Well fuck me it’s darn weird being back here again, after many, many months of neglect. I could barely remember my password let alone the functions of writing a blog post, so please bear with me as I reconnect with an old but terminal exercise. The good news (I guess) is that I’m going to commit to a few year closedown posts of timid length and analysis, the bad news (if anyone really cares) is that this will lead to a final execution of this ten year project once and for all as the day job has officially overtaken this now redundant blog. What have I been doing? Phase 2 of this. What am I involved in from January 2018? This. As such I need to be spectacularly careful of my digital footprint, wary of the press for reasons myriad and numerous, especially since I’m more than positive that some of the comments and jokes I have made on here could easily be located and exploited out of context with horrific consequences. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, here is the usual December montage which isn’t particularly transcendent, and as such representative of a rather average year;
I have been relatively active over the axial orbit movie going wise, but due to project pressures I completely missed the LFF this year (didn’t see a single screening or event) as my schedule simply didn’t gel with other priorities. Ironically I am on target for seeing over 500 films this year on various eyeball assaulting formats, and have managed to cram in some mini seasons on Eric Rohmer, all of Soderbergh’s 21st century material, a revisit of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, all of the Jarmusch films on Amazon Prime, Ōkami’s Lone Wolf & Cub series and even a revisit of a John Cassavettes box-set. I still don’t chime with the love for him, as much as I can appreciate his ground-breaking achievements in championing independent American filmmaking before Sundance was a faltering glint in Robert Redford’s azure eyes. More montage mischievousness here;
So in order to temper expectations here are my films of the year thus far, presented without commentary or debate and in no particular order – make of this what you will ; Wind River, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Moonlight, mother!, Lady Macbeth, The Death Of Stalin, Logan and maybe Malick’s Song To Song and the eerily prescient Nocturama. Alas I didn’t see The Florida Project, You Were Never Really Here, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Good Time, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer nor The Shape Of Water, some of which I’m sure could have arisen to the 2017 Menagerie pantheon if I’d seen them at the LFF. As it stands the ultimate event of 2017 was of course David Lynch’s spectacular bookend to his incredible career, maybe there more there will be more on that……later;
Where it all began, almost fifty years ago, nothing more to say. Rest In Peace, unlike your ravenous creations;
Bonjour Luc Besson. I grew up enjoying and deeply admiring the likes of Subway, The Last Battle and Nikita, but once he got into his American financed groove my interest waned. I dislike the Taken and Transporter films as evidently I’m a snob, but held out some interest in Lucy which were dashed on the rocks of stupidity. Now he’s back once more but the real interesting facet of this project is not the text itself, but something else…;
What has got the industry fascinated is the business model that underpins it, and how this may finally be mounting a full assault on the Hollywood behemoth through a canny mosaic of international pre-sales, an emphasis on foreign markets (particularly China of course) and the retention of artistic control which you have to admire. I think I’ll give this a chance as the eye candy looks pleasing if nothing else, and this reminds me to watch The Fifth Element again, as a SF nerd I never liked that film, so now is the perfect time for a reapprisal…
More sad news givn yesterdays terrible events in Manchester – Roger Moore has retired his licence to kill. He isn’t the first Bond to leave us, there was David Niven of course and Kubrickophiles will be aware that Barry Nelson, the General Manager of the Overlook Hotel is technically credited as the first actor to have played Ian Fleming’s misogynist psychopath. I’m not a fan of Bond movies in particular and I think we can agree that some of the later Moore’s were pretty poor cash-grabs, but be brought a twinkle in his eye to the role, and as a young kid I had soft spots for both Live & Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun;
