Ordinary fucking people, indeed. So, it’s been a strange year for the Menagerie. I oddly lost my intent and inspiration for crafting material during a period when ironically I had more time on my hands to devote to writing nonsense, as the day job possibilities took a major hit due to two outside influences. Firstly, the frustrating IR35 regulations wrecked havoc across the public sector, but I won’t bore you with such tedious opinions on that HMRC clusterfuck other than to say that if you think this country is going to deliver on the infrastructure and housing expertise that it needs to even remotely build enough stock and develop sustainable communities then think again – all the grizzled experts are retiring, and the intelligence loss is massive. Hmmph. Then things started to pick up my in industry just before the Grenfell tragedy which understandably and appropriately froze much of the regeneration activities across London, in favour of massive swathes of audits and assessments – at Islington during my last contract I’ve seen first hand just how the technical and financial culture has changed. But, as Tyrell said to a mournful Roy Batty (next year, heh) all of this is academic, and we have other matters to consider, such as the shuttering of this blog. Here’s some Malick to set the scene;
If there is a theme for this final post then it’s transformation, this blogging activity has exhausted its purpose, and while I’d have liked to have covered all of Kubrick and all of Lynch (to name just two) I just can’t muster the mojo any longer. Heck, I was deep into reviews of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and a couple of other Marty’s from the January BFI season (and also a BFI screened 70mm print of Once Upon A Time In The West which is now for me the greatest Western ever made, full fucking stop) but gentle reader the spirit is extinguished, so they must remain incomplete and immaterial. I think part of it is just getting a little older and jaded with the web and its alleged force for good, recent political events are just so infuriating and deeply depressing, on both sides of the pond. Therefore I’m trying to extricate myself from so much artificial interaction, concentrating on other activities is simply essential, especially with the day job developments and the potential for the media to track down potentially damaging phrasing and inappropriate gags I’m sure I’ve made here over the past decade. I don’t wish to sound so self important (I’m really, really not) but on my last contract FOI’s have been issued, and that is bound to be repeated for 2018 given my new activities. Still, I got to go to TiFF and cover the LFF over many years, plus being invited to Cannes a few times was an ego boost and independently sanctioned my credibility. This blog has also influenced the day job, long story short but I had an intense (to say the least) three hour job interview with New Scotland Yard earlier this year, for various reasons that didn’t work out but some of the interview panel positively remarked on my independent writing background which made me grin. Closer to home I also got to meet Bowman and Poole so that fulfils some immortal bucket list from my teenage years. Also seeing one of the worldwide premieres of Gravity and the movie below are experiences I will always treasure;
Yeah, I’ll never forgot seeing that for the first time, I knew immediately that we were in good hands, cinematically speaking. Right, so, The Last Jedi, Star Wars n’ stuff. I suppose that requires some consideration. Seen it twice (technical appraisal), didn’t particularly care for it as a film either time, slightly enjoyed it more as a self contained cultural unit once I’d decompressed the franchise 21st century mandated experience, but have come to admire it more as a passing of the torch and the franchise’s natural evolution. The entire Ren / Kylo / Luke stuff was interesting – that’s Star Wars – the rest was dreadful. It’s just not that an important thing for me anymore, if you’d told me when I was 12 that there would be stand alone Han Solo and Boba Fett movies I’d be hyperventilating like a Sarlacc during its millennial mating period, now I just don’t care. Still interested in IX of course, but for me when it comes to screen SF there is only one mission;
