After all, it's just a ride….

Current Affairs

Jonathan Demme RIP

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;


Ghost In The Shell (2017)

ghost1Finally 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.

ghost2A 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….

ghost3What 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.

ghost4Moving 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.

ghost5For 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?


Get Out (2017)

get1When 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.

get4Budding 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….

get3It 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.

get2TSA 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;


The State Of The Title…

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;


The Other Side Of The Wind (1977) Trailer?

Well. wow. Reverberations are thundering around the cinephile world with this extraordinary news, especially given the connections between old and new media and all that such umbilical links could signal for the future. Here is some exhaustive context, and here is a glimpse of what’s in store;


Malick Muses…..

Apologies for the quality but I think you fellow cinephiles will understand, that we are definitely in the midst of an end times scerario. I expect to see Pynchon on Fox news next week;


Five Came Back (2017) Trailer

Beyond happy that they have produced a documentary of this fantastic book which I read a couple of years ago. It’s an apt reminder of what cinema can do in difficult times, and the influence the experience had upon the five when they returned to the industry is fascinating as a historical and artistic document – their work and the world they operated in was never the same;


RIP Bill Paxton (1955 – 2017)

Well, I think I can speak for us all by stating this is a bit of a shock – he was on WTF only a week ago and came across a thoroughly down to earth, cool guy, particularly when joking about this. A terrific, reliable character actor, immortalised in Aliens, and the only dude to have been slain by a Predator, a Terminator and an Alien. There are too many great appearances to list here, but I will cite the brilliant Raimi A Simple Plan and this Menagerie favourite;


The Language of Propaganda

Given the coverage a certain speech is getting today, this seems like an apt moment to post this;


Boogie Nights (1997) Commentary

OK you fucking mooks, OK, I feel bad about this, I’m feeling especially guilty and useless at not posting anything concerning my Scorsese blitzkrieg over the past few weeks. Truth be told I have six or seven full reviews in the pipeline, but wider considerations have fumbled my intent, and it has proved difficult to find the effort or inspiration to continue this increasingly monumental effort – real life can sometime intrude. Nevertheless I’ve only got one more full movie to see in the season which on a whole has been a revelatory season, there is just one more of the classics to finally see on the big screen, so I keep telling myself to wait until that is absorbed until I get chained to the keyboard. Until then here is some more adjunct material which is fascinating, one of the core figures in recent Amercian cinema whom would not exist, as we known it, without Marty;