A fine piece of Kubrick empherma from the BBC today, one day I’m going to buy this house you mark my words;
So how was your weekend? I spent much of it working on some unspecified secret project than I hope to reveal the details of as we approach Christmas, but I also found the time to feast upon the third and final season of Hannibal. I don’t usually divert into the threshing waters of TV criticism here but given the movie world overlaps I think you can forgive me such transgressions, especially as this series in its third and final contortion is covering the same ground as both Ridley Scott’s 2001 Hannibal and Michael Mann’s procedural masterpiece Manhunter from 1986, not to mention the atrocity of the utterly unnecessary 2002 Red Dragon adaption which the less said about the better. At an intrinsic, molecular level show runner and central creative force Bryan Fuller has orchestrated this show as grand guignol theatre of the gut-eviscerated absurd, you’d think that maybe trophy serial killers, charismatic cannibals and entrail soaked procedurals are all a bit 1990’s by now, and maybe you’d be correct if they show didn’t defiantly carve its own, fresh and deliciously gruesome ground. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment but watching all 13 episodes in one, uninterrupted session made me feel a little funny in the head, all the way through to that spectacular, hilariously constructed and yummy bloody finale.
I’m not easily shocked and I have something of an iron constitution when it comes to the horrific and macabre, yet even I was perturbed at some of the stuff appearing in this show which was unbelievably transmitted on one of the normal, Standards & Practices plagued channels. Quite apart from the violence and gallons of claret splattering the screen I’m deeply impressed at how challenging the show is from a narrative perspective, it fundamentally rejects industry tropes such as adhering to a plausible chronology or fixed delineations in time and space, not to mention fucking with the audiences heads just as central antagonist Dr. Lecter screws with protagonist Will Graham’s mind, with numerous fake-outs, hallucinations and an overall permeable sense of what is real, perceived and imagined. The first three or so episodes of this season felt like Last Year In Marienbad crossed with some Frankenstein’s monster of Suspiria, Don’t Look Now and Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer, with very little fidelity to what is solid and substantial and what are the feverish products of the participants dreams and nightmares. In fact every character in the show is a deeply fucked up, psychologically savaged bastard of one sort or another, apart from the cattle whom are led through a procession of sacrificial slaughters, and the only humour is of the gallows sort uttered during some frequent nausea inducing autopsies – clearly, these are members of the Menagerie tribe;
Aesthetically it is stunning, from the lush, velvet laced cinematography and elitist trappings of the salivating sartorial styles, the aromatic set fixtures and fittings, not to mention of course the mouth-watering Michelin murdered five star menus, with a darkly comic sense of humour that would make Jack The Ripper giggle like a tickled toddler. The show has attracted established directors like John Dahl, Vincenzo Natali, James Foley, Guillermo Navarro (who’s probably best known as del Toro’s cinematographer), Tim River’s Edge Hunter and even an episode from Neil Marshall, but Fuller maintains a coherent stylistic infrastructure and is clearly the main creative force, and some of you may be interested to hear that he is moving onto to a lavishly mounted adaption of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as his next project. The performances across the board are uniformly exquisite but I must single out two individuals for particular attention, firstly Gillian Anderson as the wraithlike Bedeilla whose presence in the show slowly evolves to become more troubling and macabre, and of course Mads Mikkelsen as the fiendishly fastidious Dr. Lecter. It can’t be easy stepping into such iconic Testoni brand brouges but right or wrong Hopkin’s pantomime turn made Lecter an icon in the screen panoply of villains, although of course snooty purists such as I prefer Cox’s take on the grotesque gourmand. In his own alternative way Mikkelson totally nails Hannibal as a sauve force of destructive nature, an apex predator of the most lethal sort who barely seems to operate on the same aesthetic, ideological or psychological, universe as us other mere, delicious mortals.
