Hmm, I’ve just got a press invite to see Neruda, the latest film from rising world cinema star Pablo Larrain, a film which cropped up in quite a few best of 2016 lists and just scraped onto the Sight & Sound list. Fortunately I have some time on my hands at present so I think I can slot this into an extraordinarily hectic month – apart from the Scorsese season I’ve also got programmed screenings of Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, Toni Erdmann and La La Land – but this screening is at the Fox HQ in Soho which I’ve never attended so that should be an experience. The movie looks good too, which kinda helps;
‘It goes back to that question I had in ‘Mean Streets’, how do you live a good life? A life which is good, meaning compassion, and respect for others, in a world like today or in a world where I grew up, quite honestly’. I think I’m safe in claiming this as the first essential Scorsese film in the canon, the one that he was inspired to make by his mentor John Cassavettes who gave him what we Brits would describe as ruddy good talking to after Marty was bitching about not really finding his muse and expressing himself honestly in the early, atypically difficult phase of any filmmakers career. It’s the usual story of shooting his semi-professional debut Who’s That Knocking At My Door over a period of years as the money was hustled from various vendors, struggling actors falling into and out of the film due to their shifting availability and commitment, begging borrowing or stealing expensive film stock and then being obliterated by ruinous lab processing costs, although he did forge a career long friendship with his initial screen avatar Harvey Keitel. Like all obsessive artists he tenaciously got the film made, and the final piece aroused legendary career shepherd Roger Corman who always had a keen eye for upcoming, hungry talent that he could exploit. Provided he could deliver the requisite level of nudity and violence to satisfy the drive-in circuit Corman offered Scorsese his somophore assignment Boxcar Bertha, providing him with a minuscule budget and the use of a professional crew, fulfilling the next logical step on that long road to becoming an established name in the industry. Although the film was lukewarmly received it made a return on its investment, so an emboldened Scorsese and his writing partner Mardik Martin dusted off their dormant script for a project called Season Of The Witch, a semi-autobiographical narrative inspired by their adolescence and experiences growing up in the rough, seething cauldron of the Lower West Side. Using the same crew as Bertha they embarked on an extremely swift, six figure budgetary shoot, the results of which has been accepted into the Library of Congress as a work of ‘significant cultural, historic or aesthetic significance’, the first Scorsese film proper that brims with queries on faith and moral turbulence in an environment of frequent violence and pea cocking male machismo, and a sly critique on the all-pervasive ideology of the American dream.
Although I am a worshipper at the church of Scorsese I hadn’t seen Mean Streets for years, even though a recent excavation of my streamlined DVD collection unearthed some special edition DVD published in the early noughties. Sure, I’ve always liked the film but it never really gripped me like some of his other cinematic sermons, but as usual a big-screen revisit regenerated my rapture, especially as an initial supporting strut to this two month season. Like his subsequent gangster films Scorsese is more interested in the low-level enforcers, the scuttling con-men and scumbags who operate at the margins of serious organised crime, those who rub shoulders with the strippers and dope-fiends rather than the Machiavellian consigliere’s or ruthless capos. There is a dramatic triangle at the heart of the film, with the ambitious and well connected Charlie (Harvey Keitel) operating as a racketeer with a sense of compassion and patience with his clients, sympathetically listening to their tales of woe while quoting St. Francis of Assisi as he grapples with his spiritual demons. He’s conducting a secret affair with his cousin Teresa (Amy Robinson) who wants to move away with him to a safer part of town, but Charlie’s community spirit runs deep and he’s committed to protect his reckless childhood friend Johnny-Boy (De Niro), a degenerate gambler wiseass who owes money to every loan-shark in the district. Charlie is trying his best to be a good man in a bad milieu, boxed in by the traditions and definitions of his social and psychic environment, a theme that runs throughout Scorsese canon. Mean Streets also embedded some of the more recognisable aesthetics of the work, from the vigorous use of boomer era popular music as sly commentary on the motivations and machinations of the characters and plot, to the very first deployment of that trademark slow-motion soundtrack shot;
Proving that the entire so called 1970’s ‘golden age’ of Holllywood owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the nouvelle vague Scorsese has cited that when he saw this (9:53) sequence in Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie it was an eureka moment, a stylistic revelation, unchaining the camera from its static observation of the space and instead gliding in long takes through space, incrementally pulling the audience into the fictional world and provoking a sense of energy, of restless kinetics, of moving pictures as a shattering of the usual Hollywood master-shot, shot/reverse-shot syntax. This is signature Scorsese, flexing his cinematic muscles for the first time and finding his aesthetic feet, its overused now of course although we’ve seen deployed to repeated brilliance since.
In terms of cinema history Mean Streets is an important picture, the first collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro which produced such highlights over the intervening decades, those first scenes together always prompting a wry style even as it has slipped into mild cliche. We’re talking spectacular swearing, the slightly off-kilter cadence of dialogue repetition, the immediacy of improvisation which breaks with that forced fiction formalism of most screen performances. De Niro plays the irritating Johnny quite brilliantly as one of those character types we all loathe, the selfish yet somehow cheekily charming self-destructive fuck-up who drags the main protagonist down – think Bernie in Millers Crossing, Ziggy in Season Two of The Wire, or just about any Sam Rockwell performance of the last twenty years. The real character brought so vividly to life though is New York itself, the restless city that never sleeps, teeming and churning with a volatile social energy. Commentators often cite Woody Allen as the ultimate cinematic chronicler of the Big Apple and to be sure he’s had his moments, but just as his international efforts set in London or Milan his camera never strays from the immensely privileged upper class locales, whereas in Mean Streets we are plunged into the cultural stew, the bubbling cauldron of the five boroughs, the spics, wops, niggers and kikes all striving for a score to get through another day, against the incessant distant cries of car horns and mournful emergency service sirens. Oh, I also have to applaud some of the innovations in the film, specifically the drunken Charlie scene which was achieved by strapping an arriflex body brace to Keitel and unleashing the rest of the cast on him, a fine mirror to the films overall hand-held aesthetics which Scorsese embraced as there was little space or time to construct complex camera arrangements on location, the economics and environment demanding a vérité approach which maps perfectly to films urban immediacy.
