After all, it's just a ride….


Hibernation Mode Terminated…..

grizzWell 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 HereBrawl 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;

Valerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017) Final Trailer

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…

Five Came Back (2017) Trailer

Beyond happy that they have produced a documentary of this fantastic book which I read a couple of years ago. It’s an apt reminder of what cinema can do in difficult times, and the influence the experience had upon the five when they returned to the industry is fascinating as a historical and artistic document – their work and the world they operated in was never the same;

Wild Tales (2015)

wt1I want to talk. I want to talk about money. There has been something of a mini-scandal among the London film critic twitterati recently due to the arrival of a gleaming new art cinema in the capitals hinterlands, with the completed nine month facelift of the old Renoir cinema transformed into the newly anointed Curzon Bloomsbury. Naturally I’m no stranger to the old place having caught the likes of Tarkovsky’s Mirror and Herzog’s Encounters At The End Of The World there over the years, usually during discounted matinee weekend screenings. Like the recent Curzon Victoria the new site has raised eyebrows with its boutique interiors and state of the art cinema systems, enabling well heeled patrons to relax in plush splendor for the princely sum of £18 a ticket. No doubt about it that is rather steep for a movie, particularly since they’ve also axed cheaper costs for early screenings, causing real consternation  as it doesn’t exactly encourage punters to ‘take a chance’ on foreign or slightly offbeat non mainstream fare. I, however, am a slave to my obsessions so I couldn’t help myself but shell out the currency for a duo of screenings to celebrate the newly minted space, firstly taking in a sparsely attended screening of Argentina’s unsuccessful candidate for the 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar – Wild Tales.

wt2If revenge is a dish best served cold then these furious Latin protagonists certainly don’t care for temperature, as this portmanteau series of tales angrily orbit a central conceit – venomous vengeance, vigorously executed. In one tale a waitress in a quiet restaurant recognizes an extremely rude patron as a loan shark gangster who drove her father to suicide, in another a road-rage incident screeches off the tracks like a Spanish language remake of Spielberg’s Duel. A group of seemingly unconnected aircraft passengers grow frantic when they discover they all know the same unhinged person, in another sequence a wealthy businessman persuades his gardener to take the rap for the hit-and-run killing of a pregnant woman by his substance abusing son. Cannily saving the best for last proves that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, particularly a bride on her wedding day when she discovers that her newly acquired husband has been playing hide the llama with an attractive, younger co-worker. These half-dozen vicious vignettes are endemic with rage and frustration, an anthology of anxiety, dripping with despair.

wt3Being something of a jaded, cynical, dark hearted soul this film was right up my alley, and although as always with episodic structured films some threads are stronger than others  this is a hysterically funny picture, a hellacious  hymn to our corrupt and hades natures. The camera placement and occasional storytelling flourish from director Damián Szifron add a delicious frisson to the blackly comic proceedings, with some ironies and twists while eminently guessable would have an onyx hearted prankster like Hitchcock gleaming with pride. The standout is probably the final wedding from hell with a hilariously frenzied turn from Érica Rivas, although like most of the other sections it does run out of steam in its final contortions, rather than closing with a definitive, grotesque gut-punch. Wiser souls than I could probably identify some specific social commentary on Argentina’s recent corruption revelations and her economic woes, particularly with Ricardo Darín’s struggling everyman turned furious  explosive insurgent due to endemic corruption in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of rules, regulations, and turgid civil servants.

wt4As for the cinema facilities I test drove two screens during my duo of viewings (we have a bona-fide cult classic on the way specifically for you 1970’s petrolheads), catching Wild Tales in the splendor of the primary Renoir screen, and I have to say it is a terrific space with an appropriately mammoth screen, blessed with 4K projection capacity and the sound quality was simply fantastic – Dolby Atmos all the way. The facilities have expanded from two to six screens which is quite an achievement for the cluttered geography of the original footprint, with a promise of more bespoke film seasons alongside the high visibility art-house fare which should keep the tills twanging – they’ve commenced proceedings with a week-long auteur themed series. Maybe Curzon’s recent excursion into premium costs for a high-end experience is a metaphor for the wider 21st century divide between the rich and poor in terms of services, housing, travel and the generally frenzied cost of living in London, but there was one incident that perhaps says it all – Bloomsbury charged me £3 quid for a modest glass of coke. It’s enough to drive you mad;

CitizenFour (2014)

snow1One of the surprise entries on Sight & Sound’s 2014 films of the year was the inclusion of Citizenfour, Laura Poitra’s extraordinary behind the scenes expose on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s initial contact with renegade journalist  Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian’s Ewan MacGaskill. Poitras is no stranger to the authorities having been clandestinely surveiled, frequently detained and questioned for having the temerity to criticize the government for their opaque prosecution of the ‘War’ on terror in previous works such as My Country My Country, and The Oath, two pieces which evidently got her registered on a number of Orwellian watch-lists. She has continued to expose the shredding of civil liberties, spot-lit the deployment of powers to repress genuine free speech rights to assemble and demonstrate, bravely engaged in a dangerous struggle with the implacable and illegitimate government edifice that cites every rape of the truth as being necessary in the name of ‘national security‘. To a paranoid Snowden then she must have seemed like an ideal candidate to approach in order to leak his insights and information from behind the veil, the revelation of a top-secret, undemocratic and out of control programme of electronic interventions which effectively gave the government the power to harvest, persue and interrogate every electronic correspondence by every citizen without a nanosecond of oversight from either legally mandated search warrant or indeed any arm of the legislature. In a quite extraordinary fashion Citizenfour walks us through the initial electronic contact between Snowden and Poritas, the initial subterfuge and mystery, before the first meetings and interviews occurred with Snowden in his Hong Kong bolt-hole as the enormous scandal slowly enveloped the globe.

snow2This is absolutely essential viewing, a historical archive of one of the most pertinent civil rights and digital culture issues of our time, an expose of our alleged democracy and the continual threat from unobserved, unscrupulous, undemocratic and unelected officials. CitizenFour is very consciously and ominously paced and maintained, there’s no exciting crash montages of neon drenched cityscapes harmonized with pulsing techno-beats to indicate that this is the exciting cyberspace future, in fact it is a rather more chilly, mysterious urban noir as the screen scrolls with genuine cautious correspondence between Snowden and Poitras. Once he was satisfied he’d found the ideologically aligned collaborators the action shifts to the initial fly on the wall Hong Kong suite discussions, and this is where Snowden fully disclosed the breathtaking scope and illegality of programmes such as PRISM and Tempora. Poitras skillfully  splices this with contextual footage of court proceedings and cultural seminars to provide the necessary context, treating its viewers as intelligent adults as it moves swiftly through the nature of civil liberties in the age of the globalized internet, of the wider remit of the NSA and explosion in private security apparatus since 9/11. Some of the footage is should make you incandescently angry, including testimony from NSA directors absolutely, 100% lying to senate oversight committees (Senator: ‘Do you harvest electronic surveillance information from US citizens in the aggregate?’ NSA Director: ‘No sir we do not’), a brave new world where from the inalienable rights of freedom of speech, right of assembly, due process and everything else we prize are under significant risk. Further glimpses of  he Occupy movement whose hounding and persecution seen in the film is nausea-inducing, before the scale of the scandal irises out to include every European government as complicit in the crimes.

snow3Like every other country on the planet I think the United States has its problems and hypocrisies but I cannot imagine many places where the citizens of one city grouping together like San Francisco does in this film, to sue the government for the illegal intrusion into their lives and forcing the authorities to expose their transgressions,  a case defended by one particularly odious proto-Goebbels government lawyer who continually bleats the defense of ‘national security’ for each and every charge.When the further revelations that not only were US authorities conducting this rape of their specific constitution but also all the major European powers were indulging in identical activity, hacking democratic elected world leaders phones and correspondence of so-called allies, the impression is of an utterly paranoid shadow world, completely out of control and making a mockery of civil rights. To the ignorant and uneducated who make the claim that ‘if you have nothing to hide then why are you worried?’ the film makes the consequences of that belief system clear. It’s not just a question of private intrusion, of the holistic capture and interrogation data by current (and crucially) future governments to surveil without judicial oversight and responsibility, without legislative oversight to effectively kick in your door, rifle through all your private correspondence with your wife, husband, family, friends, mistress; to plunder your medical records and bank statements, to see what porn you jack off to, to record your political affiliations and voting history, to  observe and exploit every aspect of our lives in this increasingly electronic and globalized world . And it gets worse, not only is this power granted to your government, but it is also granted to foreign governments across the Western world, so I ask how happy would you be for the United Kingdom, Canadian, American, New Zealand and Australian governments to break into your home and rape your civil rights every single minute of every day? It’s such a fundamental corruption of one of the states primary duties to its citizens liberty and security that it just beggars belief.

snow4Amongst the political and electronic chattering  Poitras mainframes a human dimension to the dossier, the simple vérité recording of Snowden as the events and scandal unfolds awards the piece with a tangible and compelling level of emotional drama. The whistleblower comes across as an intelligent, committed and slightly idealistic young man who perhaps has not fully anticipated the obliterating force of the state apparatus zeroing in on his friends, family and partner. Witnessing the incremental pressure build as the leak slowly gains traction and its effect on his speech, body language and general demeanor is quite affecting, as the realization of the irreversible sacrifices he has made slowly begin to crystalize. An Oliver Stone adaption of this crucial scandal is in the works which I’m sure will be as bombastic and nuanced as a laser guided 200lbs daisy cutter, for now this is unquestionably one of the crucial documentaries of its time, brilliantly assembled and intellectually robust, a primer for our times and a warning for the future;

The Menagerie Films Of The Year 2014

leviIt’s been a tough year, hasn’t it? Massacres of children in Gaza and Pakistan, CIA torture apologists and racial unrest across America as the civil rights dream falters and fumbles, Ukraine and UKIP more closer to home – and I’m not sure which one of the last duo is more terrifying. Normally a critic would make some spurious attempt to link these wider events into the cultural narrative of the cinema, cherry-picking examples of ‘dark’ movies to make the claim of art reflecting life, but I’m not gonna fall down that rabbit hole as for every troubling piece that seems to have touched a cultural nerve (Nightcrawler, Gone GirlThe Rover, LeviathanUnder The Skin, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Nymphomaniac) there is an equal volume of joyous, optimistic and brightly colored triumphant adventures (Guardians Of The Galaxy, FrankThe Lego Movie, Lucy, X-Men Days Of Future Past, Interstellar and the usual glut of animated incidentals) to balance out the light with the dark. My overall impression is of a rather average year with some odd pearls glittering among the swine, my biggest regret the unconscious emphasis on American fare as you will see from the compilations. Now it’s not as if I deliberately attempt to be a pretentious film critic (that just comes naturally) and actively seek out only European art house fare or an obscure directors most avant-garde offering or anything, but in putting this together the heavy bias of North American material is glaring this year, a symptom of my lack of international film festival coverage perhaps. I do deeply regret not seeing Leviathan or Force Majeure yet but by the same token I find the works of, say, Nuri Bilge Ceylon (Winter Sleep has topped numerous polls) rather tedious,  and other celebrated fare such as the new  Godard and Ida  were admirable but a little self-consciously art-house and obtuse, almost working to a formula as well defined and enshrined as any cookie-cutter Hollywood product.