To say that the Menagerie was excited for the return of Twin Peaks, or rather more specifically the return of David Lynch after a decade hiatus is a spectacular understatement. It is a wider cultural event, with an arch-auteur who has struggled in bringing stories to any screen adding his swansong chorus to the so called third ‘golden’ age of TV broadcasting, by returning to one core text which set the foundations of the modern media landscape of long-form, small screen entertainment. More importantly for me is the simple prospect of another 18 hours of Lynch’s mind – and what a strange, ethereal and occasionally petrifying mind that is – given that he is directing every episode and writing again with his original partner Mark Frost, the stabilising force whom arguably kept Lynch in check to enable some mainstream penetration back in the midst’s of 1990. Given the import of this phenomenon I embarked on a herculean effort of preparation, going to see Mulholland Drive at the cinema which itself was the result of a cancelled TV series, I revisited the criminally unappreciated Fire Walk With Me, squeezed in a screening of Inland Empire and tore through my third re-watch of the original two seasons, all 30 episodes, in a binge watching bloat of three days. To say I am severely Lynched out is another understatement, further compounded by a lovely Sight & Sound reappraisal in this months issue which makes some illuminating observations – given the undercurrent of psychological dread and abuse it references the series Freudian oral fixations (Coffee, Cherry Pie etc.), it situates the series as an early sprouting of contemporary media ‘Hyperdiegesis‘ around narrative properties citing ‘the creation of a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is every directly seen or encountered within the text’ and from a cinema history perspective summarises Twin Peaks contours as a molestation of Norman Rockwell Americana by European surrealism, primarily the vein championed by Bunuel and Cocteau – Yeah, I think we may have detected where that serrated Black Lodge zig-zag production design element may have originated…..
So let’s start with some fleeting observations on Lynch’s genuine masterpiece, now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of this teenage century, 2001’s Mulholland Drive which has been blessed with a 4K restoration as part of the surrounding hysteria. I’ve already reviewed the film so this will be more of a collection of further reflections and detections that this screening yielded. Firstly the transfer is exquisite, it heightens the tones and stark symbolism of Peter Deming’s cinematography (a long time Lynch collaborator he’s also back on board for the Twin Peaks revival), which reminded me of David Thompson’s lovely phrase that the opening vistas of LA by night reminded him of ‘a scattering of precious diamonds over a black velvet drape’. For all the deconstructions and analysis of the film that has occurred no piece has ever done the film full justice in my mind, in this hopeless pursuit of connecting the narrative and excavating all the mysteries. Great art should always leave some space for the viewer to bring their experiences to the table, and whilst much of the DNA of the film has been codified I prefer for some elements to remain ambivalent and uncertain, as that makes every viewing a deeply satisfying and diverse experience. Case in point – I’ve seen the film a couple of dozen times over the years, and have never noticed that the man who partially comperes the club sequence is the same man as Justin Theroux’s landlord in the sleazy part of town, another doppelgänger in a film infested with mirrors and obfuscations. I’m sure I’ve digested this elsewhere but the fact that we do indeed see the Cowboy (a Hollywood genre stalwart)after his original appearance another two times signals something, Betty/Diane/Rita’s costume when they discover
their a corpse is clearly modelled on Madeleine/Carlotta/Juila’s attire in Vertigo, (oh, also found this which is good), I’d forgotten how funny the film is (the botched assassination, the audition scene, Billy Ray Cyrus) and for me the entire Silencio sequence still remains one of the most eerily magical orchestrations ever committed to celluloid;
After this screening and that hearty binge watch I was suitably buzzed for the 2am UK transmission, after a patient wait of 27 years to return to this bizarre architecture of cryptic giants, menacing dwarves, and crimson draped para-dimensions. I was adrift in expectations after digesting the revelation that the first and last shots of the entire original series, after the title sequences that is, are both scenes refracted in mirrors – and of course similar elements play heavily in Season 3. Welcome to the labyrinth, perverting genre concepts of the soap and procedural mystery show and driving them into more different and dark terrain, as when all is said and done Twin Peaks gravitates around a disturbing orbit of incestual sexual abuse and murder, revealing a web of moral degradation that lurks within an entire locality. I’m a thick skinned viewer but the killing of Maddy, and the ultimate reveal in episode S2E14 is distressing, even in comparison to today’s thresholds I can’t believe the former got through Standards and Practices a quarter century ago.
