After all, it's just a ride….

Film

Werner Herzog Season – 2013 Masterclass

A little education for your Easter weekend, a masterclass with the German maestro;

One of the great joys of the boxed set I’m slowly working through isn’t just the HD transfers of the movies, there is also documentary material such as this;


Mad Max – Fury Road (2015) Trailer

If that teaser last year wasn’t exciting enough then wait until you get choking on these exhaust fumes;

Good fucking Christ in a sidecar that looks exciting, you can see George Miller’s visual wit and style just like the originals and that has got my engine running. I see its just been announced that the official full Star Wars trailer is previewing ahead of The Avengers II which is quite a combination, but that still doesn’t beat the anticipation for the return of Max around Menagerie towers. I’ve only watched that trailer once and will drop a curfew now until the movie crashes into cinemas, nice of them to screen the picture out of competition at Cannes to give the other movies a sporting chance eh?


Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)

twolane1 So many movies, so little time. When I perused the scope of the Bloomsbury Curzon’s celebratory auteur film festival eyebrows were raised at the possibility of seeing some bona-fide classics on the big screen, until I cross referred the films to screening times where my wilder ambitions were thwarted – some of us do have day jobs ya’know. Still, there are some overlaps with previous efforts such as A Matter Of Life & Death, Tokyo Story, Mulholland Drive and Vertigo, still I’d have loved to have seen The 400 Blows (I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed a single Truffaut picture here yet), The Double Life Of Véronique (ditto with my Kieślowski omissions) and Touch Of Evil to finish off my intended coverage of the corpulent Orson Welles. I did, however, manage to take Two Lane Blacktop for a big-screen spin, as one of the counter cultural classics of its era it has long been on my police scanner radar, it’s a film I’m not incredibly enamored with but I hadn’t seen it for a while, and the timings mechanically melded with my earlier viewing of Wild Tales. With two huge rock stars in the lead roles Dennis ‘Beach Boys’ Wilson and James ‘James Taylor’ Taylor  – and an ethos trailing in the revolutionary slipstream of the immensely profitable Easy Rider the Universal executives must have thought they had a sure-fire hit purring on the starting block. But, like, the film’s opening was a total drag man, and the films cult chassis only got like totally groovy as it acquired its far-out fans over the intervening years, as an early flowering of that whole anxiety sub-genre which P.T. Anderson dredged for Inherent Vice – see also The Long Goodbye, Night Moves, Taxi Driver, The Conversation and others. I don’t wish to go round the circuit on that journey again as one hopes to have traversed that lap with my Vice review, so instead let’s get under the hood and see exactly how this vehicle performs as an amber trapped artefact of acute Americana.

twolane2You know you’re perambulating around mythic territory when the main characters in your film don’t even have names but are simply credited as ‘The Driver‘ (Taylor) The Mechanic’ (Wilson) and ‘The Girl’, although cult acting favorite Warren Oates gilds the film with a strong streak of charming characterization, as the walking contradiction known only as GTO – his moniker the make of his car. It’s a discombobulating, almost indifferent film which shrugs away notions of plot just as it turns it back from the ‘man’, what we do get is a genteel rivalry between the two long-haired outcasts racing their charcoal ’55 Chevy against GTO’s canary yellow ’65 Pontiac from the rural south-west to Washington. En route the combatants hustle street races for a few dollars along the way, picking up waifs and strays from the wispy byways and highways of America, trading for the affections of the ariel Laurie Bird (‘The Girl’) who flits in free love fashion between the combatants. There’s also a rather memorable cameo from a certain Harry Dean Stanton as a hustler hitchhiker who takes a shine to GTO’s tall tales, just another side-road on the films throbbing rise to cult classicism.

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That’s the thing with certain cult movies isn’t it? What elevates them above their peers of the genre ghettos is that distinct command of tone and aura, that indiscriminate ‘feel’ and temperature of a film which blesses certain projects as gift from the celluloid gods. Two Lane Blacktop has that atmosphere in full 450 horsepower, it’s a fascinating portrait of a lost America that has receded like the decades in the rear view mirror, I could have easily watched another couple of hours of footage just to absorb that delicious muted small town miscellanea, the smell of a cooling cheeseburger, the refreshing bite of a ice-cold coke. I also couldn’t quite believe just how funny the film is, memory is always a sketchy, elusive thing but I always regarded Two Lane Blacktop as a rather cold and mercurial affair, with both leads barely grunting dialogue to each other, turning around a causal plot which revs more with the cars than the characters – we’ll come to Warren Oates shortly. Like it’s 1971 twin The Last Picture Show it’s a model saturated in Americana, from the exhausted diners, decaying $15 rack rate motels and maudlin gas stations perched on the outskirts of town, an atmosphere of lazily drifting tumbleweeds, of twilight ambitions and fading dreams. One hardware store interior immediately alerted me to this scene, the Coens must have been inspired by director Monte Hellman’s keen eye for specific red-state flora and fauna, he is a rather underrated figure whose work has never received the attention it potentially deserves (Cockfighter and China 9, Liberty 37 are also terrific), eclipsed by the other cinema princes of the 1970’s although like Hal Ashby the tide seems to be turning to re-evaluate him as an important figure of the era. We should also mention another footnote of his contribution to the form, he also served as Executive producer to shepherd an ambitious 1990’s director / screenwriter debut picture to the screen – Reservoir Dogs.