trueStill we managed to power through Sundance London and the LFF as usual but I was hoping for some foreign viewing, but as always the rather chaotic day job presented the usual scheduling difficulties. We also made an intergalactic effort with the BFI’s SF season which enabled me to meet some key Kubrick collaborators, and as usual we gunned down a few older classics, including The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, Paths Of Glory, An Autumn Afternoon  as well as Night of The Hunter and Belle Et La Bete under the waning winter slush of the Gothic season. I didn’t devote as much time to my Fritz Lang series as I’d liked but we did consider some classic material, from The Big Heat to the indigenous expressionism of Metropolis, this will continue in 2015 as there are a few more noirs I’m desperate to cover. I’m deeply disappointed that Snowpiercer never got a cinema release here and will pick up the Blu-Ray now it has thawed to a reasonable price, TV wise I’ve also covered enormous ground, finally finishing the long trek through Buffy Seasons 3 to 6 consequentially alongside all five seasons of Angel – that was quite a feat. Then there was season 2 of the amusingly schlocky Bates Motel, Fargo was freezing fun (I particularly enjoyed the expansive time period that the season meandered through) while Menagerie favorite Boardwalk Empire faltered a little before pulling it out of the bag with a season closer that saw a beloved character bow out in appropriate grace. The most genre fun was probably Penny Dreadful and the increasingly bonkers American Horror Story, the last season of which has more dutch angles than a Flemish cubist convention. Finally though the highlight was the Mammon that was True Detective, sure some of the final plot contortions were a little ridiculous but overall this was the small screens greatest capture, and yes I will once again reference that astounding sequence. But we’re here for the movies aren’t we, so as always here are the guys and gals top picks over at Sound On Sight (my meek contribution is at No.12), as usual my top ten is in no specific order and are my personal favorites as opposed to the most acclaimed, evolutionary or envelope-pushing works, so let’s kick off with what was surprisingly the updated Sight & Sound top film of the year as well;

 The Menagerie Films Of 2014

Boyhood  (Richard Linklater, USA, 2014) – Whilst we all know the premise of the film isn’t entirely original with both the Truffaut Antoine Doniel cycle and the UK documentary series 7 Up utilizing the same device Richard Linklater’s wonderful, affectionate ode to growth and maturation is brilliant on an emotional and character level, and that’s why critics and passing civilians have taken the film to heart. Here’s a nice long appreciation of the films patient production model, quite how Linklater made such an affecting film with so little of narrative nourishment is a testament to his laid back skill, in this film made of little moments which aggregate into a soliloquy  on aging and the fleeting transparency of time.

The Wolf Of Wall Street  (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2013) – There’s always one isn’t there, one film released so far back in the dimly conceived mists of time that we can barely conceive it was released in the same lunar cycle. Scorsese coaxed (or is that coked?) in the year with this exuberant, unapologetic lancing of the American dream, a savage sermon against the perils and pernicious plague of excess of the past thirty years. The DNA chain through his greatest films reveals men wallowing in a labyrinthine moral and psychic abyss, from Travis Bickle to Jake La Motta, from Rupert Pupkin to Henry Hill, now Jordan Belfort joins the tribe of testosterone tussled anti-heroes who achieve some redemption when they confront the error of their ways. The film has the energy and chutzpah of a man half Scorsese’s age, proof positive that as that great generation of Movie Brats slowly creep toward retirement (as I write this in November Marty’s just turned 72) they have a savage bite in them yet.

Guardians Of The Galaxy  (James Gunn, USA, 2014) – It’s been a reasonable year on the blockbuster front, despite gargantuan reservations I still rather enjoyed Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Godzilla and Edge Of Tomorrow AKA Live, Die, Repeat AKA The Cruiser Carks It, but the most entertaining time I had under the tent-pole tarpaulin was the Marvelous Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s fun to see a superstar in the making and I think Chris Pratt will go out of this world, I loved the Howard Hawksian motley camaraderie of characters on a desperate mission translated through Jack Kirby storyboards, and James Gunn’s loose CGI sprinkling of subversive humor and staging gave the film a refreshing little bite. Sheer, state of the art formulaic franchise entertainment, ideal escapism to evade your woes for a couple of hours.

The Tribe  (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine, 2014) – It doesn’t happen often but every few years a film comes along and turns a supposedly stale and degraded art form upside down, leading the very language of the form into fresh waters, bruising a lasting legacy in the mind. I still shudder a little when recalling The Tribe, its shattering trio of outré scenes aside it is a remarkable testament to the fluidity of screen communication and artistic economics. The visual aesthetic of distancing, static long takes are intimately married to its aural audacity – no score, no dialogue, just simple and searing diagetic dread. I loved the commentators who have likened it to silent cinema, the emotions and drama blazing across the screen despite the absence of dialogue, subtitles, or overt language, as scandalous as Scum and as brutal as Kubrick’s stylised droogs, The Tribe must be this years mute masterpiece.

Blue Ruin  (Jeremy Saulnier, USA, 2013) – The absolute highlight of a reasonable quality Sundance London Film Festival Blue Ruin exceeded my azure expectations, a taut and tense neo-noir with it’s crosshairs on one of America’s less attractive obsessions  – firearms and fury.The sense of mystery that is preserved is superb as you wonder what could have driven this itinerant Radaghast to such desperate measures, with the gallows black humor oozing from every sweaty pore. I expect we’ll be seeing more of debut director Saulnier and his moon eyed leading man, with a final Coenesque perfect payoff coda this film is vengeance laced perfection.

Her  (Spike Jonze, USA, 2013) – In keeping with this years theme of SF assimilating other genres – in this case the Rom-Com – this gently moving film starts with a warm heart of gold in the algorithm, before it severs the cerebellum in the single singularity. Quite how Jonze and his crew managed to take an absurd, almost comical premise and made you care for everyman Twombly (Phoenix in his quietest performance for years) romantic inclinations still scuppers my cynical CPU. With it’s pastel palette Hoyte van Hoytema is certainly building his reputation as one of the worlds leading cinematographers to watch after coming to international attention with Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and a small, modest Chris Nolan film which seems to have soared to success in cinemas. Like Interstellar the film is SF as speculation, holding a digitized mirror to current social experiences and developments, and musing in those areas of the place of our species interrelationships with technology, with economics, with love and loss. Oh, and this might be the oddest and funniest observation of the year.

Gone Girl  (David Fincher, USA, 2014) – It’s actually been quite a year for fans of the great American assimilated auteur, we’ve had new films from Scorsese, Jonze, Anderson, Aronofsky, Nolan and Fincher, and casting my eyes forward there is a potential bounty for the imminent year ahead. Any film which provokes such debate on the nature of current sexual politics is the mark of a period defining film, but I don’t think that should shadow just what a beautifully crafted and deliciously executed piece of pure, unadulterated cinema that Gone Girl represents. Being an apathetic pussy or limp dick I think you’ll bring your own thoughts to this movie, and forge your own beliefs on whom might be wright or wrong. Vaguely related but Richard Kelly almost atones for his mediocre cinematic output since Donnie Darko here, a reasonably argued comparison piece between Gone Girl and none other than Eyes Wide Shut. This comparison between Finch and the portly master of suspense is tasty, while The Dissolve makes a case for itself as one of the top dozen film sites here. Me? Well, upon further reflection the more I admire how the film manipulates structure, how it feints and parries the viewers expectations it demands a third revision, alongside another muted acknowledgement  of the mischievous perversion of the untrustworthy narrator, all echoed with Trent’s pulversing score.

Nightcrawler – (Dan Gilroy, USA, 2014) – I love it when something scuttles out of the depths of the dark and confronts you, as someone who quietly prides themselves on their horizon scanning for new great movies this nebulous little nasty took me completely by surprise – and I love that. Criticizing media ethics is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, but Dan Gilroy’s nocturnal odyssey heightens the stakes to an overarching screech at modern society, all in thrall to Gyllenhaal’s slithering performance as the next breed of Wall Street impresarios. Like Lou Bloom I’m also being a selfish bastard as I think this was my best review of the year thus the film has lingered in the Menagerie memory, it was a bastard to write but when the words suddenly fell into place I thought I came closest to straddling that gulf between the impression in the mind and the words on-screen. This is a nasty, immediate and ugly mirror of modern media society, with a conclusion that would have Australian oligarchs beaming with pride.

Interstellar  (Christopher Nolan, USA, 2014)-  Is it all a big metaphor for the collapse of film? What a surprise, the Nolan man-crush continues, cinematically speaking with his most ambitious and on occasion most frustrating film to date. That ecclesiastical soundtrack high in the mix has been on heavy rotation here at Menagerie towers, and certain moments – the messages playing out over McConaughey’s face during that scene, the fraught docking maneuver, the queries that arise during that stage of the odyssey – well,  yes it’s flawed but it unquestionably has some marvelous moments. A second viewing diminishes some of the problems with the picture, overall it’s a film that has generated debate and discussions (see some of the robot design evolution here), and it’s just goddamn inspiring to see a film maker genuinely attempting to wrestle and evolve the blockbuster form. Maybe it’s my advancing age but any film with such optimism and genuine celebration of progress emanating from our earthly plane is welcome around this quiet quadrant of alpha centuri, plot worm-holes and all. Anecdotally I’ve been charting the film’s trajectory and it really seems to have resonated with a younger generation (as opposed to my jaded peers who have trotted out the scientific snark and sneered at the sentimentality), virally spreading beyond its confines to inspire and influence viewers around science, physics and astronomy – how many films can genuinely boast that reaction?

Whiplash  (Damien Chazelle, USA, 2014) – If you that assume that jazz was all dark berets, moodily mouthed Gitanes and nocturnal turtleneck posturing then think again. This electric debut from the disgustingly talented debut writer-director Damien Chazelle  has it all – an involving storyline, immensely powerful performances, ecstatic sequences that revel in the joys of performance of motion in this detailed aria on the painful pursuit of perfection. The editing is phenomenal and it’s riveting to see Miles Teller hold his own against J.K Simmons ferocious Oscar-winning performance (yup, I’m calling it here), sure it might stretch credulity at one point which feels like a slight misstep, but then a thundering final act blasts over the screen with a stunning encore which leaves you pirouetting out into the night.

burgundyHonorable mentions to the Grand Budapest HotelCaptain America: The Winter Soldier, Fruitvale Station (fuck me was that a prescient film), White God, Foxcatcher, White Bird In A Blizzard, Only Lovers Left Alive, A Most Wanted Man, Black Coal, Thin Ice and for pure cinephile celebration Peter Strickland has once again made the most meta 2014 film with his sensuous The Duke Of Burgundy. In terms of genre fare moments John Dies At The End was hilariously bizarre, Sin City 2 was unfairly maligned and  The Raid 2 was bone-shatteringly brilliant, although I must admit that a small screen revisit does highlight some of the films more evident flaws – great set pieces, but too many longueurs between the lacerations. Ah I hear you scream, but where is Scarlett Johannson’s carnivorous cenopod? Well, while it has materialized on many ‘best of 2014’ lists and had its UK release this year  do remember that Under The Skin was acquired in Toronto, so it has already featured in last year’s extravaganza. I didn’t really embark on any small screen seasons other than a passing glimpse at some of the controversial Kim-Ki-Duk’s earlier pictures, and I’m quite surprised to see a lack of any truly memorable documentaries in my coverage this year, The Case Against Eight  was good but not great enough to make the cut, and although the Cannon Films autopsy was fun it didn’t warrant more than a passing fist-bump of appreciation.  I will however nominate Tim’s Vermeer, Particle Fever and Future Shock as non-fiction fields worth exploring.

