After all, it's just a ride….

Sundance

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;


Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World (2016) Trailer

You’d think after last years coverage I’d had enough of Werner, but quite the opposite as this looks terrific – it debuts at Sundance this month;

Herzog’s views on our modern, interconnected, distracting world should be…….oh….I’m sorry were you saying something?


The Witch (2016) Trailer

Oh pleassssse be showing at the LFF, could this be this years spirited entry to the centuries best horror films list, or does It Follows still occupy that perch?;

This was the spectral toast of Sundance this year, looks spooky huh? Makes a change from all the zombies, vampires, serial killers and the other exhausted horror tropes, although I assumed that about The Babbadook which didn’t connect with me…….


Trainwreck (2015) & Precinct Seven Five (2015)

trainwreckI think, after nine months of Werner Herzog I deserve a bit of a laugh don’t I? So as we timidly enter the studios graveyard season, the August and September of the movie calendar where hesitant production houses unceremoniously dump their products and wares that they haven’t quite worked out how to market or sell, like a shamefully discarded bastard Victorian child. Some of the alternative blockbuster programing is hanging on in there, and for a change of pace I thought I’d give a comedy a try, a genre that has always been woefully unrepresented here at the Menagerie. Judd Apatow’s latest springs from the pen of writer & actress Amy Schumer, a star in the ascendant whom seems to be America’s new favourite funny lady. She stars as twenty-something New Yorker Amy who is enjoying the single life, sleeping around, getting wasted while juggiling her stressful magazine journalism career, as it seems that every twenty-something woman in every rom-com always works in the media don’t they? When she hooks up with successful doctor Aaron Connors (Bill Hader) the usual contraptions of the rom-com spring into position, the standard complications and obstacles to the path of true love, with just a little character background of family drama to frame a life which needs to evolve and transform if transcendent happiness is to be achieved – in this case a pregnant younger sister (Brie Larson) and increasingly frail father (Colin Quinn) whom is wasting away in a care home.

Broadly speaking this works, there are enough laughs sprinkled throughout the airy romance to propel it through the rather clichéd dramatic longueurs, a path enjoyably endured mostly due to Schumer’s playful performance and intimate knowledge of the material given she is the sole screenwriter. There is a curious pastiche of a Sundance film within the film which oddly doesn’t resemble anything made since the era of Living In Oblivion or more recent mumblecore musings, and they even pay homage to Annie Hall toward the end of one city celebrating montage, a reverent moment given that movie is still widely considered as the apotheosis of the genre.  So many of the scenes fall completely flat, without a single laugh being tickled out, but then a few big laughs can make you overlook some rather poor comedic dimensions – a homeless guy as recurrent comic-relief character? Really? The film relies on a number of American specific sports knowledge and cameos including an extended performance from Basketball legend LeBron James as Aaron  ethnically diverse best friend, and that’s where I think some of the humour has been abandoned in the trip across the Atlantic. There is one scene where I’m guessing the American equivalent of John Motson is humorously commentating on the action between characters, which feels like an idea that would have surfaced around the Zucker movies of the 1980’s, not a bad gag on its own but the tone just doesn’t fit with the rest of this movies observational and character driven chuckles. But I don’t want to be relentlessly negative, there are about a dozen good laughs in here, mostly from the side characters which always seem to be the way with Apatow films. Amy Schmauer is a fine comedienne with a great sense of timing and a cherubic portfolio of serenely executed facial expressions, compared to the spectacularly unfunny The Interview which I also saw this weekend Train Wreck is like Life Of Brian or Duck Soup in comparison. Maybe also worth a look for an almost unrecognisable Tilda Swinton as some antipodean, bronze perma-tan magazine harpy who makes Anna Wintour look like Mother Teresa, and a final physical gag which although you can sense coming a mile away had me and my fellow patrons roaring with laughter.

