After all, it's just a ride….


BFI Screen Epiphanies – Come & See (1985)


здравствуйте comrades. For my second free BFI screening of the year a number of strategies struck me on how to open a review. First of all the distinct lack of Russian cinema I’ve managed to cover over the years sprang shamefully to mind, I mean apart from a couple of stabs at Tarkovsky it’s not exactly been Kino-film 101 around here, right? Soviet film figures such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovshenko and Vertov are powerful dormant bears of film culture, ushering in and developing critical cinematic syntax such as montage and shot to shot relations, while more recently figures such as Alexander Sokurov have prowled the world stage, regarded by many as among the greatest living filmmakers. Then of course I thought about the Second World War film, a genre which broadly speaking has been treated cinematically as an action filled romp, of boys own adventure and glorious men-on-a-mission movies, until the likes of The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan detonated a new assault of blood and entrail drenched realism, illuminating the full horror and sacrifice that such inhuman conflicts ignited across both the European and Pacific theatres. But then after last Thursdays horrific events here in the UK there really was only place to begin discussion of Elem Klimov notorious 1985 film Come And See, and that is the harrowing tableau of a human face frozen in absolute horror, all reason and sanity obliterated by the sights and atrocities it has witnessed, a scene akin to both the peasant boy Flyora witness to the brutal blitzkrieg Barbarossa campaign and my reaction to the results pouring in from the constituencies across the country.

come2The film is frequently cited in the same breadth as Passolini’s Salo, Haneke’s The Seventh Continent or Zukawski’s Possession as among the most harrowing art-house of the period, rest assured it’s a tough watch both sonically and psychologically, with some brutal imagery which fully unleashes the four horsemen of the apocalypse which are referenced in the films biblically plundered title ‘And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see! And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth’. The films stomach churning center-piece is the 45 minute obliteration of a Belarus village by a division of Wehrmacht psychopaths. It’s an unendurable, extended assault of forlorn screaming, of barking dogs, of indiscriminate explosions and gunfire, as the frenzied occupants of the doomed hamlet are corralled in the village church and burned alive – men, women, children, infants. Klimov frames this almost as some horrifically distorted bacchanal, with the Nazi’s (and let’s never forgot their sympathizers and accomplices) bawdily drinking, singing, dancing and carousing as they indiscriminately slaughter entire generations of families, with the lucky ones succumbing swiftly to the cleansing fire – you really don’t wish to know what happens to the survivors.

come3I suppose I should explain the ‘Epiphanies’ sobriquet, as this is a series of screenings that the BFI host for artists or scholars as works that they champion as having changed their artistic lives. This was the choice of theatre director Katie Mitchell who was interviewed prior to the screening, and no I’d never heard of her either as I’m such a pathetic philistine. In terms of technique Klimov was also a decade ahead of his peers on the other side of the Iron Curtain, as he assaults the viewer with a trident of techniques that firmly situate us in the disintegrating headspace of poor, orphaned Flyora. In one sequence empathic identification is forged when a barrage of artillery deafens our protagonist, causing the soundtrack itself to warp to garbled and discordant tones for the next twenty minutes of screen time – Spielberg truncated and ‘homaged’ that ideal at 0:42 here. The film is also notable for a generous disbursement of Steadicam use. After Kubrick’s profile raising deployment of the method in The Shining five years before it still hadn’t quite infiltrated the industry as a popular filming method, so Klimov’s ordering his camera to prowl POV style through the nightmare gets us directly into his Floyra’s headspace, where a minefield, an enemy or atrocity could be lurking around the next corner. This fluidity is punctuated with severe close-ups of grimy, trembling, tear streaked faces, the literal face of war with humanity ebbing away as the horror warps into a numbing spectacle of grotesque mangled bodies, indescribable cruelty, the relentless laceration of metal into soft flesh and bone. Finally, in a quite brilliant touch which is all the more pertinent now the film frequently cuts to Flyora’s terrified glances to the omnipresent Luftwaffe spotter planes circling the battlefields, providing a constant drone as literal agents of death that scuttle across the smoky graveyard smeared sky. If I was being a little bit flippant I’d liken the overall effect to Hieronymus Bosch crushed in the tank tracks of Sven Hassel, a constant assault of misery and mayhem on all fronts of cinematic representation – Come And See being an invitation to voyeuristic evisceration.

come4Elem Klimov never made enough film, and although it’s romantic to think that this was due to him having nothing left to say following this ultimate statement on warfare in cinema I think it was more to do with tussles with the Soviet Goskino film-board, whom of course sanctioned or suppressed material at the whim of the prevailing political winds. They loathed the film for its ‘dirty aesthetics’, yet despite the challenge it found its way to the international festival circuit, and curiously managed a staggering 30 million admissions in Russian territory alone. As for the screening itself, well, I’m sorry to say this was one of the poorest experiences I’ve endured at the BFI. They did announce that the 35mm print they had acquired had been tested and found to be of such despicably poor quality that they had to make alternate arrangements, cannily securing the Super VHS master loops from Channel 4’s transmission of the film in the 1990’s. This quality was fine for the first twenty or so minutes, then some interference became apparent from the source master and the digital projection which resulted in blocky glitches populating the screen like a ‘snowstorm’ aerial failure. A very apologetic curate came out and explained the issue and that they would continue the projection so I stuck around – it was physically still watchable just immensely distracting – figuring that once they changed tapes the problem could be rectified and thus my patience was rewarded. Still, at the end of the day this was free to members so I can’t complain too much, and the glitches only blighted about 30 minutes of the two and a half hour film. For sheer metaphysical horror of what we deluded creatures feel justified to inflict upon each other in the name of nationalism, of prestige or of power or pride Come And See is an equal to Apocalypse Now, a harrowing vision of hell literally let loose upon the Earth, all encapsulated by Flyora’s shattered, weeping face as witness for us all;