Retrospective Films

As befitting a turbulent and ominous year the films which have sorely stuck in my cranium are similarly challenging and risqué fare,

Christiane F  (Ulrich Edel, Germany, 1981) – I was turned on to this film by the wonderful House Of Psychotic Women that I covered here, maybe it’s the preponderance of CGI saturated vision quests these days but the stark vérité of this rather harrowing little tale really stuck in my arm. Based on the real life memoirs of the titular character its a fascinating snapshot of 1970’s Berlin, all drab fashions and brick brutalist architecture, and a wonderful score by Bowie at his absolute peak as far as I’m concerned. Given that we sadly lost the street-poet Lou Reed this year I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute to a dangerous walk on the wild side.

The Visitor – (Giulio Paradisi, Italy, 1979)  So I have finally seen The Visitor, and that was what it is. That cryptic arrangement is my feeble attempt to ape the film under discussion, a long-lost cult curio which the Alamo Drafthouse recently resurrected with a Blu-Ray transfer, one of those insane coalitions of every popular film of the time that the Italians loved to throw into a celluloid stew and see what bubble to the surface. Lance Henrikson, Franco Nero, Glenn Ford, Shelly Winters and John Huston star in this Jodorowski styled melange of The Exorcist, Lifeforce, The Lady From Shanghai, The Omen, CE3K and Eraserhead, together it makes precisely zero sense but operates on a level of individual sequences, an aperitif of the era which yields a few distinctive flavors. I detected a  Moorcock influence from his Dancers At The End Of Time series, then the camera is seized by what one assumes is an epileptic toddler as the narrative bizarrely shifts to  footage of a basketball game, it veers wildly between tones and technique  and I enjoyed it throughly. It might be an ideal double bill / companion piece with Candy which has a similarly pharmaceutical enhanced feel, a crazy cast and nonsensical plotlines = glorious cult insanity.

Ne Te Retourne Pas  (Marina de Van, France, 2009) – The sacrifices I make for you people, and the thanks I get. Honestly, you think I haven’t got better things to do? Two hours of staring at Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci was a real chore let me tell you, in this dark French psychological thriller from the underappreciated Marina de Van of Dans Ma Peu body-horror fame. The doppelgänger plot is pure bourgeois dread, as a successful middle-aged professional & homemaker slowly begins to suffer strange interludes where objects appear to move around her families elegant Parisian apartment, before her cognitive condition degenerates with more disturbing alterations to her physical form. To say any more would be to venture into spoiler territory, but this is a discretely crafted little chiller which keeps you guessing of its internal or external malignant source,

Body Double  (Brian De Palma, USA, 1984) – If you’re surprised to see a De Palma film on my best list of the films of the year list then think just how surprised I was when ten minutes into the picture on a Film4 screening I slowly realised I’d never seen this film before. I think I’ve always conflated Body Double with De Palma’s similar Hitchcockian ‘homage’ Dressed To Kill, so from a purely academic standpoint this was quite an experience for the Menagerie as we don’t stumble across missing texts that often. Brian is a director distinguished with some great, dare I see it meta sequences in his films that refer and refract the very operation of cinema itself, his wider texts failing to gel into a coherent whole just like his protégé Tarantino. In this film there’s lots of prowling POV, gliding steadicam and feints of sexual jealousy, and some terrific period interiors and design which remind you of just how gorged and execrated the 1980’s were. I quite surprised myself as someone who usually has little time for De Palma and his tedious hysterics, but something about this pierced the spot as something new and a historic piece of a jigsaw puzzle finally being completed, plus it coincided with remembering some perfectly delightful trivia that it’s also Patrick Bateman’s favourite film in American Psycho. This film couldn’t be more eighties if our designer stubble, Ray-Ban aviator sporting anti-hero didn’t get into a brutal gunfight down at the docks with some Miami based Colombian coke-fiends after witnessing an impromptu breakdance battle down at the new Space Invaders Arcade (takes a breath……..), before Frankie Goes To Hollwood turn up for a musical interlude number – and then they fucking do. It’s hilariously, completely and blatantly derivative of Rear Window, Dial M For Murder and Vertigo which is fucking rich from De Palma given he’s already molested that ground with 1977’s Obsession, while the chain of events and indiscretions in the films last half hour is utterly ridiculous and absurd. I loved it.

Kiss Me Deadly  (Robert Aldritch, USA, 1955) – From its opening corrupted title sequence this is a seminal film of the 1950’s and one of the absolute key film noirs, I watched this on a double bill with a 1940’s Lang and the differences were as stark as the jagged chiaroscuro lighting. Aldritch unshackled his camera from the chains of the studio to provoke a nebulous reality to this dark drama, and the fluid visual work makes the film feel much more modern that a lot of its peers. I’ve seen it before a few times but the sheer craft was a revelation, with troubling little surreal inserts and cantilevered compositions marking a new evolution of this most murky of sub-genres. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) isn’t quite the noble crushed Bogart or Dana Andrews of earlier noir, in fact he’s quite the brutal bastard anti-hero, while the women are all playing an angle and manipulating their marks, with a nuclear paranoia pulsing in the films radioactive core. Kiss Me Deadly creeps like a troubling claustrophobic dream, I’ll slug any cinephile who wouldn’t include this dark little dame in their top dozen noirs of all time list, not least for the influence on the likes of Lost Highway and Repo Man which honor the film in their own quiet way. Any film with the muted threat ‘Stay away from the windows Mike, someone might blow you a….kiss’ is aces in my book.

Films To See In 2015

Inherent Vice  (P.T. Anderson, USA, 2014) – No surprises here of course, except that PTA turned up to personally introduce the charity screening at the Prince Of Wales cinema back in November – why no, I’m not in the least absolutely furious that I missed that opportunity. After the very serious and sour tones of his last two movies it should be fascinating to see PTA groove back to Boogie Nights territory, and it’s  interesting to consider that this is the first time that any of Thomas Pynchon’s books have been adapted for the screen, large or small, by anyone, ever. Early word is exceptionally good so I reckon this could be an instant cult classic, with that The Big Lebowski meets The Long Goodbye Californian burned-out vibe another addition to PTA’s west coast fascination.

Black Hat – (Michael Mann, USA, 2015) – Yes, of I concede that this could go either way. Shudderingly ugly Chris Hemsworth as the worlds most talented superhacker? Hmm. A seventy-one year old director uploading his vision of modern cyber-crime in a realm of technological advance exponentially advancing to render any event ancient in six months? Ahh, just as an example I wrote that sentence a month ago and already there has been a rather significant cyber-crime hasn’t there? If however you are contingent of the exhaustive research and fidelity that Mann amasses during his perfectionist preproduction process then I’m certain he would have consulted the worlds leading futurists, scholars and think-tanks on the shady subject of cyber-espionage, and on a rather more testosterone flavored kick is there anyone better at crafting a shoot-out or action beat? Of course the film has taken on a whole new dimension in Tinsel Town every since the crippling Sony Hack, should be interesting to assess the films reaction in the shadow of terrified executives suddenly spending millions on IT defenses – more on that below. I’m an enormous Mann fan so any new film of his is an event around these parts, this hits in February so not long to wait.

Knight Of Cups (Terence Malick, USA, 2015) – After a traditionally slow gestation period Terence Malick’s Knight Of Cups was finally announced for a Berlin 2015 festival premiere, and maybe I’ll be there to see it – I’ve always wanted to visit Berlin. In his old age Terry is becoming positively prolific with two other films on the horizon, this trailer is quite odd I thought as it looks like a Malick film with a modern setting which is not his usual spiritual playground. Nevertheless it is a further hymn from the American alcehmist and is therefore unmissable, even if his last effort was slightly disappointing.

Midnight Special  (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2015) – ‘I really wanted to make a 1980’s John Carpenter film like Starman. I love the way those films look.’ said Mr. Nichols, and there was much rejoicing. Filming commenced in back in April but the movie isn’t scheduled until November of next year, I have absolutely no further details than that nor shall I be seeking any until a trailer ambles along. Alongside the likes of Sean Durkin and J.C. Chandor I consider Mr. Nichols as one of the most promising of American directors of that recent generation, and anyone who references obscure Carpenter and makes his own skillful and intelligent movies is obviously a friend of the Menagerie. The picture has a cast – presumably Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst are the star crossed lovers fleeing another collaboration with Nichol’s frequent muse Michael Shannon, so maybe a more muted SF piece can fight back again the more feeble franchises.

followsRuling the roost for first viewing of 2015 is Birdman which opens on New Years day, fortunately the rest of the year has plenty of other treasures to explore. The American auteurs maintain their vice like grip on my cinema consciousness as  we have a new Scorsese, potentially his penultimate film before retirement which is a gloomy proposition as he continues his late career peak. There’s also a new Spielberg who is directing a Coen brothers script which could be quite the clandestine combination and I’m slightly terrified that Gasper Noe is back with a film called Love,  the subject matter of which promises more fluid dispersal than the most splatter heavy slasher. Closer to home there’s  High Rise as domestic favorite Ben Wheatley translates the brilliant J.G. Ballard’s better known urban nightmares, Tomorrowland  looks like a mystery worth solving (is it based on a book, a YA novel or comic or anything? I know nothing about this project and intend to keep it that way) while Del Toro gets back to his spooky roots with Crimson Peak. Speaking of genre not only is an absolutely incandescent Max back with an exciting looking film (and proof that the art of the movie trailer isn’t necessarily dead as everyone went fucking nuts about that teaser) but It Follows seems to be the sleeper horror hit before Ultron finally takes on The Avengers. I don’t care for the look of Jurassic World  but I’ll see go see it, who knows it might be tasty and Ahnoldt is back in what is shaping up to be the worst entry in an increasingly rusty franchise. Jupiter Ascending looks increasingly lame following some juvenile trailers and a mysteriously axed release date (usually a sign that something is significantly rotten in Denmark) and toward the end of the year some trifling space opera franchise gets a new iteration, with Mission Impossible 5  facing an impossible box office mission by opening a mere week later – that’s braver than any high-altitude heist.

