teaming him with two of contemporary cinemas most respected performers – Tilda and Tom. His follow up, Paterson, also sees Jarmusch utilizing the skills of another so called ‘hot’ property, the intense Adam Driver who now adds another J.J. to his litany of directorial collaborations, alongside such measly metteur en scène as the Coens, Noah Baumbach, Jeff Nichols and some fellas called Scorsese and Spielberg. I was intrigued to see that this was showing at my local Cineworld which can occasionally branch out from the blockbuster fare and serve an alternative audience, and Paterson’s regular appearance on many of the sprouting ‘best of the years’ list also piqued my interest, along the fact that a) I haven’t been to the cinema for a couple of weeks and b) disgracefully I’ve never fully covered a Jarmusch film here, meant that a weeknight jaunt to West India Quay was written in the stars.
I first stumbled across Jarmusch through the legendary Moviedrome season and a late night screening of Down By Law, which in turn introduced me to the particular grizzled charms of Tom Waits and John Lurie, author of one of the most gently bizarre cult curios I have recently stumbled across. Unlike some of his contemporaries such as Alison Anders and Hal Hartley Jarmusch seems to have endured, building a quiet but devoted fanbase who enjoy his Lower West Side cultural appropriations and the minimalist, social realist bend to his movies. His path is to take stoic yet creative, withdrawn yet robust characters through a short phase of their life, armed with a gentle sprinkling of movie, music, or literature references, finalised with a subtle narrative punch, to provide some dramatic charge and sense of purpose. Location is important, gracing his seemingly aimless narratives with an extra intangible character, utilizing such evocative and pungent locales as Memphis, New Orleans, Tangiers and Detroit. His latest focuses on working class suburbia, as the location and the main character share the same New Jersey destination – Paterson. He’s a young veteran who now makes his modest means driving a bus around the borough, played with a seemingly lethargic Adam Driver. Every day cycles through the same pattern – Paterson wakes up and snuggles with his partner Laura (Golshifteh Farahani)before grabbing a spot of breakfast. He interacts with is beleaguered supervisor before taking the bus around the city, while gently eavesdropped on his passengers for inspiration. At lunch he crafts poetry which he captures in ancient pen and paper analogue style, while eating his pre-packed snack at a local park. Returning home he adjusts the rickety mailbox, before dinner and a walk of the dog, an errand which serves as an excuse for a couple of beers at his local watering hole where he is friendly with the wise barkeep Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley). Rinse, recycle & repeat seven times, for the films one week insight into Paterson’s quiet life meanders through these peaks and troughs, mediated via Jarmusch’s unhurried, deadpan humored ideology.
Alongside Broken Flowers this might be Jarmusch’s most gentle and quietly affecting film, the rhythms and repetition of modern life forming the narrative spine, with just a faint hint of manufactured affectation (what was with all the twins eh?) to keep the piece firmly locked into his own, particularly precocious movie universe that stretches from Down By Law through to The Limits Of Control. There are faint whiffs of hipster posturing which is no new allegation against J.J., a fetishisation for authentic artifacts such as the folk music guitar that Laura covets, or the range of left-field musicians that festoon Paterson’s local bar patron hall of fame, the closest echo must be the immortal vampires spirited deference to vinyl over digital in Only Lovers Left Alive. If you can stomach such light posturing and the references to poets such as William Carlos Williams (whose epic magnum opus serves as another layer of inspiration for the film) or Ezra Pound then there is much to enjoy here, in all its homely and familiar, slice-of-life infrastructure. Both Laura and Paterson are not quite realistic, not the grounded vérité characterizations that you’d expect in, say, a Ken Loach picture, but there genuine affection and patience of each others idiosyncrasies, from his lack of ambition to take his work to a wider audience, to his quiet patience with her various financial schemes and flighty hobbies.
Jarmusch’s perceived failure to engage with the reality of these locations and characters has confounded some observers – why make Paterson a veteran and then not explore any potential damaged psychosis? Even in cosmopolitan, suburban New York a mixed race relationship wouldn’t be exposed to some social public disruption or prejudice? I think such concerns are missing the woods for the trees, these simply aren’t the concerns of the filmmaker who isn’t attempting to make some social realist statement, his emphasis is on an entirely different intellectual plane, and its not dissimilar to complaining that a Michael Bay picture violates the laws of physics, logical cohesion or indeed shared system of simple human decency. Jarmusch is interested in the quiet magic, the reflections among peoples lives and our interactions within those frameworks, mannered yes but no less affecting slice-of-life vignettes which we can all relate to on some, intrinsic level. I caught a sense of the Bukowski in the blue-collar repetition, thankfully minus the anarchy of substance abuse, yet with a fine eye of the poetry in the minutiae, which may yield more poignant shared truths than any high intellectual , elite university educated wordsmith. Like it’s 2016 stalemate Certain Women this is not a film which is going to change the world, but for the two hours it spirits you into someone else’s tender-hearted life, a welcome respite to the gloomy news cycle which as Rian Johnson recently tweeted ‘I could have spent another twenty hours in that world’;
It’s not often I divert into TV territory but a combination of small town eerie Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Winnona means that yes, I will probably be giving this a d20 Charisma check for interest;
I follow quite a few fellow film critics, bloggers and podcasters on a variety of social media. Broadly speaking we share the same politics as much as you can detect these things through such communication models, being supportive of equal rights for everyone, agitating for a woman’s right to choose her fertility options, in favour of gay marriage as an equalizing factor for a certain strata of the community, loathe the entire fabrication of austerity measures, all in all pretty much left of centre in most areas of social progress and civil evolution. It amuses me no end then that some of these individuals go absolutely berserk when ‘controversial’ ideas strike the movie community, such as perhaps the next actor to strap on a tuxedo and prefer their beverages being shaken and not stirred being of a darker skin tone than the last fifty years of representation. ‘But….but Bond is white‘ they passionately implore, with the idea of the franchise being helmed by Idris Elba or Colin Salmon allegedly representing some enormous affront to humanity, decency and in-universe character integrity. It’s ridiculous of course, as I think this immensely popular franchise could survive some small measure of experimentation, and in fact such developments could save the series from its slow, inevitable slide into irrelevance. Some of these ideas of Bond being a dinosaur and a relic of an earlier age are explored in the fourth film of Daniel Craig’s arc of Ian Fleming’s beloved misogynist psychopath, notions that are uncomfortably set against some of the series defining features – scheming super villains, travelogue globe trotting narratives, elegant sexy ladies and all socio-political problems being solved on the receiving end of a Walter PPK. Having precisely zero investment in this particular franchise on an emotional or historical level I do vaguely look forward to these films as movie events, as big, high-profile entries in one of cinemas most enduring franchises, and I was mildly interested to see what Mendes and Craig were going to go next after the spectacular success of Skyfall. The results for me were similar to the last picture, entertaining enough for a couple of hours but not secreting a great deal to take home and unpack, either intellectually or aesthetically.
It’s a shame that the opening sequence set against an evocative Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City is the strongest movement of the entire film, as when the expectations levels are set so high the remainder of the film is doomed to disappoint. Bond has gone rogue as all the heroes do in these films, instructed by a message from beyond the grave to hunt down the international ne’er-do-well Marco Sciarra, a nasty foreign type who is planning a series of terrorist bombings. Back in London HQ the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is preparing for a sinister new amalgamation of intelligence services and assets across the western hemisphere, with drones and surveillance assets being seen as the 21st century direction of travel by new Joint Intelligence chief C (Andrew Scott). The bad old days of wet-work and clandestine assassinations are deemed redundant in the modern global environment, but little do the authorities perceive that a secretive foe is marshalling its grip on the international narcotics, slave and terrorism markets, with a sepulchral figurehead whose evil ideology also bleeds into our heroes tragic childhood…..
As we all know the film has been eagerly awaited since the rights of the Spectre characters and concepts of Thunderball were acquired in November 2013, so if like me you have a passing knowledge of the Bond universe then there are no real surprises as to where the plot and character revelations finally formulate. Well, when I say plot I’m referring to a rather amorphous chain of A to B to C materializations which never really coalesces into any entertaining master-plan, as Spectre is not much more than a collection of interruptions and exotic locations set against the side plot of the intelligence co-ordination which also contains zero unguessable twists or revelations. Apart from the amorous opening (with a very comfortable long uninterrupted tracking shot that sees director Sam Mendes competing in the same arena as Cuarón and Iñárritu) and a particularly painful train tussle my pulse wasn’t exactly pounding, but Craig is as coldly functional as he has been in the other movies, comfortably sporting his arrogant tuxedo attire which he has carnivorously carved for himself. Ben Whishaw gets a bit more to do as the newly promoted superhacker Q (presumably a moniker for Querulous), Moneypenny is functional in the form of Naomie Harris, while Fiennes gets a bit more screen time as well. Personally I could have done with a lot more of Monica Bellucci though, she disappears after two scenes which is a shame, although the emphasis from an x chromosome perspective rests clearly with Léa Seydoux as the primary plot cypher whom leads Bond from one energetic entanglement to another.
For all these glaring faults I did kind of enjoy this movie, I was never bored even when enduring some of the patience sapping set-pieces, and I actively enjoyed the finale which I’m assuming is the first of this arc that peaks on the gloomy, rain-sodden streets of central London. It would have been nice to have more amusing quips and dialogue exchanges that deserved more attention, and I liked Seydoux’s character even if she starts off as a fairly strong agent before devolving to another damsel in distress trophy to be saved from the evil clutches of the nefarious, titular organisation. Speaking of which Christophe Waltz is proficient as always as the puppet master behind the scenes with an interesting link to our heroes childhood (is that in the books? If not that’s an interesting angle for Mendes to take the series), but it’s a shame he didn’t get more to do as the omnipotent scheming antagonist who has apparently been secretly torturing Bond for the past three movies. Perhaps Spectre’s saving grace is the lavish photography from the increasingly brilliant Hoyte van Hoytema who bathes the screen in high contrast black versus white exteriors, it can’t be easy stepping into Roger Deakin’s shoes but he acquits himself admirably. Nevertheless I still can’t for the life of me see how this movie cost an absurd $300 million, I guess all that commitment to practical effects and location work stacks up spectacularly plus the starry cast receiving generous upfront paycheques, and thankfully the product placement doesn’t sour the experience as much as the last few movies. Overall the series has thankfully moved on from the 1990’s doldrums of Die Another Day and other Brosnan bruisings, but still lags behind the modern techniques of the Mission Impossible or Bourne movies, as it tries to grapple with contemporary post Snowden queries on the ethics of modern surveillance and intelligence, alongside the franchise trappings of dispatching remorseless henchmen, seducing sexy ladies, conveniently contrived gadgets and remote super villain bases. You’ll have to forgive me for such an obvious affectation but Spectre left me stirred but not necessarily shaken;
BFI Southbank – Nicholas Winding-Refn ‘The Act Of Seeing’ Exploitation Poster Book Launch & Farewell Uncle Tom (1971)
Autumn beckons, September is here, so let’s kick things off with quite the sordid little evening over at – where else? – the BFI Southbank. We’ve witnessed Nicholas Winding Refn here before of course, as part of the promotional push on Drive, but the chance to see him again pushing his new book of B movie poster art was accelerated when I realised he was also introducing a members only ultra-rare screening of the notorious slavery picture Farewell Uncle Tom. Being fine connoisseurs of all things cinematically disgusting I’m sure you’ve heard of this movie before, but before we slip into those exploitation shackles some context of his new book The Act Of Seeing is required. Refn has produced the book with his partner in crime Alan Frightfest Jones, and he explained that the inspiration originally arose from his movie memorabilia urges – clearly he’s one of our tribe. A few years ago he purchased $10,000 of exploitation posters from ebay, and since then his appetite in acquiring all sorts of ancillary marketing has broadened, such is his fascination of that most grubby of cinemas children. He enlisted Jones to pull the project together with some research into each of the movies, publishing them together in book form with restored prints of these sometimes time distressed curios, to capture in amber these long lost relics of time gone by. What amused me most was (as Jones explained) that these films are so rare, so underground and obscure that even finding 200 words to talk about some of proven as elusive as a conscience cell in a conservative. The research was much deeper than leafing through the notoriously unreliable imdb but visiting studio archives, rifling through distributors tax records and Refn calling in a few industry favours, just to acquire even barebones details of such immortal classics as Death Bed: The Bed That Eats or Last Orgy Of The Third Reich. As lifelong fans of extreme and underground cinema Jones admits to seeing maybe 25% of the films over his forty year career, Refn perhaps 10%, and to be clear he claimed that he does find genuine artistic merit and beauty in the images, it’s not just some hipster exercise of obsessive cinephilia, a genuine affection for arguably the most neglected hovel of movie history which doesn’t normally grace the pages of ‘serious’ movie periodicals or flag bearing national film institutions.
