And there was me thinking I’d be taking it easy this year, as a mere demobbed civilian liberated from the trenches of the press corp. Well, despite resisting the frequent requests to sign-off for this years festival as a journalistic freeloader my greed has got the better of me, as I’ve still gone a little crazy and outlined a mere dozen or so films and events to celebrate this years London Film Festival. I embarked on something of a pincer maneuver, sending in a BFI members ticket ballot to get a jump start on the box office while also risking the on-line, experience, where the books are opened 24 hrs before the doors are thrown open to the general public. Notoriously the system usually breaks down or stalls due to the strength of demand, but I have to say I experienced no problems at all, and managed to smash and grab the five tickets I’d left off my ballot so as to not replicate the paper application. I can’t say this was in any way a financially astute decision, as I’ve shelled out something in the region of four times what a press pass would have cost me, but this way I get to attend the films with living, breathing audience members, and naturally I have engineered this around the day job and my perfect location in the beating heart of Westminster – I’m roughly ten minutes walk to the West End and Southbank screening venues. So here is what’s on offer gentle reader, I’m spectacularly excited about one special event that I’ll save for the end, and will open up the schedule with what is quietly being heralded as the greatest film of the year, and in some cases fervently whispered as a masterpiece;
Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, USA, 2016) I know, I know, that trailer is pretty terrible but I believe my esteemed fellow cinephiles when they state that it in no way represents the final film, which like Lonergan’s last film Margaret has been slightly butchered by the usual interfering studio executives. I’ve gone full red carpet gala on this one, so I guess I’d best get my tuxedo mothballed eh?
A Journey Through French Cinema (Bernard Tavernier, 2016) – You cant beat a good movie documentary at a film festival, and although there are no less than two David Lynch documentaries screening this year I’ve opted for a rather more languorous three hour stroll through our Gallic cousins contribution to the seventh art, with of the esteemed Bernard Tavernier as our illuminating guide. Featuring more Jeans – Cocteau! Renoir! Vigo! Gabin! Jacques-Bieneix!! – than a third world Levi’s sewing factory….
The Handmaiden (Park Chan-Wook, 2016) – I’ve not been privy to how this has been received on the festival circuit so far, and although I wasn’t a fan of his English language effort Stoker this is after all an auteur with an impressive career, and that trailer looked deranged enough to give him a chance. I’m just wondering with that with its 144 minute run-time he hasn’t fallen into similar traps than his other films, where he really seems to drag out his stories by at least twenty minutes too long….
Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016) – I’ve already mentioned this a couple of times so there isn’t much more to say, other than a little genuine bite and controversial baiting will be a welcome addition to this years dreary crop of cinematic product. Neon Demon aside this year has been far to god-damn safe, and I’m ripe for my liberal sensibilities to be mocked and offended. More on Mr. Verhoeven a little later….
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016) – A blind buy purely on the strength of he director alone, she’s one of my favorite directors currently at work so the fact that she has a new film was a joyful surprise.
Lo And Behold… (Werner Herzog, 2016) – Speaking of favorites, Werner’s new documentary hasn’t exactly been setting the community alight, its a strong and interesting piece of work I’m told but not equal to some of his soaring masterpieces, but I’ll take average Herzog over anyone else just about any day of the week. The subject matter of our modern, interconnected technology globalized world fascinates me anyway, so I’m sure I’ll get something out of this, I just hope he doesn’t follow the usual route of cultural figures of his advancing years generation and sneer and dismiss current cultural and technological dimensions as being beneath his almighty heyday….
Dog Eat Dog – (Paul Schrader, 2016) – Nick Cage, Willem Dafoe, Paul Schrader and an Eddie Bunker source novel? What could possibly go wrong? I’m really looking forward to this, allegedly Schrader’s best effort in over a decade, a stone cold caper movie with some very dark black humor to alleviate the ride.
