Given the coverage a certain speech is getting today, this seems like an apt moment to post this;
Some enterprisng soul has uploaded this from the recent Blu-Ray box set which has now dramatically dropped in price, 80 minutes and change of Stanley related reminiscence;
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;
I’ve been hearing some great things about this, a perfectly observed cult movie pastiche which manages to balance that fine line of homage and genuine affection laced humour;
It stormed Frightfest last week and is coming to a very modest release and VOD over the next couple of weeks. In other news yes, plenty of Scorsese material is imminent, I jus need to find the time to finalise each of the reviews which I’ve outlined and researched. In fact I’m off to another screening tonight so next week is going to be….hectic;
Here’s something big, dense and delightful to get your cinematic teeth into, a 75 minute deconstruction of Tarkovsky’s cold war masterpiece Stalker. As you’d imagine it is the quite the academic affair, with the likes of writers Geoff Dyer, Phillip Lopate, Michael Benson and Francine Prose in cerebral attention, alongside a little someone known as Walter Murch;
Yes, it’s that time of the year again. I must admit to finding it difficult to muster any genuine enthusiasm for this years announcements, I have made a concerted effort in seeing some of the inevitable nominees this month, with Jackie still to see when it opens toward the end of the week, and Moonlight soon after which I’m really looking forward to given the exemplary feedback. For my sins I’ve been toying with going to see Hacksaw Ridge despite the rather eyeball rolling trailers, I’m also not sure I wish to contribute to the coffers of Mel Gibson even with the rudimentary pennies that would be allocated through my Cineworld Card, but I’ve heard that the action sequences are equivalent in power and brutality to Saving Private Ryan, so being a weird sort of cruelty junkie that has piqued my interest. As it stands I’ve never, in now a venerable ten years of conducting this ridiculous and infinitely pointless exercise (in public) managed more than a 60% or 65% accuracy rate with my predictions, but we live in hope and its just a piece of pointless frivolity to while away the endless days until we all die. So as always the rules are to bold the films I’ve seen, italic the films I think should win, and underline those I think will win, with the everlasting caveat that I haven’t seen everything, so am having to make some choices based on compromised information.
Amusingly, as I write this I am catching up on a few of last years blockbusters, namely In dependence Day 2 and X-Men Apocalypse, both of which, as expected, are total gash. this industry really needs to start rethinking itself along these high exposure, high visibility lines, as some of the rumours I’ve heard coming out of the disgruntled technicians and junior players are growing increasingly depressed with their products, as the studio executives and senior producers simply not caring about plot inconsistencies, illogical scripts – they are literally telling them not to worry as the audience don’t care, and the spectacle and energy of the films are enough to play in China and other developing international markets – depressing. More positively the ceremony has already caused history, as La La Land enters the exalted trio of films with the most nominations in history – 14 – joining All About Eve and Titanic, even Gone With The End only managed a paltry 13 nods. Looking through the nominees I note that we now have to go and see Lion which didn’t exactly grab my attention from the trailer but I’m willing to be surprised, but I draw the line at Fantastic Beasts in the SFX category which I have absolute zero interest in. It’s good to see Arrival warping into so many nominations, but lets face it La La Land is going to obliterate this years ceremony – completely. We are in dire need of some simple, unadulterated colourful escapism right now, not to mention the slightly more worrying prospect of a temperature in the culture of yearning for an allegedly simpler, more prosperous earlier time, no matter how warped and unglued from reality that nostalgia may be. It’s not a criticism per se of the movie, but for a Los Angeles set film it is spectacularly Caucasian, innocent and defiantly individualistic, where even human relationships and warmth are sacrificed on the altar of unimpeded commercial success and wealth;
Only nine nominees eh? Strange number, but here we are. Not having seen Moonlight this is a difficult one to judge, I think we can assume that Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Hidden Figures are the outliers. La La Land will take it down to Chinatown, however….
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
No Kelly Reichardt for Certain Women? What a travesty, but it looks like the rehabilitation of Mel is complete, right? Well, out of those I’ve seen both Lonergan and Villeneuve conduct exemplary work at either end of the scale – one a tiny, modest, performance scoped drama, the other a major technical blockbuster with empathic and narrative fracturing elements. Jenkins for Moonlight is a long shot but you never know, but I still think Chazelle is gonna win…….
Arrival – Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Not wishing to prejudice my full Manchester By The Sea review this might be one of the upsets for La La Land – Gosling was fine in that but not exactly best actor nominee levels of achievement – and richly deserved it is to as Affleck is astounding, although some of those allegations surrounding his conduct may prove difficult. Garfield is having a fairly spectacular career post Spiderman isn’t he? I’ve got Captain Fantastic on my priority Lovefilm list so should catch that over the next week or so, but this and perhaps screenplay will be Manchester’s only achievements…..
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences
No Amy Adams for Arrival? Damn, well, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if Meryl didn’t get nominated for something, right? I wonder if she would get a nod even if she took a year off, just..because? I’ve got nothing against her you understand, I was in appreciative awe of her putting her head about the parapet during her Golden Globes speech, but c’mon. I’ve just seen Jackie and as I’d heard Pablo Larraín has coaxed out a very different sort of performance from Portman, a punt which actually takes some time to acclimatise to during the course of the film, so I think she’ll take it as a somewhat less controversial choice than the other front runner Elle.
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
Best Supporting Actor
Fantastic to see Lucas Hedges here which is probably the biggest surprise, he holds his own against far more experienced colleagues so it’s good to see him nominated. Bridges is great but maybe a little too obvious, Patel is the best I’ve seen him in Lion, and I can’t comment on Moonlight – yet. So let’s go with Shannon, because, well, he’s Michael fucking Shannon…..