Maybe at this point you are detecting some of my cinematic fetishes as I close this blog out – all time favourite sequence of any film ever? See above. That’s what cinema can be all about, for me that is the moment when all this nonsense started, the experience of a 2D representation of ideas and imagination punctured everything, and all celebration continues. Is TV is approaching such marvels? (see below, which should be seen on a IMAX screen for full mind-bending reprogramming) Maybe. Before we finish yeah, OK, I know some of you were asking for Blade Runner 2049 views but no, alas, I’m not going to be providing that. I liked it on the first viewing (sans a terrible headcold), a fantastic experience with some reservations. Second time around (the technical appraisal) most of those reservations were dispelled, particularly around the emotional arc of the picture and the (must we do SPOILERS at this point?) introduction of siblings and Hollywood’s current fetish for CGI reconstruction, for mere reconstructions sake. At this point the movie is a rare beast that manages to appropriately continue a story in a world so beloved without fucking with some of the intrinsic elements, and I think Villeneuve etc. managed to take the concepts and environment culturally forward from 1982 to 2017. I also watched Arrival again a couple of days ago and that film gets better with every re-watch. Well played, I hope he gets that Dune adaption of the ground. Here’s something of a Menagerie attuned montage;
So, finally, enough is enough, the light fades and the interest dwindles. As I close this out and embark on a new phase of, well, something, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and that my mediocre efforts have turned you on to some movies, as that’s what this was always about, really. I think my friends would agree that I’m an opinionated jerk, but that such opinions come from a genuine love and enthusiasm for great and interesting movies and my enthusiasm for sharing them with like minded souls. If I’ve got you to watch one film you’ve never heard of or wouldn’t have seen then that is mission accomplished. In that vein I’ll just leave this sequence for absorbtion. It’s a tough one, and having seen it four times now within the context of the overall arc of the show it continues to yield mysteries and treasures, as it indicates the horrors of the past are still pregnant – Happy New Year;
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;
Bonjour Luc Besson. I grew up enjoying and deeply admiring the likes of Subway, The Last Battle and Nikita, but once he got into his American financed groove my interest waned. I dislike the Taken and Transporter films as evidently I’m a snob, but held out some interest in Lucy which were dashed on the rocks of stupidity. Now he’s back once more but the real interesting facet of this project is not the text itself, but something else…;
What has got the industry fascinated is the business model that underpins it, and how this may finally be mounting a full assault on the Hollywood behemoth through a canny mosaic of international pre-sales, an emphasis on foreign markets (particularly China of course) and the retention of artistic control which you have to admire. I think I’ll give this a chance as the eye candy looks pleasing if nothing else, and this reminds me to watch The Fifth Element again, as a SF nerd I never liked that film, so now is the perfect time for a reapprisal…
I can’t remember if I’ve posted this before, but I’m off to see Malick’s latest today, which is playing at a staggering two screens in London – how the mighty have fallen. I appreciate the reviews have been less than glowing, but hey it is Malick and he always demands a big screen assessment;
A little delayed but I’ve been reading up on some of the winners and curios from this years Cannes, and alongside the new Lynne Ramsay, Sofia Coppola, Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos queasy sounding The Killing Of A Sacred Deer this seems to be another ‘must- see’, apparently proving that Pattinson can actually act;
The Basildon boys are back, and like a dutiful soldier I naturally attended their only 2017 UK date, in the hallowed halls of the old Olympic Stadium in Stratford. Regular readers will appreciate that I have been following this band nigh on 27 years, missing only one tour, so here are some highlights with the usual apologies for poor filming techniques;
Here is an amusing and earnest chat with frontman Dave ‘Call Me Dave’ Gahan, from the frequently excellent Nerdist podcast. Unfortunately we missed the first track due to some poor time management issues, but the party only really got rocking when they delved into the back catalogue and the crowd rose to its feet;
As something of an obsessive list person it was brilliant to finally tick off some songs of theirs I have never seen live, and for the ‘proper’ fans I think the two track Martin Gore mid-set sequence was the best I’ve witnessed during the numerous times I’ve seen them;
If you put a gun to my head I think this was the best track of the evening, another back catalogue highlight that chimes with the ethos of their recent album Spirit, which I confidently assert is their best album in a decade;