As an article upstream notes ‘Lynch convinced a major entertainment conglomerate to pay for 18 hours of new material by David Lynch, at the budget he needed, and with complete creative control. He hasn’t had this kind of financial support since he made Dune in 1984.’ That achievement alone is staggering, no? I loved staying up for this, a shared event around the world with like minded maniacs, and boy did if fucking deliver – as others predicted this is pure, uncut, undiluted Lynch, and I’m still processing much of the first four episodes which are positively infested with his earlier work, including long abstract stretches which are pure Eraserhead. So some scattered thoughts with MINOR SPOILERS – The title sequence elicited a Proustian rush, I was shocked at how much of this was set within the Black Lodge, and it was quite touching to see Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer back on screen, reprising an earlier incident way back in the European pilot. The appearance of Lynch alumni from other material – Brent Briscoe, Naomi Watts, Patrick Fischler & Robert Forster – sets the mind spinning on a shared universe which I’m sure other cerebellum of the internet are already formulating. I thought the Michael Cera scene was fucking hilarious, and that encounter early on, well, I’m genuinely apprehensive at giving it another watch. Especially at night. I am sure it has baffled and agitated some of the audience, even the die-hard fans given where a certain character is taken, but I for one am fully on board as the pieces started to make sense around episode 4, although we still await a revisit to some core characters. Make sure you revisit this series this at night with the lights turned off and the audio on high, as the sound mix alone is staggering. Welcome back, old friend;
I’m a little late to the wake on this one, but felt I had to pay my respects. What a fantastic name and presence this dude had with a long running collaboration with the similarly robust Walter Hill, and he was also terrific in such cult favourites as Red Dawn, Deadwood and Sin City. I have a soft spot for Vietnam allegory Southern Comfort however, a important and frequently rewatched movie n my youth;
Goddamn it, another one gone. I saw him at the BFI a decade or so ago, introducing his Jimmy Carter documentary, and he came across as a thoroughly committed and down to earth chap. Naturally all the memorials are leading with Silence Of The Lambs which is a terrific movie, and of course he directed what is arguably the best concert movie of all time, but I have a soft spot for the Hitchockian The Last Embrace which is an overlooked 1970’s paranoia picture;
EDIT – Ah, now this is more fitting, this is how you direct and cut an iconic scene ladies and gentlemen;
Finally we algorithmically alight on one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. Well, when I say ‘anticipated’ that was my initial reaction to the first trailer drop last Autumn, since then subsequent glimpses of this live-action remake of the acclaimed 1995 anime my enthusiasm has eroded somewhat, as further images have started to take the feel of a 1990’s direct to DVD B-Movie with slightly more production luxury and some impressive metropolospaces which will always tickle my cyberpunk creased cerebellum. I grew up with a deep appreciation of the then refreshing cyberpunk literature of Gibson and Sterling et. al, thus I’ve obviously seen the anime, but remember little about it other than the rather arresting image of the invisibility cloaked fembot plunging into technologically augmented action. I also like ScarJo when she’s in movie-star action mode and she’s been solid in some kinetic cued movies, but there are also the blemishes of Lucy and The Island in her filmography. Still, like any obedient genre SF soldier I downloaded* this on opening day, and have to concur with the overall assessment that this is a production which has its chimeral charms, but is far from the modern classic that some of us wanted it to be.
A century or so hence and the human race lives clustered in massive urban conurbations, while technological advancements have made physical bio-enhancements, hallucinatory street advertising and robotic automatons as ubiquitous in the environment as a new model iPhone or Galaxy in our contemporary phase of the 21st century. A paradigm promising and seemingly Chris Cunningham influenced technofetishistic opening introduces us to the Major (Johansson), the displaced consciousness of a terrorist attack survivor transplanted into a state-of-the-art next generation android at the behest of the shadowy Hanaka corporation, the spearhead weapon of a government sponsored anti-terrorism strike team known only as Section 9. When the bodies start stacking up from a plague of assassinations the only linkage meme is the victims work on the clandestine Project 257, leading the Major and her comrades on a mission which will slowly unveil her mysterious past and a wider cybernetic conspiracy….