hungerSo we finally cast our gaze to the future. As always a glut of sequels infested movie theaters in 2014, including A Haunted House 2, 300: Rise Of An Empire, Paranormal Activity 4, Captain America 2, The Expendables 3, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Dolphin Tale 2, Rio 2, Sin City 2 and Dumb & Dumber 2, How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Hobbit 3, and the third The Hunger Games film which I simply couldn’t face. Milking franchise cows for three, four or more installments of product has been an established film business since the dawn of technology when the likes of Biograph, Pathe and Mack Sennet supplied a hungry audience with a constant tsunami of two-reelers. But mere repetition and formula isn’t the whole picture as illustrated in this article, the gulf between the two arcs of the industry is becoming more hideously apparent, as spineless executives seek to ‘cross-pollenate franchise possibilities’ or ‘fully exploit the cultural profile of  intellectual properties to vertically penetrate the four segment demographic’  – parts of this commentary from Universal’s CEO honestly made me want to retch. I didn’t take a genius to predict that both I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold would  curdle at the box-office without a single molecule of horror in them, the latter just about breaking even with a $212 take on a $70 million budget when you factor in P&A and  the exhibitors cut of the gross. Wider issues aside there also wasn’t much sympathy around these parts for the Sony hacking scandal (even if the world continues to turn into a simulacra of a William Gibson novel) with the genius ideas of a Men In Black and 21 Jump Street fustercluck being brought to screens – is there a single original thought left in Hollywood? The powerpoints alone are the funniest thing the studio has produced in the 21st century.

matrixThe disintegration of the middle ground is unnerving and remind me of the 1950’s, when the studios desperately fought the new threat television with widescreen, 3-D and other theatre gimmicks. The difference in this decade is stubble but no less desperate , as maybe this proliferation of franchised programming is the  frantic industry reaction to the so called rise of  Serious Television© and the arc of long form seasons and character development to fully explore potent tales and themes. It’s only with TV that we seem to consume those  ‘water-cooler’ events such as that gory episode of Game Of Thrones or that intoxicating finale of Breaking Bad, but from a pure storytelling perspective did The Hobbit need to three movies? Does The Stand need to be four movies? Was the last Hunger Games novel deserving of being split into two films? It’s pure economics of plateauing theatre attendance and the new kids nipping at the dinosaur studio’s heels, Showcase, Netflix and Amazon seem much more likely to take risks and commission material that would have Time Warner or 20th Century Fox executives reaching for their psychiatrists emergency speed-dial. The way I look at it is that quality always seems to rise to the top, of course I cast my net wide but I never struggle to find ten pictures that are exemplars of the form, so these claims of TV ‘beating’ movies is rather absurd – it’s on a par with claiming an apple is a better fruit than a banana. In any case the film industry has always defied expectation and prediction as a recent article has just blown apart insiders predictions, as William Goldman said in Hollywood ‘nobody knows anything‘;

Films Of The Year Montage IV

When you are getting into Roman numerals I think you might be getting ugly, violent and anciently academic, but this final celebration of the year is worth celebrating, despite your choice of digital or physical delivery system;

I have two final BFI screening reviews to complete on their amazing SF season which are both quite challenging in their own political and historical ways – a 1970’s Cold War tussle if you will – but with the 21st century finally gaining some traction the Sony hack renders these films concerns as instantly  quaint – welcome to the increasingly alienating future. Now where is that The Interview Unabomber screening, regardless of the film’s dubious quest it’s an instant piece of film history….

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Four

Another one of the best things about a film festival screenings is the lack of extraneous nonsense when you actually get into the theatre, otherwise known as adverts and trailers. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a well constructed, enticing trailer as much as the next cine nerd, but they’re just so damn full of spoilers and outline the entire premise of a movie these days it’s really best to expose yourself to one viewing, and making up your mind to see the picture or not from there. At LFF screenings its straight into the action, which makes for a more continent experience. Today started with a little more international action;

This was a gentle and affecting little comedy drama, although I’m not so sure the ‘weight of one’s love’ metaphor managed to squeeze through the mild mannered artifice. The movie has been selected for Norway’s Best Foreign Language Oscar which should earn a well deserved wider audience. Speaking of a man with a wide audience, here’s John Stewart’s directorial debut;

I’m not quite sure what to make of this, I think I liked it even if was preaching to the choir of fellow left of centre communist agitating libruls such as yours truly. Here is Jon Stewart on the red carpet which provide more texture;

Red Hollywood (2014) Trailer

Seemingly in perfect tandem with this months Sight & Sound election of the greatest documentaries of all time comes this expose of one of the darkest stains in Hollywood history, the notorious HUAC hearings and the blacklist;

I very much like the idea of examining the films that the likes of Joseph Losey and Jules Dassin made in Europe after their quiet exile, that’s an angle which isn’t usually examined in relation to the directors and screenwriters ostracised experiences and politics, and the fact that the terrific Thom Anderson of Los Angeles Plays Itself is behind the viewfinder doesn’t hurt….

Fritz Lang Season – Die Nibelungen (1925)

dnlang1You can you stick your Game Of Thrones  up the perilous pit of Ungmar the Unameable, the real fans of high medieval fantasy know the real action is going down way back in Berlin’s UFA studios during the equidistant pre and post war year of 1925. The movie industry was a very different beast back then, when tyrannical movie directors would muster bloated, hugely expensive studio-bound epics which seemed to run for days rather than hours, where the cult of celebrity had establishing itself as the central marketing hook to spear the attention of the depression and austerity starved masses and give them a few hours respite from the economic terror of their day-to-day lives, of industrial technique and visual dazzle entrancing the senses at the sacrifice of emotional or political nuance, a cinema of sensation anxiously awaiting the new enrapture of an auditory sense which would become the industrial standard in just a few years – the coming of sound. So yes, the cinema of the 1920’s was completely different to current contemporary standards, and producers of all nationalities and geographic birth certainly didn’t have their avarice rich eyes on lucrative emerging markets beyond their borders as the Tinseltown executives are hypnotizing today. I offer this all as proof that the more things change the more they seem to stay the same, like developments and trends in any industry the market seems to ebb and flow in a cylindrical fashion, so although I am ostentatiously going to be looking at a German filmed and financed, silent  five-hour epic from 1925 in this piece I’ll try to weave in some present day echoes,  before we begin in earnest I have to say this review has been a long time coming, I purchased and first saw the film back in March of this year but the day job and new release priorities have interfered with this fitfully stuttering season. I must admit that the prospect of collecting my thoughts on a film of such density from a period I’m not  exactly and expert within (despite studying German Expressionist cinema back in my Academic hey-day) I do think it’s good to set yourself challenges and goals, so once more into the breach dear friends…..

dnlang2Over the years I have seen and even (briefly) academically studied some  of Lang’s expansive, technologically paradigm busting  and genre hopping optical oeuvre but this is the first time I’ve seen this particularly  lengthy ‘lost’ classic, whilst many of his other films of the period such as the Mabuse series and Metropolis have received a wealth of attention and discourse, mostly related to the former’s eerie pre-shadowing of the Third Reich and the German slide into genocidal fascism  and the latters long robotic shadow that is cast upon the then embryonic SF genre. At first glance Die Nibelungen  can be filed away with many of the other expansive cinema epics of the same relative period, Griffith’s Intolerance, Abel Gance’s Napoleon and the early biblical epics of Cecil DeMille immediately spring to mind, as certain visionary riding crop wielding tyrants struggled to elevate the medium into what was then regarded as ‘art’.  They all share common DNA in the studio-bound industrial production techniques which were at the apex of their time, this project being all the more mysteriously fascinating as it was not crafted on the glittering Western coast of America which was the pulsing global centre of film production of the era, whereas Germany was still a bruised and economically subdued empire looking internally to heal its wounds and embrace an uncertain and financially fractured future. Split over two disks and moving through two significant story arcs Die Nibelungen wails through various cantos rather than following a traditional scene juxtaposition, cleaving the heroic story of   Siegfried (Paul Richter,) the son of King Siegmund of Xanten, enticed to the kingdom of Burgundy and entranced by her beautiful princess Kriemhild. Through guile and enemy subterfuge Seigried is despatched to traverse the eerie  Wood of Woden, a trick that deflects him from reaching Burgundy and taking his beloved’s hand in marriage, trapping him in mortal combat with the magical creatures inhabiting the wood, including a powerful smoke belching dragon. This is just the first part of an odyssey which maps to  the epic poem Nibelungenlied whose genealogy has been traced to around 1200 AD, a battle-cry charge into Götterdämmerung rather than Dungeons & Dragons;

The Tolkien allusions are as clear as a Nargothrond stream in a Melian weaved moonlight, and indeed John Ronald Reuel drew heavy inspiration from the poem as he did from other medieval texts such as Beowulf. Film-wise one assume this is one of the first fantasy movies in the vein of the LOTR saga, or The Beastmaster, Krull or  Hawk The Slayer, it’s hearty companions being the Douglas Fairbanks derring-do of  The Thief of Bagdad  which was similarly born in the cradle of  Méliès phantasmorophs, a cinema of heroic scale and mythical landscapes and creatures, rendered by technological innovation, prosthetic designs and camera tricky. Partitioned around title cards and animation asides the film constructs a fantastical infrastructure of abstraction, reminiscent of early Disney and specifically Fantasia,with a much more adult themed musing on sacrifice and slaughter, a melding of the mythic with the metaphoric.

die4One of the strengths and specific merits of silent cinema is the devotion to the image, to the fusions in time and space between edits which infer relation and drive a story forward, a tale as localised as a dog rescuing a child ballooning out to a legendary mythos of fantastical beasts and titanic deeds communicated to a diverse collection of individuals sitting and watching in the dark.  When it comes to some of these venerable epics the sheer scope of the enterprise are genuinely majestic, of knowing that hundreds of extras were marshalled by furiously barking assistant directors through primitive communication techniques, that vertigo inducing edifices were precariously erected in the physical world and not in squeezed out of a computer, that one take was literally one take when all the complex components marshalled in one shot were subject to the forces of entropy and accidental destiny. Whilst Lang’s framing is rather static and theatrically toned (no different from his contemporaries, still haunted by the dimensions of the stage and its slow transition to screen with wide shots exposing all the action set back to where an approximate theatre goer would sit) he permits resources to enter into the frame from non-diagetic origin points, punctuating these staged-bound dimensions by plunging his camera into the space at key periods to build momentum and a sense of dramatic intensity. From a mere operative and technological perspective these effects were difficult to achieve back in the 1920’s, the camera rigs and lightning infrastructure being the equivalent of the boisterous industrial clanging of a Betamax player compared to the digital purr of a top-range Blu-Ray today, the technology of narrative method and mode moulded by the storytelling medium, a restriction  that was only shattered by Lang and the  likes of Murnau, Chaplin and Keaton at their innovative best.

die5This being Lang the attention to production design is crucial and key, even in these medieval trappings an angular attention to detail is anvil hammers home the visual cues of the characters internal psychology, in a period where spendthrift producers would have balked at the cost of constructing  roofs in interiors which could be shot around to save money and still maintain the suspension to disbelief. By closing and framing characters in angular lines on a 2D canvas  Lang (a draftsman and architect by trade) instinctively grasped the importance of these subtle details and flourishes, understanding that the human relationship to its environment can be a rich seam of metaphorical and subconscious persuasion. On a more general level the sequence of the burning of Etzel castle is bombastically impressive, with tangible and physical sets genuinely torched and destroyed, again a concrete immediacy adding to the films’ aged sense of awe and danger. Cinephiles can also  wallow in the instructive primitive (or should that be lyrical?) forms of film grammar that were common for the period, most deliciously the iris valve instructing the audience what to contemplate in the frame before oscillating the image out to reveal the full panorama, a communication method which now seems to rest in the edit of the cut, breaking scenes and spaces into more digestible portions of information. When it comes to the auditory functions of the film a recent comment from the great film director and scholar Peter Bogdanovich rang a historical chord with me, his affirming that films were never ‘silent’ and were usually consumed with a rowdy, disruptive and raucous audience hurling commentary at the screen or engaging in rather excited discourse with their companions. As the art form evolved in-house and live performed musical accompaniment was added to the sensual mix, instructing the audience when to feel  trepidation, to swoon with romance or yelp in excited glee, so although the screen itself was silent the cosseted environment of the theatre was anything but. Now of course we have Dolby 5.1 earfucking Supra-ATMOS throbbing in the multiplexes, chorused with the charming cacophonous din of patrons chatting, of repetitive cell phones pings and associated light pollution – the more things change…..

