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;
Dismembered stumps up if you remember J-Horror? You know, that turn of the millennium cloistered yet influential sequence of horror films that emerged from the ancient orient like a saturated vengeance spirit emerging implacably from an ominous rural well. What could be more terrifying than a new Ju-on: The Grudge or Ringu film updated for 2016? Well, how about……Ju-on: The Grudge versus the deadly aqua nymph Sadako? Be afraid…be very, very….afraid;
The ever prolific Sion Sono is back with another colourful catastrophe, and freshly blooded thoughts from it’s Fantasia festival preview tickles my fancy. It’s not often a trailer makes me laugh out loud as all the kids are saying these days, see what you think as I count the days down to an inevitable LFF appearance;
I wonder if the Japanese film director union is having something of a competition this year, to see whom can be the most productive helmsman of the year. Miike Takashi has a mere two films slated for release which has been his batting average for the past five years, while countryman and LFF favorite Sion Sono has no less than six – that’s six – movies scheduled for release in 2015. That’s insane, here is the rather restrained trailer for the first one;
And now let me unveil this, perhaps the most obscure piece of Kubrick ephemera I’ve ever managed to source, quite remarkable;
On the one hand I’m slightly annoyed at still being plugged into the TiFF mailgroups after last years activities, as the publicity is starting to warm up and I won’t be attending – curses. On the other hand I am privy to some exciting genre news such as the North American distribution pick-up of Sion Sono’s quietly restrained new picture;
Japanese genre fans should also be excited to hear that Miike’s new movie is also getting an international release, no trailer yet but here’s the synopsis – ‘Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld will tell the story of “a gang boss who has become legendary for surviving knife stabs and gunshot wounds that would kill any ordinary mortal. The reason for his seeming indestructibility: The boss is a vampire. When he is finally felled by an assassin, he bites an underling, Kageyama (Hayato Ichihara), before expiring. Now a vampire himself, Kageyama goes out to seek revenge’…..Hmm, well that sounds a little tired, but let’s hope they both come to the LFF this year eh?
Not that I’m in any way jealous you understand, but the continual drip feed of Cannes announcements, invitations to glittering screenings and exclusive press conferences from certain mailgroups I was recruited to during last year’s Toronto expedition has inspired me to delve your more into arthouse waters back home in sun blushed blighty – doesn’t sound like I’m missing much anyway, right? Any film which is judged as being worse that last years Diana bio-pic which was intergalactically terrible in every possible manner, well, I suspect that a film even more catastrophic would actually suck all the spirited qualities of all the films screening around it on the croisette, like some ravenous celluloid neutron star. But I digress gentle reader, as wishing to milk the dying embers of my career break I naturally turned to the BFI schedule to see what was on offer, and was immediately struck by an opportunity to boost my pretentious credentials with a screening of the newly restored An Autumn Afternoon, serene sensai’s Yasujirō Ozu’s final movie. You may recall that we have broken bread with the great man before with the masterpiece Tokyo Story a few years back, as an enormous fan of Japanese cinema I have seen maybe a dozen of his films on the small screen, but like a stuck record I must always make the case that seeing these films on the big screen as intended is quite a different experience, minus the potential distractions of smartphones, political canvassing callers, or any of the other accruements of modern life.
So in terms of context Yasujirō Ozu is one of the most lauded and appreciated film directors of all time, working almost exclusively for the Shochiku studio between 1927 and 1963 alongside Kenji Mizoguchi and the more Western leaning Akira Kurosawa he is a central strut to any claim of Japan being one of the most accomplished cinema nations of all time. Where the latter was more enamoured with Westerns, with male camaraderie and a moral code operating in socially ambigious frameworks Ozu’s films are more micro level mediations on the individual, gentle fables on family, blood and the ties that bind. Shūhei Hirayama (Ozu favourite Chishu Ryu who appeared in a staggering 52 of his 54 films) is a gentle, soon to retire widower with three children; his 32-year-old married son, Kōichi (Keiji Sada), and his two younger siblings who still reside in the family home – 24-year-old daughter Michiko (Shima Iwashita) and a 21-year-old son Kazuo (Shin’ichirō Mikami). Kōichi has moved out to live with his spirited wife Akiko (Mariko Okada) and begun his career in the new economic evolution of post war Japan, leaving Hirayama and Kazuo to be looked after by Michiko, the traditional female role being to adopt the domestic duties at this period. Hirayama frequently meets with his school friends for quietly wistful sake soaked reunions where they collectively ruminate on their lives, the activities of their children and what fortunes and hurdles may lie ahead.
What a wonderful, gentle, moving mediation on time’s inexperable march, the bittersweet shift from one generations priorities to the next as the shadows lengthen, as the inevitable creeps up on us all. This is not a stark, existential, Nordic querying on the purpose of life in the severe strain of a Bela Tarr or Bergman however, An Autumn Afternoon as its title suggests is a fading consideration of aging as the seasons move their celestial cycle, brimming with affection and humour as the pathos wrinkles and warps in an auburn glow. It is quite amusing to see just how much booze was consumed in this movie, as legend has it Ozu was a presdigious drinker himself whom would wade through carafe’s of sake during the scripting stage with his screenwriters. I kid you not, if you applied the legendary Withnail & I drinking game to this picture you’d be in hospital before the credits rolled. Almost every scene has the salarymen throwing back the scotch, sake or beer whilst gently ribbing each other and ruminating on their changing lives and loves, I’d forgotten just how amusing Ozu can be when the mood takes him, as it invests his humour as a sharp antidote to any descent into melodrama . In terms of an historical document it’s also quite fascinbating to watch a film with an increasing ‘Westernised’ society following the American occupation still cleaving to its ancient patriarchal structures, with arranged marriage being the cultural norm regardless of class of creed. I’m aware that broadly speaking Japan is still something of a culture in which women are expected to commit to domestic servility at the expense of their career aspirations following marriage, so to see it presented without prejudice or social comment in favour or against back in 1962 marks this as an important social document. There are even some sly observations of the American occupation and the corporate arising of the salaryman culture and the idolisation of commodities, as Koichi’s unconsulted purchase of some expensive second hand golf clubs become a symbol of bourgeois achievement and advancement, another example of a shift in attitude and ideology as one generation eclipses the previous.
Of course we have to touch upon Ozu’s almost unique filming methods, the low centred camera which concentrates material in untraditional spatial schematics (compare and contrast with the usual American & European establishing shot / two shot / reverse shot methodology), the slowly creeping establishing march through exterior space to the intimate interiors of his characters homes and domiciles, the idiosyncratic pillow shot, and most unusually the total violaton of the eye line match (also known as crossing the line) even in this, his last picture after a half century career. This unusual technique, so striking and jarring for Westerners weaned on a diet of Hollywood classical narrative model places the viewer as a sponge in the centre of the scene as two characters converse with each other, instead of the eye line match convention which deflects the passive viewer into a spectator mode, an observer rather than a participant in the films emotional and thematic nucleus. Techniques such as this unconsciously broach identification with the characters and their quiet, still but slowly evolving lives, stimulating unmelodramatic queries on our own lives, through poised and realistic performances from Ryu, Sada, and the rest of Ozu’s perfect troupe. Having seen this before on DVD it was as always a revelation on the big screen, a quiet, gentle, tender comedy with a resigned but not dismally melancholic acceptance of times inexorable passing, Ozu’s final incontrovertible masterpiece;
Having seen the original trailer playing in heavy rotation in front of just about every movie I’ve seen over the past two months, I think the fact that anticipation is rising rather than diminishing for this is a very positive sign. Then this dropped this morning;
After this and Noah is this the year that Hollywood goes all overtly environmental? – Oh well, too late. At least they didn’t kill the dog by the look of things, the first rule of Tinseltown screenwriting. OK, enough with the procrastination with these trailers, it’s time to get cracking on those outstanding reviews I guess….