The movie industry denizens of New York back in this gilded age weren’t exactly the most honourable of souls, and the fact that the product was shuffled around projectors on a constant rotation, remarketed and packaged with alternative titles, sometimes even recut into bastardised versions of each other muddied the research waters somewhat. A further complication was that some cinemas and shady operators would illegally draw up their own lurid marque magnets when screening films without permission so they could pocket 100% of the takings, evading the kickback to the sleazy distributor, a further layer of misinformation and misdirection which must have made the research a herculean task of patience and investigation. Did I purchase a copy of the book? No, primarily because a) I’ve just spent a weekend strafing and disposing unwanted clutter so the acquisition of another bulky 700 page book really wasn’t on the cards and b) frankly speaking a lot of the material seems to refer to soft-core and hard-core sex films, which are a little out of my wheelhouse. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude with a search history to prove it, but that’s just not an area of film culture or history I’m particularly aroused by, and although some of the posters were quite frankly hilarious after you’ve seen a dozen or so you’ve probably seen ’em all. The prospect of ejaculating £60 on an impressively arranged and sequenced book that I would aimlessly leaf through a couple of times before collecting dust on a shelf somewhere wouldn’t be the best investment of time, or money, at this stage when I have bigger fish to fry. Still, during the discussion there was also a disclosure of a potential new film project, not from Refn but another, more localised film director who is currently progressing funding for a fictional look at the whole world of Times Square and the exploitation phenomenon in the 1970’s, and although I don’t feel comfortable disclosing whom is behind it at this stage this would be an ideal next project in this filmmakers evolution – it all reminds me of this beautiful rom-com moment….
So let’s move on to tonight’s featured presentation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a screening preceded by such a whirlwind of warnings, including emails and strongly worded website disclaimers that WARNING: THIS FILM IS OFFENSIVE, just to stave off any furiously worded complaints at how Her Royal Majesty’s British Film Institute could possibly screen such despicable depravity. A further warning was emitted by the BFI’s Event Director, explaining that the print, borrowed from Refn’s friends behind the Alamo Drafthouse had some water damage and sonic distress around some of the reel changes, while some of the colour had pinked out –as in this would be a projection that has suffered some loss of colour gradients due to print distress, as opposed to 1960’s softcore Japanese pornography. In true Italian exploitation fashion the film starts with a almost delirious melding of sound of image, as a modern day documentary crew are somehow transported back to the antebellum American South of the 19th century, arriving by helicopter in a expansive cotton field which stretches to the edges of the frame. We are on journey into the heart of darkness, when the slavery trade was wallowing in the deepest depths of cruelty, murder and horrifying inhumanity, the documentations our surrogate witness in a unsettling blurring of fiction and reconstruction. The picture was crafted by the notorious directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, already infamous for the Mondo Cane movie series, allegedly slandering an entire continent with their salacious instincts, architects of offence who really scrapped the barrel with this one.
There was some general discussion of the portrayal of slavery in cinema when QT’s Django was released a couple of years ago, with only a few exploitation films (Mandingo and its 1976 sequel Drum) being identified alongside the small screen phenomenon of Roots, with the highest profile film being Spielberg’s 1997 movie Amistad. For such an important and reverberant subject the paucity of material speaks volumes to me, although I guess a look at one of the most shameful periods of multiple countries history isn’t exactly a box-office blast. So I was braced for impact as it were, and being a desensitised and warped fan of outré cinema I was expecting the worse, so inevitably I didn’t think this was that bad – at least initially. Don’t get me wrong, for the first few reels Farewell Uncle Tom is deeply offensive, its jaw-droppingly disgusting, and in its primitive way compelling brave in pushing its camera into formally uncharted territory. The canvass is human beings essentially being treated like cattle, eating like crazed beasts from troughs, deloused and subjected to medical experiments, suffocating in their own filth in cramped, excretion smeared claustrophobia. As the documentarians continue their on-screen interviews with the fictional inhabitants of the 18th century matters degenerate as it moves into the realms of the sexually abused, the raped and murdered with total impunity, and this is where you can start throwing all the nauseating superlatives around that you wish – brutal, vicious, unconscionable, sadistic – and to reach for the critics cliché dictionary this makes 12 Years A Slave look like Hucklebury Finn. Away from the striking immersive design – the off screen narrators verbally interact with the slaves, with the masters, with the flotsam and jetsam of this broiling hellscape – there is a definitive journey through the film, there is narrative structure and thought, a quality quite alien to the amateur conditions of traditional exploitation born product. Juxtapositions between the supposed civility and refinement of gentrified Southern society which stands in stark contrast with the utter degrading, inhuman barbarity, of church attending Christians exploiting other members of our species with such pitiless barbarity. On a purely visceral level there is also copious male and female nudity, including children, liberal deployment of the ‘n’ word and other racial slurs, and that’s just the opening titles………..
But just as you might be becoming acclimatised, becoming numbed to the parade of choking brutality a new level of Gehenna is unleashed when a new element of the omnipresent culture is exposed. We bear witness to the Caucasian rape gangs, or the greasing up of ‘virgin whores’ for sale at public market, sold as willing orifices for the satisfaction of every depraved whim of the white man’s sexual depravity. If that doesn’t prompt the dry retching then how about the breeding of negros in ‘bitch’ and ‘studs’ paddocks in one plantation worthy of the deepest abyss of the Marquis De Sade, the owner proudly boasting of his chattal’s ability to gestate new product within weeks of her previous birth, before we glimpse one terrified adolescent thrown into the cage of a half syphilitic grunting lunatic – you can shudderingly guess the rest. Not enough for you? Then how about (for me) the final coup de grace, one final atrocity ambling along with a 13 year old girl seducing one of the off-screen narrators, insisting that he deflower her – actually that’s rather a tame phrase, how about ‘break her in’ – rather than abandon her hymen to one of her racial kin, so that she can service her white masters more efficiently in a harrowingly compliant scene which is deliberately shot to implicate the audience in the seduction. This is probably one of the most uncomfortable and disgusting scenes I’ve ever seen, operating right at the cusp of endurance, where even the likes of arch provocateurs Gasper Noe or Von Trier might mutter ‘whoa, wait, c’mon now – hang on a fucking second’….
Of course it’s all true, and we know from academic and historic record that these events or similar occurred, that these horrific structures and ideologies existed, and indeed still occur. The historic distancing tends to engulf these crimes in the oceans of time, which is why the narrative device of the present day documentarians recording these events uncomfortably blurs the lines between fiction and imagination, rendering the film as especially disturbing given their (and by proxy our) slow implication and absorption into the same crimes and peccadillos – it reminded me of the notorious Belgian faux-verite controversy of the 1990’s Man Bites Dog. Like all exploitation it deliberately emphasises the lurid, the voyeuristic and distressing to make its points, but that’s kinda the point of exploitation cinema – the clues in the title. Moreover there is a point to the film in its design and purpose no matter how inelegantly expressed, like a bullwhip thrashing out the ‘decent’ standards of bourgeois civility, as Farewell Uncle Tom finally concludes on something of a call to arms to the Black Panther movement, encouraging the vengeful butcher of whitey and his wife in their comfortable middle class bed. When the film was released in 1971 this was incendiary to say the least, a sequence which apparently provoked genuine riots which caused the authorities to exorcise the film from circulation after only a week. If you don’t happen to be near any grindhouse joints then the film is available in numerous versions on the old faithful YouTube, if you are any way interested in exploitation cinema then this is a must. Coincidently I’ve just purchased Refn’s Pusher trilogy boxed set for the ungainly sum of £6 which is a skull bludgeoning bargain, next up at the BFI we stumble nicely into another paragon of saintly, decent filmmaking, with a special visit from that Baltimore born film director who once filmed a 250lb transvestite eating fresh dog shit on camera. Bon appetit;
That’s quite a team behind the product – Oscar winners© Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin on direction and script, and a high energy cast including Winslet, Stuhlburg, Daniels and Seth Rogan as the Woz. Purely coincidentally I am 2/3 through the official biography on the man which I picked up for the princely sum of 49p from a Colchester charity shop, and a well written, warts n’ all piece it is too. I can’t help think that Fassbender seems bizarrely miscast though, he’s a great actor n’all but he just doesn’t seem to fit the person portrayed in the book. I guess we shall see in October;
Well you asked for it, as in specifically some of you out in the wide yawning ether asked if I was going to review 2015’s first cultural celluloid event, the biggest R rated opening of all time, a film with no superheroes or franchise credentials which is breathlessly lashing its way toward a $500 million global haul. My understanding and appraisal of the Fifty Shades Of Grey phenomenon has largely been restricted to that of any other armchair cultural commentator – precisely zero interest in reading the books due to the merciless quality of the critique’s of E.L. James sub par writing, a general baffled disinterest in ‘erotic literature’, and a mistrust of the series allegedly damaging sexual and gender politics. All of the criticisms directed to the books raise the same disquieting positions – being stalked is sexy!! All my abusive partner needs is the love of a good woman to ‘turn’ him good!! Being into slightly kinky sex is a severe character flaw arising from childhood trauma that requires ‘fixing’!! – hmm, none of that sounds particularly healthy. I think you do have to temper some of the hand-wringing, horrified opinion piece reactions to the books as just perhaps (sarcasm alert) the majority of women who catapulted the series into a publishing phenomenon are fully aware that the books are stupid, silly and just a little bit of sexy fun, in much the same way that I for example can happily watch some stupid monster B-Movie from the 1950’s and appreciate its terrible naffness but still have a good time. I’m not really qualified nor interested in passing judgment on any of these wider thematic elements, but I think I am qualified to dissemble the film as a film, and as a critic I am professionally obligated to see any picture which has generated such feverish debate and discussion. As I am ideologically opposed to reading fan fiction (especially plagiarized fan-fiction) I went into this relatively cold in the wake of some pretty terrible reviews, discreetly attending a furtive matinée screening, flushed with anticipation as even a real catastrophe can be howlingly good fun and a thoroughly satisfying few hours at the flicks.
Getting straight down to the action I am disappointed to rasp that no this isn’t as terrible as some have claimed, it’s certainly not a very good movie but it doesn’t even qualify as this year’s worst waste of celluloid space. First of all you can’t enlist A list production talent such as cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, The Avengers, We Need To Talk About Kevin) or soundtrack composer Danny Elfman without some veneer of quality, the former has graced the film with a seductive color palette grinding through a panoply of copacetic greys (of course) to flushed reds, the latter a perfectly serviceable musical accompaniment which never intrudes into the characters comfort zone. One of the films warning signs apart from the ridiculed source material was the presence of Kelly Marcel on scriptwriting duties, I thought Saving Mr. Banks was one of the most offensive films of recent years, guilty of relegating a fascinating historical figure to some frigid prude, subservient to Disney in a dishonest whitewash serving their corporate masters. Comprehensively lifting (so I’m told) the book structure into a Hollywood template doesn’t seem to have been an arduous task, there is a standard issue rom-com logic to the initial meeting and wooing of Christian and Anastasia, perforated with some deeply problematic character activities, grimace inducing lines of dialogue, and one particularly uncomfortable performance that we’ll get to shortly. The beating the film has received for sheer laugh-out loud incompetence doesn’t quite hold water as this is a handsomely mounted (pun utterly intended), professional piece of work, at least until the problems with the source text start to arise.
After a carefully engineered, self-reflective first hour during which it is patently obvious that director Sam Taylor Wood has a cunning approach to the inherently campy material slowly, inexorably the erotic charge deflates from the movie, and my mind begin to listlessly wonder on to more fascinating questions – I wonder how many seats this screen has? Hmm, I wonder how many steps it takes me to walk here from my flat? Both are simply fascinating subjects I’m sure you’ll agree. A regular presence on set was author E.L. James who served as an ardent gatekeeper of her laughably incompetent prose (causing some serious clashes on set), relaying the story of Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), a naïve graduate student who is sent to interview the enigmatic billionaire 27-year-old Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan)after her flatmate is stricken ill. A romance ensues with Grey acting in a fashion that would have you instantly arrested and sectioned in real life, as he harbours a dark sexual secret which Anastasia’s fledgling sexuality. Putting it quite simply Dornan has all the chutzpah of Patrick Bateman without the corpse littered charm, I don’t think I’ve seen a performer so utterly uncomfortable in a role he clearly loathes, playing a fucking asshole of the absolute nascent nadir, utterly obsessed with his own conquests and satisfaction at the expense of all and everyone else.