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Scenes in the film last for about ten seconds longer than perhaps they should with characters pausing and evading each others gaze, evoking a space between scenes of quiet reflection and meditation, a pacing which is languid and, well, just ever so slightly stoned. The giggles are provided by the magnificent Warren Oates whom to deploy a scholarly film critic phrase is just fucking awesome, one of the all time great post war cult movie actors, a veteran of Peckinpah with a stone cold celluloid image of one of the toughest, roughest sonofabitches to ever walk the earth – one day you whiskey swilling bastards I’ll get my teeth into Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and you’ll understand what it is to be a man in this fucked up world. GTO has more origin stories than all of Arizona’s schizophrenic wards combined, he regaling his hitchhiking acquisitions with tall tales of his business prowess and masculine mastery, until one quiet moment of true reflection is crushed with a heart-breaking ‘I just don’t wanna hear it man’ from his lank haired opponent. It’s a rare moment of genuine pathos in the film, nestled among his pseudo philosophical tracts, including the best line reading in the movie ‘If I’m not grounded pretty soon, I’m gonna go into orbit’. If you’re looking to double bill the movie then you can’t go wrong with Vanishing Point, the aforementioned Easy Rider or maybe Medium Cool among others, before that apprehension and unease moved from the provinces to the cities in the paranoia trilogy. They all share a fascination with the open road and its lure of freedom, agitate a rejection of the system, and all are veiled in the death shroud of the hippy dream, those flowers that soured in the closing evacuation of Vietnam, of Watergate, of Manson and Altamont.

twolane5It’s not just the physical trappings of the American geography, the immortalization of the iconography of the Nixon era. No, the film is a classic because it roars with a thundering appreciation of intrinsic American mythic ideals – the anticipation of the open road, those romantic prairies of freedom stretching to the horizon, progress and plunder in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Where once it was a stumbling horse and grime choked wagon trains the car has supplanted the mule as status symbol, and as Sailor states in another road movie it ‘represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom‘. In Blacktop Henry Ford’s gift to the nation are the  only objects approaching true character or purpose in the picture, hell they even quite amusingly both get a place on the final credit crawl, more cinema chutzpah residing in their sleek purring machinery and their fetishized chrome finishes than their disembodied human occupants. Perhaps my favorite moment in the whole picture is the first appearance of the Girl spied through a diner window as she secrets herself in the duo’s vehicle, I just love the utter lack of acknowledgment of this new addition to the team who has just appeared in the back of their vehicle, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the indifferent attitude and freewheeling spirit of the time. Two Lane Blacktop closes with a quintessential image of American cinema of the period, of the gas guzzlers roaring down a sun bleached highway that stretches infinitely away to a shimmering horizon, before that infamous frazzled finale;


Shinjuku Swan (2015) Trailer

I wonder if the Japanese film director union is having something of a competition this year, to see whom can be the most productive helmsman of the year. Miike Takashi has a mere two films slated for release which has been his batting average for the past five years, while countryman and LFF favorite Sion Sono has no less than six – that’s six – movies scheduled for release in 2015. That’s insane, here is the rather restrained trailer for the first one;

And now let me unveil this, perhaps the most obscure piece of Kubrick ephemera I’ve ever managed to source, quite remarkable;


Wild Tales (2015)

wt1I want to talk. I want to talk about money. There has been something of a mini-scandal among the London film critic twitterati recently due to the arrival of a gleaming new art cinema in the capitals hinterlands, with the completed nine month facelift of the old Renoir cinema transformed into the newly anointed Curzon Bloomsbury. Naturally I’m no stranger to the old place having caught the likes of Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World there over the years, usually during discounted matinee weekend screenings. Like the recent Curzon Victoria the new site has raised eyebrows with its boutique interiors and state of the art cinema systems, enabling well heeled patrons to relax in plush splendor for the princely sum of £18 a ticket. No doubt about it that is rather steep for a movie, particularly since they’ve also axed cheaper costs for early screenings, causing real consternation  as it doesn’t exactly encourage punters to ‘take a chance’ on foreign or slightly offbeat non mainstream fare. I, however, am a slave to my obsessions so I couldn’t help myself but shell out the currency for a duo of screenings to celebrate the newly minted space, firstly taking in a sparsely attended screening of Argentina’s unsuccessful candidate for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar – Wild Tales.