Enough of this maudlin comedy nonsense, I’ve deliberately let the fallout settle for 24 hours before we get back to the movies, and the welcome awakening of a positively incandescent lizard;
Pretty exciting huh? I like the look of them going back to the 1950’s and pulling some earlier movie series history into this, probably best if they avoid any sightings of Matthew Broderick though. I also like the look of the cast with Japanese and French faces frozen among the dumb struck terror, which of course seems apt given the history of nuclear testing in the Pacific. After Monsters there is a lot of faith in the director Gareth Edwards who managed to not only master his limited SFX resources but also insert some potent metaphors in his debut, so let’s hope he’s up for the job in these turbulent years of floods, storms and increasingly distressed thermometers. However it turns out, I’ll bet it’s no Mechagodzilla though;
Eagle-eyed scouts scouring the trailer may have spotted evidence that this 2014 detonation of the beast may have more than one creature arising from the radioactive depths……
One last gift of 2013 from me to you, this just cropped up in my twitter feed so I thought I’d share. Kurosawa was notoriously hostile to the media during his long career but in his final years he thawed and granted some interviews on his techniques and craft, some of which have been collected and presented in this rare documentary on his life and work – show some respect;
Tomorrow will see my final review of the year before we get into 2014. Y’know it only recently occurred to me after a few months working on my annual round-up that next year will see films from David Fincher, Michael Mann, Paul Thomas Anderson, Chris Nolan, Terence Malick (maybe) and Martin Scorsese. That is pretty fucking exciting….
It was a gloriously eerie Sunday afternoon as the wispy tendrils of the NFI’s Gothic season continued on London’s South Bank, as I nervously navigated the fog choked streets of ye ole London town to catch a ghoulish double bill of old-school undead. One thing I can’t fault the BFI for is value for money, as when scheduling a double bill of these two ghoulish classics they only charged for a single ticket, so this was a nice opportunity to up the ante on my murky coverage especially since I’ve long waited to see the second film of the schedule on the big screen for reasons I’ll touch upon below. As I’ve mentioned before prior to 1968 the idea of a screen zombie was a very different beast from the shambling brain ravenous hordes of recent decades, as the mythological concept of the zombie was originally founded within the religious practices of indigenous African and Haitian cultures, adorned with somnambulist slaves and glazed-eyed automatons under the puppet master instruction of some voodoo sorcerer for his own nefarious plots. On screen these elements are infused with a pungent ‘fear of the other’ related to immigration and racial suspicions, a tangent which you’d think would still be still ripe for a contemporary plunder given the pathetic prejudices of certain ignorant quarters of the population whipped into frenzy by the right-wing press. Yet we still seem to frame the zombie as our ultimate metaphor for mindless consumerism, a symbol of our spiritual malaise caused by the ubiquitous importance of reckless corporate domination in the physical sphere, our souls and incorporeal searching smothered by the omnipotent pulse of capitalism. it’s either that or a symbol of the braying, mindless, violent mob, a political metaphor of our ferocious partisan political divides and tabloid beguiling, as it can be no mistake that the only way to overcome our differences and win the social argument is to shoot your opponent in the head / intellect. Since the zombie trope is still exhausted in popular culture infecting as it has mainstream TV series, numerous films lurching into direct to DVD coffins year after year after year, computer games (Dead Rising 3 looks tasty) and comic books (not to mention world-wide flash-mobs and genre affectionate gatherings) it was pleasing to return to the polluted source, to divine the origin of this horrific successful virus of movie monster archetypes, and perform a grim autopsy of its sweltering and sweaty Caribbean genesis.
Well, actually this won’t be a detailed excavation as I don’t have a huge amount to say about these films, what was most instructive of the session was a chance to see how film grammar evolves over time, to analyse how movies are constructed from a pacing and performance position and how a tale is presented to an audience through a similarly brisk expiration period – both films run an approximate 70 minute run-time – or to put that in a slightly more succinct way one film was made in 1932, the other in 1943, so lets compare and contrast. White Zombie was a very clunky piece of work which I had seen before, as a horror completest any Karloff picture is an immediate must-see, but while his hilarious performance is worth the price of admission the story around it is less than compelling. The movies were still in the final birth pangs of the transition to sound in the early 1930’s so like Dracula and the early Universal films they have that exaggerated acting style more attuned to theatrical playing to the gods, the main heroine does nothing but hurl her hand wrist up to her mouth, take a major step back and gaze to the heavens every time some bad news is inflicted upon her precious psyche, and the intonation and stilted movements around the enclosed sets is teeth grindingly thudding in places. The plot is straightforward – a newly engaged couple travel to the West Indies be wed under the wing of their mentor, but he is under the spell of the wicked wizard (Karloff) who has some weird plans which are never fully explained – so it moves sluggishly through its paces with only a few early genre machinations to really make its mark. There are some innovations unusual for the period, particularly the use of split screen to denote a time-aligned plot being driven across parraell actions, and it also retains the silent movie motif of moody double exposures, Karloff eyes superimposed over the fey heroine to signal his malevolent hold over the unfortunate creature, it’s a great old movie mode of communication without dialogue, the collusion of images making meaning, essentially what separates cinema from the other art forms. For genre fans what a treat Karloff is, no-one manages such…..elongated…….and……..ponderously………….pregnant……line deliveries, its camper than a John Waters XXX loyalty card but he’s just so much darn fun, despite chomping through the scenes in a fashion which is positively ludicrous. The final set-piece is quite hilarious to digest when compared to contemporary explosive antics, this is the 1932 equivalent of Ahnoldt facing off against a silver morphing cyber-assassin with state-of the art special effects;
In contrast I Walked With A Zombie is now considered something of a classic, and simply from some of its stitched on enhancements – character development moments, a dreamy voice-over contextual apparatus, a circular narrative structure which returns to its inception by way of an eeriely crafted promenade across a spooky West Indies – a grimm fairy tale with adulteress flirting of the dead. Why I really wanted to see this at the flicks was to immerse myself in its greatest and most pungent quality, as what this film has in spades is atmosphere, that evocative quality so lacking in todays abyss of remakes, re-imaginings and hollow updates, almost every frame of this film is drenched with a melancholic dread and uncertainty of those infinite spaces between the stars.
Director Jacques Tourneur was a master of craft (see also Cat People) through the careful deployment of sound effects and score (an ominous rhythmic distant drumming perforates the film) and slanting lighting patterns which cast the film as moody shadow-play, the madness and lunacy of this old slaving family now cursed with its past sins haunting the present. This atmosphere is enhanced by the ambiguity of the uncanny, there is no definite villain as such operating the events from behind the scenes, so the supernatural elements are distorted and transparent, and perhaps more tangible than any spiritual slumber from beyond the grave. The film and the lineage bleeds through to the Hammer cycle and the Italians emphasis on mood and picture, sound and severity, so in its quiet way it’s as influential as chillers such as The Uninvited or The Innocents before events turned more visceral in the late 1960’s. So this was an instructive double bill and another genre classic is finally ticked off the list, before next week when I have an investigation up in Scotland with some pagan miscreants….