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) – A small risk this one, but with a strong cast and and the bittersweet perfume of neo-noir permeating the scant promotional material I thought I’d buy this dame a drink. No trailer as yet, so above is some Venice visuals….
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016) More night-time activities with French provocateur Bonello, the infamous director of The Pornographer – I think the title might give you an idea of the subject matter – and House Of Tolerance which is set inside a seedy Parisian bordello. I’m not entirely sure what this film is about other than some sort of disenfranchised gallic Fight Club, but I’m curious to find out. Now, speaking of provocateurs….
However, we save the best for last. Yes of course I have applied for tickets to see the almighty Herzog in Q&A mode, but having already worshiped at his presence a couple of years ago the chance to see the venerable Paul Verhoeven in the flesh will probably be the Menagerie event of the year, unless the BFI convince Carpenter to make an appearance. The tyrant behind Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers is a genre molesting living legend, not to mention the notorious likes of Showgirls and Basic Instinct, one of the key Hollywood provocateurs of the last few decades whose lacerating satire has been sorely missed. This might be a good excuse to go on something of a retrospective of his early Dutch films, and maybe the infamous 1980 Flesh & Blood…..
As the shards of summer slowly slip toward the shadowing eaves of Autumn I had hoped to turn my attention to more intellectually stimulating fare, as I don’t know about you but I’ve drank my fill of franchises, superheros, remakes and reboots for many seasons to come. Slightly overshadowed by the sad demise of its Metronome distributor The Childhood Of A Leader arrived in London on the ebbing crest of a Cannes conflagration, enjoying positive plaudits from across the critical spectrum. I confess to missing the hubbub around the film back in July, but I have picked up on the recent spate of articles citing it as one of the best films of the year, compounded by Cannes jury member Jonathan Demme pull quotes that sealed the deal for a cinema visit. Citing debut director Brady Corbet as ‘reminiscent of a young Orson Welles’ is not the sort of praise that one should be throwing around with any sort of indiscriminate abandon, as that sort of message is Pavlovian dog whistle enticement to a cinephile crowd that has been long starved of any celluloid nourishment. Now safely ensconced in the heart of Westminster I have a rich choice of the capital’s cinemas at my beck and call, so this week I took a leisurely stroll across St. James Park to the stately Curzon in Mayfair for my first and long overdue movie visit for a couple of weeks. I entreated just one, individual viewing of the films trailer to whet my appetite, and truth be told I don’t think that preview alone without the surrounding praise would have convinced me of the films relative merits. Recent box-office successes like Suicide Squad and Batman Versus Superman have been cited as evidence that the public don’t pay attention to ‘serious’ critics, the sort of elitist, broadsheet cultural capo’s whose commentaries bemoan the lack of originality or non-formula reheats of past successes and genre gentrification. Well, as far as I’m concerned that challenge cuts both ways as I found this film to be an intriguing subject rendered redundant by some grating storytelling choices, ineffectual writing and hideous mangling of psychology, not a terrible film but also one in no way worthy of the praise it has been awarded.
The title cards bisecting the film first shelled my suspicions, heralding a rather peacock strutting import to just how precious the film is going to be, encapsulating each severe tantrum that our little terror unleashes while diluting any organic flow or dramatic tension. After a portentous montage of ominous newsreel footage of marching brigades, Luftwaffe blitzkriegs and shattering trench warfare the film alights in France, 1918, where US President Woodrow Wilson is in Paris to sign the Treaty of Versailles, an intended bandage to heal the seeping wounds of the catastrophic destruction of the First World War. Diplomatically decanted to this foreign country is a haughty American played by Game Of Thrones alumni Liam Cunningham, with his unnamed European wife (The Artist’s Berenice Bejo) and their 7-year-old son, Prescott, played by the ironically named newcomer Tom Sweet. Soon the little treasure is seen indiscriminately throwing stones at exiting parishioner of the local church, the reasoning of his behavior and motives unclear. Perhaps the move to a lonely country chateau has upset the sensitive child, with only a few servants to keep him company while his parents attend to their adult affairs, only the amiable and vaguely maternal housekeeper Mona (Yolande Moreau) and his new teacher Ava (Stacey Martin) in Prescott’s orbit and able to provide the wayward child with a sense of moral guidance. These questions, however, are moot as its quite clear from the start that he’s a petulant, narcissist wrong ‘un, the genesis of which is obliquely suggested by his parents aloof demeanor and hinted emotional and physicial infidelities. Here, in its oblique psychological posturing is where the film fails to provide any logical or dramatic infrastructure on which to build its intended horrifying character study, rendering The Childhood Of A Leader as more a puzzling, ponderous work, rather than an incendiary portrayal of the genesis of 20th century tyranny.