So yet another great evening, somewhat overshadowed by the events at London Bridge that we learnt about once we retired to a pub in Bow for a final nightcap, but let’s just leave that event undiscussed as that’s the antithesis of what those fuckers want us to do. Instead, enjoy this main set closer which is always an exhilarating experience, 60,000 people in arm swinging unison which is what is uniquely great about these big, stadium events;
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;
Thirty years ago this month, UK boozy cult classic Withnail & I was released to an unsuspecting audience. Here is a excellent revisit to some of the movies classic scenes and moments, which you can revisit through the magic of cinema here;
‘You never knocked me down Ray…‘ I’ve never particularly cared for Raging Bull. It’s a shocking admission as on paper it should be among my favourite films, what with that triumvirate of Scorsese, Schrader and De Niro in the driving seat, particularly when the latter was at the peak of his powers. I’ve always suspected that the film was ahead of me, that I lacked the insight and wisdom to fully appreciate it when I first saw it as a teen, and again through a handful of revisits over the intervening years. I could always appreciate the craftwork, Schoonmaker’s astounding assembly of the punishing fight scenes, Scorsese’s dizzying camerawork, and of course De Niro’s method madness with the weight gain and boxing regime he undertook to don those gloves of pugilist Jake La Motta, a commitment to the physicality of a performance that has since acquired mythic status. I’ve always wanted to revisit this on the big screen, an approach which could activate the revelatory experience this classic, and I have conducted some research into the films history which might also contextualise the film not only in the Scorsese oeuvre, but also in the wider channel of American cinema as it came to that crossroads of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Even if you accept 1/10 of what Biskind alleges in the seminal Easy Riders, Raging Bulls reportage this was a turbulent period. Scorsese’s private and artistic life was in crisis after the immense financial and critical failure of his previous film New York, New York and his tempestuous romance with the rarely stable Liza Minnelli was in freefall. Plagued by insecurities during a terrible shoot he’d worked with De Niro with the last three movies and wasn’t jumping at the chance for another failure, and as was the environment they were all seriously hopped up on deep coke habits – Schrader was doing four grams a day – and after a Telluride festival a combination of contaminated powder, his asthma medicine and overwhelming exhaustion Scorsese experienced a medical convulsion and almost died, and during recuperation in a New York hospital he had what addicts term ‘a moment of clarity’ and poured this destructive angst into a project he could now see from the inside out, the self destructive impulses, the aesthetic impotency and growling, Neanderthal, masculine insecurity – these are the hammer blows of Raging Bull.
Amusingly the film went into production the same month as Cimino’s Heavens Gate which struck the death knell of the decade, where Raging Bull can be considered its artistic apogee. Long time Scorsese scribe Mardik Martin made a first pass on Jake LaMotta’s autobiography, but something pivotal was missing. Schrader’s second assault introduced the tension between brother Jake (De Niro) and Joey (Joe Pesci), inflaming the jealousy that was absent in the book but forms the dark nucleus of his life and the carnage he wrought in and out of the ring. At first the United Artist executives were nervous, they didn’t feel such a reprehensible character won’t exactly entice in the ticket receipts, but Rocky had made all boxing projects hot properties, even shorn of their triumph of adversity plot predictability. Scorsese insisted on a tabloid feel, highly influenced by the work of photographer Weegee (a patron of Kubrick’s early Time career by the way) hence the insistence on the black & white palette which while problematic was a little more receptive to the suits after the relatively recent success of The Last Picture Show. Crucially this was also the first collaboration of arguably the greatest director and editor team of all time, Scorsese hiring Thelma Schoonmaker, although I’m sure you fact fans will be fascinated that the previous two films of his had been cut by a certain Marcia Lucas, wife of George, who was instrumental in the craft of New York, New York and a little modest picture called Taxi Driver – more on that later….