What we have on our titanium tensed, carbonpolyetherine coated hands is a movie that processes its plot in binary fluctuation – neither as good as it should have been, nor as bad as it could have been. To begin with the positives if like me the imagery of a godsview camera swooping through a neon drenched, holograph haunted future cityspace teeming with futuristic tech makes you retire to your fainting couch like some 19th century influenza afflicted debutante then this is a movie for you. The world building is spectacular, and demands a Blu-Ray acquisition alone to sequentially frame examine the urban helliosphere which is teeming with background characters and production detail, while wisely avoiding the visual pollution miasma that George Lucas inflicted upon us with the prequel trilogy. Clint Mansell’s low-key but effective seething synth score coolly augments the impressive craftwork, as overall this is a scintillating simulacra of a future world that other genre fans will find beautiful to behold. Kitano Takeshi in a rare Western sourced role as the leader of Section 9 adds to the films oriental authenticity (and wins the films sole great dialogue exchange which we can consider ‘vintage’ Takeshi) as does Juliet Binoche as the Major’s Dr. Frankenstien surrogate, leading the medical project to bring our heroine back to artificial life while harbouring some unpleasant secrets of her own.
Moving from the ones to the zeros the film fails in tracing any sort of intellectual curiosity. After narratively erecting these questions around the implications of a replicated and decanted consciousness, or state intervention in our increasingly digitised and surveillance state sanctioned lives (all the more ironic that the film was released the same week that this passed into law after this was enforced in my country a few months ago) Ghost In The Shell singularly fails to adequately investigate these crucial arenas, preferring to follow the path of your standardised blockbuster workflow and formalised function. Flat dialogical idioms abound, such as cramming dialogue into characters mouths like ‘we cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us’ hang listlessly on the screen, as when you unpack statements of that ilk you realise that it doesn’t actually mean or signal anything of merit whatsoever. ScarJo is merely adequate as the main character, she never invests her performance with any of the otherworldly eeriness of the quality of Under The Skin, neither through her figure movement nor wider physical presence – this strikes me as a serious oversight and wasted opportunity to truly capture the notion of a disembodied entity locked into an alien and unfamiliar hardware. Director Rupert Sanders proved he could handle impressive SFX in his previous film Snow White & The Huntsman and he graces much of the action sequences with an adequate understanding of choreography and physical space, although the final show-down closes the structure with a incorporeal whimper more than a blockbuster bang. Still, the film does have an overall sense of some physicality, some aura of density, mostly avoiding the uncanny valley trap where it is evident that the entire movie was lensed against a studio mandated green screen – there is evident location work and seething set design which also demands a repeat viewing.
For all that criticism Ghost In The Shell does have its moments. There is the impressive opening after which it flatlines for the next hour or so from a plot and pacing perspective, but it does start to pick up some momentum and genuine interest after the Major starts to penetrate the identity of her nemesis and his links to her fabricated past. Naturally, all this manga mandated machinery clanks and smoulders in the shadow of the imminent Blade Runner sequel of which footage has been seen at this months CinemaCon and apparently is stunning, I just hope this physical wreck can continue toward its post retirement date of October 2017 and bask in the return of such a crucial cinema text which still throws its shadow over these SF pretenders to the cybernetic throne. So, overall this film is a strange beast, a movie with the aura of a 1990’s cyberpunk pretender lacquered with a 2017 state of the art CGI carapace, with very few queries coiling under its alabaster shell. If you want to truly fire up the synapses and contemplate our slow march to increased fourth wave industrialisation or the A.I. apocalypse then I’d suggest a revisit to the likes of Ex Machina, or HBO’s impressive Westworld reboot, but visually at least this is the closest we’ve got to the majesty of the seminal Neuromancer yet, so if you recalibrate your sensorial input nodes then Ghost in The Shell is a programme just about worth pursuing;
* Well, when I say ‘downloaded’ I’m just speaking metaphorically, I did go and see this at the cinema and didn’t resort to clandestine activities so don’t set the Paramount lawyers on me, OK?