I was fascinated to learn that Dakota Johnson is the granddaughter of Tippi Hedren, an actress of an earlier age whom of course was the victim of a horrendous sexual obsession from a powerful man wielding enormous wealth and influence, so there is an odd cinematic confluence occurring in this film as she suffers bewildering behavior that should have the audience gasping ‘you’re fucking kidding, right?’ Christian questions every relationship she has with every other male in her life, the implication being these threats to his prize are unacceptable. He lovingly breaks into her apartment, turns up completely non-stalkery at her job, showers her with lavishly inappropriate gifts and demands to be within communication reach at all times. When out getting wasted with her friends one night he arrives on the scene to ‘rescue’ her and orders her to never act in this fashion again, before moodily stripping to his waist and playing mournful midnight piano dirges from the penthouse of his corporate ziggurat. It’s an atrocity of behavior ripped bleeding from the manual of an abusive, controlling relationship which is simply squirm worthy embarrassing to watch, before he spirits her away in his personal helicopter for a midnight jaunt in swoon inducing fashion. OK, yeah, even I get it, it’s a fantasy, just a little amorous aphrodisiac – fine. Personally though even if you approach the film as a nonsense on the level of Pretty Woman or some other identikit Rom-Com formula engorged with a little dangerous kink this still leaves a very sour taste in the mouth, and even the funniest of reviews do little to cleanse the palette. The sex scenes are as tame as you’d expect from any mainstream studio product even with the R rating, and of course they follow they usual double standard of plenty of female nudity but no, (now how can I put this discreetly?) there’s no wanger sightings to equalize the genders. It’s all shot very tastefully and flatly, a perfume advert projected against opulent décor, a montage of grinding body parts that couldn’t be more vanilla if you stuck a icepick in it and called it Ice.
The contract scene is the ultimate personification and key to the entire film, where Christian and Anastasia sexily pontificate on the negotiated dimensions of their proposed dominant & submissive symbiosis. Tabled as a business meeting and shot by McGarvey with an intentional crepuscular glee the scene is funnier than it ought to be and deftly summarizes the entire romance, with a winning, querying punch line from the inquisitive Anastasia – ‘What’s a butt-plug?’ Here, finally is sordid evidence that the film has been fabricated as a contemporary satire, a film of transactions and commerce perverting the intimate and personal, of elitist billionaires instructing inferiors to bend and thrust to their every whim, of everything being brought to them and their every order breathlessly obeyed with no regard for others safety, security or well-being. Despite these fleeting pangs the film is sorely lacking in tittering temptation, to have actually made this entertaining it needed a Paul Verhoeven, as just one frame of the punishing glee of a Showgirls or a Basic Instinct would at least have got the blood pumping and aroused the temperature beyond a few idle laughs and a couple of nicely photographed scenes. I’ll just add to the chorus of like-minded critics that if you are in the mood for some erotic coaxed cinema then go and support a genuine treasure, The Duke Of Burgundy is playing in selected cinemas now. Fifty Shades Of Grey however is a tepid and icky puddle of passion, a sure sign that we don’t always get the films we want but the films we perversely deserve;
Be afraid, Be very, very afraid – I think I might require some professional help as this made me laugh. A lot;
Do you read Sutter Cane? Y’know, when I mentally audit the breadth and scope of films I’ve covered on this blog over the past tears of years I sometimes despair at the scale of the mountain I still feel compelled to climb, particularly when it comes to my all-time favourite filmmakers. You’ll know by now that one of these essentials is the legendary John Carpenter, horror and genre master par excellence, a director I always feel I’ve shortchanged given my absolute adoration of most of his work and the impact it had on me as an adolescent cinephile. But then when I audit the work thus far I realize I’ve broached more texts than anticipated, we’ve stumbled through The Fog, frozen with The Thing and screamed at Halloween, heck even in passing we’ve had a glance at Dark Star and erm, been sectioned with The Ward although like a shameful Victorian bastard offspring we don’t tend to talk about that much. To be sure there are still some essentials which have eluded my grasp, Prince Of Darkness and Escape From New York are biblical oversights (although I guarantee renewed interest in the latter given this news) and the likes of Big Trouble In Little China have evolved a fanatic cult following over the past couple of decades, then of course there is the brilliantly prophetic They Live which has been reassessed as one of his finest works, with common critical opinion asserting that this 1988 picture was his last key text. This, however, is nonsense. I’m not going to make any sort of case for Escape From LA which I can’t defend but still enjoy as a deeply guilty pleasure, and unlike most I also find elements to enjoy in Memoirs Of An Invisible Man*. No, for me 1994’s In The Mouth Of Madness is Carpenters last significant work, so when the BFI announced a special 35mm screening as part of their newly enshrined monthly cult movie strand I was flailing myself faster than a demented acolyte of some ancient satanic sect, not many would have bothered with a late night Sunday evening screening but what can I say, all hail our new octodimensional overlords from beyond the veil of dreams, that’s what I say…..
Positioned as the third spire of Carpenter’s apocalyptic triptych with The Thing and Prince Of Darkness the film maps the murderous end of the world, the sacrifice of our species and fragile world to an ancient Lovecraftian inspired host of horrors so hideous that they can only find purchase through the permeable boundaries of fiction. The catalyst of Armageddon comes from the humblest of sources, initially inscribed through the scribbling’s of cult author Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow in fine brimstone belching form), a blood streaked J.D. Salinger figure whose work inspires murderous devotion to his legion of fans. But any epochal event requires an intellectual sacrifice, enter stage right arrogant and cynical insurance agent John Trent (Sam Neil) who is commissioned to track down the reclusive author at the sleepy new England town of Hobbs End, a place referenced in Kane’s eagerly awaited new novel In The Mouth Of Madness which is burning with fanatical and eldritch expectation.
Revisiting this film after a handful of small screen viewings was a repulsive revelation, In The Mouth Of Madness is meta before the concept of ‘meta’ gained as much cultural currency as it enjoys today, yes its clumsy, yes it feels rushed and frankly silly in parts but it still prefigures the genre likes of Scream and it’s masked impersonators by a good few gore drenched years. Carpenter deploys his usual Panavision frame and throws on a slightly grubby wide-angle lens to carefully distort the image, chanting an uncertain ratio between realities which is a technical touch that most movies of its ilk and era simply can’t equal. Locating Trent as a cynical unbeliever is an expert touch, divining him as a master in detonating deception and deceit as he ricochets between the supernatural events, initially believing that the increasingly urgent events are staged as some elaborate publicity stunt. The church setting of Kane’s communion is a terrific location, a real place in New Hampshire which required no optical effects to look imposing on screen, para-dimensionally more effective than the rather lame faux-shock and Carpenter special double-shock jump scares which were received with mere appreciative titters. I also can’t deny that some of the sequences simply don’t work (the Dobermann attack was really quite bad) but there are a few sequences which hold some treasures, and for my money this movie works as a small precursor to the whole panoply of pre-millennial psyche fractured film that were waiting in the shadow lengthing aisles – The Matrix, The Truman Show, Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shit, Memento and on and on and on…
Sometimes I think I wonder, and sometimes one wonders what one thinks they can wonder about, and then one experience can evade any logical purpose as overthinking can present an acute obstacle – now can we get back on the bus? Heh. This was just a fucking awesome evening with a quietly appreciative crowd, the privilege to see a lower tier John Carpenter movie on the big screen again was Menagerie mandated wonderful, warts and eldritch drenched scars and all. For all its limitations In The Mouth Of Madness is several million dimensions ahead of the last few decades of movie ‘horror’ despite some of its budgetary and casting constraints, the current Paranormal Activities, Conjuring and Annabelle and Bababdook dread seem much more parochial and simplistic in their domestic intent, a terror in the home rather than a holistic horror of a wider indiscriminate world which seems to have been neutered by a slow shift from the global to the psyche of the individual. Anyway, ahem…. Sam Neil is always good value for money isn’t he? Right? I always raise an appreciative eyebrow when I see he’s in a picture, he always does good work in genre fare and other stuff. I’ve been a fan since we all praised Damien.
Back to the ending at hand, does Carpenter and his screenwriter manage to pull together the various threads into some coherent, terrifying whole? Alas not. Is the terror and repeated revisits to earlier sequences fully form a circle of Sisyphean chills of our pointless struggle in the face of indiscriminate oblivion? Probably no. However the picture does flirt with a few potent ideas, it clumsy curls within the permeable barrier between reality and fantasy, the terrifying prospect of being a character in a novel with no agency or manifest destiny other than that dictated by ancient and malevolent forces, with maybe a few jabs at the intellectually immature who believe that horror movies and their ilk are actually a contributing force to the worlds ills rather than a catalyst and mirror to our true, occasionally savage instincts. At an economical 90 odd minutes the film abandons reality before the premise begins to grate, with a few deft lines to demonstrate that the filmmakers have their tongues firmly planned in their cheeks. When you finally approach In The Mouth Of Madness you can sense some chittering spirits howling in the distance as you absorb the in-film declarations such as ‘What about the people who don’t read?’ and the concluding ‘The film comes out next month’, a punchline that nourishes the gnawing souls that are murmuring an obvious pointer of satirical sourness, indicating a deeper drive than the images and associated arrangements manage to achieve. Some of my fellow audience members summed up the picture as being ‘drunk on a cheap beer rock soundtrack which feels like the end of an era’. I can’t immediately argue with that. But it strikes me as a surface level synopsis which doesn’t quite appreciate how fully Carpenter was once again of time, if you delve deeper this is just about a perfect summation of Carpenter’s last Lovecraftian laugh;
* Yes I understand I’ve omitted Village Of The Damned here but that film is just bad, boring and its best for all to pretend it never happened. Yes, yes, the same holds true for Ghosts Of Mars. And although it’s got its admirers as a pulpy b-movie western hybrid Vampires never really bit me….
‘Man is a god when he dreams and a beggar when he thinks.’ – So let us begin. I don’t wish to commence proceedings with ridiculous hyperbole or exaggerated whimsy but I’m sure we can all agree that Werner Herzog, the great German film director, poet and documentarian is a god who walks among us mere pathetic mortals. OK, OK, pushing flippancy aside and being absolutely serious having given this some significant consideration, now here is my central thesis – I assert that a century from now future media scholars and visual art historians will look back on the first dozen decades of cinema and elect Werner as the greatest practitioner of the form in its adolescent infancy. Has he made that one masterpiece that is regularly venerated as one of the greatest films of all time akin to Potemkin, Kane or Vertigo? Perhaps not but a half-dozen of his films are always honored in the top fifty. Has one single film of his individually exploded and expanded the form beyond its contemporary intellectual boundaries as Welles, Ozu, Kurosawa or Kubrick managed to achieve? Probably and possibly not. Yet has anyone equaled the incredible breadth, stupendous sweep and stultifying scale of his work over his half century career? No, and here as they say is the rub gentle reader.
Usurping his contemporaries Herzog has made films throughout the 20th and 21st centuries all over the world, veering from the jungles of South America to the fetid swamps of commercial Hollywood, even taking in a whistle-stop tour of a pregnant pacific Pompeii. His camera has surveyed the African veldt and the tropical plateaus of the Orient, proceeding from a shattered Middle East to the shivering wastes of Antarctica. Furthermore he has straddled fiction and non-fiction, documentaries, art installations, operas and biographies, moving effortlessly through genres and styles yet retaining his own distinct Teutonic purr. Finally the historical scale is breathtaking, situating his omnipotent observations among (off the top of my head) the Paleolithic to the medieval epoch, the bloody forging of the New World, the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century, taking two passes on the same story from a fiction and non-fiction position, before finally passing into space with a few cult SF oddities. Who the fuck else has managed that? More recently he has embarked on a side career as raconteur and verbal essayist through his numerous public speaking engagements, so I jumped at the chance to see the great Übermensch during his current book tour at an engagement at Westminster Central Hall, interviewed by the legendary journalist Paul Holdengraber at an event crowned as a Guide To The Perplexed. I have seen the light my friends, and it is good.
‘Only the shallow think they know themselves’ – It’s only been a few hours since the verbal spectacle was absorbed, and my primitive mind is still a little bewildered and busy digesting the proceedings, so I think the best way to give a flavor of the evening would be a stream of consciousness diatribe – bear with me. Introduced (perhaps a little pretentiously) as ‘cognitive theatre’ this was something of a greatest hits of Herzog anecdotes, observations, opinions and predictions, frequently hilarious and pulsing with insight, starting with his current fascination with the psychic possibilities of the Oculus rift technology – the man is 72 years old and this is his opening gambit. What are the implications of this breakthrough for the long-term hospitalized, the insane or the death row inmate, giving them a safe alternate reality to escape their fractured and imprisoned functions? He dislikes Brecht and modern art (citing the poisoned industrial 1% collector ethos) and being pigeon-holed as a Romantic in the classical sense, and bemoans the lack of genuine, non-formulated journalism in most non-fiction work that he inquisitively approaches from an organic perspective. His documentarian instincts are to approach his subjects without a precept of questions or ideological territory, finding the work through conversation and query. He spent six months living with a near destitute family in Philadelphia as part of his ‘walking the earth’ period of his early twenties, marveling at the generosity of strangers (he met a blue-collar family while hitchhiking who gave him shelter without question) and was fascinated at the matriarchs invented language that she shared with her cocker spaniel. Years later he queried a priest on the wonder of gods creation and made him weep when he asked him of his most memorable encounter with a squirrel. He considers Psychoanalysis as damaging to civilization as the Spanish Inquisition (no, I’m not making the Squirrel thing up), as man must not delve too deep into his darkest squalor, and his witnessing of The Rolling Stones second ever American gig was something to behold – buy me a pint and I’ll regale you with that gem.