dnlang3In a rather primitive form the film does remind one of Jackson, a big broad canvass and an affinity to legendary and mystical beasts, as you can’t help but think of Smaug when that German wyrm starts smoking and smouldering on-screen. Taken in context the scale and dimensions of the film are fairly impressive for its time, it’s also fairly violent with the mythic plucking of the eye of the beast provoking its discharge of acidic venom, it also in a curious non-denominational way brought Aronosky’s  Noah  to mind, if only for the grandiose pre-historic bombastic exuberance of the project. Lang loves his angular compositions, the foreground frame positioned carefully to juxtapose against various axis of arrangement, with carefully considered production design and lighting patterns embedded in the accruing fields, in that sense I’d argue he’s a pathfinder precursor to Ridley Scott and Chris Nolan who are amongst his most transparent heirs apparent, as their strengths also rest in a formulation of design and artistic technique rather than dialogue or finely honed screen performances. Some of the villains are somewhat problematic when viewed through the lens of history, any film, particular one made in Weimar Germany with hook nosed moneylenders will immediately read  as archaic and disgusting (although it didn’t stop Mel did it?), so its worth noting that Lang was part-Jewish but his screenwriter wife at the time Thea Von Harbeau embraced the National Socialist movement as it emerged in the coming years, and remained as a central figure in Goebbels propaganda machine after Lang has fled for Europe. Whilst we’re on the subject it has always amused me (if that’s the right word) that history’s most notorious dictators are enormous movie fans, from Stalin to Hitler to Kim Dong Un they all revelled in private regular screenings as one of their primary entertainment activities after a hard day at the office executing dissidents, signing genocide decrees, constructing  death camps and systematically starving their citizens. In cinemas defence one assumes that they’d be equally adoring of TV had they been born a generation later as a far more pervasive and insidious conduit of propaganda and (it lives in your house after all), and don’t get me started on the suppressive possibilities of the Internet…..

die6Films such as Die Nibelungin  breathe animated life into Orson Welles’ famous assertion that a movie set is ‘the biggest electric train set any boy ever had’, with almost unlimited stage bound resources at  their disposal the major directors of the day could indulge in every one of their most profligate whims – recruiting another thousand extras for a more densely populated wide-shot scene,  conjuring up elemental typhoons and tsunami’s to prod the audience into gasp induced wonder, the most exotic wildlife displaced from remote continents to suggest a seething, primordial physicality that seems to sexually lurk in the pre-code star system and swwon inducing content of the period. It’s worth stressing that the vast majority of films were studio bound in Europe during this period and it was only Hollywood that actually had the vision ti investigate shooting on location, one of the numerous attractions and coalescing factions of California as the birth of Hollywood was its distance (both physical and legal) from the early copyright cartels of the East Coast. As the restless vagabonds stumbled across the serene orange groves and hills they discovered brush and plainland that could easily stand-in for the mythical frontier for early cinema genre champion the Western, one of those amazing conflagrations of space, location, weather and production styles which birthed the golden age of Hollywood. Where does this film slot into the auteur evidence of Lang’s debonair career? Well apart from the steely Teutonic rigour of the design and vastly ambitious visual scope (like I said you can trace him to Jackson, Scott  and Nolan in numerous ways) there are the psychological attuned elements, a central protagonist directed by his  desires and dreams as opposed to more corporeal conerns or sense of muscular morality, a flagrant flaunting of the rule of law and the social restraints of civilisation, men mesmerisied by ambition and moral absolution.


The film transfer is stunningly rich and textured and the boffins have done a fine job with scrubbing clean the usual glitches and frame damage you’d normally endure from films of this vintage, with the tarnished tinted sickly gold providing an apt visual metaphor for the damaging desire for  wealth and prestige. As you’d expect from a label so dedicated to film connoisseur this is the fullest version of the film assembled since its debut almost a century ago, lovingly embroidered with extant scenes from the best surviving negatives across numerous foreign markets, so like the recently assembled  Metropolis it’s something of a Frankenstein monster which provides the most faithful recreation of Lang’s original vision. Speaking of that SF landmark I did also acquire the new Blu-Ray but I’m going to kick my review of that into the long grass as it’s screening as part of the BFI’s interstellar SF season at the end of the year, I’d much prefer finally catching the full restoration on the big screen to fully inform my commentary. Until then there’s plenty to keep us distracted so I think we’ll jump forward a decade or so to another challenging picture to get my teeth into – M. Lang’s first sound film is widely regarded as the first sound masterpiece, its international impact provided his calling card to Hollywood as he fled the Nazi scourge in the late 1930’s, but until we get our ears around that here’s a final look at an early example of Fritz’s fascination with dreams, the submerged unconscious and its divining power over our waking lives, still present in the distant purlieus of medieval mysticism;

Sundance London 2014 – Day Two

frankA slightly less strenuous programme for Day Two, with a mere three films to inflate the haul – tempo and temperance wins the race. Fortunately the line-up was a little stronger with three for three  today, not necessarily any classics but a trio of imperfect but engaging films, but already we can detect a couple of trends across the programme. First of all maybe it’s not a trait restricted to American independent cinema but three pictures so far have relied heavily on social media and internet culture not just as background static but actual plot drivers and narrative goals, with occasional extracts from a characters communication device or their twitter feed scrolling across the screen – curious. Secondly most of these films seem to emerge from a quirky or unusual premise not necessarily attuned to mainstream cinema audiences – par for the course for smaller scale, miniscule budgeted projects across the globe – but there does seem to be some difficulty with taking these unusual ideas and frameworks through to a natural, organic and most importantly satisfying conclusion, with the steam running out at a script and imagination level as the movies shift into their final act. Hopefully I can quantify these traits in more specialised reviews  but lets get going with the capsule overviews, beginning with the most anticipated film of the festival from the Menagerie’s perspective;

Fruitvale Station is the non-fiction inspired story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American guy and his tragic experience at the hands of the brutal San Francisco BART unit, one of the higher profile festival movies making waves across the Atlantic. Whilst I always attempt to evade the dreaded ‘spoilers’ it’s a bit stupid to attempt such irrelevancies given the facts of the case and it’s notoriety across the web, it is much more interesting to talk about how this film is told. It’s a debut from a recent Sundance alumni and a scorching film which doesn’t pull its punches, refusing to hagiograph the guy and his problematic history, and that even-handed approach doesn’t invalidate the injustice pulsing at the films core. I’ll just say that its immediately gripping as it takes into areas devoid in mainstream American cinema – not just from a racial but also a social and class perspective – which despite a few minor metaphoric missteps is overall a scorching piece of work – highly recommended and the best of the festival so far.

This one shot out of the blue, you’d have thought that a sick fuck like moi would be on top of any horror/comic hybrid but here we mischievously are. An unfortunately miscast Ryan Reynolds (Anthony Perkins or Christian Bale he is not) is a post-psychotic weirdo plagued with the barked instructions of his pets to follow his murderous urges, his local dog playing the angelic foil to a satanic tabby urging him to surrender to his blood drenched desires. There’s a few dangerously framed actresses flitting around the downscale toy factory (Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton,) where Reynolds works, while Jacqui Weaver plays his increasingly concerned psychiatrist. Comedy/Horror is a very difficult mixture to embalm and unfortunately the film is unsure just which way and just how far it should go, the jokes don’t quite strike while the gruesome pantomime also has the dexterity of a Shergar stuffed cadaver. It’s a little unfair of me as I really wanted the film to go much darker and edgier territory than the filmmakers were willing to pursue, it needed more of a John Waters edge to the malevolent mix, but I’ll admit that it did hold the attention until the aforementioned one hour plus mark when my attention started to drift. Still, the cat’s voiceover was quite funny (and checking out IMDB I’m surprised to see that Reynolds did the voiceover for both animals, the cat in particular sounded exactly like Peter Mullan) and generated quite a few laughs among the audience, but please people, pay more attention to the climax of your pictures if you really want to make something memorable.

While I’ll be skipping The Trip To Italy having seen the first three half hour episodes on UK terrestrial TV (wasn’t the last one a severe slip in quality? Enough with the same impressions already!) but I couldn’t ‘face myself’ in the mirror if I missed Frank, the other entry of the UK specific strand of the festival. Utilising the idiosyncratic life and career of cult British eccentric Frank Sidebottom the film is less the expected bio-pic of this unique figure than it is a musical muse on the artistic method, framed through the quiet frustration of Jon’s (Dornhnall Glesson) suburban ennui. He’s a frustrated keyboard player press-ganged into Franks eccentric band of musician oddities, most notably Maggie Gyllenhaal ‘s Yoko Ono / Nico from the Velvet Underground hybrid, squirreled away with similar nutcases at a remote Irish holiday cottage to record the worlds greatest rock record. This is much more gentle comedy that anticipated which sidelines Frank in favour of Jon’s artistic odyssey, yet you’ve got to admire Fassbender’s acceptance of performing an entire film behind an immovable paper-Mache mask – now that man’s got a sense of constrained humour. Once again when the film  stumbles into its final stretch the composition loses its nerve and starts to run out of ideas, but it has the good graces to close on a lovely encore which should send the audiences toe-tapping out of the auditorium. But what you really want to know is if like that other masked UK cult figure Judge Dredd you will actually see the man behind the mask – and I’m staying schtum….

Maps To The Stars (2014) Trailer

Forgive my unholy cursing but fuck this schedule, there has been little to nothing to post over the last few days film-wise other than a few vaguely interesting trailers, I promise that more substantial material is on the forward agenda – hell, Spider Man 2.2 opens tomorrow – isn’t that great? Well, isn’t IT? OK, whatever, here’s some new Cronenberg which seems a little…restrained;

From a cinephile perspective it’s always fun when the ‘dreammakers’ turn their lens on the industry which supports and  simultaneously disgusts them – tasty. That preview is quite different in tone and concept from the other marketing media that was plunged into the North American market yesterday, which from a cursory glance has already been extinguished from most websites – interesting. Moving on, and in anticipation of next weeks Sundance London extravaganza which kicks off on Tuesday press-wise (although already some potential day job interviews could be interfering with my carefully orchestrated schedule) I’m also happy to have been nudged into this, which will finally enable a viewing of this 2013 cinephile champion which I criminally missed from both Toronto and L0ndon;

A little more seriously I’m genuinely excited about this festival, it’s generally out of sync of my usual purview which equals a more challenging charging of the political and critical neurons – excellent. Here’s the trailer for the opening film which is intriguing;

Then again, as I write this let me share my viewing vernacular – tonight I’m resurrecting my cult move cache by devouring the director’s commentary of the original (and superior, discuss?) US cut of Dawn Of The Dead, we’re only a few munches in and already its apparent that this is one of the all time classic horror pictures and crucial Armageddon reconnaissance – yummy;

Let’s be serious, the main reason that this film works and has endured is because its so scrappy, it is so uncertain, unsure and unprofessional. That bleeds on-screen and makes it so scary…..