The Man They Call Max….

So I’ve been roaring around, trying to find some material to get your engine running regarding the imminent return of Max. I looked into dystopian movie montages yet that’s been overdone recently, so I considered some Ozploitation models instead but no dice. Success screamed off the conveyor belt but beware it’s booby-trapped, if you touch those tanks then ‘BOOM':,

The Man We Called Max from Dave Black on Vimeo.

Phoenix (2015)

phoe1It’s rewarding to broaden ones horizons isn’t it? Following last year’s rather poor attendance with shall we say less mainstream movie digestion I’ve made a concerted effort this year, to seek out new material from territories and terrain which is usually less travelled, and the fruits of my labour are finally ripening. I’ll save my comments on my excursion into Argentinan cinema for another infinitely more pretentious post, but back in Europe there is a filmmaker whom has come to prominence over the past few years through his repeated collaborations with his on-screen actress muse – I’m talking about Christian Petzold and the brilliant Nina Hoss. Over the past decade they have made five films together, a cinema which in its broadest terms could be classified as nationalist enquiries into the history, the social and cultural dimensions of their shared homeland of Germany. Prior to this article dropping a week ago I had already delved into his acute emotional character pieces framed within historical thrillers, Petzold trimming his movies with a slight sense of genre foliage while the real work is occurring in the long grass of identity, ideology and individuals operating almost as cyphers of their homelands psychological temperature. It appears that this discovery was perfectly timed as his new and perhaps most assured film Phoenix arrived in the more affluent end of the cinema spectrum last week, so once again the travelcard was engaged to a repeat visit to (coincidently enough) the Phoenix screen of the Curzon Renoir.

phoenix2Berlin, 1945, a city and country sheathed in ruinous, smouldering desperation. A mysterious figure is whisked through an Allied checkpoint during a furtive nocturnal manoeuvre, her companion Lene (Nina Kundenzorf) explaining to the suspicious troops that her heavily bandaged and facially obscured companion isn’t Eva Braun but a scarred young survivor of the death camps. She is Nelly (Hoss, brilliantly impenetrable), a young Jewish singer who has returned from almost certain death, with horrendous facial scarring and an interior obliteration. In order to rebuild their lives and begin anew Lene arranges for Nelly’s plastic surgery, while urging her to join her on her planned decant to Palestine in order to join the fledging Israeli post war state. Nina is drawn to a different flame however and with her new appearance begins to court her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), a musician relegated to barman at the sleazy Phoenix club, a rather desperate smoke-choked locale where furtive sexual encounters between panting GI’s and resource starved locals are scored by Weimar decadent aural nostalgia. When Johnny notices the resemblance of Nina to his dead wife – she does nothing to disavow him of his ambitions and inform him that she is the real Nina – he traps her into a furtive scheme, to simulate the return of his real wife in order to swindle his surviving relatives by marriage out of the modest family finances.

phoenix3There is no escaping the halo of Hitchcock’s Vertigo from a first viewing of this haunting film, with a woman being reconstructed by a man in the image of his dead lover, erecting a hall of mirrors of desire, identity and deceit among the rubble strewn, decomposing ruins of the Third Reich. The film’s title signals the thematic and ideological levels that Petzold is zeroing upon, the Phoenix as rebirth of Nelly following her devastating betrayal and abuse, a personal emotional motif resonating for the difficult birth of a new, post-Nazi European state. Hoss is absolutely magnificent in her restrained, opaque performance as a creature deeply and permanently scarred by her physical and psychic ordeals, never revealing her mysterious decisions to cloak her identity or reveal her true paternity to her treacherous husband. Petzold balances the osculating rhythms of his film through a careful command of tone and framing – interior vs. exterior, social vs. singular, allegiance vs. betrayal – with just a discreet directorial flourish which is sparsely applied, the odd dash of semiotic colour here, a elevation in score and sound there. It’s a chilly, austere work which probably requires a few sittings to fully crack its coding, to decipher and heal Nelly’s psychiatric scars.