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Best Supporting Actress
“Seven of the 20 nominees in acting categories for 2017 Academy Awards are non-white” notes the Daily Mail, in accurate reporting accident’ tweeted Sight & Sound editor Nick James after the announcement, which made me chuckle. As much as I love Michelle Williams to be perfectly blunt she is barely in her film, sure she has one pivotal scene but apart from that little more than a few transitional moments, so I can’t in good conscience elect her as a favourite. So for now, until I see more of the nominees, I’ll go with Viola Davis as she’s always great;
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
Best Adapted Screenplay
A roll of the dice, until I see Moonlight. Arrival was quite revolutionary but again the Academy is resistant to awarding SF out of the technical categories, which leaves us with the entire arc of Hidden Fences which can be detected from the trailer – it looks worthy but not following the usual ‘triumph over adversity’ path. In a similar way so does Lion but seems to evade any clichés, so for now I’ll go with that;
Best Original Screenplay
No Nocturnal Animals nod? Well, that is odd given the previous form, but I can’t say I disagree. I did see the film last year but couldn’t find the appetite to craft a review, the framing structure of a film within in film is curious and could have been utilised to great effect, but the rest of the film was cluttered and quite unsure of itself. So, back to the actual nominees and I’m going to have to go with Manchester By The Sea as one of those almost consolation prizes, unless La La Land begins to look like a clean sweep on the night….
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women
Best Animated Feature Film
Not exactly my specialised area, and I’ve heard great things about all of these but lets go with Moana as a Disneyfied guess.
Kubo and the Two Strings
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
As always a strong field, again until I see Moonlight which I’ve heard has some ravishing moments this is difficult to call. Silence was a beautiful film if an ideologically troubling one, but I think the La La Land juggernaut will continue, especially that magic hour & crayola colour schema.
La La Land
Best Documentary Feature
This is a slam-dunk, having powered through the five and a half hour O.J. Simpson epic over Xmas I can vouch for its brilliance, drawing in issues and observations far in orbit of that horrendous event.
Fire at Sea
I am Not Your Negro
O.J. Made in America
Best Documentary Short Subject
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets
Best Original Score
Should they even bother opening the envelope? Strange to see Passengers on here, there is a beautiful piano leitmotif in Lion which is worthy of an award, and it’s a shame that Arrival missed out here;
La La Land
Best Original Song
“Audition” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana
Best Foreign Language Film
Goddamn it. It’s always the same, isn’t it? I arrogantly assume I have kept my finger on the pulse of international cinema, following the antics of the major film festivals, and while I may not have seen everything due to distribution patterns I’m at least aware of the general population of International Cinema. Apparently not as not only have I not seen four of the five nominees, I’ve never even heard of them. Completely oblivious. Not a peep about these pictures, not through my Sight & Sound subscription, not through the scattering of film websites I visit almost daily, not through the two dozen or so weekly podcasts I am subscribed to. Just who is sending the Academy these films to see and getting them nominated? Well, of course the exception is Toni Erdmann which has been justifiably cresting the wave of breakthrough popularity and audience affection, which surely has to take this one back to Berlin.
Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
Best Animated Short Film
Pear Cider & Cigarettes
Best Live Action Short Film
La Femme et le TGV
Best Costume Design
I think Jackie might offer an upset and it certainly looked amazing to me, but my sartorial skills are questionable;
La La Land
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Well, that’s a surprise, with Suicide Squad, one of the most maligned films of last year, getting a nomination. I’ve never heard of A Man Called Ove so let’s guess with Star Trek;
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Best Sound Editing
I’m going out on a limb with Arrival as a final offering of support;
La La Land
Best Sound Mixing
Action and combat films usually do well in this category, so lets go with the Ridge;
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Best Film Editing
Crikey these all seem proficient to say the least, but again Arrival had that fractured timeline to master. Nevertheless La La will prevail;
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Best Production Design
Whilst I think Arrival should take the top set SF never wins production design awards, which closes down the odds somewhat. Normally I’d go with Hail Caesar for the old-school Hollywood vibe, but I think this might be a case of the vote for everything for the same picture syndrome for those Academy members who haven’t seen all the films…
La La Land
Best Visual Effects
Having seen The Jungle Book recently I must admit I was very impressed, it was the best rendering of anthropomorphic animals I’ve seen on screen, and whilst it didn’t always convince the blending and rendering was exquisite. Still, I’m going for Dr. Strange as those folding hexagonal headspace scrambling was almost unique on screen, as opposed to the text book designs and execution of Rogue One.
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As is my idiom, I do like to post some ancillary material when indulging in a director season, so I thought it best to keep the flow running with some acclaimed non-fiction material which is often overlooked in favour of Marty’s crime epics or spiritual sojourns. The BFI, as usual are doing a comprehensive job by showing many of his documentaries on the big screen alongside the movies, but I’m not inclined to spend precious resources in catching these on the big screen when I can barely keep up with the January new releases and tackle big, iconic movies such as a certain boxing picture which I have tentatively begun assaulting. So, courtesy of the inter-webs here are a couple of his highly regarded pieces, modest little examinations of his family in the first instance and a colourful acquaintance in the second, to keep things ticking over while I catch Manchester By The Sea this week and hope to bring you the story of brutalised boxer by the weekend;
I should say that this exercise has ballooned out of all proportion as I have committed to and made great inroads into re-watching every single Scorsese movie on my HD home A/V system, which has included upgrading some films to high definition from their mediocre DVD masters, thus so far I have powered through Gangs Of New York, Cape Fear, The Age Of Innocence, Boxcar Bertha, Hugo, The Aviator, Bringing Out The Dead and The Departed – not bad for a weeks work, with more still nesting on my watch-list. Anyway, here is his interview with the rather squalid Steven Prince, star of one of the key scenes in Taxi Driver you’ll recall, and his O/D story which Tarantino lifted for that sequence in Pulp Fiction;
You might be as bemused as I was to discover that we have a recent sequel, well if you consider 2009 as ‘recent’, that you can see here…..
