Well fuck me it’s darn weird being back here again, after many, many months of neglect. I could barely remember my password let alone the functions of writing a blog post, so please bear with me as I reconnect with an old but terminal exercise. The good news (I guess) is that I’m going to commit to a few year closedown posts of timid length and analysis, the bad news (if anyone really cares) is that this will lead to a final execution of this ten year project once and for all as the day job has officially overtaken this now redundant blog. What have I been doing? Phase 2 of this. What am I involved in from January 2018? This. As such I need to be spectacularly careful of my digital footprint, wary of the press for reasons myriad and numerous, especially since I’m more than positive that some of the comments and jokes I have made on here could easily be located and exploited out of context with horrific consequences. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, here is the usual December montage which isn’t particularly transcendent, and as such representative of a rather average year;
I have been relatively active over the axial orbit movie going wise, but due to project pressures I completely missed the LFF this year (didn’t see a single screening or event) as my schedule simply didn’t gel with other priorities. Ironically I am on target for seeing over 500 films this year on various eyeball assaulting formats, and have managed to cram in some mini seasons on Eric Rohmer, all of Soderbergh’s 21st century material, a revisit of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, all of the Jarmusch films on Amazon Prime, Ōkami’s Lone Wolf & Cub series and even a revisit of a John Cassavettes box-set. I still don’t chime with the love for him, as much as I can appreciate his ground-breaking achievements in championing independent American filmmaking before Sundance was a faltering glint in Robert Redford’s azure eyes. More montage mischievousness here;
So in order to temper expectations here are my films of the year thus far, presented without commentary or debate and in no particular order – make of this what you will ; Wind River, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Moonlight, mother!, Lady Macbeth, The Death Of Stalin, Logan and maybe Malick’s Song To Song and the eerily prescient Nocturama. Alas I didn’t see The Florida Project, You Were Never Really Here, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Good Time, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer nor The Shape Of Water, some of which I’m sure could have arisen to the 2017 Menagerie pantheon if I’d seen them at the LFF. As it stands the ultimate event of 2017 was of course David Lynch’s spectacular bookend to his incredible career, maybe there more there will be more on that……later;
Where it all began, almost fifty years ago, nothing more to say. Rest In Peace, unlike your ravenous creations;
Here’s a illuminating little piece on some of the presumed influences on Lynch, including potential spoilers for Twin Peaks for Season 3;
To say that the Menagerie was excited for the return of Twin Peaks, or rather more specifically the return of David Lynch after a decade hiatus is a spectacular understatement. It is a wider cultural event, with an arch-auteur who has struggled in bringing stories to any screen adding his swansong chorus to the so called third ‘golden’ age of TV broadcasting, by returning to one core text which set the foundations of the modern media landscape of long-form, small screen entertainment. More importantly for me is the simple prospect of another 18 hours of Lynch’s mind – and what a strange, ethereal and occasionally petrifying mind that is – given that he is directing every episode and writing again with his original partner Mark Frost, the stabilising force whom arguably kept Lynch in check to enable some mainstream penetration back in the midst’s of 1990. Given the import of this phenomenon I embarked on a herculean effort of preparation, going to see Mulholland Drive at the cinema which itself was the result of a cancelled TV series, I revisited the criminally unappreciated Fire Walk With Me, squeezed in a screening of Inland Empire and tore through my third re-watch of the original two seasons, all 30 episodes, in a binge watching bloat of three days. To say I am severely Lynched out is another understatement, further compounded by a lovely Sight & Sound reappraisal in this months issue which makes some illuminating observations – given the undercurrent of psychological dread and abuse it references the series Freudian oral fixations (Coffee, Cherry Pie etc.), it situates the series as an early sprouting of contemporary media ‘Hyperdiegesis‘ around narrative properties citing ‘the creation of a vast and detailed narrative space, only a fraction of which is every directly seen or encountered within the text’ and from a cinema history perspective summarises Twin Peaks contours as a molestation of Norman Rockwell Americana by European surrealism, primarily the vein championed by Bunuel and Cocteau – Yeah, I think we may have detected where that serrated Black Lodge zig-zag production design element may have originated…..
