Where do we stand with Del Toro? Are you fans of his mainstream work while quietly praying for more instrumental, influential work? After the mediocre returns of Pacific Rim – both financially and critically – has he mutilated the potential of his gothic mojo?;
Hmm, this looks just a little too Tim Burton over-laquered to me, but hey, its an appropriate cast so why not?
Well this has been a while coming but we’re finally taken our first hesitant steps on a long and strange journey. I announced my Herzog season an almost a month ago but have been distracted with the twin impulses of seeing as much Oscar nominated material before the ceremony whilst balancing the glut of new releases, with 11 screenings under my belt already I think you can forgive me for something of a tardy beginning. For new attendees my intention to work through the wonderful BFI Box Set from last year and cover as much as I can of the great man’s work, while catching what I can on the big screen alongside any side material that might crop up – a new film has just screened at Berlin for example. I’m not going to dwell on the shorts included on the first disk which I mostly dismiss as a budding filmmaker finding his craft, I’m sure true Werner acolytes can find more to say about Last Words or Precautions Against Fanatics than I can possibly muster other than noting the usual presence of eccentrics, a nebulous nature, and a curious eye for exotica. No, let us turn our attention to the first film Fata Morgana which was shot in the Sahara desert in 1968, one of Herzog’s mood piece which burns with a solar, hungry intensity;
I’ll be keeping this short and sweet as I don’t have a huge amount to divulge on these travelogue pieces, their beauty firmly rests in the eye of the beholder as they are cinematic ‘atmospheres’ (if I can put it that way), carvings in time where the imagery and music provide the infrastructure for an audience to bring any personal ‘meaning’ to the tale. As with many of his non-fiction films the footage of our planet through Herzog’s viewfinder appears as an alien world, mysterious, implacable and seemingly bereft of human intervention, with just the mildest traces of our fragile civilization gnawing at the edges. It has a strange 1:33 aspect ratio as I’d expect as widescreen a frame as possible to capture the seething veldt, I guess given ultra low-budget restrictions its remarkable he finished and got it released two years after shooting concluded. The slow horizontal pans across the Serengeti to the strains of Leonard Cohen are quite something, some of the match cuts display a continuity and genuine intellect behind the compositions and arrangements, with Herzog’s usual fascination with indigenous people’s cultures and practices away from the comfortable First World receiving an early appreciation. The great German film critic Lotte Eisner recites text written by Herzog that was in turn inspired by the Mayan creation myth, Fata Morgana is a mirage of mystery, with the images of those endless undulating golden sands stretching on to eternity left lingering in the mind.
One of the real cinephile curios is the commentary track for this featuring not just Herzog but none other than Crispin Glover in attendance, I haven’t listened to that yet but I imagine that is quite a combination. So next up we’ll move hesitantly into the jungle of the 1970’s with an early masterpiece that is incidentally screening at the BFI, a fine opportunity to add a 35mm screening to the roster. Hopefully I’ll find more time to devote to this strand once the Oscar project is out-of-the-way at the end of the month.
Bloody excellent, the more I virally hear about this the more I like it. Well, when I say ‘hear about’ I’m referring to the general opinion of the film rather than plot specifics, as it sounds as if going as blind as possible yields the best rewards;
Just managed to grab a ticket for a preview and director & lead actor Q&A next week, I just hope that unlike The Babadook we finally have a new horror movie worthy of the hype…..
Gentle reader, I’ve been a bad boy and need to be punished. With an almost breathless anticipation I approached the cinema for this weeks absolution, quivering with illicit delight as I presented my equipment to the cashier to obtain swift and immediate, deep and warm entry. The film I saw left me feeling dirty, filthy and ashamed of my wanton desires, a self-flagellation of the soul for my deviant appetite and salacious cravings. No, I’m not talking about seeing the imminent 50 Shades of Grey (which also sounds like an instant bad movie classic) I’m talking about Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowski directing duo’s latest and possibly last plunge through the criticially and financially desolate wake of Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas – y’see your expectations were subverted and thus the humor arose. SF of all dimensions and its numerous sub-genres remain an uncontrollable temptation for the Menagerie, so the plethora of bad reviews vomited over all social media couldn’t put me off, such is my relentless appetite for silver hewed spaceships, delirious dogfights, kaleidoscopic alien species, bombastic blasters and exotically skinned broads. The initial trailer warped in almost exactly a year ago to consigned shrugs, with an initial late 2014 summer release pushed back to this February with rumors of frantic re-shoots, re-edits and crisis management among the Warner Brothers brass. You can almost hear the fevered prayers of embittered executives praying for some of that Guardians Of The Galaxy magic echoing around the green-screen draped sets, when what we actually got was Starcrash with a $200 million budget.