When I first heard of the fevered instruction Get Out in the context of a horror film my mind listlessly wanders to this sequence from suburban squirm fest The Amityville Horror, a yuppie nightmare of home ownership, economic stress and familial strife lurking behind those white picket fences. A submerged evil uncoiling in suburbia continues in this culturally incendiary movie, the debut effort of comedian Jordan Peele of Comedy Central Emmy Award winning smash Key & Peele fame. Riding the crest of a spectacular word of mouth wave with screenings literally bringing the house down – even us jaded critics are citing it as the best fun they’ve had as an audience inclusive experience in years – the movie is a 2017 cluster of cultural gelignite, an explosive comment on modern race relations, liberal guilt and an increasingly diverse and fractured first world society. Naturally, as a die-hard horror fanatic I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about and with a few minor reservations this is a terrific little picture, combining an iconoclastic brew of The Stepford Wives with Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, garnished with a deadly dose of The Wicker Man for good, gruesome measure.
Budding student photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, probably best known as Emily Blunt’s partner in Sicario) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (probably best known as one of the quartet of leads in Girls that isn’t Lena Dunham) prepare for a weekend trip to meet her wealthy yet staunchly liberal parents, Dean and Missy, portrayed by a perfectly cast Catherine Keener and Bradford Whitford. Chris is understandably nervous at meeting his partners folks, always a potentially stressful experience in the first phases of a serious relationship, an anxiety which is enhanced by his being a person of colour and her pure WASP pedigree. Rose placates his nerves by assuring him that her parents are so liberal that they are sure to impress him with their support of the then sitting president, and her prediction that they would explain to him that they have voted for Obama again if he could have stood for a third term soon comes to pass. Initially all seems quaint in the impressive Connecticut suburbs, but small details of unease start to coalesce – the house groundskeeper and domestic assistant (both of African-American ethnicity) affect a glassy-eyed, robotic subservience which no-one else seems to notice, and certain phrases and behaviours of the Armitage’s extended family and friends seem slightly off-kilter and…strange. I’ll say no more as it is crucial that you into this experience as ignorant as an Alabama knitting circle, as a horrific plot slowly materialises out of the midnight mists….
It is difficult to dance around this one and retain spoiler integrity so I’ll just say that the praise the film has attracted is definitively deserved, in yet another storming debut to the horror movie Hecate. Although it follows the contours of a horror film, especially the concept of a naive, increasingly suspicious innocent being inculcated in a deadly conspiracy the social and political themes are smoothed under numerous narrative and allegorical levels, so that a second viewing will be essential to judge who finely Peele’s excellent script was engineered. The jump scares are kept to an intensified minimum, the film preferring to build an increasing sense of mysterious dread through which the thumbscrews are tightened, before all hell breaks loose in a final and expectation flouting finale. All the leads are solid and treat the material with the respect it deserves, it plays more serious than other horror-comedy hybrids like The Evil Dead or An American Werewolf In London for example, struck more from the mould of The Cabin In The Woods with a deft understanding of genre conventions.
TSA agent and Chris’s best friend Rod Williams (LaKeith Lee Stanfield) is the comic relief, the surrogate for the audience whom plays a sassy, exuberant sort and gets most of the films belly laugh lines, even if at times it feels he’s wondered in from a Wayan brothers picture. The good news is that Peele has revealed he has scribed four other horror scripts before he got this one off the ground, and given its $5 million budget to its stratospheric $150 million (and counting) return I’m positive we’ll be seeing more from him soon. Just to be slightly contrarian as a genre nerd I’d have preferred it if it had spent just a little more time moving through the central film’s plot premise, I think some of those narrative nuances got a little lost in the mix, but to be fair the more I’ve thought about it the satire is revealed to be more deeply layered and constructed that a first impression suggests, with visual metaphors and plot devices building a deft oratory on the diseased state of the American body politic. This is simply essential viewing, a vibrant new addition to the pantheon of pandemonium that squirms in the recent slipstream of The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook, so Get Out and see it immediately. A-hem. Sorry;
Looks like its time again for the annual glut of gloomfest thinkpieces of the state of the industry, yet somehow cinema still marches on, as it has, for almost 130 years. It’s been quite a journey;