wt2If revenge is a dish best served cold then these furious Latin protagonists certainly don’t care for temperature, as this portmanteau series of tales angrily orbit a central conceit – venomous vengeance, vigorously executed. In one tale a waitress in a quiet restaurant recognizes an extremely rude patron as a loan shark gangster who drove her father to suicide, in another a road-rage incident screeches off the tracks like a Spanish language remake of Spielberg’s Duel. A group of seemingly unconnected aircraft passengers grow frantic when they discover they all know the same unhinged person, in another sequence a wealthy businessman persuades his gardener to take the rap for the hit-and-run killing of a pregnant woman by his substance abusing son. Cannily saving the best for last proves that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, particularly a bride on her wedding day when she discovers that her newly acquired husband has been playing hide the llama with an attractive, younger co-worker. These half-dozen vicious vignettes are endemic with rage and frustration, an anthology of anxiety, dripping with despair.

wt3Being something of a jaded, cynical, dark hearted soul this film was right up my alley, and although as always with episodic structured films some threads are stronger than others  this is a hysterically funny picture, a hellacious  hymn to our corrupt and hades natures. The camera placement and occasional storytelling flourish from director Damián Szifron add a delicious frisson to the blackly comic proceedings, with some ironies and twists while eminently guessable would have an onyx hearted prankster like Hitchcock gleaming with pride. The standout is probably the final wedding from hell with a hilariously frenzied turn from Érica Rivas, although like most of the other sections it does run out of steam in its final contortions, rather than closing with a definitive, grotesque gut-punch. Wiser souls than I could probably identify some specific social commentary on Argentina’s recent corruption revelations and her economic woes, particularly with Ricardo Darín’s struggling everyman turned furious  explosive insurgent due to endemic corruption in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of rules, regulations, and turgid civil servants.

wt4As for the cinema facilities I test drove two screens during my duo of viewings (we have a bona-fide cult classic on the way specifically for you 1970’s petrolheads), catching Wild Tales in the splendor of the primary Renoir screen, and I have to say it is a terrific space with an appropriately mammoth screen, blessed with 4K projection capacity and the sound quality was simply fantastic – Dolby Atmos all the way. The facilities have expanded from two to six screens which is quite an achievement for the cluttered geography of the original footprint, with a promise of more bespoke film seasons alongside the high visibility art-house fare which should keep the tills twanging – they’ve commenced proceedings with a week-long auteur themed series. Maybe Curzon’s recent excursion into premium costs for a high-end experience is a metaphor for the wider 21st century divide between the rich and poor in terms of services, housing, travel and the generally frenzied cost of living in London, but there was one incident that perhaps says it all – Bloomsbury charged me £3 quid for a modest glass of coke. It’s enough to drive you mad;


Spectre (2015) Teaser Trailer

More grimdark in the world of movies, this time with Blighty’s favorite psychopathic misogynist. When the old seer says ‘kite’ I thought he was calling James a very rude word indeed;

As a heathen who didn’t particularly care for Skyfall I think this looks OK, and just to be a disgusting chauvinist myself Monica Bellucci = win.


Maggie (2015) Trailer

The first thing this reminds me of is those rumors of Ahnoldt circling Ridley Scott’s proposed adaption of I Am Legend in the 1990’s, and then it goes all emotional and moody. I don’t think I like a weeping Terminator, and lets face it all his movies since he came back to the screen have been relentless three star affairs. Alas after a promising start this looks no different;


Werner Herzog Season – The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

kaspar1You certainly can’t accuse Herzog of being trapped in the same geographical or historical epoch in his movies as we move on to the next disk in the BFI box set, alighting from 16th century South America to the fatherland in the late 19th century, a rather quaint and rural environment seen through extraordinary eyes. Taking his inspiration from the true 1828 story of Kaspar Hauser Herzog finesses the mysterious yarn with some slight embellishments to serve his specific vision, and brought to screen one of the most unusual leading men of any period. Bruno Schleinstein was raised in poverty and was ruthlessly beaten as a child, enduring a brutal upbringing in a sequence of care homes and state shelters. Sensing a remarkable affinity Herzog cast him as the titular Hauser who appears in a quiet Nuremberg square after being released from a lifetime of captivity in a stable, having never seen the sky, or a tree, or absorbed other human contact other than a mute man draped in black who fed him throughout his bizarre upbringing. Consequently Kaspar has no concept of language or social conditioning that we all unconsciously digest, marking him as a remarkable vessel to observe the world and the structures we have erected around us, the veneer of polite civilization gnawing at the animal within.