Let’s solemnly pad this out with some comments on the full top 30 list of Sight & Sounds films of the year, alas it’s not on-line but here’s a reminder of the top ten. Unsurprisingly some of the highly acclaimed art-house auteur angles such as Norte, The End Of History, The Great Beauty and Lawrence Anyways naturally made the cut, as usual I was aware of these and would have caught them at TiFF or the LFF but the opportunity didn’t quite gel with my other priorities. We UK critics can be a parochial bunch as electing Wheatley’s A Field In England seems a little too partisan – it was an interesting film but hardly the best of the year – and in the critic specific breakdown (always a cinephile highlight to trawl through) the highly amusing super-troll Armond White managed to offend everyone by not just championing Man Of Steel but also Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, what a bait-click seeking maverick eh? I’m mostly furious with myself as despite making close to a hundred visits to the cinema this year I still missed Basterds, A Touch Of Sin and Stray Dogs which are perhaps more in my wheel house than four-hour long Proustian fables, and I guess I have to see Blue Jasmine now as part of the inevitable Oscar nomination crush come January. So lets close with another fine montage of the years alleged best from David Ehrlich, and his top 25 film countdown of 2013;
This unintended strategy in combining press and public screenings seems to be paying dividends, as today I managed to catch two more fantastic films with an unexpected guest to brighten proceedings, and there was certainly much more of an atmosphere to this afternoons programme than sitting with miserly hacks groaning and moaning throughout transmission. Unfortunately I have had to dismiss Blue Is The Warmest Colour from the list as catching this would have negated seeing both these movies, given that its guaranteed distribution here at some point over the next six months I’ll catch it later. First up, All Is Lost;
Boy did this shiver me timbers, a turbulant companion piece to Gravity now that I think about it, a near dialogue free testament to human resilience and endurance which soaks you in a gripping atmosphere from start to finish – Hitch would have loved it. Then something of a change of pace, my first ‘world’ cinema screening if you will of Koreeda’s fantastic Like Father, Like Son;
I’ll save details for my full review but this was a very funny and melodiously moving account of two boys switched at birth, and the reaction of their loving parents once the error is unearthed six years later. It was a pleasant surprise to welcome director Hirokazu Koreeda to the podium after the screening for a sadly short Q&A with Tony Rayns, but at least I’ve managed to slip in some talent spotting this year;
In other news, a big thank you to our Melbourne correspondent for sending me an unexpected treat in the guise of a copy of this, looking forward to finally beating that one off if em, you catch my drift. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have more nautical nastiness to watch and a metric fuckload of reviews to scribe….
Just to set the tone, here’s tonight’s Menagerie Watch-List just to get me in the mood – this looks hugely unusual;
Fuck man I dunno either, I just work here. Hitoshi Matsumoto is at the festival with his new effort R100 – looks like that will also go down well with the cult movie crowd. In other news, in a moment of unfortunate timing this years LFF crew announce this years programme tomorrow, (yeah I bit the bullet and ponied up the cash for my pass) somehow I doubt I’ll be giving them my full attention as my efforts must be focused elsewhere. Then we’ve got this to see;
This ties in nicely with The Green Inferno, Eli Roth’s new cannibal exploitation homage which of course should be quite painful. Finally here is a nice survivors guide for the uninitiated, then I’ll be getting into a movie which was shot in Toronto which has also generated its own cadre of quietly devoted cult movie fans;
One more post before tomorrow’s final summary and method statement, just to set the tone and expectations for the following ten days – Jesus, I clearly do need a holiday as my programme management speak is incrementally bleeding into my hobbies – I think it’s time to update the critical path risk register. Like all respected festivals with a few quid to chuck around this year’s specialist TIFF team have commissioned or acquired prints of recently restored classics, a historic celebration of the art form to align with new talents and contemporary voices, so here is a brief summary of what’s in store retrospective wise at this year’ festival;
Gun Crazy – I think it was during my ‘The Best Films You’ve Never Seen‘ post that I admitted to my omission of Gun Crazy from my noir list of the usual suspects, so the chance to finally apprehend this monochrome forerunner to Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands, and just about any other homicidal couple on the run picture, a series which continues with this years Malickian Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. I’m pretty sure that these must be the same prints that the BFI commissioned a couple of years back, so effectively I have travelled an ocean to finally plug this win with a bellyful of hot lead.
Rome Open City – One of the core texts of the Italian Neo-Realist film movement, those socially arrayed, macro attuned films shot in the closing months and immediate aftermath of the second world war, cobbled together on scraps of film stock with an urgent political reality by the likes of Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and in this case Roberto Rossellini (father of Isabella since you ask). This is text-book film studies 101 viewing for any budding cinephile although my personal favourite was always the devastating Umberto D, so we’ll see how the campaign develops – I’m fairly sure it clashes with All Cheerleaders Die and we all know who’s gonna win that conflict, right?
Shivers – As I mentioned before Cronenberg’s original infection has been given a digital antiseptic bath, as I only reviewed the film a couple of weeks ago I can’t say I’ll be killing myself to assimilate this horrid little herald of things to come, but we’ll see how events organically unfold with my competing priorities – I’m sick like that.
Hiroshima Mon Amour – I first saw this world cinema masterpiece around ten years ago when I was as my friends would have it a little bit squinty, quite what possessed me to fire up a black & white subtitled art house artefact after a Friday evening on the ales is beyond me, but nevertheless I remember a fantastically interwoven love story which flits and flutters through its cinematic temporal dimensions. This was a genuinely revolutionary film for its period which prefigured the mosaic methodologies of Roeg and more recently Nolan and Carruthers, by inspiring them to manipulate definitions of time and space and abandon the restraining straightjacket of causality and the strictly observed momentum of narrative logic, so the chance to see this with the celluloid still dripping fresh really should not be missed.
An Autumn Afternoon – A change of pace from the hectic speed of Canada’s most populous and economically driven city should be provided by a refreshing sip of one of Ozu’s modest masterpieces, I’m really going to make an effort to see this as other than that viewing of Tokyo Story a few years back my track record with the big screen sensei has been simply appalling, as in non-existent. I’m not sure if this is a digital scan or an analogue restoration, hopefully the latter for ancient authenticity but these days given the relentless march of technology I doubt it.
OK, so let’s keep this as brief and succinct as possible as I’ve got enough planning and essential errand running to do this final weekend as it is, having finally found the time to download the 23 page FAQ and Press Screening schedule my mind is whirling with imminent diary planning specifics, it’s all rather dauntingly exciting. I’ve also just received a rather charming invitation from the Toronto Film Critic Association to a soiree where they intend to welcome their foreign comrades to town with a booze and canapé fuelled event – I must remember not to get too hammered and engage with verbal fisticuffs with the Armand White’s of the industry eh? So roughly speaking this is my second tier of material, some curiosities with a mix of fiction and documentary, once again some international names return whom are well-known to cinephiles the world over alongside some relatively new talents all jostling for attention at the
celluloid digital maelstrom of TiFF – let’s continue;
Unforgiven – After a few decades of shameless Western pilfering of Asian cinema it’s fun to see the Oriental market turning the tables, Lee Song-ils transplant of Eastwood’s Unforgiven to Meiji era fuedal Japan could be a big budget blast.
Bastardo – Magical realism gut punches film noir in Nejib Belkhadi’s mystical realignment of urban unrest, with a Tunisian setting which alone makes this a curious sounding enterprise.
Almost Human – The first of many sacrifices for the Midnight Madness crowd, a brutal looking slice of pulp set in the Maine badlands. I do like to mix things up schedule wise with the serious stuff rubbing shoulders with the gleefully perverted, and the alien invasion angle could make this something different.