Raging Bull opens with a framing device in 1964, the corpulent once champion now fallen from grace, muttering his street soliloquy to a mirror before cutting back to his physical and celebrity prime, Thus the scene is set for an epic fall from grace, a man demolished by his own demons and insecurities, an aligned marriage of career and substance that pushed Scorsese to his artistic borders. The environment is a vividly reconstructed New York once again, Scorsese intimate since birth with those sweltering summer sidewalks, the red brick townhouses and tenement ambiance of overlapping arguments and domestic distress, a cacophony of constant barking animals and shrieking sirens. In this way the film is constantly, well, its angry and energetic, there are few calm asides nor allusions, a maelstrom of near constant flux and threat. This was Cathy Moriarty’s first film and she by her own admission completely ignorant of the practice of filming, but she had that undeniable chemistry with De Niro on screen, she wasn’t intimidated by him and handled herself admirably by tossing lines back during improvised scenes and sequences, so it seems a shame she never had much in the way of a subsequent career. Also look out for Frank ‘shinebox retrieval instructor‘ Vincent in his screen debut.
Older and wiser in the ways of cinema I can now recognise something of the street confessional, the raw virtue of early Pasolini which was an evident influence, channelled through the earlier pulses of the home countries Italian Neo-Realism. Bit Scorsese took this influential infrastructure and strained the character through a specific American lens of the punishing dream, of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and achieving victory at all costs, no matter the impact on your marriage or soul. To have as your main character a narcissist, misogynistic self hating abuser, a man so paranoid he accuses and beats his own brother was a tough sell as you never sympathise with LaMotta and his distressing antics, but De Niro keeps you glued to the screen through sheer force of personality and profundity. As Schrader frequently attests for him character is action, what they do marks who they are rather than relying on the techniques of long soliloquys or illuminating dialogue, and we are in the orbit of a thoroughly odious, yet curiously understandable ogre. Whilst the contemporary parallels are evident Raging Bull strums deeper than surfaces, it has a wider breadth to suggest how we all fight, sometimes against ourselves and our own self destructive impulses and instincts, in the theatre or boxing ring of life. This being Marty we are treated to an expert entrance steadicam shot, the fight scenes took ten weeks alone to shoot, two and a half months, improvisation utilised to keep the energy and tempo consistent through what was a gruelling experience.
After the exhausting shoot was tapped out the post production schedule was almost as brutal, the sound mix alone took six months, Scorsese in perfectionist mode as he insisted on delicate completion of the Foley signalled rifle shots into melon to replicate the assault of flashbulbs and punches. Seen now the thundering editing in the fight scenes are intoxicating, in terms of sheer physicality these are among the greatest fight scenes committed to celluloid, dizzying, delirious and deadly. Crucially the camera stays in the ring with LaMotta during his dance with his opponents, a third character ducking and weaving through the melee, with special, almost expressionistic designed sets expanded beyond the realistic curtilage, giving every fight scene it’s own individual schemata that represents a different stage of LaMotta’s career as it closes in and fails. These were all specially designed and storyboarded in pre-production, Scorsese not opting for a traditional three line camera crew covering various angles, but instead resorting to one camera, perfectly choreographed like a dance movement with high speed interludes and expressionistic touches like the blood literally dripping from the encircling ropes.