hpoe4The film is afflicted with some dramatic flaws which meander to cul-de-sacs rather than connect the themes in some grand Wehrmacht battle plan, one character whom we feel we should know better is written out of the narrative in a rather clumsy fashion for plot functions, and perhaps a shard, a glimpse of some psychological truth behind Nelly’s occasionally illogical behaviour would have served to identify with her decisions and possible delusions on a more empathic level. The final scene however is sublime and the transcedant revelation that the entire film has been building toward, a rendition of elevation and escape on a rival with Bresson at his most moving. As a final note I can strongly recommend 2012’s Barbara which critically speaking was one of those breakthrough films which raised Petzold’s visability through the world cinema set, my personal favourite of his films is Yella which is best described as a Michel Haneke temperature remake of the eerie masterpiece Carnival Of Souls, which as it stands is one of the most rewarding films I’ve seen this year. Phoenix is another successful entry in an increasingly tensile filmography, a body politic that harbours  both geographic gentile and cartographic contours of the soul, powered by one of the great contemporary director /actor partnerships;

San Andreas (2015) Trailer

Oh boy does this look terrible, in a thoroughly entertaining way. I’ve never quite seen the attraction of The Rock but he has his committed fanbase, looks like he might have bitten off more than he can chew with this one;

Is this the first crest of a new wave of disaster movies? In other news having just got back from a day at the BFI – I’m three reviews behind now so my work is cut out for me next week – this is an interesting read.

5 Year Plan…..

Having reviewed the status and worshipped at the state of the nation it’s all OK. Honestly, culturally {bzzt} it’s all Ok. iALl {bzz INTRODOK} all OK. Seriously. Five more years of {bzttz} sacrifice. We shall prevail. Conservative equals progress, and only a {subvert} alien would challenge? Production equals progress. Congratulations on your identity. Where’s the worry you fucking communists;

Happy Birthday Orson….

Well, it’s not every day you get to wish a happy 100th birthday to one of the greatest and most influential film figures of all time. There’s a fair amount of material doing the rounds, but this is probably the best tribute;

One day I’ll track down The Trial and Touch Of Evil on the big screen….one day;

Menagerie’s Cannes 2015 Programme

cannes2015Movies? Oh they’re dead, nothing but American franchise fodder strangling the multiplexes ain’t they? Well no, not if you look beyond the latest spandex and chrome clad spectacle they’re not, as the international film community gets into its 2015 swing with the worlds oldest and most prestigious festival – Cannes. I did toy with the notion of attending this year but I couldn’t commit before the application deadline, I’ve committed to make more of an effort next year although I do have plans for a watery foreign film jaunt this year – watch this space. With my finger on the pulse as always a mere three weeks after the final programme announcement here is my personal pick of the pack, I eagerly await the further word on Fury Road although rest assured early rumors are incandescently positive, but like I said I’m boycotting that last trailer for fear of decelerating my  delirium. So while I focus my attention on a few fairly ambitious weekends of UK movie watching which alongside my pre-booked events must also include a visit to this which opens tomorrow after 35 years of neglect, come hither and let’s take an amble through the croisette’s coming attractions now that I’ve had the chance to fully review the programme;

Yakuza Apocalypse, Takaski Miike 2015 – We’ll start with the obvious, with our old friend the timid Japanese slow-coach Miike Takashi who churns out yet another Yakuzi drenched bloodbath which gets a ‘special’ screening – whatever that means.  Have I mentioned this thought before? Have I transmitted my contention that I probably have Japanese cinephile kindred who are as exasperated of the frequent emphasis of their indigenous cinema on the brothels and pachkino organized crime dens of Shinjuku and Shibya and loath those ‘cool’ post Reservoir Dogs medium shots of the criminal marching toward the camera as that continual weeping sore of mockney East End crime films that my country suffers with birds and shooters and fackin’ kants made by slumming upper middle-class hacks like Guy Ritchie and Matthew ‘Yes I have directed party political broadcasts for the Tory party’ Vaughan? That sentence could probably use a full stop somewhere, but the Coalition sold them all. A-ha. Satire. Vote on Thursday kids.

Macbeth, Justin Kurzel, 2015 – After Snowtown turned stomachs back in 2010 I wondered what happened to Kurzel, it seems like he’s following in the non-intimidating footsteps of Polanski and Welles with his take on the Scottish play. I’m not the worlds biggest fan of Shaky but I do like this play, its pretty nasty with lashings of  sword scrapping, histrionic harpies and mystical crones which is a little more up the Menagerie alley than privileged royals exchanging witty fripperies. Plus I got a B+ on a GCSE essay on this book {beams proudly} so I’m looking forward to this. A dense cast with Fassbinder and Cotillard making a menacing pair of power mad murderers, no trailer yet so Polanski’s gory take on the tale is linked above. They showed 15 year olds this movie at my school which explains a lot doesn’t it?

Son Of Saul, Laslo Nemes, 2015 – Well now here’s a guaranteed laugh-riot, Eastern European miserablist Bela Tarr’s protégé with his debut film about – wait for it – two days seen through the eyes of an Auschwitz inmate in 1944. Apparently this fictitious character works in one of the crematorium. I can’t think of much else to say so I think I’ll just go for a little cry.

Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015 – If you’ve seen the darkly hilarious Dogtooth then you know what to expect, and if you haven’ then you must rectify the situation immediately. Any twisted mind which can produce such blackly satirical comedy that would make Bunuel proud is always worth watching. I’ve heard it’s about ‘forced breeding and animal human hybrids warped through the genre eyes of a rom-com’ – huh. Again no bloody trailer which is getting quite exasperating, thus above is a reminder of his break through film.

Carol, Todd Haynes, 2015 – He’s been absent from the screen for a long eight years, although I can strongly recommend his acclaimed HBO series Mildred Pierce from a few years back. Haynes seems to be heading back to Sirk and Fassbinder territory with this adaption of a Patricia Highsmith novel, this should be more of a glitzier period piece affair with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchet in tow.

Journey To The Shore, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2015 – Although he has moved away from his J-Horror roots Kurosawa (no relation) continues to produce the odd piece here and there despite some setbacks and funding failures. What is quite irritating is that I’m fairly sure that his last two films (the last one trailed above) have received no distribution outside Japan, so a festival is the only shot of seeing his movies on the big screen. I have no idea what this new film is about but his name is enough to garner my interest.

Louder Than Bombs, Joachim Trier, 2015 – Y’see this is what film festivals are all about. I’d never heard of Trier when I saw his film Oslo August 31st at the LFF a few years ago, and I immediately seized on his evident, slightly melancholic talent as someone to watch. This is his first English language film starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert –  this could be a breakthrough.

Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier, 2015 – Ah, excellent, Saulnier hasn’t wasted any time following up his critical darling Blue Ruin and with the Coens as jury presidents he might be in with some fellow support given the darkly comic flavor of his debut. Crikey, I forgot how much work these lists posts can be, this must the first I’ve constructed in ages. The new films from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust & Bone),  Hirokazu Kore-eda (After Life, Like Father Like Son) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (Millenium Mambo, Café Lumière) are also essential.

Love, Gaspar Noe, 2015 – Another enfant terrible whom has been quiet, knocking one out in the world cinema corner. Well, after the brain bruising excess of Enter The Void maybe you wondered where the pint-sized terrorist would go next? Well why not make a three-hour, 3D hardcore porn film by the sounds of things? I’m calling this now and mark my words, this will be cited ad-nauseum as his take on Terry Southern’s sexual satire Blue Movie which Southern was inspired to write after discussions with Kubrick on the Dr. Strangelove set, to the point where he actually dedicated the novel to ‘the great Stanley K’. No trailer yet, so a quick look back to the excess of his previous phantasm of excessive style and severity.

Blade Runner – Final Cut (2007) Reprise

br1‘Memories….you’re talking about memories‘ – We’ve been here before of course, through two generations of Voight Kampff interrogation, but I think you’ll be willing to undergo a third assault on one of my all time favourite films – it must be edging out 2001: A Space Odyssey for sheer volume of Menagerie coverage by now. When yet another big-screen revival of the SF classic was announced I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t have a great deal to say from yet another screening, yet I dutifully ambled over to the Prince Of Wales cinema this week, handed over my £8 and scrambled upstairs for another trip to the Stygian Los Angeles of November 2019. Within moments of the opening credits my laughable concerns were obliterated in the face of the masterpiece – and let’s be clear with this, that this is a masterpiece –  as the film continues to mature and evolve like the highest proponents of the craft. Given that I’ve covered the familiar ground in those previous pieces I’m not going to be retracing the old ‘did you know the original cut closed with outtakes from The Shining?‘, ‘I wonder how the film would have turned out if original cast choice Dustin Hoffman shot the Deckard role?’  or ‘did you know that William S. Burroghs optioned the name title Blade Runner from one of his stories?’ anecdata which should be perfectly clear and general knowledge to you by now, instead I’ll formulate some thoughts around  some specific themes which have gloamed like those fiery refinery belches through that future industrial smog.  It’s fair to say that this entire on-line enterprise probably wouldn’t exist without Blade Runner, it was the first film I really developed an obsessive fascination with, and would watch every day after school on an increasingly degraded VHS copy that preserved an inferior ITV pan & scan transmission. Just to dilute any concerns about my mental health I would often be reading or doing homework as it thundered away in the background, so I’d look up and pay 100% attention only to the essential sequences –  the opening crawl, the Tyrell / Batty confrontation, Zhora’s knockers, the final chase and soliloquy, and, well, yes the list goes on. I’m not exaggerating when I proclaim that I’ve seen this film well over 100 times, so it is quite difficult to divorce yourself from knowing every anecdote from every component, of being able  to predict the sequence and contour of every scene and mentally mirror the dialogue ad nauseam, but I have tried my best to approach this with a fresh 2015 perspective in order to reassess the film another eight years on from its previous generation. So c’mon now, abandon those noodles, let’s crank up some music and take the spinner for a stroll, and let me show what I’ve seen with your eyes. Or something.