The main point is just how ravenously fresh the show has been in treading very familiar ground, in fact it’s a fun thought exercise to compare this translation of the Thomas Harris nebula to the lofty peaks of Manhunter, as Richard Armitage acquaints himself admirably as an equally threatening and obsessive figurine as Tom Noonan did in the original, in the form of Francis Dolarhyde AKA the Tooth Fairy AKA The Red Dragon, William Blake’s most brutal and bloody fan. The show won’t be for everyone as some have railed against its utterly absurd plot conventions, (the grisly logistics of a corpse totem pole anyone?) and there is something in that criticism that some of the turns and developments butcher plausibility at the altar of some delirious delicatessen. That’s the wrong approach to take however, the show doesn’t even remotely want to operate in the same universe as a real FBI or chain of cause and effect shows such as True Detective or The Wire, as Hannibal clearly has an avowed appetite for operatic grandeur and expressionistic antics, delicately sautéed through the sort of experimentation and utter disregard for mainstream audience palettes that has been rewarded with terrible ratings hence its final demise. But what a glorious three seasons of terrestrial TV which you didn’t think they could make anymore, with Season 2 episode ‘Mizumono’ already enshrined as one of the most jaw-dropping ‘you-have-to-be-fucking-kidding-how on-earth-did-they-get-away-with-that?’ hours of TV entertainment ever filmed, and when the show runner cites Lynch and Kubrick, Cronenberg and Argento as his primary inspirations (and he managed to coax Siouxise Sioux out of retirement to score the final scene) must I really twist the knife more?;
As we slowly groan towards Christmas the 2016 blockbuster trailers are starting to sprout, I’m faintly interested to see this and discern what Duncan Moon Jones can do with a big budget than I am in seeing the WoW universe blossom across the big screen;
Not particularly stirring I’m afraid, even if it purloins the bombastic soundtrack cues from 300 Rise Of An Empire. Far more exciting is this news if you ask me…..
Wow, I have to say that these imitation comedy trailers have come along way over the past few years, this one in particular has it all. Weakly plotted three act formulated guessable dreck? Check. Shoddy, sub-TV par CGI? Check. Indiscriminately identified foreign psychopathic antagonist? Check. Cliché ridden dialogue bursts? Check. Nauseating Amerocentric patriotic mood manipulation? Double check. Deeply insulting travelogue-location-montage ripped straight from an incompetent tourism board’s worst audio-visual commission? Triple check with bells on…..
What do you mean it’s genuine? Don’t be ridiculous, I wasn’t born yesterday. I guess if you’re in the right frame of mind – as in under the influence, say, of ten pints of Stella – that could be quite hilarious…..
This has had something if a volatile reaction to North American festival screenings, it seems either you’ll like the concept and exection of you won’t. I’m told its in the dark, exacting vein as Synecdoche so that’s me sold;
I follow quite a few fellow film critics, bloggers and podcasters on a variety of social media. Broadly speaking we share the same politics as much as you can detect these things through such communication models, being supportive of equal rights for everyone, agitating for a woman’s right to choose her fertility options, in favour of gay marriage as an equalizing factor for a certain strata of the community, loathe the entire fabrication of austerity measures, all in all pretty much left of centre in most areas of social progress and civil evolution. It amuses me no end then that some of these individuals go absolutely berserk when ‘controversial’ ideas strike the movie community, such as perhaps the next actor to strap on a tuxedo and prefer their beverages being shaken and not stirred being of a darker skin tone than the last fifty years of representation. ‘But….but Bond is white‘ they passionately implore, with the idea of the franchise being helmed by Idris Elba or Colin Salmon allegedly representing some enormous affront to humanity, decency and in-universe character integrity. It’s ridiculous of course, as I think this immensely popular franchise could survive some small measure of experimentation, and in fact such developments could save the series from its slow, inevitable slide into irrelevance. Some of these ideas of Bond being a dinosaur and a relic of an earlier age are explored in the fourth film of Daniel Craig’s arc of Ian Fleming’s beloved misogynist psychopath, notions that are uncomfortably set against some of the series defining features – scheming super villains, travelogue globe trotting narratives, elegant sexy ladies and all socio-political problems being solved on the receiving end of a Walter PPK. Having precisely zero investment in this particular franchise on an emotional or historical level I do vaguely look forward to these films as movie events, as big, high-profile entries in one of cinemas most enduring franchises, and I was mildly interested to see what Mendes and Craig were going to go next after the spectacular success of Skyfall. The results for me were similar to the last picture, entertaining enough for a couple of hours but not secreting a great deal to take home and unpack, either intellectually or aesthetically.