At this stage in his career and psyche Scorsese assumed this would be his last film, and he’d retreat into teaching or academia after the films assumed failure, and I love how he termed it as ‘kamikaze film-making’, hurling everything into the picture and going for broke with nothing to lose. The results are there to see even as much as it simply still doesn’t connect with me, as much as I can fully admire the immense craft and dedication. It remains a text which you can’t deny for the sheer sweat and passion, crucial to the bruised and battered body of work, even if it doesn’t still engage on a personal level. Seeing it on the big screen at last revealed some of the films sheer technical prowess which leaves you shell shocked on a visual level, punch drunk and reeling from the sheer assault of sound, image and intensity, and that alone ensures its seminal status in the lexicon. Now, we all know how P.T. Anderson lifted the final monologue for that notorious final scene in Boogie Nights, which in turn traces a lineage through Kazan’s On The Waterfront of challenging characters throughout American cinema, all human beings, wrecked and wracked with their own failures, struggling to be better men despite their own burdens;
Sometimes, when you think the cinema you are constantly exposed to can seem staid and similar a broadside thunders, and your expectations are beautifully shattered. The reputation of Moonlight hustled up a high bar of brilliance, coalescing since its rapturous responses throughout the festival circuit of 2016. Initially, during the first part of my screening I was intrigued but I wasn’t necessarily immersed – an early, flashy single take that dervishly swerves around a scorching Miami neighbourhood smacked a little of indulgence, and setting yet another film in a narcotic nested centre of the African American experience could only make me think that we’ve been here too many times already. But then one early scene pours from the screen in such indecipherable beauty, when mid level drug baron Juan (Mahershala Ali) teaches a young boy, Chiron (Alex Hibbert) how to swim in the Miami surf, and this deeply moving film never looks back. Juan has taken this neglected and withdrawn boy under his wing after discovering him wondering through some ruined tenements in the ghetto of Liberty City, his father absent, his mother grappling with her own substance abuse demons.
Barry Jenkins adaptation of screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue charts Chiron through three formative periods of his life, as a boy, as a gangling and sullen teenager (played by Asthon Sanders) and then as a young man (a broodingly fragile Trevante Rhodes), his moniker shifting from school nickname to street name through a procession of identities. That is just one of the connective tissues that emphasise the underlying currents of self and soul that permeate the picture, beautifully rendered in a trio of linked performances from three previously unknown actors. Although I was initially perturbed by the unfolding of yet another tale of African American experience unfolding in the ghetto, of slinging on the corners and avoiding 5-0 it soon becomes clear that this is merely the backdrop of a wider psalm on our perceptions of the self and how these can change through time and circumstance, the id in a constant state of flux and evolution. Naomi Harris (better known as Moneypenny in the latest Bond’s) as Chiron’s mother and Ali (the fixer Remy in House Of Cards) are both fantastic support, surrounding Chiron with fully rendered adults to his wounded interior, with all their complexities and contradictions in full display.
For a sophomore effort (his first film, Medicine For Melancholy is already being reassessed) this is a film which is deeply accomplished, fully deserving of the panoply of awards it has attracted and its affinity with the best work of Wong Kar Wai and Lynne Ramsay, both cited by Jenkins as crucial influences. The palette is that of combining intimate, handheld closeness coupled with broad widescreen environments, James Laxton’s cinematography brilliantly blazing within the alabaster Miami sun and a twilight of shimmering oranges. Through these designs the film levitates, hovering in that space between self daydream and cognitive inquiry, where crucially Laxton lights the space, not the characters so they can work and move within the dimensions of specific scenes. Carefully orchestrated through the performances, score, masterful manipulation of exposition and colour schemata Moonlight weaves through the influential moments of this young man’s life, before alighting on a devastating emotional conclusion, without resorting to the usual closure of the screen-writing 101 playbook.
A rather lazy but accurate pitchline for the film has devolved to Boyhood meets Boyz In The Hood. Rather more beautifully I’ve heard Moonlight compared to ‘Caravaggio in Florida’, and as a culturally shrewd punctuation mark on the Obama era, of racial advancement and civic progress for gay rights, whch forms a an important thread but not the entirety of Chiron’s story. What is clear is that beyond the surface sexual and racial politics is that Moonlight is a cartography of shifting identities, not just of his life and struggles but also those of his mother and other ancillary characters, divorced from the usual social realist take on growing up poor, in troubled circumstances in modern America. Rather forlornly one hopes that it can overcome the steam train of the undeniably entertaining, skilled yet in comparison rather hollow La La Land come Sunday night, but I’m sure the Academy will favour another valentine to itself rather than this infinitely more complex meditation on masculinity. Believe the hype, this is a major film from a major new voice, aching and vibrant with bittersweet beauty;