It is already a cliché to open any assessment of the year with the distressing roll-call of tragedy, catastrophe and loss – Bowie, Ali, Prince, Princess Leia and the Reef, Brexit, Aleppo and Tru…no…no, I still can’t stomach even mentioning his name here, as I fear that even any subsequent deep-digital scrubbing would fail to dissipate the stench of brimstone. That’s just scratching the surface of course, there have been plenty more losses in this wretched year among the entertainment and artistic spheres, and the world seems to be plunging down a very frightening right-wing trajectory the likes of which I haven’t seen in my lifetime. I am still horrified by the resurgence of the intolerant and ignorant in society, the traditional rules and customs of behavior obliterated by a new acceptance of bigotry and misogyny, all cheered on by a corporate mandated press who have dredged new levels of bile, hatred and sheer, unimpeachable falsehoods to further their propaganda aims and objectives – it is fucking sickening. In my accidental and unintentional path to be some super-powered contrarian I on the other hand have had an absolutely spectacular year, probably the best of my adult domestic and professional life. I moved to a new place quite unthinkably fantastic just a few short months ago which I’m still enjoying, I significantly upgraded the Audiovisual entertainment equipment and with my newly acquired entry level Whitehall security clearance I have unlocked vast lucrative veldts of contracting opportunities, although I have to say it took me a while to assimilate into the culture and tempo of the environment – it was certainly much more this than this. If we don the rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia for a second I wistfully remember walking to the shops one day as a teenager gentle reader, my mind idly turning over as one’s mind does one’s dreams and ambitions for the future, during which I believe a trio of competing instincts surfaced – a) To become a member of the BFI, to write about cinema and enjoy seeing films on the big screen, as god intended – b) To work in Whitehall, to see the reality behind the facade and witness the mechanisms of the levers of power behind those political edifices and c) Make sweet, sweet lurve with Sherilyn Fenn. Well, as a forty(coughs)something two out of three ain’t bad, and when’s that 2017 UK based Twin Peaks cast reunion again?
But I digress as it is a little gauche to wallow in one’s success, on November 9th I was erring on the mindset of ‘fuck it, burn it all down’, and gave serious consideration to abandoning this now ten-year gestating, quiet corner of the internet. That was my knee-jerk reaction of continuing to interact with the on-line world given the culpability of social media and associated technologies in our new world order, where it seems that video documentary evidence of one thing being said is rejected as an objective, truthful event if the opposition denies it vehemently enough, where dangerously insane figures actively promote views that the mass murder of children was a government conspiracy have the ear of the White House regime. Do we now exist in a post-factual society where incontrovertible scientific truths such as climate change are dismissed as heresy, a annihilating position which essentially has doomed the next generation to tsunamis of human misery and suffering throughout the rest of the century? Probably, and I can only see it getting worse with disorder on the Korean peninsula, Soviet incursions into Eastern Europe, a terrified Iran risking a new cataclysm across the Middle East, and an utterly incompetent ego driven corrupt billionaire ‘serving’ as the leader of the western world. We. Are. Fucked. Heh. Happy New Year, eh? Still, I have talked myself back from the ledge and cooler heads have subsequently prevailed, when it comes to the movies however I don’t think I’m being too controversial in also asserting a very poor year, in some kind of unholy alliance with the ominous developments in communications, politics, socio-economics and the global culture in its wider scope. There has been some soaring achievements that we’ll get into a little later, but I have genuinely struggled to source ten top movies this year, given the paucity of material on offer – the summer was particularly dire.
Now, some of that may be due to my woeful festival attendance, I only got to the LFF this year and due to competing pressures caught maybe 60% of what I had planned to see, so as always there is always great material out there if you spend the time and resources to search it out, but on overall aggregate it has not exactly been 1939 or, say, 1999. From my perspective I’ve also neglected my retrospective screenings, I didn’t really conduct any small screen ‘seasons’ this year, but I am committing to a revisit of my Cassavette’s box-set and to take another run at Eric Rohmer next year via this, as frankly re-watching just about any movie, even the old ones on my new upgraded system is quite a different experience – I saw James Toback’s The Gambler a couple of weeks ago and digesting this up-scaled version from a pretty poor DVD master was like feasting on an entirely different and more precious artifact. Later in the year we will also launch my Kurosawa season, if we have managed to reach the summer without immolating the globe in a radioactive death-shroud. When I scan through what I have completed this year on the big screen I’m actually a little more positive – we gnawed through two Carpenter seasons which has essentially covered 99% of all his films I ever want to cover, with only They Live remaining outstanding from a review point of view – as a major Menagerie icon this is a milestone. Then we caught three crucial Spielberg’s, a couple of Godard’s, some Alan Clarke and with that Scorsese season on the horizon we shall also be busy for the next two months. So let’s get moving as time is a wasting, normally I’d also touch on the best TV but I’m not so inclined this year other than to say I loved The Knick, Penny Dreadful Season 3, Hannibal Season 3, Ash Versus Evil Dead (Lee Majors and bringing Cheryl back was fucking genius), Daredevil 1&2, and something else we will discuss later. So as always in no particular order here are the best films I’ve seen, in no particular order;
The 2016 Films Of The Year
The Witch – (Robert Eggers, USA, 2014) First of all, let me share a quote with you from a podcast review of this nefarious chiller that made me howl with laughter – ‘Katherine Heigel takes her baby brother to the woods for a game of hide and seek. The baby wins’. Heh. When the depraved debutante Robert Eggers decided to open his movie with infanticide it was fair to assume that all bets are off, even if the slaying is seen off-screen – well, kind of off-screen – a minuscule horror that sets the tone for the subsequent hecate hectoring histrionics. On a pure craft and atmospheric level this is an incredibly assured introduction, a compelling metaphor for America’s troubled genesis.
Arrival – (Denis Villeneuve, USA, 2016) First of all, read this, it sucks any wind of my sails, but beware of severe spoilers. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see this again at the flicks, but I am anxiously awaiting the Blu-Ray release in the Spring, primarily to interrogate that Möbius structure and unveil some of this astounding films secret techniques. Arrival is a real rarity, a genre situated film with a realistic fidelity to its dramatic situation, intellectually perplexing, with exemplary work being delivered at every level of the departmental totem pole – sound, editing, script, design. It is unafraid to grapple some big, hulking ideas – free will, destiny, perceptions of time, mortality – in the arena of the modern SF blockbuster, and defiantly throws the gauntlet down to Chris Nolan’s feet in terms of nesting challenging material within a multiplex pleasing carapace. Probably, if I had to nominate a single winner, the Menagerie film of the year.