So finally to see ephemera – surprisingly, through the magic of the movies the film was primarily shot in Los Angeles with only eight days lensed in New York, to give some authenticity to locale and to enable the capture of the context setting San Gennaro religious festival. The crew averaged a remarkable twenty-four set ups a day which belies the urgent energy which bleeds onto the screen, it might be scrappy and you can see some of the rough edges but it all adds to the films asperous credibility. Although his third credit Scorsese has cited this as the first film where he truly learnt to direct a movie, not just mustering the technical aspects to completion but also the mastering the personal themes and injecting them into the material. He also learnt how to conduct and guide rehearsals, the importance of keeping a crew fed, watered and inspired even with mediocre resources, and how you find the story through the shoot and its environmental restrictions, the unpredictable weather, through illness, and the covenants of locations, all inspiring and obstructing in equal measure. Naturally there are a few movie references, the most overt being footage of Corman’s The Tomb of Ligeria in the cinema visit scene and a glimpse pf Lang’s The Big Heat seen on the TV, and you also you might recognise a youthful David Proval who most memorably went on to portray the terrifying Richie Aprile in the middle seasons of The Sopranos. This was a high quality 35mm print that the BFI projected which aided my enjoyment, it was an exceptionally preserved reel which could have passed for an analogue projection except for the usual distress around the reel changes. When Scorsese showed a rough cut of the movie to Coppola he instantly cast De Niro as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, accelerating a soaring career which resulted in an Academy Award for Supporting Actor a couple of years later. Scorsese and De Niro were now considered hot properties, and when ambitious husband/wife producers Julia and Michael Philips were considering some key creative posts for their controversial new project they knew that they wanted Scorsese to helm, provided he could also provide his friend in the leading role as a lonely, unhinged Vietnam veteran traversing the sordid streets of New York – I won’t insult you with the movie title but that masterpiece begin its long and hellish journey here;
Would like to see a trailer for one of 2017’s early tipped cult movie mist sees? Well, OK, then allow me to indulge you in probably this years only Polish carnivorous Mermaid time-travel musical pictures;
The long road to penitence begins here. Almost three decades in the making Martin Scorsese’s latest, and potentially penultimate picture is finally anointed in the church of cinema, if he keeps to his recent comments about hanging up his viewfinder. This passion project has been adapted by Scorsese and his frequent screenwriter collaborator Jay Cocks from the celebrated 1966 novel Silence by the Japanese Catholic author Shūsaku Endō. This is not the first time this striking story has been brought to the screen, in fact it has been filmed twice before, once by Masahiro Shinoda in 1971 and by João Mario Grilo as The Eyes of Asia in 1996. I’ve seen neither so we’re not operating from a position of comparison, but I can assume that analysing all three could be a fascinating exercise as they emanate from the perspectives of the host and interloper countries – Japan and Portugal – with a neutral approach provided from the US with this latest translation. Anyway, that’s a whole other exercise, Silence has already been compartmentalised as the final entry in Scorsese’s so-called spiritual trilogy, mused in theological trysts alongside 1988’s controversy baiting The Last Temptation Of Christ and 1997’s zen like Kundun, neither perhaps Marty’s most celebrated works but both harbouring an essential and central ingredient of his entire cinematic oeuvre – the spirit and faith, and how our physical actions connect with the divine via our morally constructed maelstroms.
I’ve mentioned it here before but after growing up in those ‘mean streets’ of Queens and later in his childhood the Little Italy enclave of Manhattan Scorsese was submitted to the Catholic seminary at age 15, a path of devout clemency being laid before him. Thankfully for us heathen cinephiles he didn’t take to his studies and instead turned to the cinema, where he has spent a career examining men – and the fact is that it is nearly always men – wracked in some lacerating mortal or spiritual torment, sometimes finding some sort of redemption or transcendence, and sometimes….not. These themes find themselves at the heart of Silence which reminds one of Apocalypse Now given the similar trajectory into a pagan Heart Of Darkness, a clandestine pilgrimage into the hostile unknown of another culture and country, in order to resurrect with a lost mentor, to rescue an almost saint like idol. It’s 17th century Portugal, and Jesuit Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) are advised by their superiors that a letter has fallen into their hands from a colleague long thought lost to the lord. A Dutch trader, one of the rare merchants from Europe allowed entry to the isolated Japan of that era has passed on correspondence from their inspirational mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), but the wonderful news of his mortality is coated with concerns, as the liaison also slanders Ferreira by claiming that he has since renounced the church and turned away from god. Refusing to believe this both Father Rodrigues and Garupe decide to follow in their teachers footsteps, and risk torture, death or worse in the mysterious Orient, where the practitioners of the Christian faith are lethally repressed since an earlier flowering of the faith was crushed by the Shinto / Buddhist majority.
This is an aesthetically beautiful film, a late flowering of a great master marshalling his frequent collaborative choir to beautiful crescendos, but the final effect rests on your own plinth of faith and belief, so speaking as a lifelong atheist I worshipped the craft but rejected the credo. Silence is set during a period of imperialistic colonisation of other corners of the globe by many Judeo-Christian sects, so their arrogance with converting others from their native beliefs, the prideful righteousness in enforcing their ideology on the poor and disenfranchised made me harbour zero sympathy for either Fathers journey, but we’ll come back to those dimensions shortly. Nevertheless as a historical backdrop the film is fascinating, following my visit to Japan a decade ago I have absorbed a little of Japanese history and was au fait with the shift from the Tokugawa period to the Meiji restoration, 17th century Japan being a near hermetically sealed culture and society. The fact that 300,000 converts had been raised and then been suppressed was a revelation, so there is much to enjoy from the sheer historical framework of Scorsese’s spiritual sociology. The design of the film is exquisite, from the gilded costumes of feudal Japan to the harmonious architecture of the dynamic dojo and seething peasant villages, garnishing Dante Ferreti (this is his 9th collaboration with Scorsese) a guaranteed Academy Award nomination. The colour palette is dominated with the frail and pale, the mist choked and mysterious in the opening sequences as slowly DP Rodergio Piasto infuses golds and flickering harbingers of light into compositions, as the Priests are tested and their religious odyssey requires a more frantic grip on their Jesuit faith. The camera movements are discreet, Scorsese’s usual inquisitive, darting minnow guidance through scenes shifting from POV to isolate specific sectors of interest, but there is no showboating here, there’s no Copacabana centrepiece, as Silence is a much more pious visual experience – although some of the landscapes are spectacular. In penitence to the title the soundtrack is also sparse and diagetic generated led, cloaking the auditorium with the chirping cacophony of the Japanese flora and fauna, enveloping all the senses in a pre-industrial Oriental Eden. Oh, and for you cult movie fans out there yes that is Shinya Tsukamoto – cybermind behind the Tetsuo pictures – who appears in a reasonably large part as one of the diligent and devoted faithful.