It’s a shame that the opening sequence set against an evocative Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City is the strongest movement of the entire film, as when the expectations levels are set so high the remainder of the film is doomed to disappoint. Bond has gone rogue as all the heroes do in these films, instructed by a message from beyond the grave to hunt down the international ne’er-do-well Marco Sciarra, a nasty foreign type who is planning a series of terrorist bombings. Back in London HQ the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is preparing for a sinister new amalgamation of intelligence services and assets across the western hemisphere, with drones and surveillance assets being seen as the 21st century direction of travel by new Joint Intelligence chief C (Andrew Scott). The bad old days of wet-work and clandestine assassinations are deemed redundant in the modern global environment, but little do the authorities perceive that a secretive foe is marshalling its grip on the international narcotics, slave and terrorism markets, with a sepulchral figurehead whose evil ideology also bleeds into our heroes tragic childhood…..
As we all know the film has been eagerly awaited since the rights of the Spectre characters and concepts of Thunderball were acquired in November 2013, so if like me you have a passing knowledge of the Bond universe then there are no real surprises as to where the plot and character revelations finally formulate. Well, when I say plot I’m referring to a rather amorphous chain of A to B to C materializations which never really coalesces into any entertaining master-plan, as Spectre is not much more than a collection of interruptions and exotic locations set against the side plot of the intelligence co-ordination which also contains zero unguessable twists or revelations. Apart from the amorous opening (with a very comfortable long uninterrupted tracking shot that sees director Sam Mendes competing in the same arena as Cuarón and Iñárritu) and a particularly painful train tussle my pulse wasn’t exactly pounding, but Craig is as coldly functional as he has been in the other movies, comfortably sporting his arrogant tuxedo attire which he has carnivorously carved for himself. Ben Whishaw gets a bit more to do as the newly promoted superhacker Q (presumably a moniker for Querulous), Moneypenny is functional in the form of Naomie Harris, while Fiennes gets a bit more screen time as well. Personally I could have done with a lot more of Monica Bellucci though, she disappears after two scenes which is a shame, although the emphasis from an x chromosome perspective rests clearly with Léa Seydoux as the primary plot cypher whom leads Bond from one energetic entanglement to another.
For all these glaring faults I did kind of enjoy this movie, I was never bored even when enduring some of the patience sapping set-pieces, and I actively enjoyed the finale which I’m assuming is the first of this arc that peaks on the gloomy, rain-sodden streets of central London. It would have been nice to have more amusing quips and dialogue exchanges that deserved more attention, and I liked Seydoux’s character even if she starts off as a fairly strong agent before devolving to another damsel in distress trophy to be saved from the evil clutches of the nefarious, titular organisation. Speaking of which Christophe Waltz is proficient as always as the puppet master behind the scenes with an interesting link to our heroes childhood (is that in the books? If not that’s an interesting angle for Mendes to take the series), but it’s a shame he didn’t get more to do as the omnipotent scheming antagonist who has apparently been secretly torturing Bond for the past three movies. Perhaps Spectre’s saving grace is the lavish photography from the increasingly brilliant Hoyte van Hoytema who bathes the screen in high contrast black versus white exteriors, it can’t be easy stepping into Roger Deakin’s shoes but he acquits himself admirably. Nevertheless I still can’t for the life of me see how this movie cost an absurd $300 million, I guess all that commitment to practical effects and location work stacks up spectacularly plus the starry cast receiving generous upfront paycheques, and thankfully the product placement doesn’t sour the experience as much as the last few movies. Overall the series has thankfully moved on from the 1990’s doldrums of Die Another Day and other Brosnan bruisings, but still lags behind the modern techniques of the Mission Impossible or Bourne movies, as it tries to grapple with contemporary post Snowden queries on the ethics of modern surveillance and intelligence, alongside the franchise trappings of dispatching remorseless henchmen, seducing sexy ladies, conveniently contrived gadgets and remote super villain bases. You’ll have to forgive me for such an obvious affectation but Spectre left me stirred but not necessarily shaken;