Midnight Special – (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2016) Whilst I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away with this on a first viewing my affection accelerated upon a second viewing, it still reeks of bureaucratic interference but some beautiful and moving moments spear through the studio inflected fog – those Bradburyesque suburban prairies of the mid-west, the symmetrical elegance of the hidden mirror realm concealed amidst our own, a fractured families final, wordless, loving embrace. The comparisons to Netflix smash Stranger Tides are inevitable. That series was fine, but little more than a collection of fun and worthy influences Xerox imposed over each other to no emotional effect (and shamelessly ripping off Under The Skin along the way) while Midnight Special resonates with a parents unconditional love for their son whatever his origin, instead of mere postmodern posturing and playing to the nostalgic instincts of the internet cultural crowd. Maybe my selection is partially influenced by a movie with a positive conclusion of others which seems literally worlds away from what the path we are staggering down, and we can all dream, no matter how desperately, for some sort of celestial salvation ….
I, Daniel Blake – (Ken Loach, UK, 2016) Truly, we approach the end times when the seas will run communist red as the seals are broken and the trumpets are heard across the earth, as we elect a Ken Loach drama to our films of the year list. I exaggerate of course, I like many of Loach’s films although the Menagerie doesn’t naturally feel like a fit with his particular strand of cinema, but this brutally effective swan song is simply phenomenal, devastating, and a worthy summation of a career made of critiquing the establishment and agitating for social justice. The performances are brutally honest with the only small snag of some plot strands threading off inconclusively, yet for my money it has one of the most thunderous and staggering scenes of recent cinema history which burns itself into your brain.
Dr. Strange – (Tim Manners, USA, 2016) It was a close run race between this and the mischievous Deadpool, as quick slices of irreverent, distracting fun you usually can’t beat a well constructed Marvel film. Yes, they do dissipate in the light of any stringent analysis, and have difficulties with giving their female leads much to do, but they are highly entertaining in that greasy cheeseburger and a refreshing coke kinda way. I loved the depiction of the mystical Marvel omniverse, Cumberbatch surprised me with a well toned metamorphosis into action-hero, and it had a hexing brew of jokes and mystical melee.I might even go and see the next Thor picture if he’s in it, which is high praise indeed…..
Elle – (Paul Verhoeven, France, 2016) It will be interesting and potentially explosive to see how this film fares when it goes on general release in early 2017. The notion of a Paul Verhoeven crafted rape-comedy is not exactly for the fainthearted, but although that’s how the film is being marketed Elle is something far more nuanced and provocative, through an incredible cinematic case study. Isabelle Huppert.demonstrates again why she is one of the finest actresses drawing breath, her courage to take on such challenging material speaks for itself – every American actresses approached for the part declined which is why Verhoeven had to turn to Europe to make the film. It’s one of those texts that I’m sure will reveal more of its craft and subtlety on a second viewing, and brave enough to forge new paths in uncovering the depths of human complexity and behaviours, especially when we are at our absolute worst.
Certain Women – (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2016) – It’s difficult to articulate what I enjoyed so much about this which serves as a compelling double bill with the next film on the list, an emphasis on the hidden enclaves of America perhaps, the modest blue-collar population eking out their frugal but no less fascinating and moving lives. This is very much a slow burn, a film which eases you into its metronome and hypnotic pace, with subtly finessed performances from Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Reichardt it seems can do no wrong with her affecting, socially attuned and minimalist style, eschewing the overtly dramatic for character authenticity, dissolving some of those barriers between the imaged movie world and how people really act when they interact with each other.
Hell Or High Water – (David MacKenzie, USA, 2016) – Given this years catastrophic upheaval it is all to easy to embrace a work whose purring plot engine is powered by corporate maleficence and economic depression, particularly one set in the so-called flyover middle American states. No doubt we’ll start to get a raft of ‘this TV show is post Obama’ or ‘this sequence of movies encapsulate the new political temperature’ style of cultural analysis over the coming months. That’s fine, it is justified and worthy of debate, but what has stuck with me is the sheer craft and lasting impression of this terrific little genre film, the solidly cast characters, the draining atmosphere and quiet rage, and a story which isn’t too shackled by its trappings which could still harbor a surprise or two. That Jeff Bridges can be matched by the likes of Chris Pine and Ben Forster proves that everyone was working at the peak of their game, and quite frankly it was simply a solid, old-school comfort compared to the regular tsunami of comic-book & franchise product……
Victoria – (Sebastian Schipper, Germany, 2015) We’ve all been there right? Skull stoked, whizz shamed, burned and buried deep into the night that should never end, until it does with fatally unintended consequences. Well, I exaggerate of course, as I’ll always support an ambitious approach when the material matches the subject, so this one-shot, single camera picture must be celebrated for its technical audacity as much as its viscous vertie. Victoria is a picture that snatches the Euro-cinema relay baton from Noe ad Refn just as they move into the mature phases of their career, with the new young pups adopting some of their ambitions in disrupting tradition in the margins of the form. Those initial urban orange tungsten lights signal a descent into a European underworld, although it does take its time to establish character, place and tone. Is the entire one shot approach distracting? Yes, as a film nerd you are almost dared to spot the stitches, but the technique can generate a unique energy, with some beautiful moments of indiscriminate immediacy. This Sebastian fella is officially on the Menagerie watch-list, I look forward to see what he’s up to next….
