After all, it's just a ride….

Film

Touch Of Evil (1958)

toe1Just like the movie, we’ve gotta start with that shot. Over the past thirty years we’ve become acutely accustomed to the dexterous long take, heck I’d even assert that the effect is overdone and is something of a clichéd instrument in the directors contemporary box of tricks. Back when camera housing and magazines needed big burly grips to hurl them around the set the thought of programming penetrating camera moves was rarely attempted, although Murnau is noteworthy for his oblique approach to get us into the minds of his protagonists. When equipment become more lightweight and flexible in the 1940’s production incorporated locations rather than just tightly controlled sets, and from the 1950’s a mixture of both has been deployed in order to jigsaw a movie, although the pendulum has swung back to the green screen artificiality of recent blockbuster bores. Ever the great innovator Welles delivered one of the great early tracking shots, understanding that technique and craft reinforces theme and atmosphere, as a bustling and energetic Mexican border incorporates both a physical location ambiance with a technically ambitious opening gambit – and this is crucial. There has to be a story and character purpose for such flagrant grasps for attention, some subliminal force which demands such manipulation of spatial dimensions within a 2D frame, rather than merely cutting up a sequence to build moments and motive through the intrinsic form of film grammar itself. The celebrated Copacabana sequence for example seduces us just as it incorporates Karen’s bewildered state of mind, ushered us both into this woozy world of prestige and pampering, quite literally a back door into the gangsters world where they cut corners to achieve their exalted position – legal corners, moral corners, mortal corners. Sometimes the tracking shot is deployed for sheer kinetics, for sheer pulse pounding pyrotechnics as seen in The Protector or maybe Oldboy, but Welles being Welles he manages to garrote both intentions, setting the restless and anxious tone and pace of the picture while also literally having his plot explode in the first few minutes;

As you may have guessed we’re discussing Touch Of Evil, Orson Welles 1958’s simmering film noir classic, one of his final triumphs in a career scattered with mutilated masterpieces and thwarted visions. The centenary of his birth is being celebrated by the BFI with a season entitled The Great Disruptor, an apt description for one of the innovative geniuses whose touch graced the silver screen in the 20th century, an immortal presence both in front and behind the camera. I’ve been planning to see this for many years having taken down Kane,The Magnificent Ambersons and The Lady From Shanghai in the past, leaving jut the The Trial for another day. Yes, I know I should devote some attention to his Shakespeare adaptions and maybe one day I will, but it’s really only Kafka’s nightmare which still tickles my celluloid bones.

oE2It is the opening tick-tock mechanism, furtively scurried into the vehicle and transported across the US / Mexican border  that literally detonates the movie, driving as it does the subsequent investigation into the crime as legal crusader Miguel Vargis (Charlton Heston) and his spritely new wife Susie (Janet Leigh) are plunged into a morass of praetorian plotting and mutinous murder. Welles dominates the screen as the bloated Police Captain Hank Quinlan, a precursor to every screen Bad Lieutenant from Keitel to Cage, squatting like a venerable spider at the schemes corrupt core. It’s been cited as a key noir of the 1950’s and on the surface the moniker seems apt – it orbits an urban murder investigation, there are street hoods, moody lighting, violence and social intrigue – but with Welles the veils of deception and subterfuge are the key, and I read it as less a direct crime story than a distorted shadow-play on power and moral authority.

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There are no less than three versions of the film floating around due to the usual butchering that Welles suffered after his imperious debut, and naturally the BFI have opted to screen the late 1990’s restoration as part of this comprehensive retrospective. Originally the film suffered seventeen minutes of cuts due to its perceived uncommercial dimensions by the Universal dolts, adding insult to injury they then released a preview version they unearthed in the vaults in 1976, billing it as the ‘restored and original’ version which is most certainly was not. After the studio originally seized his original master print Welles tearfully issued a 58 page memo urging what elements must be included in the picture, a blueprint that the great editor Walter Murch used as his bible for the post autopsy reconstruction of both image and sound. I’m not enough of an expert to tell you what was omitted and regenerated, but I am certain that this is now the canonical version of the film, given that it respects the man’s original, pre-mutilated vision strengthened by guidance from his very own hand, and gatekeepers such as Bogdanovich have anointed it with their blessing. Now if anyone can finally exhume that missing print of Ambersons you’d be doing us all a legendary favour…..