As a structure bisected the film into a sequence of ‘tantrums’ is as simplistic and causal as befits the films ideology, a cod -application of some sort of pseudo Freudian neurosis emanating from Prescott being mistaken for a girl due to his unconventional hairstyle, sprinkled with a dash of Oedipal adolescent yearnings and some authoritarian parenting. Well, I say authoritarian but I’d judge the child’s treatment as spectacularly tame compared to the norm of the period – the only act of violence occurs as more of an accident than any intentional anger – so judging by this thesis its a wonder that the entire Middle Class of Europe wasn’t populated by hordes of psychopathic tyrants, after they were either called a sissy or suspected that one of their parents wasn’t entirely enslaved to the matrimonial bed. The period detail and decor are handsomely mounted, and Prescott aside all the adult performances acquaint themselves with the necessary historical gravitas, but the second major stumbling block is Sweet’s performance which seems to be praised across the board, so once again I find myself at inscrutable odds with my brethren. I found his take frankly verging on the comedic, I even thought I could see him glancing off screen at certain points, seemingly yearning for some real-time in-scene direction, and of course it is with the director rather a child performer is where the blame must lie. Corbet has not only permitted a substandard performance to oppress his film he also riddles scenes with some rather perfunctory dialogue which can’t quite decide if its searching for the naturalistic or the stylized poise of Brecht or a Mamet, before petulantly stomping into its final section where some drama is yielded from Prescott’s war of attrition with his unrepentant mother, while also hinting at some deeper family secrets and clandestine couplings which lurk beneath the surface in an unexcavated and therefore largely redundant fashion.
At the risk of sounding like some pretentious jerk I blanched at the director citing his influences from the pantheon of Bresson, Dreyer and of course Kubrick, noble intentions all which the films confused narrative edifice and visual massing doesn’t even remotely equal. I’ve also seen an interview with the director where he carelessly dismisses modern entertainment such as (especially) Fincher’s Gone Girl as a mere ‘mass market entertainment’, its all rather sneering and elitist and making him quite stupid as he completely overlooks the gender politics, the social critique of marriage, the class and social expectations in the 21st century which that film instinctively harbors, coating the with a thriller narrative and some gfirst class technical and production values. Less manufactured, less product formulated material is welcome of course, even as a mere palette cleanser especially after such a wretched summer, but simply positioning yourself against a system is not the same as generating a genuinely successful film on the art-house margins of the industry, as in the final analysis this film is rather trite and simplistic, which actively plunges into the realms of the embarrassing in its final coda. I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers but this is where some of the debut director delirium drenches the film in pretentious platitudes, including deliberately nausea inducing camerawork, a so-called twist which is as apathetic as it fails to retract back to earlier development, and Scott Walker’s highly intrusive score actively becomes enraged and starts yelling ‘THIS SCENE IS SO IMPORTANT’ into the audiences ears, with all the subtly and nuance of serial killer chainsaw attack. Maybe I’m being a little unfair but this was such a disappointment after the critical celebration, and as I was actively seeking something a little more stimulating than yet another multi million dollar CGI catastrophe, but like its central subject A Portrait Of A Leader is an exemplar of all things mere sound and fury, signifying nothing;
Just checking in to say I’m immensely excited at some localised movie news this week, coinciding with the arrival of this months Sight & Sound and the programme for this years LFF which just peeked through the virtual letterbox. Firstly, we have a expansive article on JC which looks like a lot of fun, and more power to his raising stature in the critical firmament. From the postscript of this piece I have learned that the BFI are devoting a full two month retrospective to his work in the Autumn, no doubt timed to coincide with the live soundtrack gigs, although the prospect of a Southbank Q&A remains elusively unconfirmed – I’m sure they are working on it. In other news the LFF schedule is fairly interesting considering my self-enforced civilian status this year, I’m aiming at about ten films I want to see that I have churned into the ballot, I guess we’ll see how that goes. There is one specific event for which I am praying for tickets however – I’m not going to elaborate for fear of a jinx other than to say this. I’ll try to craft something a little more substantive on the whole LFF schedule after the weekend, but until then, this;