The Story Of Children & Film – Clearly not one to rest on his celluloid laurels, after projecting the astoundingly epic The Story Of Film cinephile enthusiast Mark Cousins is trotting his next around the globe, the agenda to examine the presentation of children in the cathedral of cinema. Given that his last effort was one of the best excavations of the art form of the last few decades the expectations are high….
The Station – Not a Bill & Ted’s tribute piece, this is another lightweight addition to my bruising schedule, as a retreating glacier warps the local wildlife in ravenous beasts looking for a lip-smacking snack. Yummy.
The Strange Colour of Your Bodies Tears – I wasn’t completely seduced by Amer’s posmodern giallo reckoning, but evidently the production team behind that black gloved hallucination have speared some new financiers for another stylish xerox of cult favourites of yesteryear. Another one for the Midnight Madness brigade, so count me in.
Cold Eyes – Surveillance paranoia evidently knows no borders in this South Korean critique of the all-seeing eyes infecting our public spaces, deftly recorded under the guise of an adrenaline flickered urban actioner. It’s had some middiling reviews from other festival reveals, I think it looks pretty cool….
A Touch Of Sin – More Chinese carnage from the blood streaked quill of Jia Zhangke, this Cannes screenwriting award winner looks brutally gripping, casting an eye back at the history of the worlds swiftest growing economy in order to predict its turbulent and turmeric future.
Burning Bush – A HBO Europe mini series gets a big screen graduation with this compelling dramatisation of the story of Jan Palach, a radical student who set himself on fire in a protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1969 – a frigid inversion of the Arab Spring?
Les Salauds – Claire Denis is one of the highly appreciated current filmmakers whom I’ve not fully got to grips with, clearly this is a deficiency in my attention span and viewing choices which should partially be corrected with this darkly brooding tale of family jealously and nefarious secrets. Any film which boasts a ‘labyrinthine’ plot is always worth a few hours of my time.
Jodorowski’s Dune – And finally a tantalising taste of what might have been, with one of the most bonkers films never made given the full imaginative, speculative treatment.
Although I claimed three lists in development I’ve had to collapse those streams to two, purely because much of the other material which is flying high on my prefered schedule simply don’t have trailers yet. So for the record I’ll also be seriously angling for Catherine Breillat’s Abuse Of Weakness, Fredrick Wiseman’s At Berkerly, Richard Adoyade’s The Double, Errol Morri’s The Known Unknown (a quite timely feature-length interview with war criminal Donald Rumsfeld as we Western cowards prepare to rain millions of dollars of cruise missles on yet another Middle Eastern country) Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno, Workman’s What Is Cinema and the potential thrilling shennigans of The Art Of The Steal.
Another weekend, another gleaming vision of hellish catastrophe and destruction. After the comedic carnage of This Is The End, the leveling of Metropolis and Smallville in Man Of Steel, the crashing starships and terrorists strikes of Star Trek: Into Darkness and I’m told the nuking of London in G.I Joe: Retaliation this summer has been one terrifying orgy of pixellated havoc, and one longs for the quiet desolation of Oblivion, the smooth search for identity amongst the lethal drone strikes and technological oppression. You might think that someone was trying to tell us something, that the cultural manifest was expressing some submerged fear of ecological or social devastation, and the permeation of these global dreads into kids movies is a rather worrying development for which we can conclude that the worlds global Armageddon clock has ticked one minute closer to the apocalypse. OK, OK, maybe its the heat stroke ’cause I’m exaggerating of course, but with the arrival of Pacific Rim, Guillermo Del Toro’s clanking, braying CGI tour-de-force which pits gargantuan para-dimensional Kaiju monsters – think Godjira or King Kong or Mothra – against building sized robotic juggernauts I am curious to see the younger generations response to this dazzling conflagration of extinction threatening violence, as make no mistake this is a film very much aimed at the younger cinema-goers of the ten to fourteen age range, rather than the slightly older teenage demographic which dominates the lucrative summer season. In terms of full disclosure I must admit that I was in a somewhat fragile, self-inflicted hungover state when enduring this berserk blend of movie genres, my expectations weren’t stratospherically high other than potentially enjoying some destructive eye candy and a couple of hours of throwaway popcorn attuned fun with perhaps a buttery smattering of Del Toro’s empathic monster-mash-ups, what I witnessed instead was a rather frustrating combination of broad clichés and juvenile plot contrivances bolted on to his otaku obsessions, a three star movie housed in the shell of cavernous cinematic promise.
The near future, and some barnacle encrusted boffins have made a slightly worrying discovery – a para-dimensional portal rift has seared through the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean, and this tear in the space-time continuum rather irritatingly appears to be coughing out mega-behemoth monsters to rampage through the shrieking populations of the Oriental plate and the western seaboard of North America. This humongous plague brings the world community together to launch a mechanical counterstrike which is christened as the Jaeger program, the ambitious construction of similarly sized robotic guardians piloted by two psychically linked souls due to the neural operative pressures being too much for a single pilot to handle alone, a hilariously implausible and unwieldy concept called “Drifting”. This international force achieves some early victories in fending off the devastating attacks, but a sinister intelligence behind the onslaught is revealed as the rate and size of the invasion exponentially grows, causing the worlds government to seek alternative methods of a hopeless defence. Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) a one man charisma vacuum and sole survivor of one of the initial alien sorties is lured back to the programme through the barking persuasion of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba and no, I’m not making that name up), teamed up with tear-stained newbie Mako Mori (Rinko Kicuchi) this new couple must find their courage and forge a mutual trust as two deeply irritating scientists conduct some desperate R&D in an effort to build a strategy to counter the threat, played by the sneering suit Stryver from the The Dark Knight Rises (Burn Gorman) and
J.J.Abrams Charlie Day a final desperate mission is hatched to assault the rift and close the breach, and as the trailer so cringeworthy instructs us to ‘cancel the Apocalypse’….
I was musing over the potential reaction to this film from the numerous trailers that have escaped into international digital waters over the past year or so, with a quiet mental prediction that many of Del Toro’s local acolytes would be crushed by disappointment by a diluted directorial force following the severe setbacks he suffered with his exit from The Hobbit project, so I find myself in the rather unenviable position of siding with the annoying crowd as any sense of Del Toro as a filmmaker of the calibre of Pans Labyrinth or more crucially the rewarding Hellboy pictures which of course gleam closer to the spirit, size and sensibilities of this species of colossal blockbuster – any sense of an ‘authorial’ film has been completely obliterated from this film, apart from his trademark sense of creature design and dimensions which I’ll come to shortly. Now I know I have frequently expressed the view that you should review the film that was made rather than the one which you wanted to see, but unfortunately Pacific Rim’s numerous failures and long stretches of tedious, bland characterisations interfere with would could and should have been an entertaining, titanic rollercoaster of a movie, rather than a waterlogged wreck which springs more narrative leaks and clichéd asides than a swiss cheese schooner. It’s a film for twelve years olds and has clearly been developed with a whole series of toy franchises, duvet covers and comic book tie-ins which is to be expected (what marketing dolt thought up the tagline ‘Go Big Or Go Extinct’ though? Idiot) and I’m certainly not criticising it for that, but as a singular entity, as a film alone and adrift from the associated revenue streams it cuts rather a forlorn figure, occasionally punctuated with a few set pieces which certainly raise the temperature and the heart-rate, but all the fun of a fantastical, SF, comic book ensemble that he has brought to his previous big-budget excursions is singularly silent. He never plays with the concepts of ‘drifting’ and how this could gel with concepts of a shared heroism, there is no tacit tackling of a world united against one great threat and a shared humanity, instead Pacific Rim posits a very black and white, good/evil dichotomy with blandly sketched character longueurs which rot at the films tsunami damaged thermonuclear core, and that is simply just as faintly insulting to kids of whatever age as it is to adults.