‘We should not fear the bear, but we must respect the bear’ – As I suspected Herzog is fully aware of and cultivates his media image quite carefully, he explained how he primes and prepares his legendary voiceovers to his non-fiction hymns to the majestic immortal and ultimately mysterious, always gravitating to the lunatic dreamers and ostracized outsiders who infect his work. He and Holdengraber briefly shared their appreciation of Mike Tyson as an underappreciated champion beyond his sporting prowess, detailing his incredible rise from the most destructive upbringing imaginable to international icon – a violent man with a difficult history which should deserve some sort of Grecian-roman appreciation. He mourns the state of the planet from an environmental health check perspective yet is certain that any possible savior must be terrestrial and will not be found in the stars, as any mission to distant hospitable worlds will engender fifty generations of ancestral madness among some perverted ark, meaning when we arrive in Alpha Centauri the ambassadors of our species will be perverted with a mad incestual disease – now there’s a movie waiting to happen. Closer to home Herzog was raised without the influence of a father which I find fascinating given his self-propelled drive and achievements, born into the hunger of the shattered cradle of his defeated homeland (he was born in 1942) the shadow of the Third Reich hangs heavy over his artistic generations musings and motivations.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this experience and there are many more fascinating tales to tell, but the clock is ticking and my attention must shift to alternate material. Nevertheless I can’t imagine a more inspirational and brilliant start to the year, event wise at least, thus I hearby announce my most ambitious project yet – the Menagerie Herzog season. This Matterhorn of reviews will assault all the material contained within this wonderful bible of brilliance, and maybe a few side posts and musings over the coming months and potential years, I’ve already arranged a BFI screening of one of the Herzog classics in February which should get things moving. In the meantime I have a few more Lang and noir related pictures to cover and mix things up while the immediate weeks will be preoccupied with some Oscar related material, so I hope you’ll join me on this epic journey. After eight years of modest evolution dear reader this humble blog project of mine still feels like a pathetic yell into the dark, an erratic yearning for reason and importance in the face of indiscriminate oblivion, but we must exercise the intellect regardless of its genesis or purpose – any other path might result in indiscriminate madness. Even among the animals;
The centerpiece of the BFI’s monumental Days Of Fear & Wonder SF season is the country-wide release of the newly evolved digital print of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Of course you don’t need me to tell you that this is one of the central monoliths of SF cinema, a masterpiece widely considered as one of the top dozen films ever made, regardless of genre. Now of course we’ve been here before as I’ve seen the film three times on the big screen since the Menagerie was launched, I’m not going to catch it on this release as I’ve already seen the film this year (I will shortly be taking another Blu-Ray peek once I’ve published this mission statement however), and I like to leave some period of big-screen reflection before going back beyond the infinite. That hasn’t warned me off the wealth of Q&A’s, discussions and other associated activity which the BFI are hosting as part of their re-release, starting with a screen-talk with the two surviving members of the mission, Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, who jetted over to the UK to promote the film as part of its 46th year in operation. Once again here’s that epic trailer to put us in the mood;
Hosted by Matthew Sweet for BBC Radio 3 (not BBC Twelve which was inevitably referenced) this fantastic event had Dullea and Lockwood in fine form, ably supported by Sir Christopher Frayling and Mancunian star seer Professor Brian Cox debating and discussing the film, and anything I can say about this is rather redundant as you can delve into the full session here. Well, OK then, I’m a bit of a victim of my own obsession as there is very rarely anything arising from these sessions that I haven’t already digested, I guess when you’ve written your 12,000 word Ba Hons dissertation on the film, and have consequently read every book on the subject and every film related article in the English language since 1968 that you could get your paws on by 1996, well then believe me there are few mysteries left to explore. But it’s always fun to retread hallowed ground, and some of the questions and points raised by the audience were of a very high quality, including one members reading of the film as a metaphor for consciousness with HAL as our tool of technological evolution grappling with Dave Bowman’s human ingenuity – the first making it to the Stargate heralding the next phase of evolution, hence the reborn Starchild.
Brian Cox blew everyone’s gourds with the staggering factoid that presently our understanding is that there are something like 35 billion planets in the Milky Way alone that have Earth like habitats, and if that doesn’t pulverize your primitive mind then here’s the killer – there are 350 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Are we alone? Of course not, not when you factor in those incredible statistics, but I don’t think we’ve been visited yet or you’d think someone would have got an interview or something by now. The usual appreciation of all the effects being executed in camera with revolutionary SFX was raised with Lockwood and Dullea spilling the beans on how certain sequences were achieved, and how certain improvisations of theirs found their way into the finished epic – there is a long anecdote from Lockwood in reference to the lip-reading sequence which I won’t repeat here, suffice to say it proves just how brilliant a director Stanley was in the context of collaboration and inspiring everyone’s ideas and imaginations. For me the most insightful point came from Frayling with his emphasis on the film’s title which seems to get lost in the narrative discussions, as the film is an Odyssey in the Homeric sense, with HAL’s single eye of the Cyclops (and the original concept for the computer was a female voiced entity named Athena by the way) and the quest / journey plot driving our species back where we came from – back home to the stars.
After this astounding session on my favorite film (and another is planned this week on Christopher Frayling’s new book on the films production) how can one possibly top that you may ask? Well, there was one thing that could occur should the universe demand it, like say the opportunity to interview Frank Poole and Dave Bowman within an intimate group of four or five other critics over at the Southbank on Thanksgiving no less? Yes gentle reader, we have reached the apex of my achievements thus far, and I’m still kind of in awe at the experience. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interview ‘talent’ over the past few years at the LFF and in Toronto of course, but it’s something I’ve always resisted as it seems to be taking this hobby in a much more serious direction, and quite frankly I’ve got enough stress and grief in the day job without setting myself deadlines and workloads for what ostentatiously should be a fun exercise. I will make an exception though to meet and speak with the two leads of my favorite all time movie, so when the invitation came through a few weeks ago to attend this press event you can imagine my rather awed reaction.
So for an hour we chatted with Keir and Gary (first name terms now y’see) and they went through some of the well established anecdotes of the film and the shoot all those eons ago, no Stanley wasn’t a tyrant or an oddball but was in fact a calm and deeply curious and collaborative artist, and we even learned that Warren Beatty was desperately orbiting the Bowman part which is something I’ve never heard before. They were both quite affable and charming and threw certain questions back to us on the likes of Interstellar and Gravity which inevitably came up as comparisons (they both liked the films, although Kier hasn’t seen Nolan’s latest yet), before I stutteringly squeaked my question about how cold and robotic their performances are in opposition to HAL being the warmest and most emotional character in the film, and was this a conscious decision that Kubrick suggested during the production? They were both warm and engaging chaps, I’m choosing my words carefully but Lockwood is a bit of a firecracker, although he did cite Blade Runner as the only other SF masterpiece so I think we can forgive him his shameless name dropping and his rather abrasive yet amusing demeanor. We had a chat about the scene above in response to my question (and no they played it that subdued way as part of their professional in-universe backstories, not at Kubrick’s direct instruction if you’re interested) and on the way out of the BFI, clutching my newly acquired autographs I spotted one of the actresses from that great British TV institution Two Pints Of Lager & A Packet Of Chips. My god it’s full of stars indeed, and if you ask me nicely one day I might tell you the story about the disappearing blue scarf;
Another earth-cycle, another BFI event – proceedings are suddenly starting to accelerate with the BFI’s science fiction season. In a moment of rare serendipity one of my favorite authors William Gibson has just published his novel The Peripheral and was in town as part of his global book tour, so naturally the BFI boffins recruited one of the worlds greatest and influential living speculative fiction authors to pop over to the Southbank and have a chat about his most cherished genre movies. Well, that was the plan on paper I guess, but this was really much more of a free wheeling on discussion on the definitions and constraints of the genre, with a few film clips and discussions thrown in for good measure. Hosted by SF author Nick Harkaway (whom I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of but it sounds like he’s quite a talented chap, and his dad happens to be John Le Carré) proceedings commenced with a CPU inevitability, as anyone au fait with Gibson’s particular brand of imagination knows he aureoles around that most transformative of our tools – the computer;
That’s a criminally underrated picture I think, not just the subject matter but also the animation and design techniques which were decades ahead of their time – this is quite nifty for a download. I’ve met Gibson before during a signing of Pattern Recognition a decade ago, I’ve always preferred his terse, intellectual prose to that of the only other SF author I still religiously read – rest in peace Ian M. Banks. He has a mischievous, devilish imagination (where’s the HBO Culture novels Game Of Thrones equivalent eh?, that would be quite something) but Gibson’s cultural imagination is just amazing, he has an incredible mind befitting of someone who invented a whole sub-genre in just one manuscript. The discussion got into some of Gibson’s stock in trade of accreting details in his books to generate plausibility and texture, the evolution of street fashions and designs as well as the technological speculation, a dystopian world away from the silver spandex and frontier mentality of much SF spasms. There was a great anecdote of how he garbed Pollard, the main character of Pattern Recognition in a black Buzz Rickson M1 combat jacket, and soon the letters started flooding into the real Buzz Rickson company demanding to buy the item. The problem was they didn’t manufacture this garment in that color but as capitalism demands a response to market forces they soon did, with Gibson’s blessing and acute amusement.
Ah yes, The City Of Lost Children I must give that another watch, an early screen steampunk inspiration which Gibson also helped invent with his mate Bruce Sterling and The Difference Engine. The talk then turned to Hollywood which he described as a ‘marine coral with its own complex eco-system, haunted with sharks and the wrecks of failed projects, all intertwined in their own paranoid psyches’ – like I said the man is brilliant. He recalled being mildly depressed at the tone of much of the critical consensus around Neuromancer missing the point that although it was a ‘dark, urban, vaguely dystopian’ vision of the future it still looks pretty great compared to surviving in the modern-day slums of the South America or Asia or areas of Africa, after confessing his delight for the freshness of Blomkamp’s District Nine.
Inevitably the talk turned to Blade Runner and that anecdote was downloaded, for you newbs it transpires that Gibson was a third of the way through Neuromancer when he went to see the film during it’s original 1982 theatrical release. Distraught he stumbled from the theatre a mere 15 minutes into the film, paralyzed with fear that Ridley Scott had beaten him to the punch and somehow hacked his vision of the future, and dismayed that even if he finished the book he knew it would inevitably be compared to Blade Runner which he was sure was going to a massive critical and financial behemoth. Of course the film flopped and only found its audience on VHS over the years, so he persevered and published his debut and the rest, as they say, is history.
There was plenty more but I think I’ll wrap things up here, he did touch upon his script for Alien III where he conceived the alien as a weaponised biological delivery system which unscrupulous civilizations could drop on planets and eradicate the indigenous species, before citing Prometheus as a rather ‘primitive’ work which got a round of applause from the crowd. He cited Star Wars in 1977 as not being the era of Lucas but the age of the Sex Pistols as far as he was concerned at that period in his life, and recalled subversively wearing a Vivienne Westwood inspired t-shirt emblazoned with Luke Skywalker with his eyes burned out to some SF convention, and getting quite a verbally violent response. In conclusion then another successful addition to the SF programme, and believe you me there is quite some more exciting things to come…..
One trailer to rule them all, here we go again for one final trek around Middle Earth;
I haven’t braved the Special Extended Edition of The Desolation Of Smaug yet although it is sitting there tempting me with its golden hues, the more I reflected on that film the less I liked it but still it must be mine – mostly for the tsunami of production extras. Maybe this will absolve past sins, and (NERD ALERT) I can’t pretend that the possibility of seeing Elrond and Galadriel in full Eldar action isn’t the granting of this Tolkienophile’s most fervent screen wishes….
Borag Thungg puny mortals, given that I haven’t crafted a full review for a couple of weeks a thrill power injection was sorely needed for the blog, and I was electrified with inspiration on Tuesday nights inaugural event of the BFI’s intergalactic Days Of Fear & Wonder Science Fiction film season. I can’t imagine a more apt way to blast off proceedings than with this exhaustive, hilarious and rousing documentary on one of Britain’s most stalwart science fiction achievements, a celebration of a still pulsing phenomenon with Future Shock! The Story Of 2000AD, Launched in 1977 and still going strong almost four decades later the publication was a rites of passage for many, incubating quiet seeds of insubordination in its impressionable audience, with a punk scrawled ethos stretched across a SF anthology veneer which instructed you to never trust authority, to always champion the underdog, and to not be ashamed to revel in mindless, excessive and occasionally creative violence. I was thoroughly obsessed with the comic back in my youth and brought it religiously like a true Squaxx dek Thargo, before moving on to the more serious Marvel and DC material which then were warming up to tackle more adult themed and cerebral fare, a fundamental turning epoch in the storytelling form which the documentary examines with a quietly brilliant insight. Essentially that whole renaissance of the art form from kids comics to ‘graphic novels’ was culled from the paddock of 2000AD’s writers and artists, which in turn the documentary asserts secured the bedrock of the modern movie blockbuster – it amuses me no end that the day this film received its premiere was the same prog that this was announced.