Mr. Robot – (Sam Esmail, USA, 2016) For me, the spectacular highlight of audiovisual entertainment of 2016 was Mr. Robot. Yes, yes, before you bark your protests I know it’s not a fucking movie but I’m adopting the Sight & Sound excuse of celebrating audiovisual storytelling in whatever format, especially for such a prescient show given the various dimensions of 2016’s most calamitous events. It’s a show about anxiety, about technological isolation and rage, about how the world can be inverted from a keyboard, and how no-one, absolutely no-one knows how it will end and the ultimate consequences. Quite apart from the insurgent politics and reflections it also has fantastic performances, but primarily the craft of the show is stunning, the visual and sonic storytelling the equal and better of its cinematic big-brother overlord. It really is the equivalent of Nic Roeg’s schizophrenic cartography merged with Kubrick’s sterile, mortician autopsy of the subject, subsequently cremated with Fincher’s nihilism – high praise indeed but the framing, the direction and design work ooze in perfect harmony with the story and its intellectual instincts, just like cinema at the peak of its powers. There has been a quiet electronic war occurring for a decade (at least) between nation states which is only now coming to the worlds wider attention, where superpowers as well as rogue states have routinely been infiltrating clandestine territory, which for the first time in history doesn’t require the physical penetration of borders or the seizure of tangible, physical assets – and like this magnificent series central character no-one seems to know where the fuck this leads. It’s also a show with a distinct corporate agenda and haven’t all those Panama Papers / off shore tax haven revelations faded from public exposure, as the media engine juggernauts onto new outrages whilst vomiting manufactured propaganda – which has finally enabled the seizure of the highest political offices. This is the real deal, the only media entity that really gnaws at our modern world Venn diagram of institutional corruption, propaganda, and the collapse of the last few decades of world order, with an imminent generational insurgence which is primed and on its way. I’m calling it now but I fully believe that we will witness mass civic unrest in 2017 and beyond, I grew up during the Cold War and remember some of the fears that that period engendered, so to see the rabid right-wing demagogues cosy up with their ancient enemy is just….well, it leaves me speechless. Still, may you live in interesting times I guess, so Mr Robot is an entity that reminds me why we should be glad to be alive, because admidst the hellions there are some people out there on the same wavelength, monitoring the same algorithms, creating and commenting as the future spirals out of control……
U-Turn – (Oliver Stone, USA, 1997) Is this Oliver Stone’s most overlooked film? Some of us remember when he was a genuine, slightly exciting figure to follow, before the recent slide into mediocrity with the likes of The Savages, World Trade Centre and from what I’ve heard Snowden. Back in 1998 however he seemed to have an abundance of post Natural Born Killers, whip-pan film-stock shifting energy to get out of his system, retreated to what on the surface seems to be a stock neo-noir thriller which is elevated to a delirious and deliciously grim black comedy. The cast is the initial joy, from Sean Penn’s perfectly sleazy gambler in thrall to the Russian mob, Nick Nolte’s grizzly bloated patriarch and senorita seductress Jennifer Lopez , through to cameos from the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thorton (playing against type as a knuckle dragging redneck mechanic) Powers Boothe, Jon Voight and Claire Danes. It represents the best of neo-noir which was enjoying something of a renaissance in the late 1990’s, transported to a morally parched and barren Arizona where everyone has an angle and secret agenda, as they all struggle in their tangled and nihilistically fatal webs of seduction, greed and murder. The style gives it the energy required to propel the usual ‘femme-fatale, please murder my wife and I’ll split the insurance’ plot, from usual Stone DP Robert Richarson’s off kilter framing and haloed source lights, to the cartoonish cruelty of both the performances and coincidence critical narrative – some times a guy just can’t catch a break. Shot with a twitchy hurry in 42 days it’s one part peyote psychedelia to two parts sleazy sangria, quite the brutal brew.
Looker – (Michael Crichton, USA, 1981) With everyone hooked on HBO’s latest triumph Westworld I coincidentally ‘looked’ back to an earlier Michael Crichton effort, the little seen Looker. Puns aside the film acts as curious bridge from the social commentary of the 1970’s to the commerce driven self of the 1980’s, postured as simultaneous corporate conspiracy thriller and evolving media satire. Albert Finney stars as an inquisitive Beverley Hills plastic surgeon – yes, I know – who becomes enmeshed in a series of murders of the beautiful models who frequent his surgery, once they have been contracted to undertake the most minuscule corrections possible – 2mm sheered from the arc of a nose, a slight percentile adjustment of the earlobes. All roads lead to the ominous Digital Matrix corporation who are replacing humans with digital clones, with even murkier intentions to conjure and parade facsimile future presidential candidates – hmmm. It’s no classic, the plot is erratic with the authorities spectacularly interested in the mounting body count, and some of the dialogue is a little on the nose (joke intended), but as an artifact of that shift into the ‘me’ decade obsessed with commerce, self-worth, surface and the all-conquering propaganda grooming of product it is a prescient harbinger of the next few decades. The SFX are also kinda clunky, but the film holds the dubious prestige of being the first film to feature 3D CGI textured shading, and the Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses (L.O.O.K.E.R.) weapons are kind of amusing, it would be worth a remake but alas I doubt it’s to obscure
Threads – (Mick Jackson, UK, 1984) I swear, hand on heart that I had already re-watched and selected this terrifying blast of my childhood prior to November, given subsequent events I don’t think I could face watching it again. Even before the increasing tensions between the superpowers (and I’m referring to China in that contemporary mix) this most disturbing and distressing portrayal of the prologue to epilogue of a global thermonuclear war still transmits sheer, unalloyed terror through a certain generation who came of age during its 1984 BBC transmission. In those perilous days of the Cold War, when operation Able Archer had almost prompted the paranoid Politburo to push the button we all lived with that radioactive shroud lurking over our heads, and isn’t it just dandy to see it coalescing back into its nightmare form some three decades later? Threads remains just as harrowing in its sheer, matter of fact brutality and utter rejection of pulling punches, as the entire global civilization disintegrates into medieval barbarity, when the unseen umbilical links between society are obliterated during one, limited exchange. Seen initially through a specific focus on a almost quaint 1980’s Sheffield the narrative zooms out to report the near annihilation of the UK, following a genocidal nuclear winter and the solemn procession of years and decades that follow attack day +1. Shot through with that bleak, 1980’s Play For Today format which invokes early Ken Loach or Alan Clarke it is the absolute dictionary definition of bleak, with the BBC spokesman voice-over communicating the unsparing statistics on incinerations, food stock depletion, radioactive casualties (in the tens of millions) and civil destruction – total. For amusements sake that consideration, projected thirty years ago, is not remotely comparable to the weapons that currently exist. Compared to the much more saccharine American version The Day After which was transmitted in 1986 this is a brutalist classic, a useful primer on post holocaust survival, and an inducement to prayer of being vaporized in the initial MIRV exchange as a comparative mercy to the hell on earth that follows – Not Nice!!