Can we elevate Scorsese to the other great spiritual seers in the vestry, alongside Bresson and Dreyer, Bergman and Malick? No, his faith follows the poverty of Pasolini, finding the struggle in the street among the dispossessed and depraved, although his style certainly apes the celestial. When his name is uttered the first thoughts are usually of the machismo oozing urban malaise of New York, his energetic and fluid camerawork, all set to a rocking soundtrack of baby boomer classics. I’ve long linked his work to a quiet moral authority, they might be buried under the cinematic chutzpah of Wolf Of Wall Street or Goodfellas but without wasting my powder on my review of that masterpiece (with hopefully a special guest attended screening if I can get tickets) there is always quiet moral sermon underpinning his character odysseys, a search for asomatous nourishment and solace, although the conclusions remain intangible and as etherial as a wisp of smoke from a tabernacle candle. These enigmas are dropped in Silence which is more studious, slower paced and contemplative, whose maker is uncharacteristically wearing his heart on his sleeve. Despite its beauty and the dense theological and ethical debate it elevates this for me is where Silence comes unstuck. Usually Scorsese is too skilled and wise an artist to ever make his position so oblique, but questions of faith such as the priests insistence of their holy righteousness are dressed with a solemn endorsement. More problematically the dire consequences of the theocratic insurgency the Jesuits are fostering are explored but through the cinematic syntax it is clear where the sympathies ultimately lie. That was my reading of it and I don’t find that comfortable, although more pious souls may arrive at different conclusions. Still, like the best of ambitious, passion projects I’m sure these reactions could change or warp with age, Garfield is convincing as a man stretched to the absolute limits of his faith, and his climatic scenes are extremely powerful, dramatically and emotionally in the same category as Willem Dafoe in Last Temptation. I have to confess I have no intention of catching the film again at the cinema which should also speak volumes, as a major late period work by arguably the greatest American filmmaker of the past fifty years it of course remains essential viewing, even if Silence won’t be golden for everyone;
This year’s ambitious season started for me with a screening of Silence today which will take a few sleeps to digest, so I thought I’d kick things off with a lovely little montage. Plus, if I’m honest, I also wanted an excuse to post this astonishing list of all the films which are coming throughout 2017/18 which doesn’t uniquely dwell on Hollywood product, so we can all get jolly well excited for new material from Haneke, Armando Iannucci, Martel, two projects from Claire Denis, Kitano, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (I haven’t seen the last two yet!) and Mikke, Bigelow, Lanthimos, Del Toro, Aronofsky, Alfredson, Craig Bone Tomahawk Zahler, Malick, Lynne Ramsay, Alexander Payne (always wondered where he had got to), Audiard, Wenders, Soderbergh (wait a second, Soderbergh?), Korine, Alex Garland, Joachim Trier (although his recent English language film didn’t quite work), Duncan Jones Blade Runner inspired Mute, Martin McDonagh, Bong Joon-Hoo and maybe, just maybe, Carruth’s The Modern Ocean – and these are just the ones I’m specifically interested in as there is much. much more coming through. Those rumours of cinema’s imminent demise are a little premature if you ask me, and I think Marty would be proud;
There are also rumours floating around today of a Twin Peaks preview at Sundance at the end of the month. Anyway, back to the subject at hand, as it somehow seems apt to begin our story in New York, where Scorsese was born in 1942. What’s that? Oh go on then, let’s take a little more of an academic look at a specific scene in the canon, which should help set the context for whom we are dealing with over the next couple of months;
Catching up on some cult themed movie lists of 2016 to see what I missed, I’m still kicking myself at evading Train To Busan which everyone has been raving about as a ‘resurrection of the zombie movie’ or some such wordplay. I’ll certainly be renting it as soon as it hits Blu, but I’ve also identified this as one of the more esoteric gems emerging from that continent;
Yes, apparently starts of like some bubble-gum, J-Pop Rom_Com, then suddenly dovetails down to hell in a way that would make Sono or Miike shudder – sounds good. Very unlikely it will get Region 2 release here, so I’m monitoring some specialist sites…..
Not exactly off to a punctual start of the year are we? It’s been a few weeks since I caught Rogue One, the long anticipated first wider universe film set in the Star Wars universe, and to be frank I just haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to collect my thoughts. Then of course tragedy struck which threw an entirely new shadow across the film, with the passing of Carrie Fisher the first loss of the primary acting talent of the franchise although we also lost Kenny Baker earlier in 2016. Just to be a hideous, privileged soul I remember sitting at Frightfest 2010 when Monsters was showing, a mere five feet from Gareth Edwards who took to the stage for a rapturous Q&A, and look at him now, one of the corralled and manageable directors that seems to be the current studio executive strategy in controlling these dollar spinning franchises – see also Disney’s Marvel imprint, Universal’s Jurassic Park behemoth, and the Warner Bros. DC Universe. I loved Monsters, a genuine achievement of a fresh new talent assembling a movie at zero budget, utilising the new trajectories and abilities of digital equipment, with a fine understanding of story, character and empathy. Something is intergalactically amiss in this film in those crucial areas as although it’s already cliche to state this Rogue One is the biggest fan-fiction movie ever made, stuffed full of lip-service and nerd nuggets for the converted to mutter and coo appreciatively, but fatally lacking in anything resembling rich and engaging characters, or even the slightest dregs of emotional drive which is so crucial to this specific franchise. I didn’t hate the film, it had its moments and strengths that we will come to shortly, but until it reached its final act I was deathly bored, and even then none of the climactic story beats detonated with any impact whatsoever.
It’s all about keeping it in the family for this franchise, and this first picture nested away from the tragedy of the Skywalker clan flirts with the same territory of estranged patriarchs and hidden secrets. A nordic flavoured opening sequence introduces us to Jyn Erso, a young woman separated from her parents when the Empire arrive and threaten her father to return to work for them on their secret, planet devouring super-weapon. After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) captured we smash-cut to some time later, with Jyn all grown up and played by a neutered Felicity Jones – more on that phraseology later. It’s murky but she’s either a thief or scoundrel of some sort, soon rescued from the prison camp by the Rebel Alliance in order to join the effort to rescue her father, a mission led by intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Eventually this chemistry free couple manage to recruit Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), the blind monk Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his heavily armed grunt Baze (Jiang Wen) – all of their ideologies and motivations I perfect mystery, other than Chirruts mystical ramblings about some strange alchemy known as the force. So, from a kernel of familial strife and guilt the film warps into a mission movie, in a scrappy and fractured narrative line which fails at numerous dramatic hurdles.
The neutron core problem with Rogue One is just how manufactured it feels, how designed by committee, with a critical and fatal disregard for character. From the potentially offensive Zatochi clone and his mate I just didn’t care about anyone in this picture, just like it appears neither did the screenwriters who were clearly directing their efforts into the avenues of fan-service, references, and crafting a film whose sole purpose is to reference other entries in its own bloody franchise. None of the principals get any decent lines or tangible development moments, the first half feels very fractured and scattershot, and whilst I’d concur that the final section is a marked improvement it all comes to little too late to save this plundering product. If you compare and contrast with The Force Awakens (or indeed Episode IV or V) within seconds we given enough information to form our own ideas and backstories – Ren’s a mischievous and resourceful with dreams of getting off-world and into wild adventures, Finn’s a fractured yet spirited conscript whom is struggling with his moral compass. In this film we know nothing of our main protagonists, the prologue aside we learn nothing of Jyn’s interviewing struggle, her drive or reasoning, so when the character moments arrive they don’t land with any density whatsoever – her sudden transformation for inspirational speech orator was ridiculous. In his role as some sort of mentor / father surrogate / Afrika Bambaataa clone Forrest Whitaker is a terrible over-actor with his wheezing portentousness and husky, and quite frankly the main character we met in the trailer, the arrogant and brooding Jyn has been transformed into a much more, well, feminised archetype . There was so much they could have done here, the thriller trope of this being an assassination mission not a rescue mission, and what about the notion of Jyn, our heroine, spending her life as a the daughter of a collaborator – theres plenty of drama and tension to mine. Instead we got some limping procession from one planet to another, drizzled in flat and inspired dialogue, and some feeble stabs at humour from the reprogrammed Imperial droid K2-SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) which missed my funny bone by about 10 trillion parsecs.