Like most, I was frustrated with A.I. when it first assimilated into multiplexes during those ominous, dust choked final months of 2001. For reasons I can’t quite recall I was in a terrible mood when I went to see it at my then local multiplex on Harrow high street, despite eagerly following it’s long and unusual marketing campaign which featured such innovative elements as alt-reality interfaces and a revolutionary cluster of on-line, world building IP instruments. Kubrick’s death was still woundingly recent, making Spielberg’s inheritance of the project something of a bittersweet boon, the chance to see shards of what could have been filtered through the lens of a close colleague whose artistic instincts seem to divert at an almost molecular level. Kubrick was the cold remote nihilist, performing his autopsy on our species foibles with a detached and uncaring gaze. Spielberg was the warm humanist, celebrating the fragments of wonder and solidarity that can emerge in even the darkest corners of human experience. The melding of these two streams forged an odd elixir of form and frame, with the cloying, sentimental finale particularly derided as Spielberg suffocating Kubrick’s artistic affectations. In the intervening years however what was regarded as a mysterious misfire has coalesced into one of Spielberg’s oddest additions to his canon, some even cite it as his most misunderstood and maligned masterpiece, perverting some of the common themes that dominate his work – the bittersweet structures of family, the dark margins of wonder and adventure, our spatial relations to how the future is influenced by the past. I am in concert with these reassessments, I think through his historical films of the late 1980’s and 1990’s he matured from the blockbuster manipulation to a more serious and somber storyteller, heck I’d even posit that you could see A.I. as the central in a trilogy encompassing Minority Report and War of The Worlds, but that is a thesis for another time. It is a film which operates on a number of levels, oscillating the instincts of two great American legends, with more depth and digitized disquiet swirling helplessly like that scattered corporate paperwork tumbling over that bright, September Manhattan skyline.
For a fifteen year old film it could have made last year, it has dated exceptionally well in terms of design and SFX, which perhaps speaks for the quality of the work that Denis Muren and the ILM illusionist commissioned back at the turn of the millennium. Structurally it concertina’s out in incrementally wider sectors before deflating to a bittersweet climax, moving from the opening contextual vision of a climate change depleted future world where man has advanced artificial mechanics to a remarkable, near human sophistication via the genius of pioneering Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt). The scene forebodingly set the narrative moves on to our initial meeting with David (Haley Joel Osment), a new model of artificial child or ‘mecha’ that has been commissioned by two bereaved parents, Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica (Frances O’Conner) after their biological son was committed to a cryogenic chamber due to a fatally incurable condition. After activation and bonding to his mother an increasingly haunting deconstruction of nurturing bonds is explored by Spielberg, as David behaves with an uncanny cherubic innocence, masking his pre-programmed precision perfected interior. A miracle sours to disaster for David when his surrogate is cured and returns to the family home, rendering him obsolete as his behaviors fails to gel with the meatbag family unit. In one of Spielberg’s cruelest ever scenes David is abandoned with his only ally, a diminutive cybernetic talking Teddy-Bear with whom he embarks on a fairy tale odyssey through the nocturnal netherworld of his binary brethren, whether as discarded slaves, sexual surrogates (in the form of Gigolo Joe, Jude Law’s male mecha escort) or cannon fodder entertainment in the ferociously cruel flesh-fair. Finally, in a truly Kubrickian disregard for narrative comfort the plot accelerates thousands of years ahead into an ice age future, where an advanced descendant of the primitive automatons resurrect David as a historical curiosity, and grant him his final fairy tale wish to be reunited with Monica in an eternal and infinite mirror of the human cage apex of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, that’s one way to read it but we’ll come back to that……..