Toe4From the opening refrain of Henry Mancini’s jagged, jazzy score the film has a restless, urgent energy, and even after that spectacular opening gambit the cantering pace is maintained throughout. What I think I find most fascinating about Welles pictures is that it is simply impossible to be bored by them as there is always something interesting happening in every single scene, there is always a fascinating element or decision to detect, whether it’s the lighting or camera movement, the composition or the performances, or the framing and focus planes selected to tell his indiscriminate and indomitable version of his story. Even nominally tedious exposition sequences where two characters have to impart story information are played along a new angle, with new structures of staging, with the friction of innovation ricocheting across scenes and sequences in an almost alarmingly abundant fashion. In Touch Of Evil Welles displays a fondness for grotesques, both physically and spiritually, lurking in the limbo border town that signals transition from one state to another. The duality’s that echo throughout the film – corrupt / incorruptible, love / loss, nostalgia / regret is quite remarkable and marks Welles truly as a ceaselessly inquisitive filmmaker, constantly experimenting with and exploding the boundaries of the form. Crucially for me it also taps into the intrinsic beauty in movies versus other visual forms, the use of deep focus staging is just aesthetically wonderful for the eye to behold, they rarely attempt such planar positioning even on TV these days and as a cinephile you can simply let go and let the images and inspiration overwhelm you.

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Although Orson was playing a rather disgusting slug of a man its worth noting that Touch Of Evil was moulded before his own weight and girth ballooned later in his life, where he became the velvet voiced interrogator of sherry adverts, peas and Transformers movies. The classic story of the production is that Welles, long exiled from the Hollywood inner circle was nevertheless invited to a nearby studio hosted party. Being in such a rush for a drink after a long days shooting that he didn’t bother to ditch the Quinlan make-up or padding he arrives at the soiree, saturated with Tinseltown types, only to be greeted with false air-kisses and proclamations from the assembled patronage that ‘Oh Orson, its so lovely to see you – you look fabulous‘. For Hollywood connoisseurs  it’s also fun to see who cameos in the movie to give their old friend some star encrusted support, from Joseph Cotton’s bespectacled bureaucrat to Mercedes McCambridge’s flick-knife sporting lesbian, but the film is best known for one of the immortal Marlene Dietrich’s finest final roles. In just two scenes she steals the entire picture as the swarthy fortune teller cum brothel madam  with a performance of smouldering eyes and  coiled charisma, as Quinlan’s old flame Tanya. Deviating from the noir plotting once the crime has been solved and the puppet master unmasked the film reaches for a wider pathos with Dietrich’s delicious pay-off line – ‘He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?’ Exit stage left, her eyes alone suggesting a lifetime of regret and melancholic mystery, a poisoned valentine and perhaps the final apropos word on Welles turbulent relationship with the studios;


Suicide Squad (2016) Trailer

The last nerd belch from SDCC2015 I promise, after footage leaked everywhere Warner Bros. finally got their act together and officially unleashed their other big marketing plea. DC do seem to be getting some traction with their competing universe, a place with consequences and lots and lots of scowling;

I’m really not sure what to make of this except a growing exasperation with yet another bloody comic book movie, as since I never read the comic I have no immediate investment in the material. Academy Award© winner Jared Letos’ Joker leaves me colder than a witches tit but I suppose this could be a fun, passable, throwaway 100 minutes, a bit like Blade II or Underworld IV or something…..


Batman Vs. Superman – Dawn Of Justice (2016) Trailer

Despite myself I actually quite liked Man Of Steel, although I haven’t been persuaded to revisit it since the cinema visit. This however looks portentiously awful;

Lots of fanboys have been passing out due to that two second insert of a presumably dead Robin costume covered in Joker graffiti, which I’ll admit is a nice touch, but the whole post 9/11 imagery is just tiresome, and Henry striding around in costume just looks absurd. Where’s the god-damn fun?;


Let’s Tango….

Blah blah |Greek financial holocaust blah blah new Firefly is possibly back blah blah behind the scenes Star Wars footage. All of this pales in comparison to the real coup of the week, Ash is back baby;

Not all the jokes landed for me but it really doesn’t matter, this looks like gore drenched fun and defiantly in spirit with the best of the franchise. I can’t say I ever thought we’d see him back with Raimi and it looks like they’ve pulled it off – the Mint is a happy bunny…..


Movie Mechanical Magic

As I’m evidently weird I found this fascinating, a dying breed in our increasingly digitized world of entertainment. This is also doing the rounds which is kind of amusing…..