That said there is some earthy elements to enjoy, unlike most current fare the 3D is expertly arranged and avoiding a mild spoiler I’ll just say that Del Toro’s skills at wading into world building waters are fully on display with an alloy of a society which would adapt to the presence of super Kajiru in both a physical and environmental fashion (genre hero Wayne Barlow was involved in much of the creature design and organic work), the battle scenes unlike its metamorphical stablemates are clearly defined and bellowingly brutal, through robust editing and compositions you instinctively grasp a firm sense of the space and the definitions of the melee maelstroms which are clearly designed to embrace the z axis format, and the Hong Kong set-piece is the films indiscriminate climax which may serve as the best single combat sequence of the year. Del Toro’s favourite actor Ron Perlman is fitfully amusing as a gold brocaded, sleazy Kaijun artefact black marketeer and you have to applaud the directors steadfast conviction of placing a woman in a central action and narrative role, not objectifying her to some crop topped wearing, hot pants sporting sex vixen that the camera drools over as she sweatingly conducts some ‘super hot’ repairs – thankfully despite its similarities to the Transformers pictures this ain’t no Michael Bay atrocity to celluloid equality – but by the same token Mako is the single, solitary speaking-role female character in the entire movie, so why were there no other vaginas deployed among the scientific support team or military brass? Well, OK there is a Russian pilot but she is barely seen and doesn’t hang around for very long, I guess unlike the hulking strides of the Jaeger colossus these things have to change in incremental baby steps.
Writing this review to the soundtrack of Man Of Steel certainly makes this review feel more epic than it sounds, I know you’re probably thinking I’m being far too serious for a $250+ million film of this ilk but I think you’ll appreciate my concerns when you get round to seeing it, if you have kids of an appropriate age then do take them to it as you will be the greatest father/mother in the world, and your brood will probably be of the opinion that the movie is the greatest achievement of human civilisation thus far – if I was that age I’d agree. The best news is I’m writing this on my lovely new iPad, given the desolate plateau of depression that was my so-called birthday last month I figure that you have to treat yourself sometimes, as it appears that no-one in my social or genetic circle is fucking prepared to do so, it’s a wise acquisition to prepare for Toronto as I needed a tablet of some description to power out the imminent – fingers crossed for the press accreditation – reviews. Anyway I digress as I’m already being diverted into alternate waters, I do hope Pacific Rim is a hit so Del Toro gets to resurrect his Cthulhu dormant Lovecraft project, if that fails then we can only hope he gets back to the smaller films and musters another minor masterpiece, until then I guess we should start quietly praying for the imminent screen return of the outer dimension ancient ones……
OK, OK I’ve been slacking recently I admit it, having not posted anything for a whole four days I’m afraid it’s time for some more trailer trash filler. In my defence work is pretty darn hectic at the moment, after two programme launches out of the way you’d think things would get easier but instead things seem to be getting worse – c’est la vie. So I’ve spent all weekend de-stressing by blasting apart, knifing and immolating digital avatars courtesy of this which is exceedingly addictive, I had planned on going to see Byzantium but when push came to shove I just couldn’t quite muster up the enthusiasm given the tepid reviews, nor could I find my muse to construct a report on last weeks BFI visit – I shall probably got into that this evening. In the meantime lets take a look at some imminent and upcoming movies which seem to be getting some attention, firstly the small matter of Robert Rodriguez’s new atrocity;
So let’s see, Sofía Vergara, Demián Bichir, Amber Heard, Antonio Banderas, Zoe Saldana, Edward James Olmos, Vanessa Hudgens, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alexa Vega, William Sadler, Lady Gaga, Marko Zaror, Tom Savini, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson – that’s what I call a cast. I’ve already heard accusations of ‘stunt-casting’ which I suppose can’t really be rejected, I just hope it’s more fun and inventive than the original Machete which was a major disappointment, but Rodriguiz is actually directing this one instead of palming it off to his second unit guy so we shall see. The film is due in August in the States, with Sin City 2 (featuring Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Powers Boothe, Mickey Rourke, and Bruce Willis, Eva (hubbah) Green, Josh Brolin, Jamie Chung, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Julia Garner, Juno Temple, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, and Crystal McCahill) following in early October – a banner year for Rodriguez fanboys. Shifting genre gears then what’s this;
This is generating some mild controversy due to author Orson Scott Card’s rather repellent views, there’s quite a strange strain of bigoted stupidity among some American SF authors of the Space Opera variety, as the likes of Robert Heinlein and Harlan Elison have also spewed some craven misogynist, sexist, homophobic and racist nonsense in their time. I haven’t read the widely beloved book and I think this looks throughly mediocre, the presence of numerous US brats running about being moody n’stuff fills me with an intergalactic sense of dread, not to mention shades of The Phantom Menace (shudders)….
Hmm, my comic book patience is wearing increasingly thin and the first Wolverine movie was bloody terrible, but I guess you never know and this might have a few refreshing set-piece scraps if nothing else. I like Jackman in the titular role, he inhabits the comic creation very effectively, and I do admire how that trailer doesn’t give away whomever the main villain(s) might be, unless I’m spectacularly failing to spot blatantly obvious cues and characters from the comic book continuum which is entirely feasible. It can’t possibly be any worse than this;
I’ve been reading some quite amusing threads recently about Mr. Night, a man with the name a 15-year-old Goth kid might think is cool to change by deed poll, but a fully functioning adult really should know better. After his increasingly waning career which has plummeted to the vortex inducing depths of The Happening, Lady In The Water and The Last Airbender I cackled with delight when reading that Will Smith’s character in this alleged Scientology manifesto movie is called (drum-roll) Cypher Raige – you have got to be fucking kidding, right? I’ve been skim reading reviews after opening weekend and the film has pretty much been crucified, this kinda sums it all up, so I think I’ll give this one a miss as after this news and this revelation I have a LA bound plane to catch and some weapons to deploy….
So Cannes has started, and it sounds like it’s off to a wet start, but we don’t care about that arty foreign nonsense now do we? DO WE? Here’s some robots instead;
As it happens I’ve got one of my most challenging ‘art-film’ retrospective reviews on the horizon after a particularly leftfield piece I caught on the BFI on Monday, but I’m ill and ain’t feeling up to it at the moment – just writing various things at work is tiring enough at the moment. So for the moment let’s look forward to giant automatons battering the fuck out of each other, that’s about the size of the intellectual challenge I can muster at the moment…
What a week eh? I think we can all agree that this is a period we’d all like to get behind us, whether it’s the nauseating hagiography of the worst and most destructive entity to assault my country since the Führer’s Luftwaffe or carnage inducing explosions over in North America, not to mention the mind-boggling decision not to acquiesce to the vast majority of the public’s demand that something needs to be done to control the horrific proliferation of massacre and murder implements – exactly how the fuck can those Senators ever look their constituents in the eye again? Simply unbelievable. Still, we’re here to talk about the movies of course and today saw the unveiling of this years programme for the worlds most prestigious film festival, and whilst I can’t say I’m jumping up and down with excitement there are some appearances which deserve mention. Looking at the list of films in competition I am struck by the same response I experience whenever I receive a new edition of Sight & Sound, namely that I rather arrogantly assume I know a lot about cinema until confronted with a dozen directors and filmmakers that I simply have never heard of – like clockwork this occurs pretty much every month. There is still so much to learn and see, and of course this is a good thing. So forgive me for a rather Westencentric and English language orientated look at what’s on offer, here’s the latest sight of the opening gala selection;
Just posting this makes my skin crawl but one strives to be neutral, as you have gathered I loathe Baz Luhrmann and all the atrocities he has visited upon the cinema, especially Australia and Moulin Rogue which are worthy of particularly venomous scorn. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure he’s lovely chap whom is kind to pets and children but I simply can’t stand his films, and even the threat of repeated molestations by a horde of famished rapedogs couldn’t drag me to the cinema to see this. It wasn’t always this way, I was entertained by Strictly Ballroom for example when that came out back in nineteen ninety whatever, although upon reflection I was smoking a lot of weed then and my critical facilities may have been somewhat warped. Gatsby is a big, prestige product however and some quarters are really looking forward to it, so I’ll pinch my nose and let you make your own mind up.