After Cloud Atlas I am frankly shocked how the siblings managed to prise some money out of Warner Brothers, although a little digging has shown that when you factor in P&A costs the movie just about broke even with foreign territory hauls. Their picking at the carcass of cultural genre follows the traditional power fantasy trope of numerous otaku and YA dossiers – a socially dysfunctional / uncomfortable yet above average intelligence protagonist with hidden reservoirs of will is actually a secret inheritor to some manifest destiny, see also Harry Potter, Enders Game, Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker, Peter Parker and just about every influential manga of the past twenty years. More specifically the hero of Jupiter Ascending is a heroine, a young woman named Jupiter (Mila Kunis) by her stargazing father before he was killed by some robbers in the film’s opening and deeply garbled prologue. When I say garbled I mean I literally lost the plot here, as it turns out Jupiter is actually the secret heir to an intergalactic empire, saved from an assassination attempt by the ridiculously garbed outcast Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, and yes that name just made me laugh out loud as well) who spends much of the following 90 minutes without a shirt, all breathless and brooding. Once the film exits our earthly orbit it begins to pick up some speed, reverting to a space opera model of courtly combat, intergalactic intrigue and the moustache twirling villains of the House of Abrasax, all vying over the inheritance of their departed matriarch. It’s a charisma vacuum as dense as the vapid wastes of Omega Centauri, punctuated with deflated dogfights and Mandelbrot melees, impressively rendered against a green screened digital delirium.
I’ve seen many, many bad films in my time, but there are certain special individual films which are simply so bad that they shatter the carapace of cursed, twirl through the wormhole of ‘what the fuck?’ and arrive back in the perverted realms of the so intergalactically bad that they are actually kinda entertaining – Jupiter Ascending just about flees into that flock. From the rigid performances to the perfunctory plot this is a major misfire on every level, with some horrendous exposition and unspeakable dialogue (oh dear god the ‘bee’ scene was just fucking amazing), making me truly wonder just what QC any producer must traverse before getting a nine figure studio approved cheque to cash. Every scene seems to follow its predecessor in some strange drunken stumble of incomprehension, before for some reason some action breaks out which at least alleviates us from the tedium of the insipid interactions. Behold my friends a film where Jupiter’s Russian mother exclaims ‘By Stalins balls’ in the film’s opening minutes, her daughter an heir to an ancient celestial empire which leaves her utterly non-plussed and unsurprised that a) our entire planet is being manufactured as a breeding resource for an ancient cabal of evil b) the existence of numerous, colourful alien species and empires and c) the fact that she is somehow a princess to all this wonder and majesty. I’m not entirely sure that fits in with her human pedigree and birth on earth, and frankly like the film I just don’t care. If Mila Kunis and her frozen, off-planet performance is something to treasure then you ain’t seen nothing yet, enter stage right Eddie Redmayne with the absolute worst villain act of recent memory. You can tell he’s really, really, really, really evil y’see because he rasps all quietly in a slightly effeminate way BEFORE SHOUTING AND BELLOWING like some Tourette’s afflicted tyrant, pulling the usual trifecta of casually executing inefficient henchmen, bellowing a Nietzschean purity manifesto, and clearly wanting to have fucked his dead mother. Gosh, he really is very, very, very evil indeed, and don’t get me started on dog-boy DNA Tatum and his incredible air-skating anti-grav boots……
Being charitable we must award some marks to the Wachowski’s for at least attempting to make a film which is based in original material, even if the failure may further dissuade the purse holders for financing such a risky proposition in the near future. Well, when I say ‘original’ the pulpy origins of the tale are clear, a hyperspace hybrid of a decadent Greco-Roman intergalactic civilization reminiscent of Dune, of the more psychedelic and juvenile populace of 1970’s European comic books, and a steampunk powered John Waters camping it all over the computerized chassis. There is something to the visual majesty of the Wachowski imagination, the visual pollution isn’t quite as bad as other space opera conductors, even if they (to paraphrase the Empire podcast) have used up all this years deployment of CGI, it’s all gone I’m afraid, so it’s a good job that both The Avengers and Episode VII have some practical and miniature work as all of silicon valleys processors must still be exhausted after rendering this spectacular simulacra. Some of the action beats are fairly well done even if the imagination clearly runs out of pixellated stream in the final showdown, with the usual henchmen side battles with interspersed with the central protagonist /antagonist melee. This is a film for a possible Friday night rental a year for now, alongside an XL pizza, a six-pack and some snarky friends of choice, willing to wallow in the mire and hurl howls of abuse at the screen – I can’t wait for the How Did This Get Made? crew to get their fangs into this sometime soon. I started this review with some rather puerile banter so whom better to paraphrase the climax than a misquote of the great Mae West – Jupiter Ascending really isn’t very good but when it’s bad it’s better;
This should get your weekend going with a bang, described as Takashi Miike’s ‘most demented film yet’ that’s quite a boisterous claim for the man who has given us Audition, Visitor Q and Ichi The Killer, but having seen this seriously NSFW preview they may have a point;
I’m told it is drenched in Japanese pop culture artifice which might not travel to Western eyes, but here’s something of a synopsis – ‘an X-rated Crystal Maze, where characters and icons from Japanese folklore introduce massively gory variants on traditional schoolyard games’ – excellent.