I find it kind of amazing that the original camera negative of 1903’s The Great Train Robbery are still with us, yet when Scorsese went looking for the original print of his 1993 film The Age Of Innocence Columbia told him they’d mislaid it….


Terminator: Genisys (2015)

genis1So Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Ahnoldt Schwarzenegger are sitting in Planet Hollywood, ruminating on their fading careers, and comparing future plans. ‘You know what?’ says Willis, ‘my agent tells me that musical composer bio-pics are going to be the next big thing in 2016. I’m developing a script with me possibly playing Beethoven’. Stallone pipes up ‘Hey, that sounds like a good idea’, he mumbles ‘I’ve always admired Mozart, I think I’ll speak to some of my screenwriting chums.’ Ahnoldt smirks, lights a cigar and chomping through the tendrils of smoke leans back in his chair and defiantly intones ‘I’ll be Bach’……..Pathetic eh? A rather clumsy joke, trading on Ahnoldt’s diminishing screen persona and his most recognisable trademark quip, and as you can probably see this coming from a country mile the perfect metaphor for the woefully incompetent and excitement exhausted Terminator: Genisys. Six years on from the meekly received Salvation we SF blockbuster fans were reassured that the new franchise holders were heading in the right direction, staging events during the pre-skynet nuclear conflagration period with a freshly rebooted concept and cast, with the reassuring presence of the widely admired Megan Ellison’s Annapurna pictures serving as conceptual producers with an intent to incept a new trilogy. These musings were obliterated by that trailer which dropped late last year, interjecting howls of consternation across the community, as it pretty much gave away the entire plot including major turns and surprises, betraying an utter contempt for its audience and a severe lack of confidence in its designs. After the committee crafted Jurassic World I didn’t think we would be abused with a worse blockbuster this summer but as usual I was wrong, so very very wrong, as this isn’t just worse than Terminator III it’s probably the worst Terminator film full stop, beyond here there be mild spoilers, but nothing more than the trailer hasn’t already vomited.

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Sarah Conner, so memorably played by a kick-ass Linda Hamilton has been recast in the younger, more zeitgeist savy model of Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones superstardom, dovetailing nicely with that klaxon alarm sounding ‘Genisys‘ sobriquet which immediately smacked of some yoof orientated marketing moron from the studio promotional arm insisting that this will make the film ‘maximise market penetration in new social paradigms, detonating media alignment models among our core 18 – 24 market sector demographic’. To be fair she does look the part but doesn’t display the same doomed gravitas as Hamilton, making an exciting entrance to save a dazed Kyle Reece (shrug inducing non-entity Jai Courtney) whom has just been sent back to save Sarah from the clutches of the mechanoid assassin after the films fit for purpose opening set-piece salvo of the heroic final assault on the Skynet mainframe in 2029. She is  careering through LA circa 1984 with her self-programmed T-800 protector in tow, the once imposing Ahnoldt now fraught with the corrosive dual impact of hairline crows feet and forehead wrinkles , cropped by a titanium mane which is unconvincingly handwaved away as although the metallic parts still operate his covering tissue degenerates with a normal hu-man lifecycle. When he isn’t pontificating with some of the worst exposition seen this side of a Nolan film, including insights and observations he couldn’t possibly comprehend given the films fragile internal logic, the trio lurch from one poorly staged and paced combat sequence to another, this time being hunted by the not in the slightest mandarin market influenced casting of Lee Byung-hun as another one man T-1000 liquid metal massacre machine. For some bizarrely conceptualised reason Sarah and Kyle shatter the previous timelines and canon of the series by deciding to time-jump to 2017 and prevent the activation of the Genisys programme, a global OS designed to link together all operating systems and hardware which has been developed by the shadowy Cyberdine Systems Corporation. Also in the matrix mix is Jason Clarke, increasingly popular after convincing turns in both Zero Dark Thirty and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes in the messiah appointed role as John Conner, son to Kyle and Sarah, and future saviour of the human race in the 21st century – his involvement in the incoherent and increasingly asinine plot is best left suffocating under a spoiler cloud.