So let’s start with some fleeting observations on Lynch’s genuine masterpiece, now widely regarded as one of the greatest films of this teenage century, 2001’s Mulholland Drive which has been blessed with a 4K restoration as part of the surrounding hysteria. I’ve already reviewed the film so this will be more of a collection of further reflections and detections that this screening yielded. Firstly the transfer is exquisite, it heightens the tones and stark symbolism of Peter Deming’s cinematography (a long time Lynch collaborator he’s also back on board for the Twin Peaks revival), which reminded me of David Thompson’s lovely phrase that the opening vistas of LA by night reminded him of ‘a scattering of precious diamonds over a black velvet drape’. For all the deconstructions and analysis of the film that has occurred no piece has ever done the film full justice in my mind, in this hopeless pursuit of connecting the narrative and excavating all the mysteries. Great art should always leave some space for the viewer to bring their experiences to the table, and whilst much of the DNA of the film has been codified I prefer for some elements to remain ambivalent and uncertain, as that makes every viewing a deeply satisfying and diverse experience. Case in point – I’ve seen the film a couple of dozen times over the years, and have never noticed that the man who partially comperes the club sequence is the same man as Justin Theroux’s landlord in the sleazy part of town, another doppelgänger in a film infested with mirrors and obfuscations. I’m sure I’ve digested this elsewhere but the fact that we do indeed see the Cowboy (a Hollywood genre stalwart)after his original appearance another two times signals something, Betty/Diane/Rita’s costume when they discover
their a corpse is clearly modelled on Madeleine/Carlotta/Juila’s attire in Vertigo, (oh, also found this which is good), I’d forgotten how funny the film is (the botched assassination, the audition scene, Billy Ray Cyrus) and for me the entire Silencio sequence still remains one of the most eerily magical orchestrations ever committed to celluloid;
After this screening and that hearty binge watch I was suitably buzzed for the 2am UK transmission, after a patient wait of 27 years to return to this bizarre architecture of cryptic giants, menacing dwarves, and crimson draped para-dimensions. I was adrift in expectations after digesting the revelation that the first and last shots of the entire original series, after the title sequences that is, are both scenes refracted in mirrors – and of course similar elements play heavily in Season 3. Welcome to the labyrinth, perverting genre concepts of the soap and procedural mystery show and driving them into more different and dark terrain, as when all is said and done Twin Peaks gravitates around a disturbing orbit of incestual sexual abuse and murder, revealing a web of moral degradation that lurks within an entire locality. I’m a thick skinned viewer but the killing of Maddy, and the ultimate reveal in episode S2E14 is distressing, even in comparison to today’s thresholds I can’t believe the former got through Standards and Practices a quarter century ago.
As an article upstream notes ‘Lynch convinced a major entertainment conglomerate to pay for 18 hours of new material by David Lynch, at the budget he needed, and with complete creative control. He hasn’t had this kind of financial support since he made Dune in 1984.’ That achievement alone is staggering, no? I loved staying up for this, a shared event around the world with like minded maniacs, and boy did if fucking deliver – as others predicted this is pure, uncut, undiluted Lynch, and I’m still processing much of the first four episodes which are positively infested with his earlier work, including long abstract stretches which are pure Eraserhead. So some scattered thoughts with MINOR SPOILERS – The title sequence elicited a Proustian rush, I was shocked at how much of this was set within the Black Lodge, and it was quite touching to see Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer back on screen, reprising an earlier incident way back in the European pilot. The appearance of Lynch alumni from other material – Brent Briscoe, Naomi Watts, Patrick Fischler & Robert Forster – sets the mind spinning on a shared universe which I’m sure other cerebellum of the internet are already formulating. I thought the Michael Cera scene was fucking hilarious, and that encounter early on, well, I’m genuinely apprehensive at giving it another watch. Especially at night. I am sure it has baffled and agitated some of the audience, even the die-hard fans given where a certain character is taken, but I for one am fully on board as the pieces started to make sense around episode 4, although we still await a revisit to some core characters. Make sure you revisit this series this at night with the lights turned off and the audio on high, as the sound mix alone is staggering. Welcome back, old friend;
Having lived in the Limehouse area of London for a few years until my recent decant this interests me, and the book was fairly interesting;
I’m going to keep my powder dry on this one in terms of my long-standing relationship to King’s thirty year magnum opus, other than to say its been a companion to me throughout my life since I was doing my A levels when the first books came out in my late teens. I was very disappointed to see where King concluded the story in the final two or three books but to see it finally come to the big screen, through numerous development difficulties, did make me vaguely excited. That was until this trailer dropped today and my feeble hopes have been dashed, I’ve got a severe Winters Tale feel about this one, as the tone and texture of this screams wrong, wrong, wrong. Goddamn it;
That does not remotely feel like Midworld, that doesn’t look like Jake, and where the fuck are Eddie & Susannah? Or Oy for that matter? I guess they are being reserved for episodes II, III and so on. Jesus, this is not a series suited for slo-mo, ‘cool’ catching rounds and chambers and making superhuman deadeye shot shenanigans, thus it seems they are going to jettison a very strange, prismatic blend of the Western, mythic poetry and post-apocalyptic fiction that stretches across King’s rich multiverse and instead make another fucking generic actioner. Fuck. That. Noise……and no Mr. Executive you don’t get away with lifting one of Morricone’s iconic character themes and get away with it you disrespectful fucks…..