Eldritch interference infecting a malfunctioning iPhone? – my god, the terror, the unholy terror;
As this is invoked from Sam Raimi’s low budget studio I reckon this will be in the same wheel house as previous chills, faintly effective with a few horror flourishes, but nothing to leave home about. First thing we’ve seen Rockwell in for a while though eh?
Another list to get some flame-wars and furious on-line debates raging, the greatest 75 edited movies of all time, as dictated by the American Guild of cutters. That’s the main problem I think, this is very western centric, with by my reckoning a mere 11% of non US fare in the pantheon.
I have no other issues with this list apart from 36 which is a bizarre choice. George Tomasini as the editor of Rope had very little input and exercise within the creative process behind what Hitchcock had already conceived in pre-production around the one magazine takes, so I assume this would simply be a technical exercise of merely splicing the material together, rather than presenting alternate cuts and approaches to individual scenes which is the heart of editing.
I’d fight a case for Inception being here but I can’t defend The Fugitive, Titanic or Black Hawk Down what the fuck is that all about? They’re not badly edited films and perfectly professional arranged, but I don’t see how they excel from the standard pack-mule of studio fare. Anyway, enough of my armchair ignorance, well done Marty with another worthy win for Raging Bull, as I’ve said its a film I hugely admire craft-wise as much as it doesn’t particularly grasp me emotionally.
Waterboarded at Cannes last year and drowned at birth by Warner Brothers in terms of any sort of theatrical release, here is the slightly bewildering trailer for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut;
Well surely that’s worth seeing? Right? If only just to try and untangle all those rather strange ideas and hinted plot threads, looks to me like David Lynch and Night Of The Hunter spent a New Orleans night on the tequila and mescaline with Harmony Korine. In other news I’ve been keeping a curious eye on Sundance which just wrapped up in the States of course, although I’m quite sad that it isn’t coming back to London this year (and what’s all that about eh? Poor ticket sales? Not enough European distribution drummed up for entries?) it sounds like a few treats are in store, with The Witch starring Finchy no less making some serious waves. Alas as usual there are very few trailers around from any of the winners, so there’s this related to the Gosling instead;
Finally the inevitable and predictable ‘if you didn’t like Inherent Vice then you didn’t understand Inherent Vice‘ patronization has clearly begun, I fully support the notion that yes, sometimes a film can only yield its real intent and qualities on a second or third viewing, but sneering at your intellectual equals for disagreeing with you on a matter of clearly expressed and reasonable opinion is really quite pathetic…..
It’s always an exciting time when one of your favourite film makers new addition to their pantheon hits cinema screens. Some true cinema nerdage can begin in earnest, the fun game of considering the new piece within the context of the preceding work, identifying how the auteurs themes and style has grown and evolved (well, hopefully), of how technique breeds with content. Such is the case with Inherent Vice, the eagerly new awaited film Californian chronicler Paul Thomas Anderson, who this time around has managed a first – the inaugural film adaption of legendary author Thomas Pynchon. Once the initial trailer dropped and the composite cast was announced some early rumors started wafting through the marketing breeze, with Anderson himself stating that he took his inspiration not from the likes of Altman or Huston which had informed his earlier work, but from the unlikely sources of the Zucker brothers and Cheech & Chong comedies which set some of the signposts of this rambling and occasionally incoherent film. Just to retain my press credentials I am contractually obliged to reference both The Long Goodbye and the Coens beloved Big Lebowski as the films with long shadows that hang heavy over this picture, in form if not necessarily intent. So lets scythe our way through that haze of Californian curling bong smoke and see where we are man……
After the dense, serious character studies of The Master and There Will Be Blood some are situating Vice as something of a palette cleanser, a spritely irrelevant comedy orientated picture which the trailer suggests in the films first confusing sleight of hand. This is not a broad, knock about comedy, sure there are a few chuckles to be had but this is a much more mellow trip than the marketing suggests. Tetrahydrocannabinol powered private detective Doc Sportello (a hirsute Joaquin Phoenix) is enlisted by his ex-girlfriend Shasta Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) to investigate a kidnapping plot against her new lover, the property magnate Mickey Wolfman. Narrated with irrelevant aplomb by Doc’s friend Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) as some sort of slightly weary Greek chorus the plot is largely irrelevant so I won’t elaborate, suffice to say this is an ensemble piece stuffed with a psychedelic cloud plane of characters, a mélange of competing interests and purposes involving black power militants, clandestine FBI property deals, jazz drummer fifth columnists, dentist co-operatives and Asian narcotic syndicates. Through this fog of disappearances, corporate maleficence and government plots stride a stupendous cast, including a buzz-cut Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson who was obviously born to be in this picture, Reese Witherspoon reprising her Tracy Flick persona three decades before her time, Benicio del Toro, Jena Malone, Michael K. Williams and Martin Short – groovy.