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Director Alan Taylor has an astonishing pedigree when it comes to some of the most admired TV series of recent history – Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, The Sopranos, Dead wood, The West Wing and others have all entertained his interrogating viewfinder. He also directed the latest Thor picture and the results were similarly homogenized and hierarchical – there is no individual flair or particular stylistic flourish, it is direction by committee to the prepared algorithm of Hollywood coding – 5 CLS; 10 CGI set-piece, 20; Mechanical Exposition; 30 character beat; 40 GOTO 10. You can almost visualize the screenwriters feverish attempts to up the ante with a berserk brainstorming session, reasoning that the second film had a motorbike chase so we will have a helicopter chase, an aerial agility that should also best the carnage strewn truck chase in the third instalment. The second film has a now iconic set-piece in the LA storm-drain environment so hey we’ll shift pyrotechnics to the iconic Golden Gate bridge, the latter being one of the most pedestrian action set-pieces I’ve witnessed for quite some time, with pesky distractions such as spatial logic or visual coherence liquidated with extreme prejudice. To be fair I didn’t hate this movie for the first half hour or so, it wasn’t good but it wasn’t particularly bad either, and frankly there is a lot of genre charm to coast on by simply seeing Ahnoldt back in his iconic role again. If I’m being really charitable there is also a couple of smirk inducing laughs in certain stages of the picture, but once it settles into its second act and the entire franchise history and time travelling techniques are obliterated it’s a model of repeated skull shuddering stupidity, without even the distracting charms of big CGI rendered explosions and mechanized melee to obscure the critical compromise on the CPU narrative.

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Ahnoldt’s return to the screen has been a mostly lacklustre affair hasn’t it? He has fronted a series of deeply mediocre action flicks such as The Last Stand, Sabotage and Escape Plan alongside the testosterone orgies of The Expendables pictures, and although I haven’t seen Maggie yet it gives me no pleasure to report that anyone hoping for a return to his trademark carnage strewn quipping will be sorely disappointed. It’s a minor spoiler but we quickly find out that he was sent back to protect Sarah in this timeline when she was 9 years old, but it is never explained or reasoned who did this or why, just one glaring example of a lazy and incoherent script which fails to capitalise on its franchise pedigree or the intrinsic possibilities of the time travelling fulcrum – more on that below. I think it might be time that Ahnoldt was put out to pasture or perhaps taken out behind the chicken coup and quietly and respectfully put-down, unless that recently announced new Conan picture amounts to much. The film also suffers from the charisma void of Jai Courtney whom is another of these production line leading men in the mould of Sam Worthington, Garrett Hedlund or the now departed Paul Walker, there is just no personality or purchase with these automations, at least Michael Biehn had some measure of frantic exhaustion in the original picture. The film is replete with dialogue callbacks and displacement of speeches from earlier modems in the franchise, it’s a pointless and perfunctory exercise which strikes me as a pathetic grasp for some sort of fanboy seduction, and only serves to remind you that one’s time could be spent several million times more constructively by going back to re-watch the Cameron movies which are still distinguished as minor masterpieces of their genres.

term5You can’t help but get slightly aroused when the lights go down and the remorseless DA-DUM DUM DA DUM thunders through the auditorium, so it’s really just so frustrating to see such a promising franchise brought so low. I’m not the first geek to muse that to fully reboot the universe then they needed to go back to the source, to revisit the 1984 original and somehow incorporate those timeframes and kinetics with a new take on the established classic. Genisys starts in a similar arena which could have diverted into some fascinatingly fertile territory, fully implementing the CGI capacity to merge elements from The Terminator with a parallel action timeline in some brain scrambling yet incredible melange of action pyrotechnics, a full mobilisation of the Mobius strip time hopping mechanics which distinguishes the IP from its tent-pole peers. Alas these ambitions are beyond the scribes Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier imaginations, responsible as they are for such instant classics as Tomb Raider, The Lone Ranger, Dracula II, Dracula III: The Ascension and My Bloody Valentine 3D, and the failure must rest on their shoulders as all this films problems emerge from its inferior intellectual infrastructure. Still, what do we critics know eh, demanding some sort of creativity or thought diverted to the blockbuster production line, the first half of this year alone has seen not one, not two but three of the highest grossing pictures of all time, and even without the 3D uplift we all know that a certain December space-opera release could assault even Avatar’s crown. As the movie thankfully closes and a thoroughly insulting now ubiquitous mid-credit sting sets up the next picture only one scene springs to mind, of Hamilton’s rousing final screed from the 1984 original when it comes to the future prospects of this rusting and rutting exoskeleton – ‘you’re terminated, fucker‘…..