Bill Hicks 20th RIP Anniversary

cokeTwenty years ago today, one of my all time heroes died at the tragically young age of 32. We’ve discussed Bill briefly on the Menagerie before, not being strictly speaking a film figure he hasn’t featured often on the spectrum, but obviously I couldn’t let such an auspicious date slip by without some brief mark of respect. Why is he one of my heroes? Well, chiefly because people whom have inspired me to actively change my life for the positive are exceptionally rare, and it was during a particularly intense bought of listening to numerous shows of his that a core executive decision was finalised. Due to the wonders of the eBay-era internet I’d purchased for the princely sum of £5 quid about 100+ gigs and various audio material that some similar acolyte had collected, and like the slow erosion of water drips on granite rock his ingrained resistance to the corporate world, his championing of not accepting the status quo and thinking for yourself finally provided the courage necessary to quit the private sector job at the company I’d worked at since I graduated. This was a potentially rather suicidal mood given that I had no other job offer lined up in the interim, not to mention I doing quite well in terms of promotions and opportunity, but isn’t that always the way when you’re chomping down on that slick corporate cock? Nevertheless I loathed the people I worked with at the time and as the Iraq war was raging I wanted no fucking connection with firms whom were destined to prosper through the literal death of men, women and children, so I fucking quit.

Nevertheless it all worked out and I’m fortunate and persistent enough to have forged a self-employed career in a far more rewarding and complex sphere over the past decade and change, a career I’m exrtremley proud of given the projects, savings and achievements I and colleagues have achieved in local government. An imminent return to the market once the Bexley contract expires next month actually fills me with a slight sense of excitement rather than loose sense of unemployed dread which is usually the case, combined with a bold sense of curiosity for the adventure ahead as it were. Plus a month or so off is richly deserved, and I have some new pastimes to tinker with to keep me out of mischief. Anyway, enough of this tedium, of course much of Bill’s material has aged as you’d expect over two decades, but fundamentally his railing and calling out of the absolute idiocy of the conservative right and religious zealots of all colours and creeds remains volcanic, his spearing of societies hypocrisies remains idolic, and quite simply my politics and ideology so closely mirror his I have no choice but to fall under his dark wing;

32 is just tragically young, can you imagine if he was still around and his attitude toward the Tea Party, reality TV and his propoganda, or individual events such as Katrina, 9/11, Snowden, Assange, Sandy Hook or Utøya might have been? OK, so some of the pontificating about drugs might be a little misplaced (although he’s still 100% correct about a total and universal lifting of prohibition everywhere as the only possible solution) and maybe he sound a little like a proto-Russell Brand with his rather simplistic positions on certain issues political issues, but the guy was only 32 when he died and I don’t know about you but I was still pretty stupid and uninformed at even that age, as opposed to the Buddha like zen of all encompassing I currently personify of course. It was really his sense of fearless ferocity and torching of hypocrisy which still lights a fire, even he had begun a rather unfortunate slide toward conspiracy theorist sympathiser toward the end of his life. Overall I don’t think there has been a man more perfectly born to do what he did, he started performing stand-up at an unbelievable age of 15 in adult clubs, and even then he had such a cocky, index finger raised assurance, an absolute command of the space and fearless confidence which is unique, honestly when you look at what passes for comedy these days in American and Europe I just want to fucking puke.  So here are three full sets offered for delerious devotion, I’ve been amused to see The Guardian going similarly adoring in their coverage, I guess in the final analysiss its entirely possible that I also wouldn’t have had the courage (or self-important stupidity) to begin this very entity that you’re reading these words upon if it wasn’t for the his impact upon my life, goodnight again Bill and thanks for the inspiration buddy….

Robocop (2014)

robocop-2014-movie-poster-imageTo many SF movie fans of a certain incept date Paul Verhoeven’s violent SF Christ fable Robocop retains a fond place in their cybernetic hearts. The film has aged well, its corporate satire of Reagan and Thatcher era ideology proof of its speculative accuracy, with the near ubiquitous downsizing, privatisation and dismantling of the social structure as chillingly inhumane as Murphy’s humanity being subsumed by the cold logic of 21st century capitalism. It was no surprise to hear that the inevitable remake was commissioned some years ago given Hollywood’s appetite for repackaging existing media concepts, especially those biologically linked to SF dystopias, action pyrotechnics and a violent protagonist which Executives assume are the meat and potatoes of their core 14 – 24 Male White marketing demographic. Early rumours began to coalesce of a troubled production which began with the exit of director Darren Aronofsky during pre-production, the nervous producers hurriedly casting their replacement net wide and retaining the services of rising South American star helmsman Jose Padhila, (Bus 174 and the impressive Brazilian action smash Elite Squad). The problems continued despite the change in personnel, with on-set wrangling between the hot-headed director and interfering studio cretins diluting some of his more flamboyant (e.g. expensive) ideas, and a general sense of web dismay at the project appearance once the initial design and costume photos were leaked last year. So far, so internet but recent emanations from the film have been more positive, with supporters insisting that entering the project with the right frame of mind – to largely disregard the original and approach this on its own terms as a separate entity – then its an able enough movie, entertaining, action packed and with a smattering of social critique. Clearly we have entered into some bizarre mirror world as that is simply not the movie which I saw, as Robocop in its current incarnation s quite simply the worst film I have seen at the cinema so far in 2014.

robo2In 2028 the United States has occupied Tehran and in the name of bringing casualty free democracy to the Middle East has deployed combat drones and Tactical Pacification Units (the beloved ED-209 units of the original) to the sand swirled urban centres, supposedly winning hearts and minds back home as no more American boys are coming home in body bags. The right-wing cultural barkers, represented by Samuel L. Jackson as some odd Glenn Beck / Billy O’Reily simulacra demands to know why a Senators opposition to deploying these units on home soil is so contentious, overriding his concerns of the lack of human empathy leading to potentially lethal miscarriages of justice with the simple mantra of ideologies – reduced costs, reduced government, reduced crime. Enter the terrifyingly named Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton and casting catastrophe number one), the cybernetic pioneer behind the explosion in apprehending automatons whom with his moustache twirling villainy has a secret plan to override the Senators bill and drastically enhance his market capitalisation, if only he can find a human spin on his metallic golems. Meanwhile guess what? Yeah, dedicated street cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman as casting catastrophe number two) is in a spot of bother as his recent investigation into arms buying points suspicions of his colleagues ‘misplacing’ material from the evidence locker which seems to find its way out to the streets, with his marriage to beautiful blonde (Abbie Cornish as casting…well, you get the idea) and a twinkle eyed son in tow disaster strikes when a car-bomb blasts him to smithereens shortly after his partner Jack (Michael K Williams) is gunned down in a rain drenched back alley. You can guess the rest, as reluctant bio-tech genius Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) resurrects Murphy shattered physical form within a powerful bullet-proof exoskeleton, and crime has a new cure in the face of the impervious Robocop……

gry1Since seeing this film on Saturday I have been somersaulting through mental gymnastics in order apprehend a single, positive facet to balance this review and I’m sorry to say this effort has been unsuccessful – this film is terrible in almost every way, even when you completely divorce yourself from any affection for the original. The plot is perfunctory complete with clichéd injured partners and poorly performed family characterisation, and this is clearly a Hollywood where middle-tier cops happen to own expensive homes and return from a gruelling day dealing with these stiffs at City Hall to see their beautifully composed wives, caked in make-up, simply for cooking supper and putting the kids to bed. Crucially Kinnaman is a total charisma vacuum in the ilk of Sam Worthington or that bloke from Tron, and the decision to base all the emotional arc of his gruelling fate on the simpering doe-eyes of his unlikable kid or the distant performance of Cornish gives the story no traction, as you simply could not care less. None of this would be particularly problematic and could be overlooked if the other material was adequate, if the combat, the satire or action set-pieces provided the requisite big-screen thrills, but I don’t think I’ve seen a tamed and more pedestrian directed film since the Twilight tedium, the action scenes are utterly unexciting and redundant, the future world designs barely registering for a nano-second. I don’t wish to labour the point but the original had a trio of superbly snarling villains in the likes of the be bespectacled Clarence Boddicker, the deliciously malicious Ronny Cox and the yuppie-path Miguel Ferrer, there is not one captivating bad-guy in this movie as Michael Keaton is completely forgettable and doesn’t even register on the plot, and his hired goons are mere stuntman casting from the pulsing henchmen spawning bio-growth pools. Gary Oldman just about comes through this unscathed but let’s face it even a cursory scan of his CV reveals a wealth of genre dreck, marking this effort as new low alongside his (presumably) alimony satisfying efforts in Lost In Space or Red Riding Hood, or even the diminutive classic Tiptoes….

robo4Now I don’t expect every film to harbour some secretive agenda, to be a repository for cultural or social commentary or shredding satire, sometimes making things go ‘boom’ is fun enough and state of the art effects can be their own reward. But to set-up some fertile ground with the films Tehran set prologue which is awash with echoes of the current dark drone stain on Obama’s presidency seemed to hint at a fertile infrastructure for future satire, an opportunity which is thoroughly squandered. The film is like a direct to video 1990’s effort with slightly more budgetary baggage, the Cold War contortions of the original mournfully absent, with Samuel L. Jackson’s Fox News future anchorman incarnation providing all the satirical bite of a toothless gnat. I promise you I went into this with an open mind, I like the original a lot but it’s not a film I rewatch religiously, heck I even gave 2010’s Total Recall something of a pass even though that was unquestionably a mildly diverting three star film, but at least that a couple of sequences where some mild pulse of excitement was generated, in this movie I kid you not I actually feel asleep during one combat scene which says it all really. Finally, shoehorning in lines and quotes from the original really does nothing to curry any cybernetic favour, they hang on the screen like a crashed 16 bit progress bar, a clumsy fumble for fan-service and reminding us that these two hours could be better spent watching just about any SF film from 1987 (Slipstream anyone?) which would be far more entertaining than this shattered remake detritus washing up on the shores of mediocrity, so pounding out the original Robocop theme over the opening credits was the first crime of the year. Make no mistake this is the worst film of the year so far, and everyone involved should be arrested and their filmmaking credentials terminated with extreme prejudice…..