Back with his usual ingenious cinematographer Robert Elswit and with Johnny Greenwood back on scoring duties the talent seems to be in the correct places, alongside a period playlist of artists including Neil Young and Can which should get some music aficionados nodding along with Greenwood’s Debussy influenced score. The direction is quiet and understated with no flashy long tracks or expensive period film establishing pans, Inherent Vice is very much a piece of characters speaking in rooms or on sidewalks which Anderson stages as simple two-shots before dollying incrementally in as Pynchon’s prose spills from the characters mouths. One of the undeniable triumphs of the film is bringing Katherine Waterson to a wider attention, in just a handful of scenes she steals the picture from robust competition in the form of Phoenix, Brolin or del Toro, she’s a slightly forlorn figure of quiet, resigned desperation, a metaphoric icon of the era. Where has she been until now? It’s another piece of evidence of just how great Anderson is with his actors and how performance nest themselves in the nucleus of his pictures, but they need the dramatic structure around them to really excel beyond stand-alone moments, of glimpses of higher glories. Slightly related but just how sad is that Philip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us, and today is exactly a year to the day of his passing. Fuck.
With a giggle the film flips the bird at audience members who demand their media to be wrapped in a neat little bow, ambiguity and tone taking center stage with little regard for clockwork plot mechanics or three-act thematic resolutions. No doubt this antagonize many and whilst I enjoy sitting back and letting a film wash over me without concentrating on the plot connections, a stew of experiences whose nourishment can be divined after proper digestion I cannot lie, and I drifted in and out of the experience with increasing alienation. Like its dazed and confused heir to Chandler and Bogart Inherent Vice is almost too relaxed and ramshackle, the parade of colorful individuals and institutions more exasperating than energetic, as just as a thread started to build some traction and momentum the power fizzles out in a slightly frustrating fashion. No doubt this is at least partially intentional, that the source material adopts a similar louche approach to dramatic drive, and in true noir fashion it is pleasing to see disparate plot strands incrementally tangle and twist into each other, but after two and a half hours of ample screen time Doc’s odyssey is a rather languid affair, and even the prismatic scope of personalities fail like the hippy dream to fulfil their full potential.
Despite my reservations about the film one of the incidental pleasures of a major filmmaker giving us a new text to ponder is the associated essays and career analysis that is generated throughout the media landscape, here is a craft orientated video essay and here is some interview goodness to erect some context for Inherent Vice. I’ve posted this before but this two-hour WTF interview is simply essential (if only for the ‘nevertheless’ anecdote from the Boogie Nights shoot at 53:27 which is pure, unadulterated brilliance), for the uninitiated here is his kinda unofficial fan site which pulls together all the news, reviews and anecdata on the man and his movies, and finally here is reputedly the best review of the movie according to my esteemed international colleagues but beware as spoilers abound. The ICA are screening a panoply of Andersons movies which is great news, although I probably won’t be attending for various reasons*. Slightly off the beaten track if you like the sound of Californian period noir then Night Moves and Cutters Way are two underappreciated west-coast sun-blissed detective enabled stories, also preoccupied with those altruistic dreams of the sixties gone sour, a melancholy hangover from Manson which despite its flaccid flaws Inherent Vice continues to ponder.
* I will sound like a jerk but this is this – their screening facilities are understandly miniscule and I’m really not tempted to throw fifteen quid at a Blu-Ray screening of Magnolia or whatever, so my unanswered query sent to the enquiries address querying which Anderson films are being presented in 35mmm as opposed to digital has pulled me away. It’s no big deal but here we are…
Be afraid, Be very, very afraid – I think I might require some professional help as this made me laugh. A lot;