deckard‘Captain Bryant toka. Me ni omae yo’ – Oh god bless you internet, there I was wondering if anyone had translated Gaff’s dialogue delivered in that future urban argot – just another small ingredient of world building which adds nourishing texture to the piece – and of course they fucking have. That urban mood of the city as a living, breathing omnipresent entity evokes noir which takes us neatly to the first area I want to explore – genre, and rather more specifically genre hybrids. The mix of neo-noir and SF in Blade Runner has simply never been bettered (yes, I’m including Godard’s overrated Alphaville in that equation), and if you disassemble the constituent parts it’s rather a strange, seemingly incongruous combination. There are plenty of SF action movies, or action-comedies, cross pollenating to horror-comedies and so forth, but taking the futurism and predictive qualities of SF and then crouching those in the mean streets of urban malaise, of crimson lipped duplicitous dames and existential dread seems like a volatile, indigestible mixture. It’s not just the 1940’s costume design influences in the film, the neon-scorched & smoke saturated streets or Rachael’s Joan Crawford influenced Mildred Pierce hairstyles and power suits, beyond the visual trappings Hampton Fancher and David Peoples script also lavishes attention on tone. World-weary gum-shoe who is constantly drunk in the film? Check. Doomed, transgressive romance with a dame shielding a host of mysteries? Check. Powerful industrialist falling prey to the criminal elements of society he is in part responsible for unleashing? triple check. Thematically these iconographic contours refract and intensify against each other in some genre generated echo chamber, with the wielding of cloaked intentions and identity within an environment of moral and social disintegration, of fate and time dictated by some personified and malignant entity, with the oriental elements even suggesting the post-war occupation of Japan which was captured in the first cycle of noirs such as Sam Fuller’s  The Crimson Kimono or House Of Bamboo.

blade1‘Also extraordinary things; revel in your time’ – Just seeing this on the big screen again with roughly 25% extra visual information than the pan-scan TV versions I was weened on never fails to dazzle and inspire, Ridley populating and cramming every pixel with visual information, from Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paul’s retro-futurist production design and Jordan Cronenwith’s caliginous cinematography. The film feels timeless like many other classics, it doesn’t have the historical gradient of many of its contemporaries and isn’t a glaring product of American cinema of the 1980’s like the Schwarzenegger or Stallone testosterone traducements. Perhaps this is because the themes and queries spliced into the film at every level are timeless – what is it to be human? How long have we got on this mortal realm? Can we create artificial intelligence? If so, then what are the consequences of igniting that Promethean fire? Even the scrubbed SFX stands up to scrutiny apart from some of those cityscape mattes framed outside Deckard’s apartment, and the post-modern fashions, the cultural and social coding is decades ahead of its time unlike similar fare which operate in the slipstream of Reganomics and the cold war – The Thing, Tron,  E.T. & Turkey Shoot – just to pick a few contemporaries from 1982. It’s also not just the 1940’s inflected future which Ridley restricted his influences upon, very little mention has ever been made about the Louis XIV inspired inner sanctum of Tyrell regaled in a Midas gold sheen, or J.F. Sebastian’s apartment cluttered with La Belle Époque garbed clockwork mannequins and prototypes, nor the New Romantic baroque decadence of the West Side bar where Deckard  fatally meets Zhora. I also noted that we never even get an establishing shot of this potentially lucrative location in the sense of fashion and design textures, an oversight unheard of in todays visual language of storytelling spectacle, all of which suggests that Ridley still had some detritus from the The Duellists to shake out of his viewfinder.

br3‘We’re not computers Sebastian…we’re physical’ – For the first time seeing the film projected I felt a real, palpable emotional core with the character of Rachel, and not simply because she was one of my first and  deepest screen crushes. Her function and plight is the emotional centrifuge of the film, the rostrum of simulacra and memory orbiting her character like a slowly descending spinner, and I was actually moved by her plight rather than taking a swim in her dreamy, chameleon eyes…….oh, I’m sorry, I erm, I got a little distracted there. Like HAL in 2001 she is the only empathic character in the film – Deckard is little more than a gum-shoe cypher who drinks constantly, gets beaten up and shoots women in the back – she is the engineered creature who enjoys anything like a dramatic arc, and her and HAL’s digital constitution is one of the great ironies of these twinned films, proclaimed as ‘more human than human’ by Tyrell as the corporate mission statement. Similarly Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer portrayal as curious adult/child hybrids given their emotional immaturity, it’s just so wonderfully pitched and played in comparison to the I.AM. {BZZT} A. ROBOT. dimensions of artificial intelligence on the big screen, and I’ll bet you digital dollars to differential doughnuts that Pris was a central influence on Scarlett Johannson in Under The Skin. Speaking of influences the films programming of Ex Machina is evidence of Blade Runners continual influence over thirty years later, a cognitive take on the major scientific and cultural issues of the day, but it was also the romance scenes in Deckard’s apartment which seem to have matured with a melancholic method, apart from the ‘no’ meaning ‘yes’ aspect of the seduction scene which is kinda uncomfortable in 2015. I’m not going to labour the point about the film not existing in almost as many cuts as the replicants themselves – 1982 domestic and international cuts, 1992 directors cut, the 2007 Final Cut and the original Work-Print – but here is a comparison of the opening and closing versions of each iteration;