hauser2Apart from a shuffle of intelligible grunts and snorts there isn’t a word spoken for the first fifteen minutes of this film, before Kapar’s mysterious jailor takes him into the wild green yonder, his purpose and motives a total mystery straight through to the film’s final reel. In intent if not quite in tone  Enigma is a clear precursor to Under The Skin, the narrative orbiting a surrogate vessel to observe with acute detachment the strange vagaries of the human condition, our rituals and customs, the polite protocols and economic iniquities, these strange affectations which a visitor from an alien background might find difficult to discern. One is reminded of Herzog’s story of his own childhood, in the destitute poverty stricken rural lands of immediate post-war Germany, where he distinctly recalls seeing his first orange which he hadn’t even seen a picture or a photo of, tactile in texture and taste an artifact as exotic as a Martian egg. With the insights of an innocent or an inquisitive child Kaspar queries the unspoken rules of the land, asking ‘why do only women cook and sew?’ and ‘I cannot see how God made everything, that is absurd’….well, from the mouths of babes and all that….

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The film opens with a hazy, almost sepia soaked images of landscapes and geographic features, fading like the withdrawing wisps in the  purlieus of a fading dream. It’s the past, a time of mysterious intent and understanding, foreshadowed with a telephoto aperture mounted on a wide angled eye lens, giving the interstitial imagery an alien effect as the wind gently caresses corn, as a clock tower strikes another hour lost. These are artefacts rendered from an almost interstellar origin, perhaps Herzog’s attempt to give us Kasper’s inquisitive POV, his conditioning and understanding as far a reach from his contemporaries as a 19th century soul viewing our chaotic 21st century proscenium. The mysterious interloper is treated humanely, as more a curiosity than any threat, given shelter, sustenance and warmth, not treated as a freak monstrosity by his fellow men even when he turns to desperate employment at a travelling circus to pay his way and earn his keep.  The film would have failed without Schleinstein’s otherworldly, naturalistic performance, if performance is even the appropriate word for his utterly convincingly aura of being from almost another dimension, like a bemused, clomping Bowie who fell to earth a century before this Nuremberg materialization. The clergy are bemused with Kaspar’s ideology and his oblique transmutations of all matters ecclesiastical, toward the end of the film he becomes a fashionable attendee at court for the chattering classes, an oddity politely subsumed into gilded society, before they tire of him in favour of the next unusual phenomenon or discovery. Through these story phases we see the lengthening of 19th century European enlightenment, scientific method and rigour weakening the Church’s rigorous grip on the reigns of universal truths and phenomenological plurality, Kaspar a metaphor of the epoch when new molecular and medical mysteries were supplanting the ancient warding of ritual and religion.

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There is a lovely moment on the commentary when Herzog explains how during the morning of Kaspar’s discovery he applied a rhythm to the pacing in order to present the city waking up, making the film ‘hold its breath’, and one of his anecdotes of how people with diminished physical statures view the world in a very different way is, well, it’s just ‘classic’ Herzog. Over an uncertain period Hauser becomes a gentleman of modest status and prestige, through time cuts which Herzog never signals through traditional methods (slow dissolves, inter-title cards etc.), discreetly drawing a lilting vale over the entire ethereal enterprise before Hauser is enveloped in history. In the real world Bruno Schleinstein became something of an Outsider Art scene posterboy before his passing only four years ago, although there is another entrancing performance of his in the Werner canon that we will turn to shortly. This oddly disembodied and dreamy film is dedicated to the great critic Lotte Eisner, one of Herzog’s early champions and inspirations, igniting within him a flame to bring to cinema a ‘ecstatic truth’, of our world seen through the eyes of a dreamer whose mysterious life and transcendent tragedy echoes through the mists of time;


Mission Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation (2015) Trailer

I do like the Mission Impossible series, apart from the second one they have been a consistently entertaining sequence of fun big budget delirium. Here’s the teaser for the new one which a nervous Paramount have moved forward to July, so they don’t go toe to toe with J.J. Abram’s intergalactic assault on Avatars crown of the biggest box-office ever;

EDIT – Well now here’s the full trailer, looks pretty darn exciting. That money shot of Cruise clinging to the side of the plane has already become something of a ‘thing’, given that he did actually do it the bloody mentalist. I cant actually remember the last blood thumping action movie I really enjoyed, at least one that wasn’t some SF hybrid. Still, John Wick’s out soon so there’s that to beat…..


Composing Movement

Yeah, yeah, I know there’s that great montage doing the rounds comparing opening shots to final shots of films, but I’m hesitant to post it as it features some recent movies, and we always want to avoid the dreaded spoilers – make your own mind up here. Instead here is a little essay on movement, and sensei Kurosawa;

Akira Kurosawa – Composing Movement from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.


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