The structure is that of most great documentaries, let the subjects do the talking with as little interference or steering as possible, intercut with animated stills from the comic to illustrate the subject and psychos under discussion. From a fanboy perspective it was just scrotnig to finally see artbot legends like Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland in the flesh so to speak, alongside stalwart thrill power purveyors such as Alan Grant, John Wagner, Kevin O’Neil, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Steve Yeowell and some of the newer crew whom I’m afraid I’m not familiar with. From the writers pod they managed to secure Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Pete Milligan, so of course conspicuous by his absence is the medium’s titan Alan Moore who was approached but unsurprisingly declined to appear, although his legacy and aura hangs heavy over the production like a tarnished wizards cowl. The real star of the show however is the Mighty Tharg* himself Pat Mills, the editor-in-chief and original creator of the comic, a foul-mouthed left-wing proto anarchist firebrand whose expletive laden tirades are the stuff of legend – there’s more than little of a cloned Malcolm McLaren in him when seen in the flesh. Moving from the early conception of the comics ultra-violent precursor Action (now this is amusing, I distinctly remember reading, and being dazzled by Hook-Jaw and Dredger) comics the path is an exhaustive trawl through the past thirty-five years of subversive SF, from the golden age of the 1980’s to the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s, all the way through to the current lone warrior in the newsagent which is the last remaining comic book series since the obliterating impact of the internet and other non-fiction distractions.
Full blaster marks to the documentarian Paul Goodwin and his tenacious producers Helen Mullane and Sean Hogan for marching in step with the comics unconventional and mischevious spirit, by tackling head-butt on some of the controversies of the publications exalted history. The shameful and absolutely pathetic treatment of the creators by the parent company come under scrutiny (no intellectual rights to the characters they visually and verbally created, enduring terrible pay and sneering conditions) and the documentary is far from hagiography, dwelling for an appropriate period on the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s when 2000AD really plumped the depths of stupidity with ‘satire’ such as the Space Girls– eurrgghh. They also address the total lack of female writers or artists on the publication, a situation which has only changed very recently and which they are now actively trying to address, although some independent, central female characters did arise in the comic such as Judge Anderson and Halo Jones – more on very her shortly. Historically it was very much a boys club with carefully demarcated gender publications imprinted in the entire industry, so its encouraging to see how that situation is gradually evolving. Most fascinating for me was the concerted effort that DC comics made in the late 1980’s to poach the best writers and artists over to the newly conceived Vertigo ‘adult’ comic imprint – Karen Berger gets a fair amount of facetime in the documentary – with Gaiman and Morrison being quite open about their career aspirations. Given how shoddily they were treated by 2000AD’s corporate puppet masters you really can’t blame them for jumping ship and the Atlantic to be paid properly, treated like artists and as they say ‘have the opportunity to mess about with iconic characters in both the Marvel and DC multiverse’ – what comic fan wouldn’t jump at that chance?
In terms of nerd credentials there is a fantastic moment in the piece when Gaiman reveals that he eventually convinced his friend Alan Moore to talk him through the rest of the outline he had for the beloved Halo Jones character. She is something of a trailblazing female character in a comic book milieu of chisel jawed heroes and damsels in distress, with fans often speculating on how her journey to continue to ‘get out’ might fare. Well, after a mere two hours of the eldritch wordsmith leading him through the six book arc that Moore had imagined Gaiman says he sat in stunned silence, tears streaming down his face. In terms of specific characters most of the attention of course is lavished on the iconic Judge Dredd (and a lot of love for the iconic Apocalypse War story arc which I’d argue is amongst the best the genre has ever offered) but both Strontium Dog and Minty’s personal favourite Nemesis: The Warlock also get their moments to shine, linking those series with the wider cultural and social concerns of Apartheid, intolerance, racism and uthoritarianism that plagued that most selfish of decades. Finally, me and my friends often speculate on why this strip never exploited its rich and diverse characters in other media (the abortion of the first Dredd film none withstanding), suffice to say that Tinseltown did come a knocking and their tactics and practices are widely exposed in the documentary which makes for some quite angry viewing.
The post screening Q&A was a spirited affair with most of the questions directed to Pat Mills as you’d imagine, the highlight was when he shared a hilarious anecdote about the intercine media cannibalism that occurs when a certain character or strip gets the attention of the Hollywood intelligentsia. Mills had created a character called ‘Accident Man’, a hitman who cleverly concealed his crimes by framing the deaths into bizarre yet plausible accidents. When an American studio executive discussed the character options for such a creation he explained that ‘Hey, hitmen aren’t cool anymore so it would be better to make him an insurance agent?, ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me right?’ Mills retorts, ‘ No, insurance agents are pretty cool in the States’ the grexnix responds. The producers revealed that they assembled a lot more footage covering other 2000AD characters they know have fevered fanbases, but they had to omit the material for time, so I guess you can expect a horde of Slaine, Robo-Hunter and ABC Warriors extras on the zarjaz DVD. Overall this is a terrific documentary both for pure nostalgia and as a detailed investigation into one of our emeralds isles most quietly influential post-war publications it’s also well crafted, exhaustive and thoroughly entertaining. Personally I’d put the comic up on the same plateau as H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke in terms of our contribution to Science Fiction media, as its modest shadow stretches long across the contemporary media landscape, with the glut of superhero, horror and fantasy product infecting all forms of media. Already the second phase of the BFI handbook has teleported down to Minty prime so I must select my battles for phase two of operations in December, fret not as I’m just keeping in tone with the season and looking to the future with a wistful eye, we have plenty of material planned for November including the second Kubrick of the year o my brothers – real horrorshow;
*A quick aside, Tharg is mentioned and all of the old school creators in unison yell that ‘oh Jesus that was the worst thing we did, I fucking hated writing that twat….’
A rare treat gentle readers, a delicious chance to settle down and get my teeth into a new film from one of my favourite filmmakers – David Fincher’s Gone Girl. First things first in the form of a penitent confession but I love being proved wrong – completely wrong. When the trailer for Fincher’s second foray into popular mystery literature after The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo I naively voiced the opinion that Dave might be treading water, that he wasn’t stretching himself thematically or technically, that after his foray into Scandinavian noir he might be pandering to popular culture with another screen translations of an immensely popular book which must have circulated through the agents inboxes of the highest Hollywood echelons. Well, like the arrogant elitist buffoon I am that notion has been eviscerated with this severe and scything motion picture, a thoroughly gripping and savagely satirical piece of work which tears strips from a number of targets – tabloid 24hr cycle sensationalist media, the holy institution of marriage, the rather naïve notion of everlasting and infinite love. Other than a couple of viewing of the trailer I went into this colder than a waterlogged corpse, knowing nothing of the book or its sarcastic dimensions, I can’t comment therefore on how much of this is present in the source text but the film has urged me to give the book a go, and that’s always the mark of a great film. In that spirit yes I will be studious avoiding spoilers which is going to make really digging in this films guts impossible to achieve, although I’d say that the so-called ‘twist’ isn’t really a twist as it occurs a mere hour into the picture, that plot trajectory really much more of a left turn manoeuvre into territory where the film firmly locks down its misanthropic jaws and sucks you into a deeply troubling vortex.
The screenplay is scribed by Gillian Flynn, adapted from her phenomenally successful 2012 novel, an autopsy of a formerly loving, almost perfect marriage in the final throes of disintegration. Redundant writer Nick Flynn (Ben Affleck) returns home on the day of his 5th wedding anniversary to discover a disquieting scene – an ajar front door, a smashed coffee table, and a light daubing of copper liquid streaks in the kitchen area. Deftly dancing from flashbacks of the initial flushes of love with the ethereally beautiful Amy (Rosamund Pike in a breakthrough performance) and the embryonic consequences of his wife’s disappearance the public image of the perfect couple is slowly eroded, as incriminating elements are unearthed by chief investigating officer Dvt. Boney (the consistently brilliant Amy Dickins). The national media descend on their quiet Missouri town as Nick suffers a slow evolution of public sympathy to spiteful suspicion, as his extracurricular activities and suspicious circumstances are brought to light – serious financial woes, possible infidelities and a brooding resentment at having to move from New York to suburban Missouri to care for Nick’s cancer stricken mother. I think I’ll draw a discreet veil over the plot here as that’s just the establishment of a deliciously nasty neo-noir narrative, with cloaked secrets and clandestine couplings obscuring a procedural pricking of modern life.
As we all know this quiet corner of the internet is also the domain of the local president of the David Fincher appreciation society, and although the film is still percolating I’m fairly sure of one thing – this is one of the best films of the year. It’s a masterful exercise in anxiety and unease which would make Hitchcock proud, a struggle of the sexes and thwarted ambitions for the 21st century. They say directing is 90% casting and down the line this film is stuffed with brilliantly played and thoroughly authentic characters, from Tyler Perry’s amusing barracuda entertainment lawyer, from Nick’s supportive twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) and my personal favourite the always acerbic Amy Dickins whom you might recognise as poor exhausted Joanie from Deadwood and more recently the spirited Janette from Treme. Affleck is that slightly charming, yet slightly squirm inducing alpha male next door whom remains eminently punchable, the film brilliantly manipulating our sympathy and suspicion of his motives and incriminating behaviours. But one thing is for sure, Rosamund Pike is going to be a fucking massive star after this movie hits with a North American audience who might only recognise her in passing as that broad who was in one of those dumb Titans movies, again avoiding spoilers I can’t delve into any specifics so I’ll just leave it to Fincher who stated that he cast her from a long list of A level actresses as (permit me to paraphrase) ‘she a mystery, an enigma on-screen, a cryptic presence whom you can’t be sure if she’s twenty-two or forty-two years of age’.
To say the sexual and gender politics of this film are challenging and complex is the understatement of the century, as I’m guessing that left-wing feminists and right-wing puritans will loathe the representation of men and women in Gone Girl with equal ferocity. This is crucially an adult film made for an adult audience with no glib positions on power dynamics or the intrinsic social pressures to confirm and succeed, possibly the worst date movie or recent vintage since the Antichrist or Blue Valentine nuptials were consummated. Obvious barbs are also hurled at celebrity sensationalism, of trial by media jury, with a brooding undercurrent of economic malaise foisting a further level of disquieting ennui. That said it’s also very, very funny not just judging by my personally rather dark sense of humour (the audience I saw this were equally receptive), until Fincher pulverizes you with one scene that summons frantic shrieks and groans, reminding us that this film was made by the same sick fuck that foisted Se7en upon an unsuspecting congregation. This third collaboration with soundsmiths Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross yields another fantastically seething yet unobtrusive score, perfectly complementing the slithering plot, an ideal aural background for writing this review as it happens. An obsidian black satire on marriage, of the impossibility of ever really knowing what makes your other half tick, Gone Girl is an apprehensive film for an anxious era;
After a week long illness which stubbornly refuses to dissipate I could do with some good news, so I’ve shocked myself by acquiring last minute tickets to one of the years most impressive movie related events – only Big Al ‘fucking‘ Pacino in conversation at the BFI. He’s in town promoting the filmed version of his take on the classic tale Salomé, alongside a ‘making-of’ documentary, quite frankly he could be talking about the metaphysical designs of S1m0ne for all I care, the chance to see such a legend is quite a coup for the year;
Some of the material states that Chastain will also be in attendance, some of it doesn’t so maybe her schedule has clashed – I guess we’ll find out on Sunday. Now, of all the films that Pacino has made I understand he point blankly refuses to ever speak about the William Friedkin directed Cruising for fairly obvious reasons, I doubt an investigative journalist of the calibre of Stephen Fry is going to violate that unspoken agreement…..
I think I’ve been going a little too easy on you of late gentle reader, we’ve been dealing with material that’s far too tame, family friendly and respectable throughout the accursed PG-13 blockbuster season. I think it just might be time to drag this blog down kicking and screaming into the gutter once again, a fiendish stumble through the atrocity strewn avenues and blood-choked cellars of exploitation and horror cinema, a gruelling ordeal which has been partially inspired by a change of editorship over at Sound On Sight. After I got chatting to the new incumbent she strongly recommended that I read this completely fantastic book of film criticism and appreciation House Of Psychotic Women, it’s based on the alternate title of cult classic House Of Doom AKA Blue Eyes Of The Broken Doll by author, film programmer and cinema junky Kier La-Janisse whom projects us trough a twin track of her own psychologically scarred upbringing, her violent and delinquent adolescence and early adulthood, and how her life has been saved and refracted back through the solace and comfort of the movies. As you may guess it’s a very personal tale with fairly grim details of her adoption and subsequent psychological issues with abandonment, her adoptive mothers alcoholism, her flailing mental conditions and procession of violent boyfriends. Exposure to these factors during her upbringing has possibly instructing La-Janisse’s own neurotic wounds and fired her flirtation with narcotics and early dabblings with a criminal lifestyle, a memoir cum film exultation which unfolds to the backdrop of a wintry Wisconsin Canada of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s fucking amazing and one of the best film texts I’ve devoured in years.