The lights have expired, Vangelis prismatic score swells to establish mood and atmosphere, the credits leisurely spool across the retina as the only sensory information in a darkened auditorium, acclimatizing us into this incredibly tactile world immersion that is due to commence. I don’t want to be that guy but most movies today could take a lesson in from Blade Runner in terms of patience, of not plunging straight into the action with a barely conceived title sequence (which is an art unto itself of course), of trusting the audience and securing their undivided attention. Controversially I actually prefer the original ending, even if it doesn’t make narrative sense in the abstract that all these souls would be suffering in the LA metropolis hellhole and not living out in the Eden like mountains, except isn”t that what people do in the real world? Do they live in shanty towns in South America and Africa instead of foraging for sustenance out on the wilderness? No, we are social creatures that flock together so that criticism never made sense. I am hoping to see the original cut, either domestic or European on the big screen some day (naturally I leapt at the chance of seeing the Directors Cut in 1992) but I suspect that Warner Brothers and Ridders have pulled a Lucas and removed prints from circulation. It’s just a hunch as even on my social media feeds of numerous cinephiles and critics from across the globe no-one has ever mentioned, not once in almost a decade, of going to see the original 1982 version on the big screen.

br4‘Are you for real?’ – Must we reassess the great question that has raged for years – is Deckard a replicant? My current status with this perennial question is succinct and to the point – who cares? It doesn’t fucking matter, and no matter what Ridders said in that interview the question must and should remain opaque, uncertain and undefinable like the very notion of consciousness and moral authority probed in the movie. Does it benefit to have a clear-cut explanation of  what the monolith ‘means’, of the final shot in Haneke’s Hidden and all the queries that raises, or what ‘Rosebud’ really refers to in Kane? The beauty and strength of these inquiries on an artistic and cognitive level lies in the mind of the beholder, as you experience, digest and mull over the work in alignment with your experiences and ideology. Once an artist releases his or her creation into the cultural market then they lose any intellectual authority over that work, other than their specific intentions which are usually fascinating and instructive, but can chain the work to a single interpretation of meanings and mediations. I’m not saying that Deckard’s status isn’t an interesting query to pose and consider when thinking about the text, especially when considering some specific moments in the film (so why does Bryant have to explain to Deckard, a Blade Runner with numerous years experience exactly what a Nexus-6 is? Other than the scene being a clunky screenwriting exercise in audience exposition of course) although the sequel is guaranteed to focus on this question with diminishing and discordant results. It’s these uncertainties, these intangible signifiers that also bleed into the animal extinction and environmental catastrophe of movie world 2019. The notion that the vast majority of animal life has been exterminated is front and center in PKD’s source text but embroidered into the DNA of the film without oblique reference, no character ever wields clumsy dialogue stating ‘of course all animal life has been rendered extinct since the atomic wars of the late 1990’s’, instead it is just another factor of the world which raises the temperature of the artificial and evolutionary, of science advancing to the status of replacing but not regenerating, an ideal which is as prophetic in 1982 as it remains today.

br5Wow,…you’ve got some….really nice toys here’ – The tender streak of blood that Roy brushes across Pris’s cheek as he gives a final kiss, mirroring the drops of blood spiraling from Deckard’s wounds into his neat vodka after the encounter with Leon. The mannequin sitting at the bar with a bottle of J&B during the final chase scene (1:42) which I had not noticed in the aforementioned 100 viewings which could be another piece of evidence of Deckard as  an artificial alcoholic construction, you can’t see it well in that poor quality clip but it is there, yet more proof that further viewings can still yield intellectual treasures. The fact that Pris and Roy’s incept date seen in the opening of the film are a mere nine and eight months away) which I’m sure some cinephiles will be celebrating on-line, in the most otaku levels of fandom. The deleted scene which is so strongly reminiscent of the look and design of Alien that you’ve got to conclude that they operate in the same universe, perhaps with Weyland Yutani and the Tyrell corporation as warring competitors who in true cyberpunk fashion have supplanted government and civil society as the organizing forces of culture and capitalism across the colonized systems – if anyone from  the Villeneuve camp is reading this then yes I am available for script duties. The fact that this exists and is now my favored background writing inspiration. So finally, once again, the finale. It’s not just the speech, the now iconic addition to the greatest soliloquies of all time speech, no for me it’s the whole sequence from Deckard entering Sebastian’s apartment through to the smash-cut ending which is up there with the greatest sequences ever committed to polyethylene nitrate.  The pacing and texture is perfectly engineered, it is exciting and saturated with apprehension, giving us more vital yet abstract elements of the abandoned, saturated cityscape interiors suffering in almost abstract decay – just like Batty. Most importantly it has the emotional pay-off, the villain of the piece becoming transformed through mercy and expressing more humanity than all the other characters in the film combined – not bad for some dumb skin-job. It’s these tensions of story and theme that elevate Blade Runner to masterpiece status powered by its revolutionary visual conceptions, soundtrack and atmosphere, the extraordinarily prescient social, architectural and design predictions, a future world on-screen which straddles the immense landmarks of Lang’s Metropolis through to Kubrick’s 2001. The influence remains overwhelming as the themes evolve with each passing year – isn’t this wonderful – like Gaff’s closing ambiguous statement ‘it’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?';