Reaching for the cinematic shorthand stylus Spielberg litters the frame with symbolic reflections and distortions, indicating the murky masquerade of an artificial boy with a false algorithmic empathy, while John Williams mournful score lacquers another coating of questionable reality, a futurist fairy tale made flesh. It used to be that I wasn’t enamored with the plot of A.I. but if you approach it as a mood piece, as a feeling rather than a story the film is quite the disquieting experience, with a devilish final feint which inverts Spielberg’s entire career as a sentimental, treacle coated humanist. The world building is organic and measured, from earlier iterations of so-called ‘super-toys’ in the form of Teddy leading to advanced models such as David, like some ancient ipod (the first of which was released four months after the films release) prefiguring the powerful latest generation of iphone, a single device with more computing power than the entire NASA space programme of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Like Minority Report some of the tech has already been superseded, touch screen and voice activated mechanics are presented as vaguely revolutionary in the film, yet now commonplace and accelerating with the cool precision of Moore’s law. At its nucleus the film harbors a cold artificiality which collides with a vision of humanity which is consistently unsympathetic, detailing our greed, cruelty, hubris and selfishness across almost every speaking part in the film. Despite some of the obvious Kubrick homage reverse zooms and long dollys Spielberg’s style is also in the antecedent, those long establishing movements and temporal editing ellipses that he’s so affectionate for, in a film which is curiously diluted and drained of emotion. After the exposition set up the suburban sequence is a self-contained silo, just slightly tilted off kilter as unreal and manufactured, an almost grotesque parody of an ideal WASP nuclear family sharing idyllic summer days and bountiful mealtimes, tainted with an ignored and denied falsehood. It’s difficult to discern how much of this was Steven or Stanley and his decades of shaping the script, but it does feel like the like the best of Kubrick observing the techniques of these holy symbols – family, marriage, nature versus nurture – with his usual contemptuous silence.
After the claustrophobic interiors of the home the narrative and space opens up as David embarks on his journey, his interactions and observations detailing a proto-catastrophic future world with humans writhing in their final extinction spasms, abandoned to an uncertain fate with all the remorse of unwanted Xmas puppy. Through this section some of those recent questions that SF cinema has probed in media such as Moon, A Clockwork Orange, entire swathes of Star Trek:The Next Generation, more recently Ex Machina, and of course Blade Runner percolate to the surface, what does it mean to be human, how do you judge what is human and where is that imaginary line to be drawn? Is it empathy and sympathy, two qualities that the mecha emit but the humans do not – that cradles the soul? Osment encapsulates this in a studiously manufactured performance, a boy playing a boy playing a boy, another unearthly juvenile performance to rival Spielberg’s discreet direction in those 1980’s family favorites. With his usual DP Janusz Kaminski the shadows coil and the palette descends through layers of oozing obsidian as David’s search for the mythical wish-granting Blue Fairy gains traction, through the lurid neon of Rogue City or the carnival cruelty of the Flesh Fair the film adopts an episodic structure so beloved of Kubrick and his ‘non-submersible units’, a programmed Pinocchio searching for a hollow dream which is fearsome in its futility.