SPOILERS SECTION – Yes, Darth effortlessly scything through doomed hordes of Rebel redshirts was highly amusing albeit pure fanboy masturbation, I felt his appearances were listless and not exactly squirming with menace, and very poorly written – what the hell was that ‘choke’ ‘gag;?.\ The entire connection of this story into the opening frames of Episode IV smacks of huge executive interference, it is clunky, it is ugly, and stinks of pure incoherent ‘hey this would be cool’ rather than letting the story be guided by any inconvenient diversions such as character arcs, logic or emotional closure. Some of the other cameos were almost embarrassing – the droids moment might retain their fidelity as the central characters who have appeared in every Star Wars film but it’s just pointless and distracting. Unfortunately Hollywood still hasn’t cracked the uncanny valley as the Peter Cushing resurrection was just weird and deployed far too often, it completely threw me out of the film, although I guess it is meta-commentary amusing to see na actor who spent his entire career grappling with the undead back on the screen a couple of decades since he slipped this mortal country. I quite liked the Leia cameo though, unlike most that kinda worked for me, even with the rather clunky line delivery – although I saw it before the sad news so I’m not sure if this just won’t play as deeply disrespectful. I also quite like the idea of the two reprobates from Mos Eisley engaged in some intergalactic pub crawl after they inadvertently bumped into Jyn, I’m sure there are numerous other references I missed but this is what has just curdled in the memory banks. Just to be really picky, the decision to nuke the final battleground, considering that they hold all the Empire’s plans and numerous intelligence assets seems a little extreme, a bit like nuking the Pentagon if the generals learned that some F23’s secret blueprints had been compromised. Why did Forrest Whitaker’s character just stay in his home intoning gravely instead of getting the fuck out of dodge with everyone else, and what was the fucking point of the psychic tentacle thing? SPOILERS ENDS
Most amusingly I have recently learnt that director Gareth Edwards, also graduated from the same Surrey University as me back in the mid 1990’s, I don’t specifically remember him as he would have been on a different course, but it was a small colleague so I’m sure our paths crossed at me point. I don’t quite know why he was stalking me at Frightfest but here we are. Not wishing to psychoanalyse his intent but he’s evidently one for apocalyptic instincts, big broad metaphors like the creatures in his debut and his Godzilla remake, but like the new generation of malleable directors they serve in obvious thrall to the franchise behemoth, delivering some acceptable product with any fiscal polluting edges and controversies whittled away. Thankfully the film improves dramatically once it reaches the final stretch and the climax begins to coalesce begins, it almost transforms into an actual Star Wars movie with the cross cutting between parallel planes of action to power the dramatic crescendos, but without any genuine investment in any of the occurrences it is all too little too late. To be a little more positive I did enjoy spending some more time in this franchise world from a nostalgic perspective, seeing the ship designs and costumes was fun, including Bahamas Stormtrooper © and was that a new horizontal TIE fighter design I spied? To deny that didn’t depress some nerd buttons would be dishonest. I also did like the sense of a teeming and populous universe which the film just about mustered, skipping from one planet to the next, and I wonder if the lack of traditional wipe edit patterns and inclusion of planet inter-title introductions (which haven’t been deployed in the franchise before) weren’t a deliberate effort to distinguish this movie from the Skywalker saga. But none of this can fully detract from an imaginary realm populated with dull and uninvolved characters, a bruising lack of camaraderie or comradeship, and an utterly unearned heroes journey from jaded criminal vagabond to inspired guerrilla leader who can inspire noble souls to join her on a doomed suicide mission. Oh and a quick memo to the next film producers – decide who your villain is, for fuck sake. Rogue One has at least three villains oozing around the galaxy and cackling over their nefarious plots, which left Ben Mendelsohn flailing for any presence or nefarious heft, in a completely wasted role.
The other reason its taking me so long to pull this together is that I didn’t want to start the year on such a tepid, negative posture, but for me the Scorsese season starts in earnest tomorrow with a screening of Silence so I need to disintegrate the back-log, no matter how distasteful. The film was subjected to reshoots before release which is par for the course these days, almost all major films do this so it’s not necessarily a warning sign, but the shift of emphasis from that original trailer alongside rumours and whispers coming out of the set smacks of Executive molestation a la Suicide Squad, where certain key moments have been culled to the cutting room floor to actively change the pace and tone of the narrative and the characters – ‘this will play gangbusters, so who cares about the plot’ is the corporate mantra especially with more receipts coming from overseas. Then again, apart from a few of us rare dissenters everyone seems to be loving this, or at least giving it a pass as fun couple of hours and upon reflection I can’t necessarily disagree with that for a major blockbuster, a distraction from the increasing ominous shift of the culture. Fine. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I saw this as I wasn’t particularly excited about it, as I’ve said before I’m of the generation that grew up with and was obsessed with this universe when I was a kid, but those pangs have faded partially due to its unearned ubiquity in the cultural landscape, but while I’m always down with some fun big dumb SF opera my exhaustion with this series is becoming overwhelming. So maybe it’s not for me and that’s fine, if people are throughly loving this then great, more power to you, the world is lacking in enthusiasm and genuine enjoyment these days, and perhaps a message of committing to fight against the darker forces in our world, no matter how futile as it might just make a difference isn’t such a bad shell of message to offer. Churning these out every year will inevitably tarnish the brand however, the appearance of a Stars Wars film was a major event for good or ill, and inevitably when we get to the Chewbacca: The Early Years dregs of the series it will have amassed enough in merchandising trillions to justify a reboot of the whole Skywalker saga again, from A New Hope, just in time for a 2027 50th anniversary treat. Rogue One is better than the I-III trilogy but then rampaging case of necrotic syphilis also occupies the same dubious qualities, so on that note ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’!!…wait, that’s the right franchise, right?;
It is already a cliché to open any assessment of the year with the distressing roll-call of tragedy, catastrophe and loss – Bowie, Ali, Prince, Princess Leia and the Reef, Brexit, Aleppo and Tru…no…no, I still can’t stomach even mentioning his name here, as I fear that even any subsequent deep-digital scrubbing would fail to dissipate the stench of brimstone. That’s just scratching the surface of course, there have been plenty more losses in this wretched year among the entertainment and artistic spheres, and the world seems to be plunging down a very frightening right-wing trajectory the likes of which I haven’t seen in my lifetime. I am still horrified by the resurgence of the intolerant and ignorant in society, the traditional rules and customs of behavior obliterated by a new acceptance of bigotry and misogyny, all cheered on by a corporate mandated press who have dredged new levels of bile, hatred and sheer, unimpeachable falsehoods to further their propaganda aims and objectives – it is fucking sickening. In my accidental and unintentional path to be some super-powered contrarian I on the other hand have had an absolutely spectacular year, probably the best of my adult domestic and professional life. I moved to a new place quite unthinkably fantastic just a few short months ago which I’m still enjoying, I significantly upgraded the Audiovisual entertainment equipment and with my newly acquired entry level Whitehall security clearance I have unlocked vast lucrative veldts of contracting opportunities, although I have to say it took me a while to assimilate into the culture and tempo of the environment – it was certainly much more this than this. If we don the rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia for a second I wistfully remember walking to the shops one day as a teenager gentle reader, my mind idly turning over as one’s mind does one’s dreams and ambitions for the future, during which I believe a trio of competing instincts surfaced – a) To become a member of the BFI, to write about cinema and enjoy seeing films on the big screen, as god intended – b) To work in Whitehall, to see the reality behind the facade and witness the mechanisms of the levers of power behind those political edifices and c) Make sweet, sweet lurve with Sherilyn Fenn. Well, as a forty(coughs)something two out of three ain’t bad, and when’s that 2017 UK based Twin Peaks cast reunion again?