The Avengers – Age Of Ultron (2015)

ultronI’ve never quite understood or appreciated the financial vagaries of the film business, so even my inexperienced eye can’t quite fathom why one of the titans of this years film schedule would get an overseas release a full nine days ahead of its stateside debut – I mean it’s not as if a behemoth on the scale of Marvel Comics The Avengers: Age Of Ultron needs to generate a little on-line buzz or supportive word of mouth now is it? Disney wields one of the most advanced and expansive marketing juggernauts in modern media parlance so it certainly wouldn’t be saving a few grand on P&A costs across different release territories would it? No, after the first installment of Joss Whedon’s warmly received Marvel franchise picture become the third top-ten grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation) all expectations were on the inevitable return to the vengeance afflicted victors replicating the initially successful formula – adrenalized action based antics, fanboy friendly narrative arcing, cute quipping, team based pyrotechnics and state of the art CGI wizardry. Well, all these contours are covered in Whedon’s return to make what he’s called ‘the most difficult project of my entire career’, with an elevated angle as Age Of Ultron yearns to be more entertaining, funnier and frantic that its predecessor, with a timely technological villain which I’m confessing is a favorite of mine from the original comics – the .James Spader voiced  annihilating automaton Ultron.

aveb2Opening in media res with an action sequence amongst the best in the film the crew are paying a violent visit to the land of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s specter from the evil clutches of Hydra general Wolfgang Von Strucker. The gangs all here including the increasingly green-goo-eyed Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), Arrogant Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain Sidelined (Chris Evans), Timotei (Chris Hemsworth), ha see I’m married in this film so the rumors aren’t true (Jeremy Renner) and a more prominently deployed Hulk (The Hulk). The dastardly Strucker has been experimenting on his local subjects to make them into what the film euphemistically terms the ‘enhanced’, giving a broad stroke backstory to two new additions to the MCU The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her accelerated brother Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) which I’m guessing has been divorced from the comics continuum due to rights issues – can’t exactly name them as Magneto’s mutant children when he doesn’t exist in your cinematic universe now can you? Anyway, with the specter acquired Banner and Stark get boffining with the artifacts  infinite power and inadvertently breathe life, Pinocchio style,  into Stark’s secret Ultron A.I. project which he designed to protect the earth from a repeat alien invasion like that seen in New York three years ago. With the antagonist activated the film ambles through a cacophony of character beats, world travelogue hopping and digitally enhanced mayhem in a mostly incoherent fashion which leaves the viewer reeling in confusion rather than celebration, although I guess to be fair to Whedon he has clearly yearned to push so much into the film that much of his ambition oozes out at the super-powered seams.

aven3Now I know what you’re all thinking, that this is the long-awaited three decades in the making unofficial screen rematch showdown between Downey Jr. and Spader since the 1985 social urban classic Tuff Turf, right? It’s something of a conundrum is this installment in the increasingly dense Marvel Universe, as although in many dimensions it is an enhanced and intensified reprint of the original issue I initially walked out of the cinema amused but not as agreeably exhausted as I reeled from the first picture back in 2012. I’m guessing that Age Of Ultron will probably benefit from a re-watch which I am tempted to indulge which may ensure many of the sub-plots and garbled dialogue will fall into place, but fans of these movies and comical carnage in general will be in hog-heaven, with many characters from the MCU getting cross-over celebration. Whedon has focused his quill on both Hawkeye, Black Widow and by association Brucy Banner’s story arcs, while Thor and Captain America get relegated to barking orders and embarking on watery quests, the former due to Whedon’s self-confessed difficulty with writing for the character, although Thor does got the majority of the best lines with the Mjölnir manipulating machinations (‘Yes, it’s got a really nice follow-through’). As with the first film it must be a logistical nightmare to maintain momentum with over a dozen characters to juggle over a studio mandated 2 hours & ten runtime (although I think we’re getting an extended edition on Blu), so inevitably some plot serving plates crash to the floor while others soar off into blockbuster bruising awesomeness.

aveb3The new mutants enhanced on the block are reasonable enough additions to the team despite their weak motivations and abrupt shift of allegiances, while my deeper personal disappointment with the film lies with Ultron. Visually impressive and given some semblance of consciousness with Spader’s command of some malfunctioning dialogue he’s less a megalomaniacal herald of humanities certain extinction than he is a slightly distressed toaster, with incoherent monologuing and plotting which frame him as ultimately more farcical than fearful – the MCU just can’t quite get the villans right can they? Those skrulls chitakri were a bit rubbish, the Kree guy from Guardians was undercooked, I can’t even remember the villains from the Thor movies, neither Mickey Rourke nor Jeff Bridges did much as Shellhead’s nemesis and I know everyone loves Loki but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – he’s less the immortal god of deception than a petulant, sneering weed. Far more successful is the WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD activation of The Vision with Paul Bettany finally earning his keep with numerous hours in the make-up chair, once he arrives on the scene the film which was beginning to  plateau for me with its doodling sub-plots  kicks up another gear as it leaps into its extended final act of mechanoid mayhem and CPU crafted carnage, while the whole Natasha & Bruce romance was just embarrassing to witness and frankly reduces a strong character to a cow-eyed simpleton in a very dreary fashion. Just to get into full geek/nerd mode I found the Hulk/Iron Man scrap a trifle underwhelming (Stark still hasn’t worked out that beating the Hulk makes him angrier and stronger,doltish FFFFFFOOOOOOLLL*), some of the MCU legandarium loring such as the introduction of Klaw had me grinning in fanboy fascination, and I thought the extended if rather silly final Slovakian Sokovian show-down was a lot of fun when it wasn’t being interrupted by boring footage of choking, tear-stained refugees weeping in humble acquiescence at their wonderful American saviors – all must worship at the spandex and chrome hewn heels of super-powered hegemony SPOILERS END.