So the story shifts fully to the mechas, their childlike yearnings and inquisitive lack of self safety again signalling the fairy tale tenacity of the tale, with specific visual and character references moving from Pinocchio to The Wizard of Oz. One observation I excavated for this section is a stretch but amusing, during the capture of the mechas the activities are spearheaded by a fellow in a leather jacket and fedora riding around in a hot-air balloon moulded to look like a full moon – or is it a Indiana Jones proxy astride the Amblin logo which in turn was yielded from one of his most favorite icons – the full moon flying shot from E.T.? What is the purpose of this directorial self-insertion from Spielberg? Well, played by a perennial gruff Brendan Gleeson this future pundit then goes on to rather pointedly explain that you shouldn’t trust any of the ’emotions’ of the robots, because the entire thing is an illusion, they aren’t real, they’re shallow simulacra designed to manipulate our own feelings. One may be able to level this charge at the forced emotional manipulation of the entire blockbuster model, programming its audience in how to feel through sound, spectacle and SFX rather than allowing any organic reactions to such old-fashioned techniques such as characters, situations, drama and plot. Speaking of ugly manipulation the flesh fair itself is reminiscent of a Roman collesium and a Trump rally, although the ugly, jeering crowds turn to pillory the ringleader does seem a little trite, once they appreciate that David may be an android but his appearance as an anthropomorphised child activates some dormant mothering instinct in them all.
The A.I. of the title is portrayed throughout this section of the film in its primitive infancy, as homo-sapien was to Homo habilis before we divined tools and fire, as Davids encounter with his maker Dr. Hobby prologues the narrative leap forward in one of the more audacious jump cuts, since, well you know what. In this dystopian twilight the automatons have been used by humans as slave labor, as simple to discard tools with the same attachment than you would have for your toaster or lawn mower, or rather more predictably used as sexual instruments in the form of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) who betrays a glimmerings of self-awareness and curiosity beyond his seductive programming, an inquisitive adolescent to David’s single driven juvenile. Like the great sexual chronicler William Burrows said, the first thing human beings do with technology is to weaponize it in a sexual fashion, from the car and its attendant advertising industry to the heavy breathers on the phone, to the cinema immediately generating nudie and stag films all the way through to the chaste and discrete, vast pornographic canyons of the internet.
In that light the two mechas oscillate between David and his Grimm fairy tale guidance and a simple fu*k machine, a species trapped between adolescence and maturity in a short evolutionary glitch. Perhaps by this stage there are too many half expressed and seered situations which visually slam metaphors into the narrative, there is a myriad of ideas percolating through the subsequent 9/11 imagery and climate change chin-stroking, which blends directly into Minority Report’s political pre-cog (we must pre-empt and neutralise threats before we are attacked), and The War of the Worlds dust choked, obliterated landscapes under the thrall of an implacable terror, forcing our every-men to contemplate the worst acts to defend their families. Trapped in the shadow of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel – a location noted for its frivolous childhood escapism – David almost pathetically prays to a silent and implacable idol to realise his dreams, before the most ambitious time shift in Stephen’s entire cinematic canon.