But I digress as it is a little gauche to wallow in one’s success, on November 9th I was erring on the mindset of ‘fuck it, burn it all down’, and gave serious consideration to abandoning this now ten-year gestating, quiet corner of the internet. That was my knee-jerk reaction of continuing to interact with the on-line world given the culpability of social media and associated technologies in our new world order, where it seems that video documentary evidence of one thing being said is rejected as an objective, truthful event if the opposition denies it vehemently enough, where dangerously insane figures actively promote views that the mass murder of children was a government conspiracy have the ear of the White House regime. Do we now exist in a post-factual society where incontrovertible scientific truths such as climate change are dismissed as heresy, a annihilating position which essentially has doomed the next generation to tsunamis of human misery and suffering throughout the rest of the century? Probably, and I can only see it getting worse with disorder on the Korean peninsula, Soviet incursions into Eastern Europe, a terrified Iran risking a new cataclysm across the Middle East, and an utterly incompetent ego driven corrupt billionaire ‘serving’ as the leader of the western world. We. Are. Fucked. Heh. Happy New Year, eh? Still, I have talked myself back from the ledge and cooler heads have subsequently prevailed, when it comes to the movies however I don’t think I’m being too controversial in also asserting a very poor year, in some kind of unholy alliance with the ominous developments in communications, politics, socio-economics and the global culture in its wider scope. There has been some soaring achievements that we’ll get into a little later, but I have genuinely struggled to source ten top movies this year, given the paucity of material on offer – the summer was particularly dire.
Now, some of that may be due to my woeful festival attendance, I only got to the LFF this year and due to competing pressures caught maybe 60% of what I had planned to see, so as always there is always great material out there if you spend the time and resources to search it out, but on overall aggregate it has not exactly been 1939 or, say, 1999. From my perspective I’ve also neglected my retrospective screenings, I didn’t really conduct any small screen ‘seasons’ this year, but I am committing to a revisit of my Cassavette’s box-set and to take another run at Eric Rohmer next year via this, as frankly re-watching just about any movie, even the old ones on my new upgraded system is quite a different experience – I saw James Toback’s The Gambler a couple of weeks ago and digesting this up-scaled version from a pretty poor DVD master was like feasting on an entirely different and more precious artifact. Later in the year we will also launch my Kurosawa season, if we have managed to reach the summer without immolating the globe in a radioactive death-shroud. When I scan through what I have completed this year on the big screen I’m actually a little more positive – we gnawed through two Carpenter seasons which has essentially covered 99% of all his films I ever want to cover, with only They Live remaining outstanding from a review point of view – as a major Menagerie icon this is a milestone. Then we caught three crucial Spielberg’s, a couple of Godard’s, some Alan Clarke and with that Scorsese season on the horizon we shall also be busy for the next two months. So let’s get moving as time is a wasting, normally I’d also touch on the best TV but I’m not so inclined this year other than to say I loved The Knick, Penny Dreadful Season 3, Hannibal Season 3, Ash Versus Evil Dead (Lee Majors and bringing Cheryl back was fucking genius), Daredevil 1&2, and something else we will discuss later. So as always in no particular order here are the best films I’ve seen, in no particular order;
The 2016 Films Of The Year
The Witch – (Robert Eggers, USA, 2014) First of all, let me share a quote with you from a podcast review of this nefarious chiller that made me howl with laughter – ‘Katherine Heigel takes her baby brother to the woods for a game of hide and seek. The baby wins’. Heh. When the depraved debutante Robert Eggers decided to open his movie with infanticide it was fair to assume that all bets are off, even if the slaying is seen off-screen – well, kind of off-screen – a minuscule horror that sets the tone for the subsequent hecate hectoring histrionics. On a pure craft and atmospheric level this is an incredibly assured introduction, a compelling metaphor for America’s troubled genesis.
Arrival – (Denis Villeneuve, USA, 2016) First of all, read this, it sucks any wind of my sails, but beware of severe spoilers. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see this again at the flicks, but I am anxiously awaiting the Blu-Ray release in the Spring, primarily to interrogate that Möbius structure and unveil some of this astounding films secret techniques. Arrival is a real rarity, a genre situated film with a realistic fidelity to its dramatic situation, intellectually perplexing, with exemplary work being delivered at every level of the departmental totem pole – sound, editing, script, design. It is unafraid to grapple some big, hulking ideas – free will, destiny, perceptions of time, mortality – in the arena of the modern SF blockbuster, and defiantly throws the gauntlet down to Chris Nolan’s feet in terms of nesting challenging material within a multiplex pleasing carapace. Probably, if I had to nominate a single winner, the Menagerie film of the year.
Midnight Special – (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2016) Whilst I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away with this on a first viewing my affection accelerated upon a second viewing, it still reeks of bureaucratic interference but some beautiful and moving moments spear through the studio inflected fog – those Bradburyesque suburban prairies of the mid-west, the symmetrical elegance of the hidden mirror realm concealed amidst our own, a fractured families final, wordless, loving embrace. The comparisons to Netflix smash Stranger Tides are inevitable. That series was fine, but little more than a collection of fun and worthy influences Xerox imposed over each other to no emotional effect (and shamelessly ripping off Under The Skin along the way) while Midnight Special resonates with a parents unconditional love for their son whatever his origin, instead of mere postmodern posturing and playing to the nostalgic instincts of the internet cultural crowd. Maybe my selection is partially influenced by a movie with a positive conclusion of others which seems literally worlds away from what the path we are staggering down, and we can all dream, no matter how desperately, for some sort of celestial salvation ….
I, Daniel Blake – (Ken Loach, UK, 2016) Truly, we approach the end times when the seas will run communist red as the seals are broken and the trumpets are heard across the earth, as we elect a Ken Loach drama to our films of the year list. I exaggerate of course, I like many of Loach’s films although the Menagerie doesn’t naturally feel like a fit with his particular strand of cinema, but this brutally effective swan song is simply phenomenal, devastating, and a worthy summation of a career made of critiquing the establishment and agitating for social justice. The performances are brutally honest with the only small snag of some plot strands threading off inconclusively, yet for my money it has one of the most thunderous and staggering scenes of recent cinema history which burns itself into your brain.
Dr. Strange – (Tim Manners, USA, 2016) It was a close run race between this and the mischievous Deadpool, as quick slices of irreverent, distracting fun you usually can’t beat a well constructed Marvel film. Yes, they do dissipate in the light of any stringent analysis, and have difficulties with giving their female leads much to do, but they are highly entertaining in that greasy cheeseburger and a refreshing coke kinda way. I loved the depiction of the mystical Marvel omniverse, Cumberbatch surprised me with a well toned metamorphosis into action-hero, and it had a hexing brew of jokes and mystical melee.I might even go and see the next Thor picture if he’s in it, which is high praise indeed…..