I think we’re all looking forward to this, it looks ravishing and Refn seems to be powering from strength to strength as his career accelerates, one wonders if he can take the material to the next level or if this will just be a pleasantly violent and stylish thriller yarn. Now, is he still on board for the long languishing Logan’s Run remake or not? I heard that Gosling had bailed but maybe he’s looking at replacements….
This looks like a slightly different tack for the Coens, it’s difficult to articulate but this looks a lot more ‘realistic’ and less mannered than most of their recent output, I can’t say I’m chomping at the proverbial bit to see this but one has to see everything new of theirs at the flicks doesn’t one?
I quite like Sophia Coppola’s movies but this looks a little samey, but then again if it ain’t broke don’t fix it I guess? The woeful travails of the incredibly wealthy, those poor souls navigating their empty lives as they are ferried from fashion show to red carpet premieres, the poor little darlings, it must be so horrid…
And finally as I don’t have the time to delve further at the moment, I don’t want to be a complete philistine and will actually post some foreign language competition, so let’s go with the always reliable Mikke Takashi – looking amusing as always. I didn’t even know Alexander Payne had another film in the can so that’s a nice surprise, a new Polanski is always worth a look and if like me you’re a little lukewarm on this schedule as there isn’t anything which really leaps out as a must see – other than Only God Forgives maybe – there may be some hidden gems tucked away under those directors we’ve never heard of. Now, if you’ll excuse me in keeping with the spirit of the week I’m off to laugh uproariously at some innocent youngsters get torn to pieces by a pack or slavering hell beasts, it’s the only way to keep sane….
A quick capsule review of some of last nights entertainment before we mosey on over to the Cineworld for Side Effects. Now, I think I’ve been a little easy on you recently with a distinct lack of the hardcore stuff, so let me address this gruesome impasse with a some comments on The ABC’s Of Death;
As it says on the tin this is an anthology film of 26 parts representing each letter of the alphabet, with the proviso that the director assigned each letter had full creative control and had to feature a death of some sort – a pleasant premise if ever I read one. With submissions from all over the world this international effort’s quality soars and plunges but it’s eminently watchable, as you know four or five minutes you’ll be into another episode if the current one isn’t particulraly arresting. I think this is much more a festival film than a solitary exercise, I can imagine the howls of humor in a venue such as Frightfest for example, but for us horror nerds there is some intellectual amusement to be had in guessing the method of dispatch as each segment sythes through to the next. So, one for hardcore horror fans with a twisted sense of humor, for the record I most enjoyed O,P and Q, I was particularly creeped out by H, but whoever thought up L needs to be arrested. Seriously.
After the delirious plunge from quality to curiosity following the third installment of the Matrix trilogy – yes I’m one of the strange drones who still quite likes The Matrix Reloaded – it didn’t seem as if the secretive Wachowski siblings would ever wield a super-budget again. After the erotic noir stylings of their debut Bound, a sexy thriller with a genre challenging androgynous subtext they swiftly ascended stratospheric heights with the first installment of their cyberpunk pilfering triumvirate, culminating in one of the most mauled and muddled final franchise episodes in SF movie history. Nevertheless a global haul of $1.6 billion can still ease the purse strings of a greedy studio executive and their follow-up project was dully greenlit, whilst it has its admirers Speed Racer was also savaged by the press and barely recouped its production budget, banishing the duo to director jail to lick their wounds whilst dabbling with the odd production credit on a handful of forgettable pictures. Nevertheless the Wachowskis are clearly not content to return to the days of miniscule budgeted neo-noir as they have now embarked on their most impassioned project to date, a screen adaption of the multi-strand, ethnically diverse and structurally significant Cloud Atlas, an endeavour which proved to be so ambitious that they needed yet another director, the German helmer Tom Tykwer of Run Lola Run fame to assist with herding the digital cats into their narrative bags. In the new era of studio austerity the producers had to go cap in hand to private investors, raising the reputed $100 million dollar production budget from a panorama of private investors before Warner Bros. stepped in to handle global distribution and marketing duties. This welcome intervention was potentially powered by the studios reputation in supporting the artistic vision of their creative vassals, but remained a relatively significant risk as the film was a difficult to market product, a movie which seems to once again have evaded the popular audience despite its global possibilities. With glaring reservations I was one part bemused and embarrassed to two parts genuinely and incrementally impressed, like many of its sprawling kin Cloud Atlas is a big, bold yet ultimately flawed mosaic, with an impressive sense of scale which doesn’t always quite gel.
Based on the acclaimed novel by David Mitchell Cloud Atlas is split between numerous time frames and character streams, lilting and lurching from one stand of storytelling to another like a storm-tossed schooner, with many of the same actors playing different iterations of friends and foes across oceans of time and memory. In the reserved 1930’s East Anglian England a gay musician struggles with social persecution as he assists an aging, bullying maestro in composing his new masterpiece, in 2012 a book publisher flees leering gangsters to accidentally bivouac in a suffocating elderly care centre. A 19th century gentlemen nascently involved with the slavery trade is slowly poisoned by a greedy doctor on board ship whilst befriending a negro stowaway, in 2142 a genetically birthed clone ‘fabricant’ leads a revolution against corporate inhumanity. In 1973 a San Francisco based Journalist stumbles across a radioactive conspiracy whilst millenia hence an off world, posthuman colonist revisits the Earth which has descended to quasi-feudal cannibalism in order to discover her destiny. From the future to the past, from the micro to the macro, from the fantastic to the formulaic it glitters with an all-star cast, I won’t spoil the fun by specifying who appears in which streams but we’re talking about (deep breath) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Bae Doona, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy and Menagerie favourite Keith David, heck even Susan Sarandon gets a occsaional, if unfavourable look in.
Well, the first thing Cloud Atlas should be celebrated for is its sheer, unimpeachable and unadulterated ambition. It is very difficult, almost impossible (apart from maybe Inception) to identify any contemporary filmmaking north of the $50 million dollar signpost which isn’t culled from an existing franchise or cultural instrument, either comic book or video game, a remake or a ‘reimagining’ of previously successful fissile material. Now, yes, the film is based on a successful ‘cult’ novel but we’re not exactly talking about a Twilight or Harry Potter cultural phenomenon here, and the fact that they have approached the story as presented in the book (albeit with some crucial differences) by interweaving a sextet of interlocking and consorting strands into one homogenous whole would be laudatory if it were attempted at a student level, let alone a fiscally eye-watering nine figure star laden super-production. As I suspected some of the strands work better than others but I must admit that as the film got into its rhythm initially tiresome storylines waxed and waned to eclipse the primarily engrossing arcs, it deftly cuts and dances through the competing tales in a voracious vortex that successfully grips and maintains the attention, with some terrific specifically match cuts which I won’t spoil here, other than to say that on a structural level alone Cloud Atlas is worth the price of admission. The first film which leaps to mind is of course Griffith’s epic Intolerance which for its period was a game changing scope of attack, including parralell cutting across numerous timelines and stories, with the global theme of, well, tolerance surprisingly enough, and in that sense both films share a formal and thematic DNA.