In The Handmaiden, South Korean provocateur Park Chan-wook returns to his native language and production model after 2013’s rather unsuccessful Stoker, and reaffirms his reputation as one of contemporary cinemas most striking stylists. Like his pictures I’ve always had something of a twisted love affair with his work, naturally I’ve seen them all, dating back to his off-kilter Joint Security Area and frequently gasped and groaned at the fusible encounters but never left the dalliance completely satisfied. He’s still best known for the Vengeance trilogy which afforded us with the disturbing Oldboy as the central piece of his taboo busting triptych, a breakthrough international hit which is still regarded as one of the finest films of the 2000’s, which managed not to be tarnished by an utterly redundant Hollywood remake a few years back. Now he’s back with a stunning new film which for shorthand I’d liken to Dangerous Liaisons intertwined with a light smattering of The Duke Of Burgundy, with a keen mastery of Hitchcockian manipulation as seen in the gothic inflected mysteries Rebecca and Psycho.
Flayed and defrayed from the novel Fingersmith by Welsh writer Sarah Waters the tale has been decanted from nineteenth century Britain to the Japanese occupied Korea of the early twentieth century, as tightly compressed into its title card signalled three act journey as a chubby Victorian debutante is strung into a heaving herring bone bodice. Tamako (Kim Tae-ri) has been newly recruited into the domestic service of mysterious Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), displaced in their remote yet beautiful Japanese / British architectural influenced Very quickly this arrangement is revealed as a sulphurous masquerade, as a conman (played by Ha Jung-woo) operating under the sobriquet of Count Fujiwara, is clandestinely engineering a wicked scheme. He has secretly hired Tamako – real name Sook-hee – from a family of con artists to assist and eavesdrop on his seduction of Lady Hideko, and then committing the fragile porcelain creature to an asylum in order to purloin her sizeable inheritance. I don’t think I’m giving too much away to reveal in a film poisoned with grifters and built on furtive foundations of deceit that a transition act functioning early twist is absolutely spectacular, literally sending shivers up the spine, subsequently unleashing a slithering narrative which had me enthralled for the next few hours.
Finally another missed screening from last years LFF is lassoed like an errant bucking mare, and boy was this a frequently hilarious, tender yet tensile, brilliantly realised piece of work. It took a mere twenty minutes to thoroughly seduce me, on pure aesthetics alone production designer Ryu Seong-hee and costume designer Cho Sang-kyung’s work is equally breath-taking. Working in unison they craft an intricate marriage of detail, shade and geometry in the frame which warms a cradle – or perhaps cauldron – for Chan-wook to cook his perfect command of succulent semiotics, duplicitous desires and erotic deceit. Normally I don’t warm to his films beyond the beauty and craft, and maybe his lightly perverted sense of humour, but he has seriously upped his game on structure, information exposition and empathic viewpoints. Two sequences in particular, crucial transition scenes between the films signalled three act structure are viewed from differing perspectives with new duplicitous inflections and signals which frankly are the very lifeblood of what cinema was invented for, perfectly aligned against Jo Yeong-wook’s glorious Philip Glass reminiscent score.
Within further levels of duplicity and control the film also flirts with upon the colonial assimilation between Japanese and Korean culture during the first half of the 20th century. I can’t even remotely pretend to be au fait with the historical and cultural context to make any revealing comments, but even simple policies such as Sōshi–kaimei ーpressurising Koreans to change their family names to Japanese equivalents – are clearly illuminated and deepen the themes of control, coercion and appropriation. This being a Chan-wook joint the film moves deftly into its erotically taboo areas, pulsing with the repression seething underneath those constrictive garments, which never descends into the morass of exploitation or mere titillation. Just to be a completely pretentious jerk (stop nodding) the use of negative space after certain plot contortions was just sublime, and while I sometimes find it difficult to appreciate the nuances of a performance when the film isn’t in my native tongue both the leads are terrific. Carefully and gracefully they both slowly piece a jigsaw of aligned characters motivations and drives, hacking through their shared webs of subterfuge with a stiletto sharpened passion.