When I first saw A.I. the sheer gusto of this narrative shift caught me like a crystalline chainsaw to the cerebral cortex, the leap to David and Joe’s brethren some thousands of years hence obliterated all expectations, even as this final sequence is allegedly then poisoned by that final, saccharine seizure inducing finale of resurrection and renewal. How many films even remotely attempt to leap forward in their time frame across such vast distances and truly speculate on our and our offsprings species capacity for evolution and transcendence, heck even today films of any genre rarely trade in those intellectual infrastructures, as the shift in SF cinema has warped from intellectual curiosity or social metaphor to simple, action framed pyrotechnics. The misunderstood finale still gets written off as typical Spielberg whimsy, but I’d charge that there is something far more disturbing squirming under the surface. The entire film has been formed around a cascading narrative of sequences moving from David’s activation to decommission, seeing our species final dwindling fall through the animatronics sensors of an artificial boy. Through this vessel we witness the last ember of human life, simulated and simulacra, a not ironic Moebius strip to the film’s artificial opening and the establishment of the family unit, the supposed cradle of nurturing and evolving civilisation. Through its fairy tale logic the film engineers our quiet withdrawal from existence into the dim halls of infinity, the lock of hair a final totem of the organic and ‘real’ framed in the grasp of a artificial creature and his childlike companion. The playing of the scene makes me uncomfortable, Kinglsey’s narration in both dialogue and intonation is ugly to me, a single day of pre-augmented reality that chimes with some of the contemporary warnings of the like of Elon Musk. As has been confirmed the finale was Kubrick’s, it was always there in the pre-production storyboards, not in fact a terrible contamination of Spielberg’s instincts scattering against the bulwark of Kubrick’s nihilism. It’s nothing less than one final bitter shroud to shawl our entire civilisation, built on a artificial engineered lie, all or struggles and suffering rendered as a infinite sick joke – how Kubrickian is that?
Nevertheless, Stanley always held the view that technology would be the next phase of sentience if you’ve done your research around his discussions with his development screenwriters Brian Aldis whose novella Supertoy’s Last All Summer Long served as a main inspiration, before exhausted and leeched of ideas Kubrick fired his husk and moved onto the Ian Watson phase of development. This is a flawed film, a deeply flawed piece one could argue, but it at least reaches for something further than most films attempt and like the truly memorable pictures holds resonance and echoes today. It’s sentimental carapace shields a quite horrific core, a fantasy, an unreality which like all the immortal fairy tale story nags and nuzzles at deeply suppressed truths and terrors. It’s appearance on the recently published 100 greatest films of the century didn’t particularly surprise me, as even like Kubrick’s most maligned films they have matured and grown into the culture in which they were expressed, a feature, not a bug it seems of the associated projects when he wasn’t frenziedly harnessing the electrons in the CPU. What is human? Where does sentience begin and moral agency end? What is to become of these initial promethean tamperings with sentience beyond our carbon based stardust? Whatever the questions no-one has the answers, as this rather bizarre hybrid of two of the most influential post-war American filmmakers attests, in one of Spielberg’s strangest and richest films;
Ah, sad news, and some of the circumstances of his passing make it clear while he withdrew from public appearances some years ago. He was the second ‘celebrity’ I ever saw in interview at the BFI way back at the birth of the last decade, and I remember him as being warm, gregarious but slightly distant interviewee, I think it was Jonathan Ross who was the master of ceremonies. In terms of tribute no doubt the usual suspects will be quite rightly scorching through social media – Wonka, Blazing Saddles, his collaborations with Richard Pryor – but I’ll always remember hm for this, one of the great all time cinephile comedies;
I’ve been reading numerous reports that Spielberg tried to coax him out of retirement to star in Ready Player One, which makes me wonder what kind of part he thought might be appropriate for Wilder. Mark Rylance for the part;
Finally caught this over the weekend on the net of flicks, a very strong documentsry on the worlds foremost sleight of hand prestidigitator. Some of his life and background is fascinating, particularly the importance of mentoring in the worlds of magic, but what this really does if give me an excuse to quote this brilliant anecdote from wikipedia;
‘Some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, [Jay] was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card. “Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card. He turned over the three of clubs. Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.” After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.” Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.” Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?” “Two of spades.” Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card. The deuce of spades. A small riot ensued’;
Hot and bothered in the sweltering pre-Apocalypse UK August heatwave? Well then gentle reader please allow me then to chill you to the very marrow of your eldritch bones, with what we now know as the amusingly cloaked Blair Witch sequel – be afraid, be very afraid;
Well, I didn’t think that looked that scary, a bit claustrophobic at best, and I’m surprised they’re not programming this for a Halloween release – I guess we’ll see. I’m assuming it has a preview at this weekends Frightfest, and if it convinces that crowd of psychopaths then I’m in for a bewitching cinema visit….