Going into this I had some strong suspicions that the movie couldn’t succeed due to its numerous fractured timelines, such a broad spread of narrative streams should dilute any emotional engagement and could prove frustrating as one favoured strand gets going only for the flow to move to another thread, thuis whittling away the chance for any incremental empathic investment. Although I was admittedly wrong on that point I was correct in a roundabout way, the tempo is such that in some sections three or four strands can be juxtaposed within a couple of minutes of screen time and comment and refract on each other – corporate malfeasance throughout the ages, how one person can make a difference, how rules and regimented boundries are meant to be transgressed – the problem for me pulses at a more fundamental level within the nucleau of some of the stories, but we’ll come back to that later on. Visually the film is cornea striking, a spectrum of colours and textures that pirouette across the eyes, I’m looking forward to freeze framing a few shots on Blu-Ray to absorb some of the background detail of 2144 Neo-Seoul which is essentially Blade Runner meets Logan Run with a mash of Soylent Green, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that this was the most successful story strand for yours truly. Far less successful was some of the deeply distracting casting decisions, whilst I don’t fully agree with these accusations of ‘whitewashing’ scenes by having some actors scrunched into oriental make-up or amending the skin pigmentation to reincarnate characters across the timelines perhaps the Wachowski’s could have treated the audience with a little more intelligence, the garish signpost of the cycles in time is deeply distracting and throws you out of the picture, alas in places it becomes a point and stare oddity which provokes laughter rather than lustre. As others have remarked Tom Hanks as an Oirish geezer is terrible and I was embarrassed to watch his (thankfully) one scene appearance, even if he does have a rather amusing method in dealing with critical dissent which must be a daydream of many a mauled film director, one things for sure that this will go down in the history books as the Tom Hanks movie when the wholesome type shockingly barks two of the most offensive words in the English language, y’know the ones that rhyme with ‘tigger’ and ‘hunt’.
What the hell was that ochre coloured Alice Cooper apparition doing in the aeons ahead future strand? Never explained nor required, I also struggled to understand much of Hanks slurred speech and that ridiculous futuristic argot, it’s very strange angles and creative decisions like these which ensures that the film has cult oddity written all over it, with its shocking lapses in taste and distracting choices, its spectacular breadth and demanding design. There has been a bit of a trend for this breed of global cinema recently, ever since the Oscar storming Slumdog Millionaire Hollywood reared creatives have not been afraid to target to international audiences over indigenous purses through tales which preach a homogenized humanity, that we’re all the same deep down with the same fears and hopes, dreams and nightmares, as an aside I recently watched the deleted scenes for the film Looper (in itself an instructive exercise to see what was unfortunately culled) and the fact that the film had scenes featuring the Oriental wife specifically shot and inserted for the Chinese release is kind of fascinating, a sign of the times in a globalised entertainment market. I am slightly mystified then at the films lacklusture box-office, we know the release was butchered in North America but I would have thought this would have picked up support in the Far East markets, but perhaps this is why I’m not an international studio distribution executive…..
The films innocent plea for tolerance and understanding across the aeons finds some fruitful roots, and it’s a banally obvious point to make but LanaWachowski’s recent gender reassignment of course shadows the whole enterprise with a non-fictional functuality, it’s not difficult to see what she and her brother saw in the source material that they wanted to bring to the screen and parley with a potential global audience. ‘Everything Is Connected’ yells the film’s tagline but alas in the Wachowskiverse acute visuals and bold ambitions don’t always overcome juvenile thematics and simplistic moralising, and crucially there are some plot strands that I just couldn’t care about – 1973 San Francisco went nowhere and had a stupid action scene bolted on to raise the stakes, 2012 Jim Broadbents hilarious bumblings were about as funny as a HIV epidemic with some Scottish racism thrown in for good measure. At the risk of sounding derogatory this is very much a film which will appeal on a philosophical level with the type of creatures that gravitated towards The Fountain, live and let live is my motto and whatever floats your boat, but the lesson that souls are reborn throughout time and love can conquer all is patently ridiculous to me, but then again I’m a black-hearted nihilist who tends to view existence as an elaborate cosmic joke with a meaningless death as the punchline and your mileage, as they say, may vary. It’s a three star film if you don’t take it too seriously or dwell on its feeble philosophical assertions, maybe a 3.5 as it does have Keith David in it, worth seeing for the visual acuity and sheer spiring ambition, a rewarding three-hour picture which is worth an investment of your time;
We can all rest easy as the New Year is finally crowned, yup it’s time for another Miike Takashi movie trailer;
The penultimate shot of that trailer made me giggle. In other news I’ve just got home from a weekend with the family to discover a real treat in the podcast in-box, the always amusing CHUD crew getting wasted and deconstructing Prometheus – now that should be an entertaining listen, they usually give movies a fair crack of the whip and if memory serves some of them liked the film in theatres so it won’t just be a boring and easy hatchet job, the real joy is in their irrelevant, almost unique take on movie ‘reviewing’ – they always make me laugh….
It’s been a while since we conducted a list post isn’t it? Well, you can imagine my glee as mulling over a portfolio of possibilities this little article arrived and started gaining traction amongst the on-line film fraternity, of course the opinion of one of the most influential and coveted filmmakers of all time was bound to generate a dense cloud of commentary, and being a self-confessed obsessive of the man and his work I naturally found the inspiration for a new trawl through cinema history. Before we get started allow me to construct some context for our scan of past triumphs, firstly it should be noted that any claim to this being a definitive statement of Kubrick’s all time favourites is absurd, this should be taken as a fun exercise rather than any serious academic collation such as the decennial Sight & Sound poll for example, and anyway I suspect that Stan would dismiss any reductive exercise such as making a ‘top ten’ with the contempt it deserves – exactly how is Rashomon less brilliant in its own unique way than say Les Diaboliques? The spine of the list springs from a 1963 submission to Cinema magazine that Kubrick made when he was 35 years old, a recent permanent émigré to leafy East Anglia from the States, plotting his designs and working up the script for Dr. Strangelove which was to strafe theatres a year later. It’s a fine collection which sprawls over cinemas first seven decades, in many ways you can map the films to Kubrick’s own work in many fascinating and illuminating ways, but before we get into that lets just consider the pictures which didn’t quite make the cut.