Paying lip service to the obvious and overtly studied – Hitchcock movies (Marnie & Rebecca) and Polanski pictures (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby) – the study also roams through texts as diverse as Black Narcissus and Carrie, from Black Swan to The Piano Teacher, before becoming enmeshed in thick cult movie thickets with early barely released giallo like All The Colours of The Dark and Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, with nightmare oddities like Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, before plunging into the really challenging material such as Martyrs and Manhôru no naka no ningyo send witnesses shrieking to a nunnery in coven devoted sacrifice. Anyone who cites Possession as one of the greatest films ever made and can write so appealingly and defensively of the notoriously twisted Kim-Ki-Duk (seriously, this guy is out there with Gasper Noe at the outermost pinnacles of screen taboo and controversy with his movies) is quite frankly marriage material in my book, and I find the whole concept and institution of marriage laughably medieval. It’s also brilliantly insightful to get a woman’s perspective on such alleged misogynistic tropes as the rape/revenge movie, slasher movies, or in more general terms female representation and agency in the cinema, as anyone has conducted any cursory reading around film feminist theory or psychoanalytical film studies will have whole new avenues of reaction and interpretation opening to them like Sharon Stone’s legs in Basic Instinct. Kier more or less makes the case that presenting these horrific elements of human behaviour shine a light on society ills and provide a valid solace of relief for individuals (I don’t want to use the word ‘survivor’ or sufferer’ as it sounds demeaning and patronising) such as herself, before demolishing that age-old movie adage – presenting something terrible, something uncomfortable or distressing in a movie is not the fucking same as endorsing or celebrating such behaviour. It’s cinema as catharsis, a celluloid psychologist couch.
The writing is intellectually dexterous and brilliantly observed, it doesn’t perch on that arch academic prose which can make consumption of complex ideas so difficult, in fact I couldn’t snare a single utterance of diagetic hegemony or patriarchal post-structuralism in the whole book. She’s also not as narcissistic or self-indulgent as the books premise suggests, the memoir and the movie material intertwines quite organically with Kier’s life story in a singularly unromantic and unflinching detail, although if you find the notion of an author weaving in her distressing experience of witnessing her mothers rape with a discussion of the 1981 paranormal abuse movie The Entity then you might find this a little shall we say, challenging. She’s also unafraid to obliterate established critical orthodoxy, giving short thrift to the notorious likes of I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House On The Left in favour of (to her mind) truly transgressive and valid work – Ferrera’s Ms. 45 or Defenceless: A Blood Symphony. Quite frankly the book has fired up my waning passion for the medium throughout the increasingly mediocre and homogeneric summer period, especially it’s most excellent glossary of films which represent the frenzied subject matter. With over 200 entries it’s an incredible collection of movies, most importantly it contains alternate titles of texts in different release markets and languages which is critical to tracking some of these rarities down, although just a cursory scan of some of the giallo and exploitation themed material reveals that many of the films are not widely available. This means more obstacles for us similarly minded acolytes and a potential authorisation to go to extreme measure to source and hunt down of this movies, and that makes me harder than a diamond dildo. So since we haven’t compiled a list post for aeons here’s an impotently brief collection of some of the films I’ve butchered over the past few weeks, mixed in there are a few pictures which I haven’t seen yet which sound atrociously alluring, as you may have guessed much of this will be extremely NSFW and consider yourself defiantly warned if you have a weak cinematic constitution;
Possession (1981) – I’ve mentioned this before as one of this rare beasts, a film which Id heard about for years but never seen due to screening issues, now released in glorious Blu- Ray and restored to the directors original vision after philistine producers cut to appeal to a larger market. One of the finest accomplishments of the book is to champion director Andrzej Zulawski largely overlooked oeuvre, he does strike me as criminally unappreciated figure whom if I was being lazy I’d equate as a Polish Lars Von Trier, with a thick veneer of madness, psychosis and insanity running through his uncompromising work. I’ve now set myself the task of watching The Third Part Of The Night (‘set in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II a young man, Michal (Leszek Teleszynski), escapes the massacre of his family, and his subsequent guilt and experiences are shown through multi-layered symbolism and apocalyptic imagery’) and somehow getting a copy of Devil in my shivering paws, I’d sell my soul to consume a genuinely terrifying film given the quality of the output these days……
Three W0men (1975)- I’ve seen this once and I kinda selected this to prove that the writing isn’t all concerned with the horrific and violent, it’s more the psychological and mysterious themes and modules which reverberate throughout the book. In one of those serendipitous accidents I’d been actively seeking out a copy of Altman’s movie from 1975, I saw it once on a late night ITV or Channel 4 viewing (I forgot which) but it hasn’t been released on DVD in the UK. I remember a particularly dream-like, unreal quality to the film, and for some reason it’s been picked up for discussion on a number of podcasts and movie sites I frequent, so I figured it was time for a revisit.
Lets’ Scare Jessica To Death (1980) – I can’t believe I’ve never seen this, it’s a minor horror cult classic with shades of the same atmosphere of Carnival Of Souls or Picnic At Hanging Rock. It’s obviously dirt-cheap and poorly performed in places, but these failures are overshadowed by the creepy sense of a waking nightmare, terminating with unexpected climax which made me go ‘ooowww’ and tighten my shawl around my shivering shoulders. One of the recent Paranormal Activity sequels lifted various elements of the finale which is a tribute of sorts I guess……
The Piano Teacher (2001) – If you thought Haneke was tough and uncompromising in Funny Games or Amour (a film I was deeply, deeply moved and impressed with but will never fucking watch again after that tremulous LFF screening) then you ain’t screamed nothing yet, as this is one of the most unflinching and brutal explorations of feminine self-destruction I’ve ever seen. Isabelle Huppert proves without question that she is one of the greatest actresses of her generation with her portrayal of an emotionally obliterated soul, a horrifically repressed music teacher who falls into a deeply abusive and sexually violent relationship with a much younger man – at her instruction. It’s a very tough watch but worth the agony for Huppert’s steely resolve, one of the most criminally overlooked performances of the last decade.
The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1971) – This film has fascinated me for years purely due to its garish video cover and it’s grim atonement on the first list of the notorious UK Video Nasties list, alas after finally netting this slippery customer its actually a fairly terrible exploitation quilt of female revenge, incest, and sickle wielding succubi.
L’ Interior (2004) – I’ve been meaning to deliver this film to you for quite a while, I think I’ve mentioned it on here before in passing, so now my excuse to dissect a few more details. A heavily pregnant woman, alone and trapped in her remote domicile faces a terrifying assault from a figure or figures unknown, to say more would contract heavily into spoiler territory and that would abort half the placenta packed fun. I’ll just state that this is one of the cruellest and most uncompromising of the so-called new wave of brutal films of the 2000’s which is up there with Martyrs as far as I’m concerned, there will be yelling, there will be screaming, there will cursing and pleading for death – and that’s just the trailer.
Bad Guy (2001) – One of the most terrifying factors of Kim-Ki-Duk’s career is how the man who could conduct the Buddhist rhapsody of Spring,_Summer,_Fall,_Winter…_and_Spring could subsequently proceed do make some of the most transgressive and outré films of world cinema of the past decade, operating in the darkest possible recess of the human condition. I saw his latest film Moebius (which finally gets its limited UK release this month) at TiFF last year and I was so petrified I couldn’t even bring myself to craft a review, such was its unique, bludgeoning effect. OK, I’m exaggerating a little (d’ya think?) but his films are punishment of a very cruel and unusual nature, but there is evidence of pulsing purpose around a staged theatricality which immediately invites comparisons to Strindberg and Beckett, alongside a wider questioning of cinematic representations in relation to reality, our species fathomless capacity for cruelty and violence, a provoked reaction aligned with real atrocities. I’ve not seen Bad Guy bit it sounds like a real hoot, having seen both The Isle and Pieta recently its a wonder I don’t get arrested for adding all three to my rental list at the same time….
Dans Ma Peau (2002) – Back to France for director / actor Marina de Van’s debut. The film charts the slow, imperceptible spiral into madness of high-flying PR agent Esther who accidentally cuts herself on the leg during a drunken escapade, before the realisation of her bodies fragile shell leads to a frenzied fascination of what might be more than skin deep. Coincidentally I tracked this down earlier in the year and just to be lazy you could cite this as a Francais Cronenberg cut, with a slightly more mysterious and inquisitive viewpoint than David’s social anxieties. De Van followed this up with the Sophie Marceau & Monica Bellucci starring Ne Te Retourne Pas which also hosts similar concerns with the body and decay, I’ve not seen that so once again this exercise is reaping potential dividends.
Gently Before She Dies (1972) – God-damn if those Italians didn’t know how to luridly title their lurid movies? Although the US release title seems lifted from standard noir trappings Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key stars giallo queen Edwige Fenech as the promiscuous niece of Irina (Anita Strinberg), an anorexic shell who has shacked up in a crumbling, decrepit mansion with failed writer and alcoholic degenerate Oliverio (Luigi Pistilli). Soon the bodies start to stack up faster than the philandering sexual relations, with a shrieking conclusion fit for a film whose premise was partially channelled from Poe’s mewing classic The Black Cat.
The Whip & The Body (1963) – So let’s close, fittingly enough, with a frenzy of gothic housed S&M, wielded by the hands of macabre maestro Mario Bava. I’ve never seen or had even heard of this prior reading the book, maybe the thought of Christopher Lee as some sadist nobleman scarred me for life. having revisited Corman’s Poe cycle recently this looks like lacerating aperitif. There are dozens more movies this book has led me to discover or revisit, I could easily double the size of this list and still not scratch the surface, but let me refer you to De Palma’s Sisters (recently re-issued on Blu by Arrow in a lovely package), the hilarious looking Slaughter Hotel, the (WARNING GRAPHIC) nasty looking They Call Her One Eye (a Tarantino favourite, and you can see why), the ghoulishly stale Nekromantic, UK giallo influenced Madhouse and the delinquent Christiane F if you’re still a glutton for punishment.
Sometimes it’s nice to feel wanted, isn’t it? Having your current client frantically fighting to retain your services beyond July after you drop the bombshell that a South London authority have made me an offer I can’t refuse? That’s the enviable position I found myself in this month, I would quite happily remain at Bucks given that I’ve finally got the programme I was hired to establish built and secured a handsome £44 million from Whitehall to take the various projects forward, but the prospect of a twelve month contract with a reduced commute equals a period of relative financial security which has stolen my affections – plus some consultancy firms I’ve been commissioning for various work packages are also sniffing at my doorstep with the possibility of branching out internationally. It’s shame as I have enjoyed my time in Aylesbury with a solid crew and learnt a great deal, given that no-one else in the country has defrayed such funding and designed programmes through the LEP’s following the Coalitions white paper this has been quite a notch on the CV, and I was looking forward to meeting the Head of Pinewood studios who sits on the local LEP board. All this I’m sure is absolutely fascinating for you general reader but fret note there is a method to my madness, as naturally I’ve celebrated my new found popularity by spunking a severe amount of money on the audio-visual entertainment level, so let’s take a look at what the menagerie will be indulging in over the coming weeks and months;
I’ve seen this before and enjoyed it thoroughly, I’ve been tempted to go back and econnaissance the LZ as I recently read the book adaption which I picked up cheap at a local charity shop – something light for my long, now previously defunct commute.
I was a big fan of the first season given Spacey’s slithering performance and the Machiavellian intricacies of Washington politics, I hear that the second series is a re-election of similarly vaunted quality.
I’ve been oscillating with when I’d finally take down True Detective which I’m fairly sure I’ll love – a dark Southern Gothic crime odyssey being hailed as the best eight-hour noir movie of the last ten years? – although I’ve been a little hesitant and waited for the £35 quid price to drop. Still, life’s too short so fuck it, plus I’m tired of avoiding spoilers for months now so I’m willing to punt out the cash for ‘the best TV series since The Wire‘. Well, we shall see, I think I’ll marathon the lot in a single, gorge bloated sitting…..
Whilst I’ve seen and loved The Walking Dead my viewing of the decomposing dread has been patchy, I missed episodes here and there when it aired on UK terrestrial TV, and with the fourth season imminent I thought a revisit may be in order – £30 for the first three seasons is another pretty good bargain in my book. Of the dead. I do expect to be requiring psychiatric help by the end after 35 hours of apocalyptic depression, or just a few months of staring of into the distance whilst quietly weeping may be in order…
We’ve been here before, and I doubt I’ll power through all the episodes for another few years yet (I mounted a re-watch a few years ago) but Fire Walk With Me in HD and the numerous extras are enough justification to drop £50 on this little box that’s wrapped in plastic, those 90 minutes of scenes could even be charitably construed as a new Lynch movie.
Cinema fanatics wept with the joy with the news of this, no less than eighteen of Herzog’s movies upgraded to HD for the first time, all collected with the requisite extras and documentaries by the exalted BFI. There’s a few early oddities in the list which I haven’t seen yet, but more importantly it will prompt me to go back through the great man’s catalogue and partially make amends for my poor attendance at the BFI season last year.