Another week, another list expertly designed as clickbait discussion fodder, guaranteed to generate the usual furious gentlemanly debate concerning inclusions and omissions. To be fair the BBC do seem to have approached some well established and coherent critics, and the results while mostly unsurprising do reflect some of the best work of the past decade and change. I can’t fault the top place and for reasons I’ll get into shortly I’m not going to be specific on how this gels with my views, but my first impression was it’s a bit safe isn’t it? All a bit like a Cannes and Sight & Sound playlist sanctioned by the serious arbiters of cinema’s contours, with nothing particularly controversial in there, like, say, a Trash Humpers, A Serbian Film, The Hottie & The Nottie or any glimpse of the Noe and Refn’s of this world, although Spring Breakers made the cut which is about as controversial as you’re likely to get. Plus I suppose Von Trier is represented twice with Melancholia and Dogville.
Again, pushing my favourites aside we must beg to differ on the likes of Holy Motors, The Lives Of Others and the utterly detestable Moulin Rogue! and its arrogant, presupposing exclamation mark, quite honestly Baz Luhrmann is just about in the same league as Michael Bay or when it comes to my particular idiom for aesthetics. I’d cite plus Amour as a stronger Haneke than either The White Ribbon or Cache in my book, but I’ve done well with my viewing as the vast majority of these have been viewed, and even reviewed on this very site. The only films I haven’t seen are Tangerine, Toni Erdmann, Moolaadé and Yi Yi : A one And A Two, in fact if I’m honest I’m not so educated on Edward Yang at all much to my shame, but he isn’t exactly a filmmaker with a strong strong distribution infrastructure and I also didn’t realize he died almost ten years ago. So that’s that. It is quite amusing and prescient to see number 83 which chimes beautifully with something I’ve been working on for weeks, watch this artificial space…..
The AICN and fanboy delegates will be outraged at the lack of LOTR, Marvel or Potters no doubt, but have been placated with three Nolan’s which seems like a slight overkill. As others have pointed out apart from Maren Aden, the director of Toni Edelman I don’t think there is a single filmmaker on the list who became active post 2000, which is perhaps problematic for the longer health of the seventh art, although it is good to see so much Iranian material and as a loose approximation of region ‘Asian’ cinema in there which I think maps to the recent critical trends in world cinema. In that vein I would havce although at a push I would have expected a Koreeda or Hong Sang-soo, and no kudos to either Soderbergh or Guy Maddin?
This list arrives at an auspicious time. We have my tenth anniversary coming up in a couple of months and I might, well, I just might do something on my top ten of the century. List posts are generally easier to construct and I guess that would tie back to the blogs life-cycle, and it could be fun to do. Plus it also gives me an excuse to go on a bit of a HD spending rampage to acquire any gaps in my collection now that I have finally rearranged and streamlined my entire media collection, and revisit some of these films on my new 55 inch KU6400 4K Ultra HD TV, supported by the UBD-K8500 4K player which has been s*domising my retinas since I had the system installed a fortnight ago, the latter equipment even upscales Blu-Rays to a near theater projection matching 3840 x 2160 definition which is just, well, my god, its full of stars…..
Jesus, when will these scientists ever learn, eh? Now, once and for all, you can’t manufacture human life from cells or technology ’cause the result will always be evil as it will lack a human soul. Understood? OK, then lets move on…..
Also, apparently no-one has told Ridders that you can’t cast Giammatti and Toby Jones in the same film, its like dangerously toying with some maudlin anti-matter
For someone who vaguely prides themselves on keeping abreast of the industry this had somehow caught me napping, not only a fairly large intelligent looking SF picture, but also the latest film from with Mr. Blade Runner II behind the viewfinder. I really like the look of this, but suspect that trailer gives far too much away so watch at your own peril;
Of course, the burning question is does this mean we can expect a Blade Runner II trailer in November? And where’s that Twin Peaks preview at?