Films To See In 2017
Ghost In The Shell – (Rupert Sanders, USA, 2017) Already, there has been something of a backlash against this, not only the whitewashing allegations of the main character, but also the claims that the trailer makes the project look like some Underworld, Equilibrium or Resident Evil quality B Movie. I’m not sure if we’re actually viewing the same material as I can see a much deeper visual dexterity in those designs and SFX, but maybe I’m being hoodwinked at the prospect of finally getting something resembling a decent cyberpunk film on the big screen – to date much of the programming has been atrocious. OK, the director doesn’t have much of a pedigree, I wasn’t crazy about his previous effort, but there was some skilled integration of effects work in there, and as that weird glut of fairy tale re-imaginings of the past few years goes it was probably the best example in that odd little sub-genre. I’m no huge fan of the original manga but am familiar with the source material, it was one of the zeitgeist peaks during the adoption of anime in the west back in the late 20th century, alongside the trailblazing Akira, which was followed by the likes of Ninja Scroll and the notorious Urotsukidōji – Legend Of The Overfiend. Is this just a poor excuse for some ScarJo male gaze titillation which she so effectively challenged in Under The Skin? Maybe. Will this have any more depth than some post Lucy, Matrix IV clone with some cool action sequences? Possibly not, but that might be enough for me if we simply get drenched in cyperpunk soaked metropolis, pal around with around some vat-clone manufactured corporate ninjas, and the casting of Kitano Takashi is cult movie-fan genius.
Blade Runner 2049 – (Denis Villeneuve, USA, 2017) On similar lines as the world is usurped by corporate tyranny can a classic be potentially reborn? If there are two cultural artifacts I am yearning to see before the planet is plunged into a pan-axis China / Iran / USA conflagration then it’s the chance to see both the Twin Peaks return which is all shot and been in studiously post-production for many months, and of course the long-awaited return to that dystopian neon-cloaked Los Angeles of the 21st century. My antipathy has thawed following Villenuve’s recent rise to success and the marshaling of such genuine powers as Deakins on camera, Jóhann Jóhannsson on music and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and welcomed the distant involvement of Scott given his latest debacles – I’m not holding my breath for the next Alien movie which I’ll see of course but that trailer wasn’t very promising. For me the original Blade Runner will always be an instrumental part of my life and nothing can ever besmirch that, not dissimilar to The Thing and its pathetic prequel, so even if this return is terrible – and I suspect it might be mediocre at the worst – we’ll have always have the Bradbury building, the Ennis-Brown House and the 2nd street tunnel….
Silence – (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2017) The early word is extremely positive, with numerous commentators citing it as Scorsese’s 27 years in the making obsession worthy of the long trek to the screen. With both Malick and Spielberg treading water with their last couple of pictures I just can’t wait to immerse myself in some of the last fading gasps of that generation of American auteurs, and what better way to start a new, ominous year with a near three hour intellectual feast? Alas, in some quarters the stupidity of our current culture has already tarnished the project as a perceived Oscar-grab, a patriarchal produced translation with it’s central triumvirate of three white men, with agitators complaining there are few women, people of color or orientation diversity in a tale about three 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests. Give me a fucking break, it’s that sort of ridiculous sneering which has assisted us in getting to where we are today, and maybe we should just wait and see the film when it is actually released before making any pronouncements on its alleged diversity credentials? Stories are located in particular times and places, and while I celebrate more diversity and more stories from other positions (I’m looking forward to Moonlight given the stellar reviews) these complaints are counterproductive, and only serve the enemy. In any case I am excited by this as an adjunct to the BFI Scorsese season, and it will be interesting to compare and contrast this as an alleged summation of many of the themes and obsessions which run throughout Marty’s work, as he inches toward eventual retirement. This opens on New Years Day so will be the first visit of 2017….
Dunkirk – (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2017) I’m such a fanboy, aren’t I? Nolan’s first historical picture should be an interesting counterpoint to his puzzle movies or reinvention of the iconic origin story, in fact if you crane your ears can already hear the growing cacophony of post Brexit thinkpieces and 1939 – 2017 similarity pieces rattling from the typewriters/laptops of journalist and commentators workstations before this pushes away in the early summer. A quick, perhaps unrelated aside – as a contractor in the Cabinet Office we get free access to the Churchill War Rooms, and I was struck while wandering through the exhibition how he deliberately brought the major political factions of the UK together in his War Cabinet to oppose the greater threat, including some of his most ardent, native, virulent opponents – a combined approach of unity in the face of potential annihilation. Hmm. I suppose the notion of a major defeat and rout being historically spun into a strange sort of victory holds a contempoary volume of dramatic water, and the previous emphasis on major battles such as Stalingrad and D-Day might make any major A list director wary of treading a similar path. I like the ticking, the sense of impending doom, and the stark visual sheen of this glimpse, a full trailer will follow shortly I’m sure…….
Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 – (James Gunn, USA, 2017) Jesus Christ in a sidecar we need some fun in 2017, eh? Some colourful, psychedelic amusement to look forward to? A sequel was inevitable after the surprise success of Marvel’s least established character properties, which for me is probably the best and most genuinely entertaining issue in the entire frenetic franchise. I loved the oddball companionship and camaraderie that the original Guardians managed to conjure among its group of prismatic oddities and exiles, and Chris Pratt in cheeky rogue mode can be a quite a charmer. The secret weapons is both James Gunn’s mischievous sense of humor and the Kirby/Dikto influenced intergalactic back-drops, injecting a bit of lysergic lunacy into that staid old space opera blue-print. I’ve not read any details on plot which I can only assume will delve into Starlord’s past and link into the whole Thanos sub-plot, I just hope, although I wouldn’t bet a single Kree credit on it, that they finally manage to introduce a nefarious and charismatic villain which seems to be a malevolently misguided miracle that still eludes the mighty Marvel Movie Multiverse……
There’s plenty of other potential nuggets if you beat your chest and roar loudly enough, Skull Island might be fun in a ironic big budget B-Movie way, and the next installment of the surprisingly effective Planet Of The Apes series ambles into multiplexes in June. John Wick 2 will hopefully correct some of the failures of the first with some explosive set-pieces, It really looks a banner year for SF as alongside BR2049, Guardians 2 and Ghost In The Shell various other projects are warping in, The God Particle could be interesting, where there is Life there is hope, Alien Covenant drops in May, after the supernova disappointment of Promethea I have re calibrated my excitement sensors accordingly, and having seen first hand the vehicle designs of Ready Player One littered around the Barbarian in August I can only assume Spielberg’s return to SF feels like a close approximation of a 2000AD strip. Auteur wise Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled is apparently a move back toward her dreamy debut, World War Z 2 which allegedly Fincher is directing, and both Stephen King adaptations The Dark Tower and It finally get their big screen iterations, well aligned for a world plunged into global uncertainty and terror. Comic book wise I’m not spectacularly excited by either Logan or Wonder Woman but I’ll probably go and see ’em, I’m really not interested in the Justice League nor the next Thor film, I am surprised to see the next Spiderman movie is set to hatch in the summer. Despite some relative media silence P.T. Anderson’s 1950’s fashion world set reunion with Daniel Day-Lewis might darken multiplexes in 2017, a new Haneke is promised, and my regrettable LFF omission Manchester by The Sea is absolutely essential from the more studious sector of film-making. Finally of course have another Star Wars movie, should we survive the first twelve months of the most stultifying incompetent and corrupt leadership the western world has seen in my lifetime, coupled with a sabre-rattling Machiavellian psychopath in the Kremlin.
So as always I like to close on some swift reflections on the wider world of cinema, and her current trends and developments. so lets talk about the digital versus analogue screening experience. Well, I have nothing against digital projection, that is the now not the future but the ubiquitous present, but yes I still harken for a film projection of certain screenings depending on the movie in question. Heck, while I vaguely looked into the two options for Interstellar it was never a particular concern, and it’s not as if I ever bother, new release wise, to check on the format that the picture I’m seeing was produced. Similarly I did enjoy The Hateful Eight just from a special event perspective, the specialist 70mm screenings did drape a whole special sheen over the experience considering only one or two cinemas in the country were capable of the technical feat, and I can’t imagine going to see film in any other situation while retaining my film nerd credentials. I do however have an issue with seeing certain films, of a certain pedigree, usually at the BFI or other retrospective hosting venue on a format which doesn’t map to the subjects…well, lets’ call it’s ‘aura’ for want of a better phrase. The purist in me can come to the fore, and I’ve lost count of how many screenings which have arisen only for me to dismiss them when I noted that they were going to be little more than Blu-Ray projections on a large screen, which is a slight con that some of the less reputable London cinemas can occasionally commit. When you see an older film at the cinema the lights dimming and the curtains parting feel like more of an event, when the cigarette burn spark into life, when the screen starts to distort around the reel changes and the dialogue and sound track get a little stuttered the entire experience just feels more tactile and genuine, which is ironic when you’d presume the purpose of a film is to keep you mentally grounded within its self-generated, illusory, fictional space.
However, it’s more complicated than that still, as part of the imminent Scorsese season Taxi Driver alongside Goodfellas have both been blessed with new 4K digital transfers. I am spectacularly excited to finally see them both appropriately projected but I can’t help but feel that some authenticity is lost from a physical, chromatic print, despite the technical increases in image density and stability, colour timing and quality that a new transfer can deliver. But it doesn’t feel as ‘real’, you want to see a seedy, slightly distressed print of Taxi Driver, the equivalent of which would be screened in the seedy Times Square grindhouses of 1970’s New York in which the film was made, right? I refused to see Night Of The Living Dead on digital as it just seems…wrong, having its ugly and taboo breaking serrated edges sheered off with some bright, perfectly balanced grain dulling texture. So, my choices are formed of an arbitrary decision I make depending on the films inherent qualities, in any case it can be a revelation to see a film projected in whatever format, in the correct aspect ratio intended by its technicians and designers, which is where even a frequently viewed text can spark in new magnificent life, and that is the continual wonder of the big screen. Is there a point to all his confused cerebral rambling? Probably not, and with new 4K system at home we do seem to be moving onto a new gradation of quality domestically speaking, but that will never beat the experience of an intimate cinema screening, with a theater full of appropriately expectant strangers which will always be the Menagerie favored optimum format in which to experience the continual magic of the movies – while it lasts;
That’s quite the inelegant title, isn’t it? To start by solving that first mystery Lo & Behold Reveries Of The Connected World opens with Werner Herzog’s distinct Teutonic purr, as he takes us to a sacred site – California, October 29th, 1969. At 22:30hrs the first message was sent over the ARPANET from computer science Professor Leonard Kleinrock’s laboratory at the University of California in Los Angeles to the second network node at Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, San Francisco. This seismic event was the first interaction of two computers speaking to each other across a interlinked communication network, with the first two transmitted and received digits in that initial correspondence being the symbols L and O, before the system crashed. Thus, the herald of this was the almost biblical sounding LO, harkening to a flash of inspirational transcendence, or perhaps the eruption and permeation of the very bowels of Hell. It’s these two instincts that steer Herzog’s latest documentary, exploring the benefits and bellicosity of our modern umbilically surveiled world, and the various omens, both positive and negative, that augur the future. The commission follows Herzog’s incredible global success with a series of public information films regarding the dangers of driving and texting from a few years ago, a powerful piece that have been widely implemented as mandatory viewing part as part of getting your driving licence in North America, thus rendering the largest audience that Herzog has garnered in his half century career. After this success Herzog was approached by the web development company WebScout with a modest cheque and a brief to make something about the modern technological world, and in a mirror to that intergalactically broad he has delivered a inconsistent and stuttering work, with occasional flashes of deep insight among it’s ADS afflicted ambulations.