Werner Herzog Season – Heart Of Glass (1976)

glaSS1No, not Blondie we’re still with the Herzog, and the next movie on the list which prefigured Debbie Harry’s crooning by a good three years. Whilst we’re just over the crest of the halfway stage of the BFI box set there is still plenty to come, and we’re back in Germany (or specifically Bavaria) for this brooding 18th century tale of magi mesmerists and sacrilegious seers. The inspiration for Heart Of Glass comes from the legends of the Bavarian prophet Muhlhiasl, something of a 18th century Nostramadus figure which every imaginative boy of Herzog’s generation was fascinated with. In this distant, misty pastoral era a quiet village falls under a strange bewitchment when the local glassblower Muhlbeck expires, taking the secret of his crimson inflected ornaments to the grave, plunging the settlement into some strange, protoplasmic psychic shock. Like any Herzog protagonist we’ve come to know and admire Hias (Joseg Bierbitcher, last seen in Haneke’s The White Ribbon) enjoys powers marking him as a curious outsider, a man attuned to mystical and spiritual matters, his predestinative vision predicting that the hamlet will be lost in a cleansing fire. His narration plays to the audience rather than the bewildered and frightened villagers, marking him as our avatar for the journey through these superstitious times, so it seems strange that he is almost completely abandoned as the film lurches through its diffused findings. The setting coincides with the romantic ruinations of Keats and Shelley, of Coleridge and Byron, their work in dynamic & diametric reaction to the industrial revolution, forged within a celebration of the elemental and mysterious forces lurking in bird, beast and stone, of the swirling maelstrom and fathomless beauty of life tossed about like a minnow in a cyclone. Its heady mix which Herzog fails to marshal or manipulate, in perhaps the first true failure of his career.

glass2The film is notorious for Herzog exercising one of the stranger directorial decisions in the canon, of having the entire cast perform whilst under the influence of hypnosis. Like me you’re probably wondering why he didn’t simply instruct his performers to adopt a trancelike, somnambulist persona during the pertinent sequences, but as we know the man doesn’t cut corners in his art, and the result is quite an affecting affliction with scenes twisted in odd tonal entanglements, with figures and characters locked in a veneer of inscrutable illegibility. The entire film is draped with a half-conscious, dream like quality, but the form needs to marry the content, as impressions emerge of an amorphous blob which is bereft of purpose or purchase. I’m far from being any art historian but you can’t help but notice the trappings of Rembrandt and Vermeer in the interiors and staging, a naturalistic approach to finding the light and shading on set, flooding the saturated interiors with the fleeting ephemera of 18t century life. Herzog confirms these instincts in the commentary and confirms his patience in sometimes waiting hours for the right axis of light in the sky, rather than artificially simulate effects with lense gels and filters, or post-production colour timing or negative baths. He’s also a bit harsh on storyboarding which he describes as a ‘disease of filmmaking’, the preplanning of fools obliterating the instinctive nature of crafting images and stories, but let’s not get distracted down that particular rabbit hole…..yet.

glass378This is only the second time (or the third if you count the commentary track) I’ve seen Heart Of Glass and I must confess to finding it somewhat impenetrable. Yes, the atmosphere is rich and sumptuous but there is no drama here, no real sense of direction or flow, and the elemental mysteries the films provokes such as the source, purpose and resolution of the villages ailment is almost wilfully eschewed. If you read it as some romantic movement attuned mood piece then I think you’re in a good area, as it doesn’t remotely dwell on dramatic events or build tangible characters as much as it scurries about for some intangible tendrils, a plot infected with portentous preaching. The first half hour merges some stunning landscapes, sounds and a curious sense of ethereal wonder, but then it just gets lost in the woods, the fairy tale breadcrumbs devoured by Herzog’s diffused sense of drama and meaning. We’ve barely scratched the surface of Herzog’s famous phrase of his to describe his work, his eternal yearning for the ecstatic truth in his cinema, and while his cinema can realise some profound truths when the story, image and sound come together it can also lurch into the dark recess of pretention which I fear is the case here.