Dr. Strangelove (1964) 50th Anniversary

strangelve50 years ago to the very day the finest black comedy ever committed to celluloid was released, Stanley Kubrick’s ferocious cold-war satire Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love The Bomb. Firstly I think I need to make a full disclosure, yes I had tickets to see the film at the BFI last weekend complete with special Q&A guests, alas no I didn’t attend as I was out with friends having a jolly good time involving alcohol and Chinatown eateries so for once I put my social life ahead of my cinema life – fucking sue me. I have seen the film before at the BFI with legendary production designer Ken Adams in attendance back in those dark pre-blog days of around 2005, I will track it down eventually and craft a full review alongside all the remaining Kubrick texts (like I said I’ve got my cross-hairs set on A Clockwork Orange as part of the upcoming BFI Science Fiction season) so although I do feel a little guilty at evading this opportunity I can at least throw together a short tribute post to celebrate one of Stanley’s more terrifying achievements;

The film still casts a long phallic missile shaped shadow across just about every black comedy made over the past five decades, and every nuclear themed movie is measured against its radioactive blast radius, not to mention the etching of the War Room and Strangelove himself into popular culture as the sputtering idol of modern military insanity. As you may be aware the film was initially scoped as a earnestly serious movie on the then emerging concepts of MAD and Game Theory but as Kubrick delved into the material with his usual perfectionist poise he realised there was no way this would be swallowed by an audience, and the only way he could truly excavate the intellectual horror that was propagated by the evolving military industrial complex was through a comedic delivery system – mission accomplished. In terms of context it’s useful to consider that the film was being shot in London’s Shepperton studios as the world held its collective breath during the Cuban missile crisis, not to mention the film’s very first test screening was initially programmed for the now infamous date of November 22nd 1963, with that event prompting a few swift changes to the film’s dialogue. As you’d expect it was mauled by the right-wing press with the tediously predictable allegations of those responsible being ‘communists’, a rabid assertion which ignorant idiots always seem to vomit if any criticism is offered of their precious nationalist ideological infrastructure, and I’ve always enjoyed the revelation of a few NORAD inspectors touring the sets during production and turning pale and visibly distressed when they saw some of the technological details that Kubrick and his team had culled from publicly available mechanics and aeronautics manuals – apparently the CRM114 discriminator was absolutely spot-on.

I think what also made some viewers uncomfortable on a potentially unconscious level was precisely what mischievous screenwriter Terry Southern brought to the poker table (which was the design ethos Kubrick suggested for the War-Room), and that was the satirical melding of sex and death. The swooning, elegantly meandering B52 bombers are penetrated and de-couple to the romantic strains of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ during the opening titles,  and the film is replete with aphoristic boasts of impressive yields, powerful payloads and Sterling Hayden’s magnificently mentalist musings of ‘precious bodily fluids’. Infidelity and innuendo are endemic on both divides of the Iron Curtain, as these powerful men bolster their testosterone powered prestige on the world stage, sensuously interfering with the very infrastructure of civilisation which of course ends in an orgiastic series of multiple explosions. Whilst we’re on the subject someone really needs to commission Blue Movie, Southern’s Hollywood set novel which he dedicated to Kubrick (and whom at one stage he considered adapting), it’s tale of A grade Tinseltown stars actually consenting to full penetrative hardcore sex movies for general release, one assumes that such material was a little too transgressive even during the permissive 1960’s when now we are in the era of Nympomaniac for better or worse….

Naturally there are plenty of articles and dissertations being launched which supersede any comments I could make on the context of the film or its craft, however the truly terrifying reportage is here which shows just how close Kubrick and Southern came to nuking the paranoid mindset of the era, and let’s face sweet fuck all has changed in the intervening half century. I particularly like the image of some drunkenly obliterated US general insisting on staggering up on stage to blast out a few Beatles numbers in front of a shocked Soviet delegation, that’s pure Strangelove and one of those tales which you couldn’t put in a film for fear of being too ridiculous. More sobering is that jaw-dropping revelation that the Russkies infernal Doomsday Weapon actually exists, was implemented and they neglected to tell anyone else about it, and it may very well still be operational – oh well, it’s not the end of the world;

A Scorsese Symphony….

So the UK press screenings were held over the weekend and like our American cousins the Wolf  verdict is clear – phenomenal, stunning, outstanding etc. So in tandem with this let’s start to raise the temperature on the investment portfolio shall we?  

I’m actually thinking of taking Friday off work to see it first thing you fucking mooks, for three delerious hours of this incredible energy;

Captain Philips (2013)

captain_phillips_xlgTom Hank’s cunning pincer movement to net another best actor gong is represented by two films this year, the Disneyfied courting of the author of Mary Poppins in Saving Mr Banks, and as the distressed ship’s captain facing down ruthless Somali pirates in Captain Philips – I’m not sure which is more terrifying.  Personally speaking a cruel elixir of Disney and Mary Poppins  is likely to induce a sea-sickening nausea in yours truly but I’m more than happy to board Paul Greengrass’s hulking political metaphor, as in the Indian sea a vast shipping container attracts limpet criminals to a capitalist whale, overflowing with an abundance of goods and products and the prospect of mercenary material gain. I quite like Hanks, in interviews he always comes across as an  extraordinarily friendly and genial sort in interviews and junkets, a genuinely nice guy whom over the years he has moved steadily and proficiently from the frat-boy humor of his early roles to the towering seriousness and Oscar pulsing bait of big ‘important’ pictures.  He has a definitive screen charisma which anchors an American pragmatism in both his historical and contemporary roles , a modern Henry Fonda you’d enjoying grabbing a hotdog with or maybe a less remote Gary Cooper you could grab a beer with, I can even forgive him for the offensive politics of Forrest Gump but that, as they say, is another story. But maybe, just maybe there is a black-hearted career driven psychopath beneath that genial carapace which would throw his own mother under a bus if it furthered his career*, as I think you can never fully trust a man who sports two christian names –  think George Lucas,  Bruce Willis, Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, or Prince Charles.

phi2Based on a true story whose authenticity is inevitably being questioned – apparently the non-fictional counterpart was allegedly a lot more renegade with his crews and passengers safety – the film is lifted from a 2009 incident where the Maersk Alabama , a civilian cargo ship was assaulted by a desperate group of Kalashnikov wielding Somali’s, their khat chomping leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his erratic henchmen being briefly sketched as rather desperate young men driven to such extremes by the desperate socio-economic conditions of their broken country in an opening, context setting sequence. In fact the film is a surprising two-hander with Philips and Muse’s positions being given almost equal station, Philips remarking to his wife (Catherine Keener in roughly 90 seconds of screen-time for some odd reason) in a similar first act manoeuvre that ‘everything is moving so fast these days’ and ‘our children must learn to navigate a very different world’ which flares the directors thematic intentions, of desperate and confusing times presaging increasingly desperate measures.

phil3Screenwriter Billy Ray has based this tense testimony on 2010’s breathless  A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea and as you’d expect from a filmmaker with the adrenaline pumping calibre of Greengrass after that opening the technique is urgent, nervous and as choppy as the waters under which the drama unfolds, but I am simply tired and exhausted of his now distracting roving camera and frenetic editing rhythms, what once could signal an urgent momentum to his pulse racing narratives is tedious, alienating and confusing, he really needs to evolve as a filmmaker as he’s starting to resemble a clichéd bore. Speaking of dinosaurs this is might be my mood but I could not generate one iota of sympathy for the hi-jackers despite these submerged intentions, I wanted these violent idiots to be executed as swiftly as possible, and some rather signposted lulls in the action are exploited to punch a political message which falls well short of pathos or potential. Of course Greengrass is slightly more mature than the likes of a Michael Bay, a McG or other action directors of that ilk, and although he doesn’t get Hanks to hip-check a pirate into the drink, grasp his AK47 and begin pouring down a holocaust of hot leaden vengeance on the hoodlums he does have something of a hard-on for the military hardware once it arrives to muddy the waters, whilst I’m a bloke who enjoys exterminating faceless goons in computer games such as  Military Industrial Recruitment VI: The Clones Of Saddam  as much as the next Neanderthal this quiet acquiesence to overwhelming American force stands in an odd displacement to the previously deployed  thematic depth-charges. 

phil4Hanks is desperately convincing as the terse Philips whom is just about keeping his head above a swamping sense of panic as the situation grows increasingly desperate and claustrophobic, and I must admit that the final sequence is exceptionally arranged with a terrific final scene which is just about worthy of the preceding two hours of uneven and turbulent intentions, but it takes a long time coming so for me I find it difficult to recommend this other than a home viewing option when it lands on disk sometime in the new year.  Maybe I’m slighty miffed as evidently commentators with swifter pens than I have identified a trend of survival movies this year – I had already plugged this observation into my gestating and increasingly mammoth Films of The Year post (which is marinating very nicely thank you) so whilst for me this doesn’t assail the urgent heights of Gravity or All Is Lost  your fathomage may vary,  but make sure you reserve some resources to see next weeks major interstellar release;

* Yes I’m joking of course, my favourite Hanks story is this – on the pre-production of Saving Private Ryan as directors like to do Spielberg sent the entire team on a brutal regime of basic training to manufacture a sense of a group who lived together in an intense combat situation, to create a sense of close camaraderie. That big, burly tough-guy Vin Diesel led a revolution against the programme after 24 hours claiming that the exhausting process was pointless and stupid, and it was Hanks who quietly took him aside and instructed him to ‘man-the-fuck-up’ as they were representing heroes who had made the ultimate sacrifice for Europe and America – they all meekly reported back for duty the next day.

Lou Reed (1942 – 2013)

Fuck, I don’t normally post much music stuff here as frankly those interests have waned over the years in favour of the movies, but now and again a figure will fall which makes me incredibly sad. Lou Reed was a vague favourite of mine back in the day, obviously for the groundbreaking, statis exploding Velvet Underground, and I also followed his solo career with a mild interest in both his solo and collaborative projects over the past few decades. It’s probably obvious to note that he was always one of those mild musical heroes I figured I’d see live eventually, just goes to show you should make an effort while you can. So here’s a few personal favourites, nothing too idiosyncratic I’m sure but just a small, modest tribute;

Yes I know, blatantly obvious for a Velvet’s choice, but that track is just as stunning as ever to me – sometimes going back to those old albums – Bowie, Floyd, Zeppelin etc. can illuminate where we are now I think. Name me one band of note who were not impressed with this sensibility and reactive approach that are worth remembering from your teenage years and I’ll kiss the boot. Next I have this album – like on actual vinyl and everything – and this opening may seem staggered now but listening again it still sounds great to me when it finally kicks in;

Here’s some slightly more esoteric material which is perhaps more leftfield and worthy of the era, with the links to Warhol, the wider art scene including of course, cinema;

Now, a movie connection – a soundtrack contribution to a Wim Wenders piece – always liked this track;

I spent some time of my formative years with a crew who considered the still hilarious Metal Machine Music as some kind of musical grail of ownership, I kinda miss those days when such texts – films, music tracks, albums, books, comics, graphic novels etc. would actually be genuinely rare and had an aura of obsession which the web, for all its progress, has obliterated by proliferation. Ah well, I guess that’s progress eh? Maybe I’m showing my age but I got this album upon the week of release;

Not sure we needed that period specific Sax solo eh? But hey, things movie on. So finally we come to kinda one of my favourite albums, like in the top twenty or something was the tribute to Warhol that he crafted with Cale – Songs For Drella:

I assume a suicide watch has been drafted over Camden and Q readers around the globe. I think I’m gonna fire up a VU medley and get started on some of the finest wines known to humanity, so goodbye and swift travels you magnificent bastard;