Elle – (Paul Verhoeven, France, 2016) It will be interesting and potentially explosive to see how this film fares when it goes on general release in early 2017. The notion of a Paul Verhoeven crafted rape-comedy is not exactly for the fainthearted, but although that’s how the film is being marketed Elle is something far more nuanced and provocative, through an incredible cinematic case study. Isabelle Huppert.demonstrates again why she is one of the finest actresses drawing breath, her courage to take on such challenging material speaks for itself – every American actresses approached for the part declined which is why Verhoeven had to turn to Europe to make the film. It’s one of those texts that I’m sure will reveal more of its craft and subtlety on a second viewing, and brave enough to forge new paths in uncovering the depths of human complexity and behaviours, especially when we are at our absolute worst.
Certain Women – (Kelly Reichardt, USA, 2016) – It’s difficult to articulate what I enjoyed so much about this which serves as a compelling double bill with the next film on the list, an emphasis on the hidden enclaves of America perhaps, the modest blue-collar population eking out their frugal but no less fascinating and moving lives. This is very much a slow burn, a film which eases you into its metronome and hypnotic pace, with subtly finessed performances from Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone. Reichardt it seems can do no wrong with her affecting, socially attuned and minimalist style, eschewing the overtly dramatic for character authenticity, dissolving some of those barriers between the imaged movie world and how people really act when they interact with each other.
Hell Or High Water – (David MacKenzie, USA, 2016) – Given this years catastrophic upheaval it is all to easy to embrace a work whose purring plot engine is powered by corporate maleficence and economic depression, particularly one set in the so-called flyover middle American states. No doubt we’ll start to get a raft of ‘this TV show is post Obama’ or ‘this sequence of movies encapsulate the new political temperature’ style of cultural analysis over the coming months. That’s fine, it is justified and worthy of debate, but what has stuck with me is the sheer craft and lasting impression of this terrific little genre film, the solidly cast characters, the draining atmosphere and quiet rage, and a story which isn’t too shackled by its trappings which could still harbor a surprise or two. That Jeff Bridges can be matched by the likes of Chris Pine and Ben Forster proves that everyone was working at the peak of their game, and quite frankly it was simply a solid, old-school comfort compared to the regular tsunami of comic-book & franchise product……
Victoria – (Sebastian Schipper, Germany, 2015) We’ve all been there right? Skull stoked, whizz shamed, burned and buried deep into the night that should never end, until it does with fatally unintended consequences. Well, I exaggerate of course, as I’ll always support an ambitious approach when the material matches the subject, so this one-shot, single camera picture must be celebrated for its technical audacity as much as its viscous vertie. Victoria is a picture that snatches the Euro-cinema relay baton from Noe ad Refn just as they move into the mature phases of their career, with the new young pups adopting some of their ambitions in disrupting tradition in the margins of the form. Those initial urban orange tungsten lights signal a descent into a European underworld, although it does take its time to establish character, place and tone. Is the entire one shot approach distracting? Yes, as a film nerd you are almost dared to spot the stitches, but the technique can generate a unique energy, with some beautiful moments of indiscriminate immediacy. This Sebastian fella is officially on the Menagerie watch-list, I look forward to see what he’s up to next….
Mr. Robot – (Sam Esmail, USA, 2016) For me, the spectacular highlight of audiovisual entertainment of 2016 was Mr. Robot. Yes, yes, before you bark your protests I know it’s not a fucking movie but I’m adopting the Sight & Sound excuse of celebrating audiovisual storytelling in whatever format, especially for such a prescient show given the various dimensions of 2016’s most calamitous events. It’s a show about anxiety, about technological isolation and rage, about how the world can be inverted from a keyboard, and how no-one, absolutely no-one knows how it will end and the ultimate consequences. Quite apart from the insurgent politics and reflections it also has fantastic performances, but primarily the craft of the show is stunning, the visual and sonic storytelling the equal and better of its cinematic big-brother overlord. It really is the equivalent of Nic Roeg’s schizophrenic cartography merged with Kubrick’s sterile, mortician autopsy of the subject, subsequently cremated with Fincher’s nihilism – high praise indeed but the framing, the direction and design work ooze in perfect harmony with the story and its intellectual instincts, just like cinema at the peak of its powers. There has been a quiet electronic war occurring for a decade (at least) between nation states which is only now coming to the worlds wider attention, where superpowers as well as rogue states have routinely been infiltrating clandestine territory, which for the first time in history doesn’t require the physical penetration of borders or the seizure of tangible, physical assets – and like this magnificent series central character no-one seems to know where the fuck this leads. It’s also a show with a distinct corporate agenda and haven’t all those Panama Papers / off shore tax haven revelations faded from public exposure, as the media engine juggernauts onto new outrages whilst vomiting manufactured propaganda – which has finally enabled the seizure of the highest political offices. This is the real deal, the only media entity that really gnaws at our modern world Venn diagram of institutional corruption, propaganda, and the collapse of the last few decades of world order, with an imminent generational insurgence which is primed and on its way. I’m calling it now but I fully believe that we will witness mass civic unrest in 2017 and beyond, I grew up during the Cold War and remember some of the fears that that period engendered, so to see the rabid right-wing demagogues cosy up with their ancient enemy is just….well, it leaves me speechless. Still, may you live in interesting times I guess, so Mr Robot is an entity that reminds me why we should be glad to be alive, because admidst the hellions there are some people out there on the same wavelength, monitoring the same algorithms, creating and commenting as the future spirals out of control……
U-Turn – (Oliver Stone, USA, 1997) Is this Oliver Stone’s most overlooked film? Some of us remember when he was a genuine, slightly exciting figure to follow, before the recent slide into mediocrity with the likes of The Savages, World Trade Centre and from what I’ve heard Snowden. Back in 1998 however he seemed to have an abundance of post Natural Born Killers, whip-pan film-stock shifting energy to get out of his system, retreated to what on the surface seems to be a stock neo-noir thriller which is elevated to a delirious and deliciously grim black comedy. The cast is the initial joy, from Sean Penn’s perfectly sleazy gambler in thrall to the Russian mob, Nick Nolte’s grizzly bloated patriarch and senorita seductress Jennifer Lopez , through to cameos from the likes of Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thorton (playing against type as a knuckle dragging redneck mechanic) Powers Boothe, Jon Voight and Claire Danes. It represents the best of neo-noir which was enjoying something of a renaissance in the late 1990’s, transported to a morally parched and barren Arizona where everyone has an angle and secret agenda, as they all struggle in their tangled and nihilistically fatal webs of seduction, greed and murder. The style gives it the energy required to propel the usual ‘femme-fatale, please murder my wife and I’ll split the insurance’ plot, from usual Stone DP Robert Richarson’s off kilter framing and haloed source lights, to the cartoonish cruelty of both the performances and coincidence critical narrative – some times a guy just can’t catch a break. Shot with a twitchy hurry in 42 days it’s one part peyote psychedelia to two parts sleazy sangria, quite the brutal brew.