Oh, and yeah, I’ve invested in a PS4 to watch all this on – look, I was going to upgrade the Blu-Ray player and then I thought to myself hang-on….this also looks fucking epic so why the hell not? How else am I going to entertain myself until the LFF in October? I’m not kidding, but some of the effects and animation in those next generation games had my jaw on the floor in amazement – we’ve come a long way huh……
Once more through the Stargate gentle reader, as if anticipating an appropriate manner in which to celebrate the Minty’s incept date the BFI only go and launch a free members screening of the greatest film of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film was selected by James Lavelle as part of his Meltdown festival which he’s curating through a programme of performances and artistic pursuits hosted at London’s South Bank, he’s a massive Kubrick fan (apparently) and has since shot up in my esteemed expectations, with particular inspiration from the film lavished upon the first UNKLE album. The usual suspects were also out in force with long-time Kubrick producer Jan Harlan also in attendance this for rapturous 70mm restoration print of the masterpiece, like any good acolyte this was my fourth supplication of the film at the silver screen, and like the imperceptible mysteries of the universe it never gets old. I’ve already orchestrated my extensive thoughts on the film here so I don’t have much else to add, apart from a few general comments and some material I’ve collected over the past few weeks;
So have we learned and appreciated anything new coming out of this screening? Well, speaking humbly 2001 is a masterpiece in how it evolved technology and drove the medium of film forward in terms of optical effects, it is a masterpiece in how it shattered film structure and narrative flow, how it trusted its audience to feel in the intentionally designed gaps both intellectually and spirituality, and it is a masterpiece in its marriage of music, composition and performance. There are maybe a few dozen examples of that level of film in the movie’s relatively brief history but what really elevates the piece into one of the masterpieces of any form of human endeavour like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel or Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring is how these elements all oscillate together, how they overlap and ameliorate each other, how they provoked a quantum leap forward in the art form in every one of its formal and artistic levels and that’s when you’re genuinely gracing genius level merit. I hear that the BFI will be premiering a new digital print of the film at the end of the year as part of their epic three-month SF season, I’m sure that’s great and everything but seeing this in immaculate 70mm is simply unbeatable, with all the scratches and matte lines still intact which just feels more, well more genuine. Until then Taschen have followed up their incredible Kubrick and Napoleon books with something truly intergalactic;
So, yeah if anyone has a spare £500 knocking around and you’d like to get me a little birthday present I think we have a solution. I should mention that Jan Harlan was in exceptionally good and exuberant form and he regaled the audience with a few production anecdotes well-known to us Kubrickophiles, he did muster a big laugh when he explained how Stanley wrestled with the voiceover he initially scheduled for the film (and thank god that decision was abandoned eh?), realising that ‘if members of the audience are not of the capacity to understand the film then explaining it to them certainly won’t help’. There are some incredible photos which started doing the rounds recently and I’ve finally taken the plunge and invested in the Kubrick Blu-Ray collection which is a bargain for £22, you will laugh I’m sure when I reveal that like many disciples I had boycotted the product as it quite clearly has been transferred in the wrong aspect ratio for some of the pictures, but for that price I’m sorry but the chance to see Barry Lyndon in HD alone cannot be resisted any further;
Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk, as P/A’s and aides circulate the domineering space in a cyclone of frenzied activity, of invoices to be signed, premieres to be RSVP’d, of script edits to be authorised. ‘Ya got 15 seconds kid’ grunts the mogul, ‘what ya got?’ His voice quivering, the producer begins ‘well….its a gritty SF action movie, based on a very popular Japanese novella, with humankind fighting a desperate…. ‘No, no, NO’, the mogul brusquely interrupts, ‘gimme a pitch, not war and fucking peace’. ‘OK’ stammers the perspiring producer, ‘it’s Saving Private Ryan meets Looper‘. The mogul blinks. Realizing he’s losing him the quivering producer makes a desperate fumble, ‘No sir, it’s err…it’s..’ – his eyes light up – ‘it’s Rashomon meets La Jetee‘ he anxiously beams. ‘RASHOMON?‘ barks the impatient mogul. ‘OK, OK’ the producer stammers, ‘it’s…erm…..Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day?‘, his affectation desperately raising on the last word. The mogul smiles, ‘Ya got yourself a deal kid’, a cheque for $150 million dollars mysteriously materializes and drifts down into the producer’s outstretched palm, and in two hours director Doug Liman and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are off to the time twisted races….
Based on the murderously titled All You Need Is Kill this is the Cruisers latest punt into SF attuned action-movie waters after last years mildly distracting Oblivion, for my money this is a much more direct demolition of plutonium grade blockbuster fun with an efficiently disarming pretence at its core – I think it was Churchill who said that ‘death is not the end of the beginning, but the beginning of the end’. Cruise is Major William Cage, an advertising executive turned military communications envoy after a meteorite shatters into mainland Europe, releasing a horde of multi-tentacled ravenous critters who swiftly overrun the continent and threaten the very future of all mankind. After arriving in London Cage is blackmailed by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) into embedding with the first suicidal wave of a major counter offensive, a mission targeted on the historical war scarred beaches of Normandy, joining a rag-tag group of grunts armed to the pearly white teeth in new robotic exo-enhanced battle skeletons. The new technology provides an ineffective defence against the dazzlingly swift octopi enemy, and not even the presence of the morale boosting ‘Maiden of Verdun’ Rita Vrataski (an emasculating Emily Blunt) can turn the tide of battle, as the enemy had clearly anticipated the offensive and mercilessly slaughter the swiftly disembodied strike force. But there is a frantic complication, Cage is rebooted after every death to the day before the offensive to begin the mission anew, and he swiftly discovers that only Rita may hold the solution to his limbo lethal destiny…..
Edge Of Tomorrow is a lot of fun, and with a few reservations due to a slightly unimaginative final act it takes its unique selling point and instructs Tom Cruise to run with it like some otherworldly insectiod shived a firecracker up his scientology clenched ass. Not having read any reviews I’d stake the planets future on a wealth of comparisons to computer game narratives given the alignment of the younger medium’s designs and story-telling infrastructure, including re-spawn abilities, memorizing game maps and anticipating ambushes, building his initial pen-pushing white-collar coward into a bad-ass killing machine as he incrementally levels up his agility, dexterity and killing abilities. It’s from these elemental origins that the film builds a thoroughly entertaining and occasionally amusing momentum, not straying into any philosophical musings on such immortal abilities, instead training its crosshairs on sheer action movie techniques by championing epinephrine over existentialism.
I was a little worried about this picture when it opened with the frankly lazy 24 hour global news montage which is at best tedious 21st century movie shorthand to set the films narrative context, what happened to a good old-fashioned title crawl eh? After this an extended character driven cold opening – a rather brave choice these days when we’re conditioned to a blistering action set-piece to get the blood pumping – takes its time to set-up the universe and then incrementally builds the action and narrative twists, quite skillfully moving through its increasingly looped structure with a dash of potential romance here, a spigot of humour there, with exultingly executed action scenes stitching together the deja-vu dystopian destruction. As previously confessed I’m a fan of Cruise and he emits his usual efficient leading man star wattage, as a native Londoner it’s kinda fun to see him strutting around a deserted war evacuated big smoke, only a star with his international clout could have convinced Westminster Council to permit a helicopter to land in Trafalgar Square, a ‘stunt’ never permitted before so full marks to the producers for not resorting to the usual green screen manipulation. Following Gravity’s enormous success Edge Of Tomorrow was almost entirely shot in the UK, mostly at Warner Brothers studios in Leavesden and around other locations in the capital with a final shift to an eerie CGI soaked & flood drenched Paris, proving that our humble island is punching above its weight when it comes to efficient modern genre tent-pole productions. With the 70th anniversary of D-Day occurring next week (when the film opens in North America) the beach storming sequences lend the film a historical echo, less repetitively resonant of the deteriorating situation in the Ukraine than an ideologically desecrated UK should the hideous UKIP advance upon their European election ‘success’ (I dunno about you but emigration sounds more like an enticing option should those racist fucking twats continue to build their poisonous support during next year’s General Election), a once diversely proud world city rendered nothing more than a deserted plateau of racial sterility and Russian oligarch property speculators.
Heh, OK, the soapbox is now officially decanted, but one of reasonably decent SF’s chief strengths is in its underlying social and metaphorical DNA, right? Anyway, any SF film with Bill Paxton in it can’t be all bad – in this picture he’s a repeatedly glimpsed drill instructor during the opening act – as the only unfortunate wretch to have been killed by a Terminator, Predator and an Alien (though not at the same time, now that would be a movie) his brief appearance holds some fan boy fellated kudos, and Brendan Gleeson provides some hefty gravitas to the usually clichéd role of the inflexible military hierarchy. I really liked how the alien species in the picture is refreshingly, definitively ‘alien’, not another four limbed bipedal opponent with a few Star Trek inspired ridged forehead allusions to ‘otherness’, Edge Of Tomorrow also has a genuinely gloomy and murky visual palette which is illuminated with a few audience friendly cheeky Cruise wisecracks, without side-lining the always lovely Emily Blunt as some mere damsel in distress aside – with this and Looper under her belt she’s becoming quite the time-twisting trooper. So Thomas Cruise Mapother IV may find himself with yet another blockbuster hit on his hands in the genre stakes before Mission Impossible V lights a festive Christmas fuse late next year, now where was I – Ah yes. Oh to have been a discreet fly on the wall on that pitch meeting. I can picture it now gentle reader, the trembling junior producer nervously approaching the cigar chomping studio mogul’s vast mahogany desk……
I’m a little busy forensically combing through the results of last nights local election results – stultifying boring for most I’m sure but essential revision for the likes of moi and the day job to see which authorities have changed hands and are having their major programmes and initiatives disrupted, but I have managed to throw together some thoughts on last week’s final cinema screening which you can visit here. X-Men review will be up over the weekend, until then here’s the trailer of The Two Faces Of January which ironically might be simultaneously the best and worst Greek Tourist board advert ever devised;
Inevitable given the documentary and Giger’s passing, but this is very well done;
This is probably the most difficult review I’ve faced for quite some time. It’s difficult because the source of this new romantic fairy tale flick is Mark Helprin’s 1983 magical realist masterpiece Winter’s Tale, a book which I broadly consider as the greatest novel I have ever read. Let’s just let that sink in for a while, this is my favourite book of a fairly voracious reader, all 750 pages of which I’ve plundered through three times, although I’ve resisted going back to it in the past decade for another well-earned pass for reasons I’ll get into a little later. In an ideal world the film adaption would be a $200 million three-hour epic directed by some Frankenstein hybrid of Scorsese’s intimate and affectionate understanding of his birthplace, Tim Burton’s (when he was good so pre 21st century) frosty sense of doomed romance, with just a lightly feathered dusting of Spielbergian magical awe and wonder. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect universe so if my heart sank when I heard the news that Akiva Batman & Robin Goldsman was attached for script and writing duties then it stratospherically plummeted when that retch inducing first trailer started cantering throughout the internet, it appearing that Ron Howard’s go to scribe had decided to aim his translation of this epic, sweeping, hyperborean magical masterpiece at 14 year-old doe eyed adolescents. Resistance levels were high when I strolled into the Greenwich Odeon to finally face this potential travesty, but before we get into the resulting two-hour experience I will not be adding the redundant ‘A New York’ suffix which the films marketing department have stupidly appended to the title, because only in Hollywood would associating your product with the scribblings of arguably civilisations greatest ever playwright be regarded as a bad thing, presumably as the Shakespearean connotations might cause certain imbecile punters from avoiding the picture for its lofty language. This film in many, many ways, by any objective reality is simply a terrible movie, but that didn’t stop me from perversely falling a little in love with it, and not just because Menagerie favourite Jennifer Connelly is in it*.
In a rather clumsy opening we follow the soon to be named amnesiac Peter Lake (Colin Farrel in full oirish brogue) as he wanders distractedly through the city so great they named it twice. Master thief and engineering savant Lake is an orphan whom Moses alike was tearfully despatched to the city by his parents on an infant sized ship back in 1895, now an adult in 1914 – the film leaps between the present day and the Belle Époque period – he is on the run from the snarling clutches of Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and his disposable henchmen for transgressions which remain somewhat uncertain. Spying a potential lucrative score in a Central Park brownstone he slips into the domicile, only to find that not all the occupants have fled the city for a festive themed holiday, as he alights upon the luminous Beverley Penn (Jessica Brown Finlay), a delicate young beauty who tragically only has months to live due to a lethal bout of fiery consumption. True love soon blossoms amidst the algid New York winter, as Peter and Beverley’s romance faces the twin fury of her medical condemnation and Soames cloaked, sulphurous vengeance….