glass4I’m all for a sense of mystery, for an ambulant alchemy in my movies but Heart Of Glass is just to diffused and  distracted for my taste, or at least my muddled mindset when I revisited this last week. But all is not completely lost as the final scene just about salvages the entire ship, with a odd bookmark which suggest that the entire architecture of the film was erected for this coda. To the strains of the eerie Popul Vuh soundscape the film moves from the interior to an exterior, as if the preceding 70 minutes were mounting a futile expedition to map the contours of consciousness within the brain, before arriving at the metaphoric nodal point of Skellig Rock. This is an inhospitable spot where over the centuries the Vikings threw through their foes to a watery sacrifice, and where a monkish community established itself remote from the trappings of material society. As the tale ruminates on a holy seer who slowly over years of dutiful penitence attracts a small coterie of followers, finally embarking on a forlorn sailboat journey to conquer the horizon, to find purpose in the face of a silent and implacable diety. This is either a nihilist conclusion, brimming with desolation for some, for others it is a celebration of our constant striving for meaning, a resilience in the shadow of oblivion – make your own mind up here;


Steve Jobs (2015) Trailer

That’s quite a team behind the product – Oscar winners© Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin on direction and script, and a high energy cast including Winslet, Stuhlburg, Daniels and Seth Rogan as the Woz. Purely coincidentally I am 2/3 through the official biography on the man which I picked up for the princely sum of 49p from a Colchester charity shop, and a well written, warts n’ all piece it is too. I can’t help think that Fassbender seems bizarrely miscast though, he’s a great actor n’all but he just doesn’t seem to fit the person portrayed in the book. I guess we shall see in October;


A Different Breed….

I’ve been thinking about time today, maybe its the extra second or the weekends fantastic Roeg documentary, in any case a fine couple of articles that are doing the rounds. It’s difficult to appreciate that the Hollywood of a century ago was immensely more ambitious, ornate, chinzy and gaudy than it has ever been, and here is a fine anecdote from Swanson herself on the silent pictures rather flagrant approach to Health & Safety regulations;

A century later and here is what American cinema offers us, inspired and influenced by foreign glyphs, alternative media and a dwindling attention rate, the spectacle remains the same, the detail somewhat….different;


Knock Knock (2015) & Slow West (2015)

knockGuilt can be a powerful tool. There I was, forlornly idling through recent activity on the menagerie, cursing my lack of recent opportunities to manage all things movie. Then, like a flash of lightning inspiration struck – why not pull an old fashioned double-bill weekend, featuring films unknown and unseen? Well, through the luck of the draw a quick search of the local cinema schedule yielded two potential targets, a duplex of movies whose outline premise and cast were known to me, yet whose overall dimensions remained still vague enough for me not to have even caught a trailer or an outline inking of their relative merits or mistakes. So, as is my idiom on possibly the sunniest day of the year I wearily meandered over to the Cineworld to spend the day hiding from the sun, embarking on a devilish roll of the dice with the next four hours hurled down as the ante on the poker table of life. Now I know what you’re thinking – alert the authorities, he’s out of control, and surely like Icarus such reckless behaviour is bound to cause him to crash down to earth in a humbling, pride-defying heap. Well fret not gentle reader I have this all under control, even if I still haven’t quite found the impetus to visit either of London’s two newest and prestigious cinemas. I do have a programmed agenda for July which should set us back on track with previously viewed and guaranteed material, and part of the reasoning for this exercise was to set myself a speed-writing goal as we get into training for a potential international festival which is looming on the horizon. But for now let’s see what this recent folly has excavated, and as a preview of coming events I wouldn’t call either interrogation a particularly unfruitful activity.

The first to obtain access was Knock Knock, the Eli Roth directed horror thriller starring Keanu Reeves as LA valley dwelling architect Evan Webber. Never knowingly missing the chance to bludgeon a scene into his audiences cranium the first twenty minutes of this film clearly establish that Evan LOVES HIS WIFE and adores HIS TWO CHILDREN, as a one scene requirement to erect backstory is ham-fistedly drawn out to twenty minutes of EXPLAINING JUST HOW MUCH A NICE GUY KEANU IS AND HOW MUCH HE LOVES HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN. After the family retire to the beach for the weekend Evan has to stay home and finish an urgent project, his doorbell ringing at a midnight hour during a particularly ominous rainstorm. Standing there bedraggled yet bewitching are Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two shall we say feisty young women whom take a liking to Keanu, the seductive sirens swiftly overcoming his futile sexual defences of faithfulness and fidelity. The next morning his mournful regret turns more hellish as Evan realizes that both seductresses are not entirely mentally stable, and he soon finds himself on a rocky road to blackmail, vengeance and a marriage threatening maelstrom of violence, torture and tendentious trysts.