Looker – (Michael Crichton, USA, 1981) With everyone hooked on HBO’s latest triumph Westworld I coincidentally ‘looked’ back to an earlier Michael Crichton effort, the little seen Looker. Puns aside the film acts as curious bridge from the social commentary of the 1970’s to the commerce driven self of the 1980’s, postured as simultaneous corporate conspiracy thriller and evolving media satire. Albert Finney stars as an inquisitive Beverley Hills plastic surgeon – yes, I know – who becomes enmeshed in a series of murders of the beautiful models who frequent his surgery, once they have been contracted to undertake the most minuscule corrections possible – 2mm sheered from the arc of a nose, a slight percentile adjustment of the earlobes. All roads lead to the ominous Digital Matrix corporation who are replacing humans with digital clones, with even murkier intentions to conjure and parade facsimile future presidential candidates – hmmm. It’s no classic, the plot is erratic with the authorities spectacularly interested in the mounting body count, and some of the dialogue is a little on the nose (joke intended), but as an artifact of that shift into the ‘me’ decade obsessed with commerce, self-worth, surface and the all-conquering propaganda grooming of product it is a prescient harbinger of the next few decades. The SFX are also kinda clunky, but the film holds the dubious prestige of being the first film to feature 3D CGI textured shading, and the Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses (L.O.O.K.E.R.) weapons are kind of amusing, it would be worth a remake but alas I doubt it’s to obscure
Threads – (Mick Jackson, UK, 1984) I swear, hand on heart that I had already re-watched and selected this terrifying blast of my childhood prior to November, given subsequent events I don’t think I could face watching it again. Even before the increasing tensions between the superpowers (and I’m referring to China in that contemporary mix) this most disturbing and distressing portrayal of the prologue to epilogue of a global thermonuclear war still transmits sheer, unalloyed terror through a certain generation who came of age during its 1984 BBC transmission. In those perilous days of the Cold War, when operation Able Archer had almost prompted the paranoid Politburo to push the button we all lived with that radioactive shroud lurking over our heads, and isn’t it just dandy to see it coalescing back into its nightmare form some three decades later? Threads remains just as harrowing in its sheer, matter of fact brutality and utter rejection of pulling punches, as the entire global civilization disintegrates into medieval barbarity, when the unseen umbilical links between society are obliterated during one, limited exchange. Seen initially through a specific focus on a almost quaint 1980’s Sheffield the narrative zooms out to report the near annihilation of the UK, following a genocidal nuclear winter and the solemn procession of years and decades that follow attack day +1. Shot through with that bleak, 1980’s Play For Today format which invokes early Ken Loach or Alan Clarke it is the absolute dictionary definition of bleak, with the BBC spokesman voice-over communicating the unsparing statistics on incinerations, food stock depletion, radioactive casualties (in the tens of millions) and civil destruction – total. For amusements sake that consideration, projected thirty years ago, is not remotely comparable to the weapons that currently exist. Compared to the much more saccharine American version The Day After which was transmitted in 1986 this is a brutalist classic, a useful primer on post holocaust survival, and an inducement to prayer of being vaporized in the initial MIRV exchange as a comparative mercy to the hell on earth that follows – Not Nice!!
Films To See In 2017
Ghost In The Shell – (Rupert Sanders, USA, 2017) Already, there has been something of a backlash against this, not only the whitewashing allegations of the main character, but also the claims that the trailer makes the project look like some Underworld, Equilibrium or Resident Evil quality B Movie. I’m not sure if we’re actually viewing the same material as I can see a much deeper visual dexterity in those designs and SFX, but maybe I’m being hoodwinked at the prospect of finally getting something resembling a decent cyberpunk film on the big screen – to date much of the programming has been atrocious. OK, the director doesn’t have much of a pedigree, I wasn’t crazy about his previous effort, but there was some skilled integration of effects work in there, and as that weird glut of fairy tale re-imaginings of the past few years goes it was probably the best example in that odd little sub-genre. I’m no huge fan of the original manga but am familiar with the source material, it was one of the zeitgeist peaks during the adoption of anime in the west back in the late 20th century, alongside the trailblazing Akira, which was followed by the likes of Ninja Scroll and the notorious Urotsukidōji – Legend Of The Overfiend. Is this just a poor excuse for some ScarJo male gaze titillation which she so effectively challenged in Under The Skin? Maybe. Will this have any more depth than some post Lucy, Matrix IV clone with some cool action sequences? Possibly not, but that might be enough for me if we simply get drenched in cyperpunk soaked metropolis, pal around with around some vat-clone manufactured corporate ninjas, and the casting of Kitano Takashi is cult movie-fan genius.
Blade Runner 2049 – (Denis Villeneuve, USA, 2017) On similar lines as the world is usurped by corporate tyranny can a classic be potentially reborn? If there are two cultural artifacts I am yearning to see before the planet is plunged into a pan-axis China / Iran / USA conflagration then it’s the chance to see both the Twin Peaks return which is all shot and been in studiously post-production for many months, and of course the long-awaited return to that dystopian neon-cloaked Los Angeles of the 21st century. My antipathy has thawed following Villenuve’s recent rise to success and the marshaling of such genuine powers as Deakins on camera, Jóhann Jóhannsson on music and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher, and welcomed the distant involvement of Scott given his latest debacles – I’m not holding my breath for the next Alien movie which I’ll see of course but that trailer wasn’t very promising. For me the original Blade Runner will always be an instrumental part of my life and nothing can ever besmirch that, not dissimilar to The Thing and its pathetic prequel, so even if this return is terrible – and I suspect it might be mediocre at the worst – we’ll have always have the Bradbury building, the Ennis-Brown House and the 2nd street tunnel….
Silence – (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2017) The early word is extremely positive, with numerous commentators citing it as Scorsese’s 27 years in the making obsession worthy of the long trek to the screen. With both Malick and Spielberg treading water with their last couple of pictures I just can’t wait to immerse myself in some of the last fading gasps of that generation of American auteurs, and what better way to start a new, ominous year with a near three hour intellectual feast? Alas, in some quarters the stupidity of our current culture has already tarnished the project as a perceived Oscar-grab, a patriarchal produced translation with it’s central triumvirate of three white men, with agitators complaining there are few women, people of color or orientation diversity in a tale about three 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests. Give me a fucking break, it’s that sort of ridiculous sneering which has assisted us in getting to where we are today, and maybe we should just wait and see the film when it is actually released before making any pronouncements on its alleged diversity credentials? Stories are located in particular times and places, and while I celebrate more diversity and more stories from other positions (I’m looking forward to Moonlight given the stellar reviews) these complaints are counterproductive, and only serve the enemy. In any case I am excited by this as an adjunct to the BFI Scorsese season, and it will be interesting to compare and contrast this as an alleged summation of many of the themes and obsessions which run throughout Marty’s work, as he inches toward eventual retirement. This opens on New Years Day so will be the first visit of 2017….