I suspect I’m going to regret writing this in the morning, and maybe it’s the scotch swilling through my system which gives me some sense of dutch courage , but I’ll admit it – tears were shed at the simple, unadulterated joy at seeing this beloved novel finally rendered on-screen after a quarter century of devoted patience. It’s been a labour of love for Goldsman who has struggled to get the film made for many years, accelerating his passion and drive for the project following the sudden death of his wife some years ago (which also gives the film a meta-context if ever there was one), and whilst I admire his persistence the film is also by turns deeply infuriating for concupiscent devotees of the novel, as in one section he gets everything right, by the next section everything falls apart. The central pulsing core of the novel, the romance between Beverley and Peter convinced me despite the overwhelming sentimental framing of Goldsman’s tone and approach, so I’m sure the crucifixion of the picture by my learned colleagues in the critical fraternity (well, I’m assuming a little here, the first unimpeachable rule of my approach to film criticism is to never read any reviews until you’ve composed yours) is completely justifiable and accurate, but my god in places this really got to me whether by osmosis or sepia tinged recollection – the film is the very definition of a guilty pleasure.
Alas there is no concrete sense of New York as a breathing and brazen entity, a clanging, imperfect yet inspirational smokestack colossus pregnant with an imperious and optimistic beauty, the personification of the American dream as the young country transitioned from the rural to the industrial at the turn of the century before two world wars soured the starlight which illuminates Helprin’s piquant prose. Other facets of the 750 page epic are also sacrificed at the altar of brevity, most disappointingly the warring newspaper moguls and some of the books peripheral characters and contortions, but then there is the Lake of the Coheeries amaranthine frozen aesthetics, some exquisite nods to the books historic ameliorations, and on occasion a cloudy sense of wonder and awe which vigorously infiltrates the picture in one scene, only to dissipate at the arrival of the next like the slow cerebral disintegration of a fading dream. Utterly indefensible however is the cartoonish bellowing of Russell Crowe, if they had got this central and beloved character correct then the majority of the films other fluctuations could have been overlooked, but as the primary antagonist of the picture his failures – both in malignant presence and accent atrocities – pull the film down whenever he devilishly butchers a scene. It’s always a problem when in your mind’s eye you have a conception of a character which is not correctly mirrored on-screen, and the intervention of a certain character not in the novel to enable a throughly redundant A list cameo is woefully inadequate, it serves only to crowbar in some clumsy plot motivation which is alluded in the novel but unnecessary in this truncated medium. These scenes are as badly written as they are clumsily edited, if literally for Christ’s sake you’re gonna put The Lord of Lies in your picture then please get someone with a menacing presence to step into those sulphur soiled shoes.
When the film’s narrative shifts back to the present day the affectations appear as an afterthought, so the thawed run-time prevents the final act to build the resonance and crucial empathic connections with the preceding elements, rendering it nigh impossible to develop any abiding affinity or warmth with Jennifer Connelly and her daughters contemporary plight, a flaw in the potential diamond which is perhaps the films most grevious blemish. The cinematography however illuminates the love and attention refracted through the picture, Caleb Deschanel’s (father of Zooey magic pixie dream-girl fans) ecumenical palette streaking the frame with lens flares and candle lit interiors which echo one of the books trifling, peripheral concerns – the magical transformative power of light, of a spirit powered by a pure and unadulterated love being potentially able to defeat even death. Like the novel’s binary temporal structure Winter’s Tale pitches between algorithmic peaks and valleys, soaring in one moment and then plunging the next, a rather frustrating experience which nevertheless retains some shards of the novels immense ambition and sorceress asymmetry.
So we finally canter to a stop with the realisation that in six years we have a Menagerie first – this is a film which in good conscience I simply cannot recommend to those ignorant of the source material, nor ironically can I champion this to fans of the book given its glaring omissions, yet Winter’s Tale was not the frigid atrocity I expected and I think on final reflection I have to confess that I kinda liked it, as some of the achievements may just manage to eclipse its shivering flaws. I cannot justify this on any sort of rational basis, it’s certainly a cloying, suffocating, deeply sentimental piece which normally would have me running and shrieking for the exits, so maybe it caught me in a rare, contemplative and forgiving mood, although I’m certain and will immediately confess that my deep love for the novel has definitely clouded my judgement. Whatever future viewings may yield the film has inspired me to make two strategic executive decisions – the first to re-read the book again for the 4th time, always a dangerous proposition as going back to such important texts in your life can be devastating if they don’t age well and confirm to your idealistic prejudices, or maybe I’ll simply opt for this fabulous frosty find. The second is to make some serious enquiries into covering the New York film festival later in the year, I visited that incredible metropolis a terrifying fifteen years ago and loved the place with all its chaos, cosmopolitan history and unadulterated ambition, and I’ve loosely been planning to return for quite some time. Sometimes a small sense of inspiration is enough…….isn’t it?
* I really really really really really really really really really really really really really like Jennifer Connelly.
Martin Scorsese has many strings to his bow. As well as being widely accepted as one of the greatest post-war American directors he is also a highly respected movie scholar, using his influence and prestige to promote the teaching and appreciation of the most commercial of the visual arts around the globe. He is a tireless campaigner for film preservation and has toured the world for decades in his exhausting quest to persuade governments to invest in their celluloid history, and through his own restorative foundation he has issued gleaming new prints of faded masterpieces such as The Red Shoes and The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp, and helped rescue hundreds of other films. His resume is almost peerless, as fifty years of constructing his energetic and occasionally challenging fables has resulted in three inarguable masterpieces – Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Raging Bull – and other pictures as he charmingly calls them which are beloved of cinephiles the world over. But all of this was almost not to be, as a young man growing up in a strict Catholic Italian-American household he once stood at a crossroads in his life, either to embrace his beloved movies or to enter the seminary and join the priesthood, and I think in that light many of his films can be seen as quiet moral dissertations, one of the most powerful examples being his latest movie The Wolf Of Wall Street.
This appropriately excessive three-hour movie is christened with the roar of a $500,000 pearl white Ferrari, of blowing coke into the ass of a $2,000 a night call girl, of hoovering up thunderous rails of prime colombian flake and swiftly turns more degenerate – meet Jordan Belfort (a career best Leonardo DiCaprio) an utterly amoral, wealth obsessed wretch of humanity whose precipitous rise and fall is the films trenchant trajectory. Flashing back to his 1987 arrival at Wall Street Jordan is awarded an entry-level job at an established stock broking firm, and is taken under the wing of Mark Hanna (a loquacious Matthew McConaughey). In one scene the film obliterates every documentary on the intangible casino which is the global stock market made since 2008, as Hanna explains the ruthless theft of investors dreams, of brokers pocketing their bloated commissions whilst keeping the suckers paper rich but chained into the system. The day that Belfort secures his licence to trade chimes with a chilling omen – Black Monday – so barely into months into the job Jordan swiftly finds himself out in the realms of unemployment. Initially excelling in a successive role of selling penny stocks to gullible working class stiffs he pockets an outrageous 50% commission, but even a $72K monthly salary isn’t enough to sate his inexhaustible appetites so he and his cronies set up their own whale hunting operation, with his right hand man Donnie Azoff (Dionysian poster-boy Jonah Hill) at his side they swiftly become the toast of the financial elite whilst their quasi legal operations begin to draw the interest of the regulators…..
There are many pleasures to partake of throughout this excessive, extraordinarily entertaining and seductive film, from exorbitant performances to cinematic design, from social comment to indoctrinating unease. Firstly, it will bring such joy to lovers of film to see one of the greatest directors in the medium’s history absolutely firing on all cylinders, equalling the power and prowess of his highest regarded previous work – I’ve already seen it twice and my appreciation seems certain to deepen as its aboriginal flourishes and delirious sequences are audited and scrutinised. It’s a dangerous films in many ways, in its absolute rejection of spoon-feeding the audience by barking moral judgements, it’s an uncomfortable truth perhaps but hey guess what – getting drunk is fun. Taking drugs is fun. Having sex is fun, but when these appetites are ballooned to grotesque levels of debauchery these practitioners become pathetic creatures, and all the trappings of wealth and prestige cannot hide their repugnant, commerce afflicted souls. Scorsese, screenwriter Terence Winter and a chutzpah cleaved performance from DiCaprio clearly inculcates the audience into this lavish, obscene lifestyle through carefully constructed repetition, but there is clear conscientious purpose to this seduction which becomes abundantly clear in the final phases of the picture, when Jordan’s true character is clearly presented in all its nausea inducing glory. The allegations of misogyny also baffle and astound, yes it’s throughly accurate to state that the only women in this film are vacuous trophy wives and hookers (well, apart for Johnny Lumley’s brief turn as the elegant Aunt of Jordan’s wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) but here’s a curious point – maybe because that’s exactly how these disgusting specimens see women and it represents the total breadth of their interactions with the opposite sex? The assertion by imbeciles like Mark Kermode that the presentation of women is therefore ‘problematic’ so there needs to be a balance is mind-stunningly ridiculous, as it would betray the entire ethos of the film and its apparent failure in treating its audience as adults (both in content, some of the sex and drug taking sequences are like nothing seen in American cinema for a long, long time) would be sacrificed at the altar of some specious notion of respect.
This is turning into a rant isn’t it? Well, what can I say, its been a long time since film reviews actually made me furious but here we are. The ethos and the filmmakers position towards these characters is perfectly obvious in the films last hour when in devastating detail we are shown exactly what pathetic dregs of humanity these pond scum really are, there is no need to show the effects of their crimes upon the investors whom they defrauded as again this would break the cycle of seduction which is so carefully construed, and the final shot of those enraptured faces (I’m remaining vague for spoiler avoidance) is the ultimate statement not only on the crash of 2008 but how exactly nothing has changed in the intervening years as the filthy rich continue to amass depressing wealth whilst the majority of members of our so-called civilisation work in slave like conditions, as these capos of commerce are continually feallted by the political and media class while the genuinely deserving of aid and support are demonized and marginalised.
A-hem. OK, let’s decant from the soapbox and get back to the movie itself shall we? On a second watch there are some intriguing choices, some blipvert inserts and 12 fame insertions, some subtle time lapse arcs and unusual compositions, all embroidered within the traditional arc of a delerious rise and catastrophic fall which naturally brings Goodfellas to mind. Jordan regularly shatters the fourth wall and brings us into his Mephistophelian confidence, his superbly crafted voiceover married with Thelma Schoonmaker’s dexterous editing patterns and jagged continuity cuts, moving effortlessly from gut-punching humor to abject humiliation of junior and female colleagues, a merger of assets which exposes the intrinsic chavinism of the films principal shareholders. The film mixes digital and film stocks and marty’s trademark deloyment of music underscores the purpose of certain scenes, and as you’d expect from this notoriously agile director the camera sharks through the sterile sets with a predatory precision that mirrors the cut of Jordan’s bespoke Armani suits, technique marrying temprement in an exhilirating portfolio of craft and character. The quaalude scene is an instant classic with physical comedy ameliorated with intoxication in a fashion not seen since Fear & Loathing, a $2 million bachelor party drizzled with heaps of cocaine showering the interior of a private jet in imagery worthy of Hogathian (NSFW and spoilers) excess.
Some years ago I read Taxi Driver Executive Producer Julia Philips notorious memoir You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again where she recalled the gasps in preview screenings when Travis Bickle intoned how every night he had to wash the cum-streaks from the back of his car, and there are some truths excavated in this film which are just as challenging and uncomfortable which elevates this to one of Scorsese’s hungriest and angriest works of art since the Nineties. DiCaprio has a a couple of scenes where he is required to raise the morale of his footsoldiers which equal the famous ‘Greed Is Good’ calculus of Wall Street, his charisma beguiling as the twisted ideology tumbles from his lips. The film is a quiet sermon, as if half of Scorsese’s omerta was enshrined in that aforementioned seminary, he quietly exposing some darker depths of the male psyche and by association the structures and symbols of the modern world which spring these biological fathoms, especially when you consider those Vitaliano Pancaldi ties (where do they point?) and those skyscraper phallic testaments to virility which litter the financial centres of the world. So as it my way there is plenty of supplementary material floating around, here is a wonderful interview with Thelma Schoonmaker which she divulges details of the initial four-hour print, and the film community have been going wild for this amusing post screening discussion with Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson (which naturally is spoiler heavy so beware) but the Executive Summary is this – this is a terrific film from one of the worlds great filmmakers, a final piece of a trilogy begun with Goodfellas and continued with Casino, if at the age of 72 he only has a couple more films in him this investment is absolutley critical in this withering criteque of unchecked capitalism;
Yeah, OK, it’s fucking great, it is relentless and the thought that a 70-year-old made this movie makes me feel exhausted. Does it equal vintage Scorsese? That’s difficult to say, and a period of reflection and absorption is required to give that assertion justice, but for pure unadulterated energy and humor, with as always a fine subtly etched line of deeply absorbed pathos, this is his best film in decades;
Leo is at his charismatic career best, Hill is disgustingly fantastic, and in terms of excess this gives Scarface a run for its coke drenched money – man, that Quaaludes scene is just……well, lets just say it needs to be seen to be believed. Here’s the opening four minutes which sets the extremely NSFW tone;