Universal Studio’s Monster Series – The Invisible Man (1933)

im1 You may recall that some time back I remarked that I would be attending a wedding – well, I was getting a little ahead of myself as before we meet that iconic electro haired mannequin we must turn my Universal Monsters series to more intangible matters, and identify the manically screeching Claude Rains as the blink and you’ll miss him The Invisible Man. Now just as a reminder we are following the core texts of this Blu-Ray investment rather than the officially recognised canon as frankly I’ll be in my grave long before I manage to craft reviews of all seventy-odd films in the series, but who knows how many of those other creatures which go bump in the night might be covered through alternate programmes and initiatives in the mist drenched decades to come? In any case I was anxious to get this series up to 1933 so it could dovetail nicely into a big screen event which is part of the BFI’s imminent Gothic season, including a special guest whom hopefully won’t be rising from beyond the grave. But before that let’s get our claws on the next slippery sucubi of this severely serrated series;

In terms of a synopsis I don’t think we need to devote too much time, in an archetypical chilly and winterswept village a gauze garbed stranger arrives at the local Inn and demands a room with complete privacy and to broker no interruptions. Barking order to the frightened locals he doesn’t exactly inherit their sympathy, and the local law enforcement become suspicious that this interloper may be up to no good.The bandage slathered lunatic is Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a chemical genius who has unearthed the miracle compound monocane which when injected into animal turned them insane, as revealed by his compatriot Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers) and Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) through a rather clumsy cutaway scene. The elixir does produce a rather impressive side-effect however as it renders the subjects partially invisible, and Cranley has further reasons to swiftly unveil the whereabouts of his companion and colleague as his daughter Flora (Gloria Stuart) happens to be madly in love with Griffin, so the race is on to save the newly anointed megalomaniac from himself and scupper his grandiose plans to clandestinely take over the world…..

im9The Invisible Man hasn’t quite been etched into popular culture like Frankenstein or Dracula of course perhaps in part due to his inherently  intangible nature, but I have very fond memories of seeing this for the first time when these movies were aired in the early evening on BBC2 here in the UK. It’s almost impossible to comprehend but back in those primitive media days there was only four TV channels in the entire country (maybe three if it was pre-1982) and schedules starved of material would populate airtime with movies from across the early Hollywood era as well as Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy shorts, it’s a resource of film history the likes of which is simply incomprehensible these days when we can repeat old game shows, soaps and lifestyle enhancement nonsense – it makes me wanna take over the world. In any case The Invisible Man does have its champions and I kinda like it from a historical perspective, tyrants boasting of their inherent mental and genetic superiority obviously had quite a resonance in 1933, and as a mystery story its one of the better arranged films of the era, setting up an initial question and then skirting around the narrative in a perpendicular fashion  – there is one skilfully arranged montage of the terrorized locals which deftly moves throughout the space as our incorporeal anti-hero prowls through the village, lumbering from smashed windows to petrified children, from glum boozehounds to steadfast law officials, in quite freeing and canny fashion in the era of locked down cameras and restrictive sound recording equipment.

im3The special effects for the period must have been akin to the Avatar of their era, boasting a similar ‘Holy fucking Jesus Christ in a sidecar, how did they do that?’ reaction among impressionable viewers who were hitting their adolescence such as Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen when this invaded screens, not to mention disarming a whole new generation of wide-eyed viewers when these films went into rotation on network TV in the 1950’s, formulating a fascination with the irrational and fantastique in the minds of your Spielberg’s, Zemeicks, Lucas, Landis and Dante’s. It’s obviously primitive in the light of todays CGI hallucinations but those optical printing techniques are envelope pushing for their time, with some imaginative deployment of wire work and other camera tricky, they have really stood the test of time until the 1990’s when of course these effects would be manufactured in a computer rather than manipulating a group of celluloid strips back in the beaker bubbling lab;

There is something captured in popular psychology linking back to Homer of a man invisible being divorced from the rules of society, of becoming in his mind a virtual omnipotent god with access to the secrets places and facts of the world, with access to forbidden  . In the film – quite prescient now given recently developments – Rains roars on his ability to pull down the existing power structures, of revealing the clandestine deals and operations conducted by the elites, even of re-distributing wealth and of levelling the social pecking order – clearly this prototype Assange / Snowden is absolutely insane? It’s something Verhoeven also flirted with in his underrated Hollow Man of 2000, turning his good scientist bad when unshackled from the chains of societal constraints, although that film did have to resort to textbook pyrotechnics in its final act rather than plunder the provocative premise. They sure didn’t trust scientists in those days eh? Those pretenders and plundering of gods plateau, manipulating the levers of physics and reality and reaping a biblical whirlwind in response, it’s a contrast to the studious presentation of science in the nuclear nightmare of the 1950’s where they solemn intone back story with exposition laced dialogue, cradling a smouldering pipe and bringing a rational, neutral idiom to the nightmares they have unleashed.

1933-invisible-man-una-oconnorIn terms of Hollywood lore you may recognise Dr. Cranley as Clarence the Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life, and Claude Rains only secured the part due to numerous other actors turning it down because of course, yup you guessed it – they would barely be seen on-screen. Nevertheless it boosted Rain’s profile through his persuasive vocal tones, and one imagines his immortality is assured in the annals of screen supremacy given his significant role in a certain North African wartime romance. Also look out for Gloria Stewart which some of you may recognise from some modest disaster movie of 1997, but who cares about that sunken stinker? This film ultimately dissolves into a farce with a Keystone Cops rejoinder, rather than pure sanity shredding terror which might be one of the reasons it doesn’t lurk as effectively as reanimated boltnecked cadavers or aristocratic blood swilling vermin, but it was another hit for Universal as these films were pretty much the lifeline to solvency during the depression, as audiences flocked to the opulent escapism epics of MGM they also loved gazing into the darker recesses of society and psyche. Naturally Universal stripmined the premise for as many sequels as possible, including The Invisible Man Returns, inevitably The Invisible Woman, grappling with the Nazi scourge in The Invisible Agent  before claiming vengeance in, erm, The Invisible Man’s Revenge. Now hark, I do hear the sound of ominous distant wedding bells, so let me blow the cobwebs off my tuxedo and pin a decaying boutonnière to my mouldering frame as you are cordially invited to a special BFI hosted union of The Bride and Frankenstein….

BFI London Film Festival 2013 – Day Nine

I can’t imagine a more explosive finish to the LFF for me, this is my last film for this annual cycle of the festival and it was phenomenal – here’s a reminder;

NO SPOILERS but I must say this, even though you’re waiting for it through clenched teeth there is one scene in this film toward the end which is one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I’ve seen in quite a while, in general the last half hour or so is just……..phew. I can also see why it has one objection of a political nature which has offended some viewers, and mark my words those concerns will be amplified when the film goes on general release, but given that the film is lifted from a true story, and presumably that element is truthful, then those concerns are a little redundant  if mildly understandable. As it hits all those Academy favourite elements there will be Oscars galore – male lead and support, direction and best film, although Gravity must be a lock for all the technical awards. Now where’s the number of my bookies?…..

In other news of a LFF variety certain ‘bovine’ comments in this review have caused some consternation, and in general the film has got a lot of flack from the Sight & Sound  paddock of critics, even the normally genial Mr. Cousins has got quite upset over the alleged ‘leering sex scenes’. I haven’t seen it so can’t comment, but it’s always nice to get a bit of a spat going isn’t it?

Mean Tiger, or White Streets?

It doesn’t take long does it, to return from a holiday and get back into the grove of everyday life, it’s all bit like going from the starstruck purlieus of a Sofia Coppola picture into the stark tedium of a Mike Leigh drama – welcome back to local government. Still, at least my staff have made some strides with some projects in my absence, and I get to ask Boris for £7 million squid for a scheme I’m leading on next week, the chaotically coiffeured cretin. Until then movie visits are looking sparse so tonight’s entertainment will be of the home variety;

The phrase ‘amongst the best Russian action films ever made’ doesn’t get bandied around a lot, but I’ve good things about this evocative tale of a ghostly German tank which haunted the Western front back in 1944 – something a little different, comrade.


Then I figure it’s time to revisit an old friend, partially inspired by that BBC4 Soundtrack series I thought it was time to take a wander down to an early Scorsese joint, a film I haven’t seen in years. it’s been pretty slow trailer and news wise over the past week or so hasn’t it, but I guess I should link to the full preview for one of the best of the year – we shall speak no more of this until the end of the year.

Toronto Film Festival 2013 – Day Nine

I′m a big fan of symmetry, so it seemed apt to conclude this epic expedition film wise in a manner similar to how we opened all those movies ago – with another four hour documentary. As one of the all time great documentarians Frederick Wiseman′s At Berkerly may not appeal to everyone′s taste, but I found it be a fascinating peek behind the scenes at one of the learned centres of our civilization;

So that is indeed that, I have a day of shopping and maybe taking in a couple of museums tomorrow – I′m skipping Niagara Falls as the logistics are to irritating and I suspect I′ll be back here in the future anyway – before a stopover in Montreal for one night and then back to blightly and the return of the real world, can′t say I’m looking forward to that. I′ll probably write my general festival overview on the flight back to keep me distracted, especially as I′m back into the fray with the day job straight away and there has been some potentially interesting developments on that front whilst I’ve been away, but let′s not  jinx that with any details here shall we?

Toronto Film Festival 2013 – Day Eight

So we final enter the final stretch, as the press screening schedule declines precipitately after today so I may resort to some sight-seeing to fill my remaining days – what a tough gig. I see from my Twitter feed that the usual problems with public bookings for the LFF are causing the usual frustrations, with the exception of Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis all I′m interested in is correcting some of the films I couldn′t slot in here – Only Lovers Left Alive, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, The Double and 12 Years A Slave. Oh, and of course this;

Can Terry give us a updated Brazil? It got slated at Venice though, but what do we stupid critics know eh? Anyway, back to Toronto, and an evening double bill began with this paranoid thriller;

Very good it was too, superbly edited and a fine thriller which zips around Seoul with a Tony Scott hyperkinetic speed, it also had a finely detailed use of the technology and modern surveillance techniques used to combat a genuinely badass nemesis  – unsurprisingly its already been picked up for US rape remake.  I′ve desperately wanted to find at least one good horror film here given the thin offerings of Inferno and Cheerleaders so I took a chance with Oculus, a film I knew precisely zero, zip, nada, nil point etc. about, again no trailer for the film but I subsequently found this which is a glimpse of the short that the film was expanded from;

Wow, I cannot stop raving about this film, its the best American horror film I′ve seen in a decade at least, up their with Excession and Orphan as simultaneously inventive, unusual, and genuinely creepy. The premise sounds ridiculous on paper – oooh, a spooky haunted mirror – but believe me what newcomer Mike Flanagan manages to achieve is worthy of comparison to early John Carpenter with serrated fragments of The Shining – this my learned friends is praise that is not given lightly.

Final movie day tomorrow, we’re winding down now….

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun (2013)

This powerful but rather muddled documentary hit London in a limited run over the weekend, my review here;

Also, some further Tiff announcements here, only a few weeks now, and the new Miyazaki has got a lot of folks excited;

A little twee for my tastes, but given his popularity I’ll try to take it for a spin. Now, lets see, now that I have your attention can someone please explain to me how the living fuck I’ve only just realised that the Channel 4 series Southcliffe which just finished airing here in the UK is in fact the very same Southcliffe that was announced as Sean Durkin’s directorial follow-up to Marthy Marcy May Marlene? Jesus Christ in a sidecar, I’d best get on the case with that then eh?