Dunkirk – (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2017) I’m such a fanboy, aren’t I? Nolan’s first historical picture should be an interesting counterpoint to his puzzle movies or reinvention of the iconic origin story, in fact if you crane your ears can already hear the growing cacophony of post Brexit thinkpieces and 1939 – 2017 similarity pieces rattling from the typewriters/laptops of journalist and commentators workstations before this pushes away in the early summer. A quick, perhaps unrelated aside – as a contractor in the Cabinet Office we get free access to the Churchill War Rooms, and I was struck while wandering through the exhibition how he deliberately brought the major political factions of the UK together in his War Cabinet to oppose the greater threat, including some of his most ardent, native, virulent opponents – a combined approach of unity in the face of potential annihilation. Hmm. I suppose the notion of a major defeat and rout being historically spun into a strange sort of victory holds a contempoary volume of dramatic water, and the previous emphasis on major battles such as Stalingrad and D-Day might make any major A list director wary of treading a similar path. I like the ticking, the sense of impending doom, and the stark visual sheen of this glimpse, a full trailer will follow shortly I’m sure…….
Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 – (James Gunn, USA, 2017) Jesus Christ in a sidecar we need some fun in 2017, eh? Some colourful, psychedelic amusement to look forward to? A sequel was inevitable after the surprise success of Marvel’s least established character properties, which for me is probably the best and most genuinely entertaining issue in the entire frenetic franchise. I loved the oddball companionship and camaraderie that the original Guardians managed to conjure among its group of prismatic oddities and exiles, and Chris Pratt in cheeky rogue mode can be a quite a charmer. The secret weapons is both James Gunn’s mischievous sense of humor and the Kirby/Dikto influenced intergalactic back-drops, injecting a bit of lysergic lunacy into that staid old space opera blue-print. I’ve not read any details on plot which I can only assume will delve into Starlord’s past and link into the whole Thanos sub-plot, I just hope, although I wouldn’t bet a single Kree credit on it, that they finally manage to introduce a nefarious and charismatic villain which seems to be a malevolently misguided miracle that still eludes the mighty Marvel Movie Multiverse……
There’s plenty of other potential nuggets if you beat your chest and roar loudly enough, Skull Island might be fun in a ironic big budget B-Movie way, and the next installment of the surprisingly effective Planet Of The Apes series ambles into multiplexes in June. John Wick 2 will hopefully correct some of the failures of the first with some explosive set-pieces, It really looks a banner year for SF as alongside BR2049, Guardians 2 and Ghost In The Shell various other projects are warping in, The God Particle could be interesting, where there is Life there is hope, Alien Covenant drops in May, after the supernova disappointment of Promethea I have re calibrated my excitement sensors accordingly, and having seen first hand the vehicle designs of Ready Player One littered around the Barbarian in August I can only assume Spielberg’s return to SF feels like a close approximation of a 2000AD strip. Auteur wise Sofia Coppola’s remake of The Beguiled is apparently a move back toward her dreamy debut, World War Z 2 which allegedly Fincher is directing, and both Stephen King adaptations The Dark Tower and It finally get their big screen iterations, well aligned for a world plunged into global uncertainty and terror. Comic book wise I’m not spectacularly excited by either Logan or Wonder Woman but I’ll probably go and see ’em, I’m really not interested in the Justice League nor the next Thor film, I am surprised to see the next Spiderman movie is set to hatch in the summer. Despite some relative media silence P.T. Anderson’s 1950’s fashion world set reunion with Daniel Day-Lewis might darken multiplexes in 2017, a new Haneke is promised, and my regrettable LFF omission Manchester by The Sea is absolutely essential from the more studious sector of film-making. Finally of course have another Star Wars movie, should we survive the first twelve months of the most stultifying incompetent and corrupt leadership the western world has seen in my lifetime, coupled with a sabre-rattling Machiavellian psychopath in the Kremlin.
So as always I like to close on some swift reflections on the wider world of cinema, and her current trends and developments. so lets talk about the digital versus analogue screening experience. Well, I have nothing against digital projection, that is the now not the future but the ubiquitous present, but yes I still harken for a film projection of certain screenings depending on the movie in question. Heck, while I vaguely looked into the two options for Interstellar it was never a particular concern, and it’s not as if I ever bother, new release wise, to check on the format that the picture I’m seeing was produced. Similarly I did enjoy The Hateful Eight just from a special event perspective, the specialist 70mm screenings did drape a whole special sheen over the experience considering only one or two cinemas in the country were capable of the technical feat, and I can’t imagine going to see film in any other situation while retaining my film nerd credentials. I do however have an issue with seeing certain films, of a certain pedigree, usually at the BFI or other retrospective hosting venue on a format which doesn’t map to the subjects…well, lets’ call it’s ‘aura’ for want of a better phrase. The purist in me can come to the fore, and I’ve lost count of how many screenings which have arisen only for me to dismiss them when I noted that they were going to be little more than Blu-Ray projections on a large screen, which is a slight con that some of the less reputable London cinemas can occasionally commit. When you see an older film at the cinema the lights dimming and the curtains parting feel like more of an event, when the cigarette burn spark into life, when the screen starts to distort around the reel changes and the dialogue and sound track get a little stuttered the entire experience just feels more tactile and genuine, which is ironic when you’d presume the purpose of a film is to keep you mentally grounded within its self-generated, illusory, fictional space.
However, it’s more complicated than that still, as part of the imminent Scorsese season Taxi Driver alongside Goodfellas have both been blessed with new 4K digital transfers. I am spectacularly excited to finally see them both appropriately projected but I can’t help but feel that some authenticity is lost from a physical, chromatic print, despite the technical increases in image density and stability, colour timing and quality that a new transfer can deliver. But it doesn’t feel as ‘real’, you want to see a seedy, slightly distressed print of Taxi Driver, the equivalent of which would be screened in the seedy Times Square grindhouses of 1970’s New York in which the film was made, right? I refused to see Night Of The Living Dead on digital as it just seems…wrong, having its ugly and taboo breaking serrated edges sheered off with some bright, perfectly balanced grain dulling texture. So, my choices are formed of an arbitrary decision I make depending on the films inherent qualities, in any case it can be a revelation to see a film projected in whatever format, in the correct aspect ratio intended by its technicians and designers, which is where even a frequently viewed text can spark in new magnificent life, and that is the continual wonder of the big screen. Is there a point to all his confused cerebral rambling? Probably not, and with new 4K system at home we do seem to be moving onto a new gradation of quality domestically speaking, but that will never beat the experience of an intimate cinema screening, with a theater full of appropriately expectant strangers which will always be the Menagerie favored optimum format in which to experience the continual magic of the movies – while it lasts;
Jesus fucking Christ. What else is there to say? I always liked how funny and self-deprecating she came over in interviews, as well as gently poking fun at the whole furore that orbited the franchise. Well, I know everyone else will be posting the obvious stuff and quite appropriately as she became an icon, I’ll just post a reminder that she had some roles out of the franchise, and I was always uniquely amused by this odd little number that I remember seeing as a teenager – although I doubt a remake is on the cards, somehow;
So this is doing the rounds, and rightly so. I re-watched the film recently as part of a still unpublished rewatch of 2000’s films, and am still deeply disappointed in myself at not seeing it at the flicks when it was released – as a prophetic slice of SF it surely is some kind of masterpiece. There is a great deal of deployment of the so-called long take these days, on both TV and cinema, most of which is unjustified from a storytelling sense – but that’s another blog post. Cuarón on the other hand is a master and his technique is married to the material, in an organic and thrilling way. Watch the film again, think of the political rhetoric and obstacles we now face, and get fucking organised as it’s gonna be tough;