Visually The Handmaiden is bathed in the semiotics of the fear of castration, of literal patriarchal poisoning and menstrual defiance, just one movement of this film alone could potentially impregnate a decade of academic gender studies papers across an entire Ivy league syllabus. Chan-wook revels in Freudian dream image symbology which are nested in peepholes, keys, butterfly hairpins and a bestial, squirming octopi which naturally reflects back on this infamous moment. Like all of his films (and to my mind most of the South Korean movies I’ve seen) it’s just a little too long and could suffer a twenty-minute trim, although I note that there is already a directors cut doing the rounds with extra footage taking the piece to just shy of three hours. In light of articles like this, charting the incremental move from screens for new productions it is welcome to see a film which absolutely had to be seen on the biggest possible, not just because of Hollywood CGI pyrotechnics and carnage, but to fully wallow in an experience where the design, sound and cinematography have been attuned in an essential big screen, shared experience. As far as the Menagerie is concerned this is Park’s best film to date, taking his craft to a higher level, a filmmaker at the peak of his powers – sure, I’ve enjoyed Logan, Get Out and Moonlight over the past few months, but as it stands as we move into peak blockbuster season this is my pick of the year so far;
Oh Tom what have you done? Even with the sound fixed this looks bad, like Suicide Squad dimensions of quantum interstellar density black-hole bad;
Stephen King fans like myself have been waiting for years to see lovely Pennywise in the shivering flesh, as let’s face that 1990’s TV adaptation is not good. Finally he’s here to tell us ‘we all float down here’;
When I first heard of the fevered instruction Get Out in the context of a horror film my mind listlessly wanders to this sequence from suburban squirm fest The Amityville Horror, a yuppie nightmare of home ownership, economic stress and familial strife lurking behind those white picket fences. A submerged evil uncoiling in suburbia continues in this culturally incendiary movie, the debut effort of comedian Jordan Peele of Comedy Central Emmy Award winning smash Key & Peele fame. Riding the crest of a spectacular word of mouth wave with screenings literally bringing the house down – even us jaded critics are citing it as the best fun they’ve had as an audience inclusive experience in years – the movie is a 2017 cluster of cultural gelignite, an explosive comment on modern race relations, liberal guilt and an increasingly diverse and fractured first world society. Naturally, as a die-hard horror fanatic I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about and with a few minor reservations this is a terrific little picture, combining an iconoclastic brew of The Stepford Wives with Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, garnished with a deadly dose of The Wicker Man for good, gruesome measure.
Budding student photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, probably best known as Emily Blunt’s partner in Sicario) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (probably best known as one of the quartet of leads in Girls that isn’t Lena Dunham) prepare for a weekend trip to meet her wealthy yet staunchly liberal parents, Dean and Missy, portrayed by a perfectly cast Catherine Keener and Bradford Whitford. Chris is understandably nervous at meeting his partners folks, always a potentially stressful experience in the first phases of a serious relationship, an anxiety which is enhanced by his being a person of colour and her pure WASP pedigree. Rose placates his nerves by assuring him that her parents are so liberal that they are sure to impress him with their support of the then sitting president, and her prediction that they would explain to him that they have voted for Obama again if he could have stood for a third term soon comes to pass. Initially all seems quaint in the impressive Connecticut suburbs, but small details of unease start to coalesce – the house groundskeeper and domestic assistant (both of African-American ethnicity) affect a glassy-eyed, robotic subservience which no-one else seems to notice, and certain phrases and behaviours of the Armitage’s extended family and friends seem slightly off-kilter and…strange. I’ll say no more as it is crucial that you into this experience as ignorant as an Alabama knitting circle, as a horrific plot slowly materialises out of the midnight mists….
It is difficult to dance around this one and retain spoiler integrity so I’ll just say that the praise the film has attracted is definitively deserved, in yet another storming debut to the horror movie Hecate. Although it follows the contours of a horror film, especially the concept of a naive, increasingly suspicious innocent being inculcated in a deadly conspiracy the social and political themes are smoothed under numerous narrative and allegorical levels, so that a second viewing will be essential to judge who finely Peele’s excellent script was engineered. The jump scares are kept to an intensified minimum, the film preferring to build an increasing sense of mysterious dread through which the thumbscrews are tightened, before all hell breaks loose in a final and expectation flouting finale. All the leads are solid and treat the material with the respect it deserves, it plays more serious than other horror-comedy hybrids like The Evil Dead or An American Werewolf In London for example, struck more from the mould of The Cabin In The Woods with a deft understanding of genre conventions.
TSA agent and Chris’s best friend Rod Williams (LaKeith Lee Stanfield) is the comic relief, the surrogate for the audience whom plays a sassy, exuberant sort and gets most of the films belly laugh lines, even if at times it feels he’s wondered in from a Wayan brothers picture. The good news is that Peele has revealed he has scribed four other horror scripts before he got this one off the ground, and given its $5 million budget to its stratospheric $150 million (and counting) return I’m positive we’ll be seeing more from him soon. Just to be slightly contrarian as a genre nerd I’d have preferred it if it had spent just a little more time moving through the central film’s plot premise, I think some of those narrative nuances got a little lost in the mix, but to be fair the more I’ve thought about it the satire is revealed to be more deeply layered and constructed that a first impression suggests, with visual metaphors and plot devices building a deft oratory on the diseased state of the American body politic. This is simply essential viewing, a vibrant new addition to the pantheon of pandemonium that squirms in the recent slipstream of The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook, so Get Out and see it immediately. A-hem. Sorry;