On paper, this should be one of the greatest documentaries of all time for the Menagerie, concerning itself as it does with a panoply of techno-cultural issues and threads which I am and will always be deeply fascinated – internet culture, digital evolution, robotic industrialization, artificial intelligence, and the Venn diagrams as to how these new horizons of the human experience overlap with more traditional forms of discourse and control – politics, economics, sociology, medicine, communication, commerce, the entertainment and media spheres. Unfortunately the lasting impression of Lo & Behold is a diverse but diffused selection of stuttering gifs which never manage to unearth more than the most ethereal sketches on a specific subject, and that I think is the films main obstacle to harboring any lasting value. Despite interviewing such evolutionary luminaries as Bob Kahn, Elon Musk, Sebastian Thrun,and Ted Nelson Herzog is not interested in welding any connective tissue, of crafting any overarching narrative, a prospect which is further partitioned by the decision to compartmentalize the pieces into a dozen or so chapters which have little capacity to interact with reach other – this kind of defeats the central premise of the piece, evident in the title. Individually, as you’d expect, some of the sections are stronger than others, usually depending on the oratory and strategic vision of the interview subject, and we do at least have another addition to the Herzogian quote pantheon when he offers his services as a passenger on Elon Musk’s inaugural and almost certain suicidal mission to Mars. Also, I just found this which is quite amusing.
By sheer virtue of the subject matter some diamonds are excavated from the deep mines of mediocrity, if you think you’ve plumped the depths of human depravity with the voluminous racism, misogyny and cowardly bile that the likes of Twitter and loosely moderated comment boards has enabled then be prepared to get even more disgusted, as in one section a family tells of how their daughter was killed in a car accident, and one of the EMT technicians somehow thought it appropriate and amusing to snap a few pictures of her near decapitated corpse. For some reason this idiot subsequently sent the images on to some colleagues for a laugh, which eventually – yes you guessed it – some thoroughly decent specimen of humanity decided to send on to her grieving family with all the vomit inducing commentary you can imagine from any terrifying scrawl through a youtube comments section. ‘I think the Internet has released the devil into this world’ the mother solemnly intones, and even an avowed atheist such as yours truly found myself nodding in mild agreement. At another point the film does touch upon our embedded interactivity and reliance on self mediated machinery which effectively leaves critical systems such as utility infrastructure and power, food production and at a catastrophic risk of failure, that old adage of civilization being only three square meals away from anarchy easily tested by the inevitable EMP emitting solar flare which our planet is currently due. The ubiquitous image of the 2010’s, of everyone in public with their face buried in a screen also finds a exemplary visual commentary, with some images of Buddhist monks clad in their apricot finery silently tapping and in what may or may not be some zen like tranquility. Following the screening, and in tune with the films technological treatise we were privileged with a nationwide broadcast Q&A with Herzog, hosted by Richard Adoyade. This was a skilled affair, the latter serving some well considered and illuminating questions, which Werner fielded with his customary ease. I ducked out halfway through but you can revisit a similar session – for some reason this particular event doesn’t seem to be on-line – here.
This would really have worked much better as a series of commissions, perhaps with each element of the patchwork of our still glistening millennium given appropriate consideration, to build a full tapestry of what these changes and prospects mean for current and future civilizations in our increasingly connected, yet seemingly more chaotic world. If memory serves there is no mention of virtual reality which just this year is finally breaching the domestic entertainment market, nor any space provided for the wider growth of augmented reality systems and pastimes, nothing on Surveillance technologies nor of recent advances in bio-medical interactions, and not a single tendril linking out to the carbon choked elephant in the room – catastrophic climate change. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to judge the piece by something it is not, but the overall impression is of a dainty stones skip across a vast and voluminous ocean of cultural and evolutionary implications which penetrate every layer of human existence, worth 100 minutes of your time, just don’t expect any nourishing intellectual insight. Just a quick aside, I was chatting with some fellow civil servants recently, some smart, ambitious, worldly wise young whippersnappers, and for some reason I raised the subject of Gamergate as an illustrative example for something or other – I can’t recall the details. My referral raised nothing but blank looks from these keen social media, gaming and entertainment consumers, which just goes to show sometimes how far these digital typhoons can seem blown out of all proportion, at least in respect of their influence and reach into our doughy meat-space. Amway, so that’s that for LFF 2016, a very modest spectrum this year but that’s what happens when you are having to be professionally assimilated into the Whitehall bubble and its associated cultural rhythms, and maintain something resembling a social calendar with friends celebrations – look, I’ve been busy, OK?. Whilst I can’t say I didn’t wish I saw more I did manage to assault two of the best films of the year, and a handful of reasonable, three-star placeholders – Raw was also pretty good but nowhere near as gruesome as anticipated, and whilst I enjoyed it I was soured by a clumsy ending which didn’t do the rest of the piece justice. Fortunately for us Herzog is a profligate drone, and we only have to wait a week or so until his next, thunderous thrilling epic, even if its only getting a release on the small screen. Before then however I have a special treat, through the South Bank hosted Menagerie time machine we shall be travelling back to the dystonian criminal wasteland of New York circa 1997, to finally extricate one of my all time favorite genre movies from its big-screen banishment – extravagant excitement is an understatement;
Hell, even ole Werner is getting his act together with the whole streaming distrubution model, with his new documentary hitting Netflix at the end of the month;
I hope to get a review of his other latest documentary Lo & Behold etc. up by the end of the week. It was, alas, pretty average and lacked direction, but as always I can’t say it was unwatchable.This on the other hand looks far more Herzogian doesn’t it? And perhaps a spiritual successor to his haunting 1977 piece La Soufrière….