knock2Home invasion movies always pivot on an outside force entering and disrupting the domestic equilibrium, usually due to some small moral failure on behalf of our hapless and doomed protagonist, it’s a formula that Roth gleefully flays as he formulates this exploitation picture that would not be adverse to squalidly limp squealing out from to the scuzzy picture houses of 1970’s Times Square or Soho. In fact Roth is on record as saying the film is a loose remake of 1977’s Death Game, it’s certainly got that old fashioned moral quandary of a fundamentally decent chap paying heavily for one moment of weakness or social transgression, and even Roth’s rather clumsy direction can’t blight what elementally remains a gruesomely fascinating premise – hell hath no fury like a woman, or indeed women scorned. You’ve got to hand this one to Keanu though, I can’t imagine many actors accepting a rather risky project which doesn’t project him in a particularly effervescent light, with even a suggestion that the two temptresses could be underage throwing a very uncomfortable pallor of paedophilic potential – how many ‘A’ listers are gonna get even remotely close to that? The uncomfortable aura is replicated in a few scenes where you can almost hear Roth cackling with unbridled glee, but he doesn’t quite have the satiric skill that say a terse provocateur like Verhoeven or Von Trier would invest in the actual chain of cause and effect, with opportunities squandered to really turn the thumb screws while ignoring some plot contrivences like barely concealed cadavers.. All that said I rather enjoyed this, especially for the moments of horrific hilarity, the women’s lunatic cruelty and Keanu’s tortured yells, even assimilating the moments of unintended hilarity from his rather robotic performance – Keanu is many things, a most excellent dude whom is usually entertaining to spend some time with, but a great actor he is not.

slowwestSecond on the sojourn was Slow West, a film which when I utter the phrase ‘a Sundance festival western’ may get all sorts of genre synapses ricocheting around your sun-poached cerebellum. Quirky, off-beat characters and segregated scene momentum? Quality, studious character actors known for their attraction to offbeat material? Attention demanding compositions and landscape photography aligned with a folktronic and frenetic score? All these things and more reside in the purlieus of writer director John Maclean (of Beta Band fame no less) debut movie, and never has a film screamed ‘this is my debut so I’m going to throw in everything I possibly can’ since Raimi and Campbell haunted the Michigan woods in 1979. Following a trademark Western journey narrative our slightly hapless hero Jay Cavendish (the raccoon eyed Kodi Smit McPhee) is self-exiled from his Scotland home, travelling to the badlands of Missouri to seek his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius) after her and her father fled the thistle drenched homestead due to some serious, unspecified infraction which is slowly revealed as the narrative ambles along. Through chance and fate Jay is befriended by the roguish Silas (Fassbender who also served as producer so he obviously was charmed by the material), a scoundrel who is also seeking Rose for more financially secretive measures, with the $2000 bounty on her head causing his old criminal fraternity led by the perennially filthy Ben Mendelsohn to nip at both their avaricious heels.

I mostly admired Slow West incredulous strain for artistic authenticity, the film veers from pretentious to primitive but there is certainly a valid voice trying to be heard over the clattering horseshoes and starling pistol fire.   It’s the kind of film where the two leads stumble across three African dudes deep in the Minnesota’s veldt, crooning some tribal songs to each other, a incongruous mix of setting and scenario which is unremarked upon as Silas and jay continue on their horse opera odyssey. The closest comparison I can draw upon is Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully melancholy Dead Man although Slow West simply isn’t in the same symbolic stratosphere, with just a dash of the dark humour of the Coens at their most playful the film manages to charm you over with its snake oil scaled elixir of oblique observations and bone crunching violence. Some of the photography of the teeming prairies is breath-taking and actually feels fresh for this long suffering 120 year vintage movie genre, but this is slightly undermined by a hacksaw editing pattern which has all the discipline of a sun-addled squaw, seemingly unable to hold a shot or moment for longer than a few seconds which prompts a lack of confidence in the material. The principals are as good as you’d expect and there are a few genuine laughs along the way, although life is a cheap commodity in these unyielding geographies, a sobering fact that Maclean brings to the foreground with a body count worthy of Stallone or Ahnoldt at their most blood thirsty. The title suggests the generic conventions decelerated to a tick-tock, slowing of time and movement reminiscent of the great 19th century Muybridge wager, a primer on cinema itself as a bastion of truth buried among the flickering hallucination of multiple overlapping images. Slow West is a promising enough debut of a potential new talent, at a brisk pace of 83 minutes it knows not to outstay its welcome, an ode to better things to come for Silas and his hopeful path to redemption.


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