ave4The films early release in European, Korean, Brazilian, Russian and other territories has not been without some controversy from some ill-judged comments by various members of the cast, some deliberately viral baiting stupidity from Channel 4, but I think this ‘spat’ between Downey Jr. and Iñarritu’s claims of ‘cultural genocide’ deserves a little thought. Have those renegade pinko homo-loving libruls in Hollywood seriously spun out fifteen years of blockbuster superheroics as some dark fascist plot to enslave the mind of children across the globe? I think this is more a case of filmmakers of even Iñarritu’s stature becoming increasingly frustrated in funding doors being denied to them unless they are making franchise features, so they blame the messengers rather than the hordes of punters who are flocking to these films, right or wrong. I don’t think you could accuse The Avengers of launching any cultural torpedoes other than some sparse spins on the whole ‘technology without oversight is evil’ or the usual ‘power wielded without responsibility’ creed which is as old as the movies themselves, and having seen the film twice now with the specific intention on picking up more plot threads and machinations underneath the superpowered chassis the only other algorithms Whedon has wrought revolve around evolution which don’t hold much water. Those right-wing readings have always been appropriated to superhero material of the printed or moving form since Miller and Moore pummeled the genre into a new level of sophistication in the late 1980’s, and with appropriate timing two of their series were announced to return this week. Second time around the distinct lack of genuine threat or peril still serves as a distraction from the fist-pumping action beats and satisfying quips, for these seeking a fun night out at the flicks this is high yield vibranium in contrast to DC’s dull charcoal smeared severity. The age of Ultron is over, and the age of the Ant is soon to begin;

*Private joke, nothing to see here, please move along….although this revelation might make one of my regular readers pass out….

Blood & Black Lace (1964) Capsule Review

blood4One of the least known yet most influential horror movies ever made arrives on a ravishing 2K HD transfer this week, Mario Bava’s eerily instrumental Blood & Black Lace. Horror trends tend to move in waves like a swarm of voracious piranha, and previous to the arrival of the giallo the genre was dominated by the gothic mist-choked uncanny, the pulse-pounding purview of Hammer and Amicus, with their iconic takes on the famous monster of filmland and chill inducing periodicals. Blood & Black Lace prefigured a seductive yet startling trend of gruesome kills and amniotic atmosphere for an evolving audience who demanded more visceral material, which the Italian maestro of the grotesque delivering with his trademark blend of vivid mystery, prowling camerawork and oscillating color palettes. Set in a baroque  Haute Couture fashion house an entire paddock of beautiful models are at risk from a faceless homicidal maniac, a merciless killer who may be one of the members of their insular world, the organization itself a poisonous nest of blackmail and infidelity which may have prompted a murderous motive for vengeance;

The original Italian title  Sei donne per l’assassino  translates as ‘Six Women for the Murderer’ which tells you all you need to know for the films sextant structure. Here much of the giallo iconography and infrastructure is bloodily impaled in cinema consciousness, from the hallucinatory lighting schemes to the woozy delirium gibbering scores, from the trench coat and glove garbed maniac who stalk and slash their prey through to the deliciously constructed set-pieces of oozing dread that explode in orgiastic violence. Many of the Hammer films had a definitive visual design and delivery but Bava took the horror film to a higher plateau with this film, elevating the psychological delirium of the characters as physically imposed in the screen canvas, reaching back to the expressionistic instinct of the horror film and injecting that vision with a syringe of polychromatic pop-art kl. Like the best giallo it’s best to retire any concerns you may have with a coherent or logical plot, or of human beings acting in identifiable and accurate ways at the door, and simply luxuriate in the pungent atmosphere of the film. The saturated visuals weave a gruesome dance of death, the operatic orchestration of the slayings giving birth to the slasher movie as we know it which would go to dominate the industry via Halloween, Friday The 13th and the other ill-dated ilk;

It’s a wonderful, sizzling transfer culled from a 2K interpositive scan of the original camera negative, given a scrub and the framing stability treatment, easily an early contender for the creepy connoisseurs Blu-Ray release of the year. Alongside the feature there is a pantheon of extras and documentaries (3.5 hours worth) conceptualizing the giallo genre and this specific films bloody genesis, alongside Bava biographer Tim Lucas’s  definitive film commentary – he of course is the cinephile responsible for this majestic tome. 1,100 pages of densely researched text sounds simply to die for……


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