It’s been a while since we stitched together a list style post, but after the lack of any reviews this week I thought I’d try and craft something a little more substantial for the most macabre day of the year. Truth be told I’ve mainlining horror all week having watched Housebound, Final Girl, The Honeymoon, Cub, the sleazy Zombi Holocaust, the aforementioned Wytchwood and the original The Town That Dreaded Sundown, in preparation for the remake which is supposed to be…OK. First of all, a nice little list to fight over as eternally as Cain smote Abel, not a bad massacre I suppose but the lack of The Mist, Pontypool, Slither, Black Swan, Oculus and Orphan is bloody murderous, not to mention Menagerie favourite Excision which no-one ever mentions. Not only that, I guess we’ll just overlook Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire and Under The Skin as overlooked as horror films full stop. Anyway this has been getting some reasonable reviews as this year’s Scream / Cabin In The Woods / Tucker & Dale Versus Evil, I must admit the trailer made me chuckle a couple of times;
A lot of modern horror is dismissed for being ‘cattle-prod’ cinema, not genuinely spooky or spine-tingling, but reliant on the whole bait and switch shock doctrine rather than building a pervasive sense of suffocating dread. There’s something in that thesis, but that doesn’t make collections like this amusing, in fact there is an entire website devoted to the art;
For my money you have to look to the small screen if you wish to dissect some of the best horror currently prowling around, which brings us to the spectacularly offensive and completely deranged American Horror Story Season 4 which has just hit Blu-Ray, with perhaps the greatest killer clown in recorded media. That’s a tall order for us that suffer from coulrophobia, but maybe this will give you an idea of just how nasty this show is – Heh, I love it;
But of course we are all about the movies so to celebrate the pagan sacrifice this year I have decided to feast upon this recent acquisition, in honour of the new TV series which has got some fantastic reviews. Apparently Raimi and the gang pretty much said to the TV executives ‘give us the money, leave us alone and we get final cut’, and they’ve knocked it out of the park with what is essentially a ten hour Evil Dead 4 – I’m so happy about this I could scream;
The boxed set is packed with commentaries which are genuinely amusing, and lots of documentaries and associated ephemera which makes this a essential acquisition. Wanna hear something really scary? Well the fact that I’m missing this is a nightmare, but Carpenter is apparently doing some live gigs to support his new album and is coming to Europe next year, thus fulfilling a Menagerie dream. In any case happy Halloween and sleep tight, and who’s that standing behind you?
A sign of the times, this 21st century super-cut has had an impressive reception;
It’s been a slow week post LFF festival, as we move into the cold months before the winter onslaught. Yes, obviously I know that the new Bond is out which I’ll probably catch at the weekend, but opening your movie on a Monday so you can then trumpet ‘one of the biggest weekends ever’ is just cheating. In the meantime in the run up to Halloween I can recommend Wyrmwood which recently hit your streaming service of choice, its kinda like early Peter Jackson crossed with The Evil Dead in one of those energetic, splatter-soaked, humorous zombie apocalypse hybrids;
There’s plenty of these low-budget pictures knocking about but this was genuinely amusing and inventive with the SFX and gore, not a bad antidote to the increasing irritation of the decaying Walking Dead – that show just needs to be put out of its misery……
Ah, some sad news today, as a mere two years after retirement and the final credits have spooled on the great Philip French who was The Observers chief film critic for a staggering 52 years. I saw him a couple of times at some BFI screenings, the last being that new digitial print of Vertigo during the Hitchcock season a couple of years ago, and I doff my hat in appreciation to anyone who made it his life’s mission to the seventh art. I always admired his respectful habit of insisting to sit through all the credits of every film he ever saw, even the bad ones as a mark of respect to the craft. Difficult to know what to post, so hopefully this will serve as a appropriate tribute;
Here’s the last list of his favourite all time films, a dyed in the wool classicist, but elegant nonetheless.