As my fellow fanatics have barked it also omits some core films which Stan is on record as admiring, the elusive Funeral Parade Of Roses (which I ordered from Japan a decade ago to see) was an influence on A Clockwork Orange’s techniques for example, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and An American Werewolf In London also prompted one of those surprising impromptu six-hour conversations with fellow industry colleagues – in the latter it’s not difficult to see the ironic use of music to counterpoise the horror and the technical achievements which would appeal to Stan – but most glaringly there is no mention of Kielowski’s expansive Decalogue series which legendarily actually convinced the so-called recluse to write a short introduction of praise for the accompanying screenplay folio. As I’ve noted before he cited The Godfather as the best cast film of all time – one wonders what he would have made with Brando had their initial discussions on One Eyes Jacks ever coalesced into anything – and I love the quote that one of his daughters made (I think it was Katharina) that she fondly remembers sitting with him watching movies like White Men Can’t Jump on the BBC which just goes to show he wasn’t always this imperious Prospero wrestling with the great themes of humankind in his isolated St. Alban’s mansion, sometimes he could just enjoy a well made story with suitably sketched characters, or maybe he just enjoyed the sport as he was a fairly big sports fan, he’d have Basketball and Baseball matches recorded and shipped to him well before the advent of Satellite broadcasting. So we have much ground to cover so lets begin in descending order, starting with an early Achilles heel in my film knowledge armour;
15. Blood Wedding (Carlos Saura | 1981) – I’ve never heard of this and I’m not sure where they gleaned Kubrick’s passion for the film from, but nevertheless here we are. I can only assume that the supposed ‘incredible’ camera work cited in reviews is what impressed him, he certainly liked to keep his cameras prowling through his sets, with the attendant strains on operators, focus pullers, set designers and actors that such gruelling shooting techniques could engender, so I’m looking forward to this which has been placed on my priority Lovefilm queue. Strange that people have been whining about the films lack of availability and claiming ebay copies go for $350 though, it was the first thing that cropped up in the search result…..
14. The Bank Dick (Edward Cline | 1940) – W.C. Fields seems to have been relegated to the comedy nerds as he doesn’t exactly spring to mind like say the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, and I wonder if this wasn’t just a little twinge of nostalgia on the part of Stanley as a movie which he could have seen in theatres at the tender age of twelve? Then again it is considered something of a formal classic in its comedic design, and there is a quiet strain of comedy running through his body of work, yes of course there’s Strangelove but I’d argue that Barry Lyndon, Lolita, The Killing and even The Shining all have their comedy moments – granted we’re talking hysterical, nervous, cackling laughter – but laughter none the less. Fascinating comedy themed factoid – original potential couples for Eyes Wide Shut when Stan was working on it during the Eighties were Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Steve Martin and his then missus Victoria Tennant – evidently he was going for a lighter approach at the time?
13. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski | 1968) – Firstly, a confession. Yes I made a vague promise about crafting a Polanski trilogy didn’t I? Well, I did have tickets to see this which would have been great on the big screen, but the screening fell on the January Friday when that strange frozen substance fell from the sky and paralysed London’s transport infrastructure, so I counted my blessing at getting home in one piece to Limehouse rather than pressing my luck with a yomp over to the South Bank as well. The other film I had planned was Repulsion, but I actually revisited that last year so I was terribly excited at seeing it again so soon, I shall make amends with the quite ambitious plans I have for the upcoming John Boorman season. Anyway, I’m sure Stanley loved this for it’s all to difficult to replicate chilling tone, it’s creeping unease and impressive framing and compositions, I think he had less of an ego of making his riposte to this and The Exorcist as he felt he could ‘make the greatest horror movie ever made;’ than he really had one eye on the box office and saw thew astonishing returns that relatively cheap horror movies could provide. Then of course he went on to make The Shining in a swift turnaround (for him) of three years from Lyndon, and made one of the greatest horror movies ever made. Smug bastard…..
12. The Fireman’s Ball (Milos Forman | 1967) – I hang my head in shame as yet another glaring omission in my filmlore arsenal is exposed, truth be told there is a whole sequence of films which emerged from under the Iron Curtain during the Sixties and Seventies which I’m not particularly au fait with, material such as Andrejz Wajda’s cinema and indigenous films which the likes of cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Laszlo Kovacs cut there teeth on before repatriating to the West, and providing illumination to a decade of America’s finest cinema. Everyone knows Milos Forman for the classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, itself a political a social parable like this movie, I think Cousins touched upon it during his Film Odyssey and I’ve just ordered myself a copy – death by bureaucracy sounds like an ideal companion piece to Strangelove, no?
11. The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjöström | 1921) – We’ve moved beyond being ashamed and straight into penitent flailing now, friends of mine won’t be surprised to hear me give myself a good beating over Kubrick’s favourite movies. I’ve heard of Sjöström as an early pioneer of cinema back in the days of Griffith and Chaplin, I know that he’s the main actor in Wild Strawberries, but I confess I’ve never heard of this. Above is quite the most illuminating extract, it just goes to show the breadth and depth of material that the real cinema greats draw upon for their own material and scenes. It is curious, is it not, that the 1921 scene plays out in mid-shots of both lines of action, but sixty years later the same scene is played out in a variety of framing choices and cutting rhythms, the latter being slightly more terrifying….
10. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme | 1991) – Now I’ve heard of this, in fact I can smugly assert to not only seeing this at the cinema during its initial run, but also having my very own Direct Versatile Disk copy – thus my Kubrick credentials are restored. It is a terrific thriller with glimpses of horror (rather than vice versa) with great lead performances, I wonder if Hopkins slithering, over the top portrayal of Lecktor didn’t appeal to his embrace the gallery of grotesques which populate his work? There’s a couple of terrific feints in the movie which Demme expertly pulls off, the first being the face as above, the second the cut between Clarice knocking at Buffalo Bill’s yard and the SWAT team preparation in a different location – great stuff, these are techniques which more recent movies could learn from….
9. Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky | 1972) – Shall I be lazy and post the most obvious clip, Tarkovsky’s alleged filmic response to the 2001 Stargate sequence? Well, this seems as good a place as any. I wonder what Stanley made of the slightly more challenging Stalker which is probably regarded as the more immortal film, I just like the idea of directors having these ‘feuds’ and remarking upon and rebutting each others work through their own projects, it reminds me of whole swathes of the history of fine art where entire movements have been created and potent phases of work emerged from such chest beating intellectual mêlées – cinema it seems is no different and just as valid.
8. Closely Watched Trains – (Jiří Menzel | 1966) – And we’re back to my shameful, tearful confession – nope I ain’t seen this either. Watching that trailer and the first thing that springs to mind is of course the abandoned Aryan Papers project, I don’t think there’s much more to say other than I think you’ll have to be in a very particular mood to absorb this movie, a black & white Czech coming of age art-house drama set against the fading pains of World War II – sounds hilarious….
7. If…. (Lindsay Anderson | 1968) – Rather a strange inclusion this, Stanley liked the film a great deal and it was purely on the strength of the scene above at 04:53 that he cast McDowell as the Mephistophelian Alex, in a career defining role which Malcolm will be chiefly remembered for once his glazzies mist over. We in Britain should be ashamed of ourselves as we haven;t made as subversive and savage a film in half a century, and if the current social and political upheaval isn’t the accelerant for such material then I don’t know what is. OK we’ll leave it there and I’ll come back and finish off the list next week, I’m off to the BFI for a visit for a simply divine experience…..
Ah, another sensei ascends to the great screening room in the sky. As an enormous fan of Japanese cinema I am ashamed to admit I’m certainly no expert on the so-called ‘asian Godard‘, but having perused that list I am surprised to see I’ve seen more of his films than I realised, including his swan-song Taboo, his most notorious film of all, and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence;
Seems a shame that his long and complex career should be primarily remembered for one picture which had a lot of fucking in it, but here we are. In other news with Sundance on the horizon another trailer has surfaced of one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, at least I think it’s a film;
I’m particularly impressed that a full two-minute trailer doesn’t feel the need to explain or signal much in the way of anything, and maintains a real sense of mystery – if this doesn’t come to London in April as part of Sundance I won’t be responsible for my actions – can’t wait….