So from modern promiscuous New York of the 2010’s to the sordid debauchery of New York of the 1980’s, a sadly lost time before the Disneyfication of the Big Apple, when an enterprising young gentleman could see a blaxpoliation triple bill in Times Square, score a sweet needle of Dominican black tar heroin and purloin a back-alley blow job from a toothless transsexual and still have enough pocket-money left to catch the last A-train home. So welcome to Mike Dowd, one of the cities most depraved and corrupt drug dealing thieves, a fella who takes to embezzlement, blackmail, deceit and deception like a duck to water. There is one mild complication to this life of crime, primarily being that Mike is a cop, stationed at the notorious 75th District just South East of Manhattan. As an early context setting section imprints this was an extraordinarily dangerous environment,  which in the 1980’s was awash in thousands of homicides a year as hundreds of millions of dollars of crack cocaine laid waste to entire communities and districts. This is one of those deft documentaries which is cut like a kinetic thriller, with a thundering action packed score punctuated with delirious montages, as talking head footage of a machine gun voiced Mike and his quieter partner  Ken Eurell is cut between fascinating period specific photos and archival footage of their notorious crimes and the IAD investigations into their spiralling transgressions. As a keen purveyor of this type of urban depravity, as a degenerate dime-store denizen who digs the digressions of desperate dogs and worships at the altar of James Ellroy this is of course right up my graffiti choked alley, so if you find such material fascinating then this is a documentary for you. This is the kind of story that demands a fictional translation as it was born for the big-screen, although sadly Sidney Lumet has left us maybe draft in James Gray or Spike Lee to craft this tense urban thriller, as some of the scenes and scams that these guys got into are straight out of a Hollywood handbook, including international drug cartels, secret surveillance  in the back of white vans, wild car chases across the East river bridge as the coke and booze flowed like a tarnished tsunami. The film would write itself with the cops own internal sense of omertà a powerful dramatic foil, as even if you know a colleague is up to no good you, never, ever, ever turn rat regardless of the circumstances. This is a solid rap-sheet, and is rather disquieting in the background of this years police brutality and institutional illness seen in Ferguson and Cleveland and North Charleston and Cincinnati and on and on…….


Knock Knock (2015) & Slow West (2015)

knockGuilt can be a powerful tool. There I was, forlornly idling through recent activity on the menagerie, cursing my lack of recent opportunities to manage all things movie. Then, like a flash of lightning inspiration struck – why not pull an old fashioned double-bill weekend, featuring films unknown and unseen? Well, through the luck of the draw a quick search of the local cinema schedule yielded two potential targets, a duplex of movies whose outline premise and cast were known to me, yet whose overall dimensions remained still vague enough for me not to have even caught a trailer or an outline inking of their relative merits or mistakes. So, as is my idiom on possibly the sunniest day of the year I wearily meandered over to the Cineworld to spend the day hiding from the sun, embarking on a devilish roll of the dice with the next four hours hurled down as the ante on the poker table of life. Now I know what you’re thinking – alert the authorities, he’s out of control, and surely like Icarus such reckless behaviour is bound to cause him to crash down to earth in a humbling, pride-defying heap. Well fret not gentle reader I have this all under control, even if I still haven’t quite found the impetus to visit either of London’s two newest and prestigious cinemas. I do have a programmed agenda for July which should set us back on track with previously viewed and guaranteed material, and part of the reasoning for this exercise was to set myself a speed-writing goal as we get into training for a potential international festival which is looming on the horizon. But for now let’s see what this recent folly has excavated, and as a preview of coming events I wouldn’t call either interrogation a particularly unfruitful activity.

The first to obtain access was Knock Knock, the Eli Roth directed horror thriller starring Keanu Reeves as LA valley dwelling architect Evan Webber. Never knowingly missing the chance to bludgeon a scene into his audiences cranium the first twenty minutes of this film clearly establish that Evan LOVES HIS WIFE and adores HIS TWO CHILDREN, as a one scene requirement to erect backstory is ham-fistedly drawn out to twenty minutes of EXPLAINING JUST HOW MUCH A NICE GUY KEANU IS AND HOW MUCH HE LOVES HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN. After the family retire to the beach for the weekend Evan has to stay home and finish an urgent project, his doorbell ringing at a midnight hour during a particularly ominous rainstorm. Standing there bedraggled yet bewitching are Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two shall we say feisty young women whom take a liking to Keanu, the seductive sirens swiftly overcoming his futile sexual defences of faithfulness and fidelity. The next morning his mournful regret turns more hellish as Evan realizes that both seductresses are not entirely mentally stable, and he soon finds himself on a rocky road to blackmail, vengeance and a marriage threatening maelstrom of violence, torture and tendentious trysts.

knock2Home invasion movies always pivot on an outside force entering and disrupting the domestic equilibrium, usually due to some small moral failure on behalf of our hapless and doomed protagonist, it’s a formula that Roth gleefully flays as he formulates this exploitation picture that would not be adverse to squalidly limp squealing out from to the scuzzy picture houses of 1970’s Times Square or Soho. In fact Roth is on record as saying the film is a loose remake of 1977’s Death Game, it’s certainly got that old fashioned moral quandary of a fundamentally decent chap paying heavily for one moment of weakness or social transgression, and even Roth’s rather clumsy direction can’t blight what elementally remains a gruesomely fascinating premise – hell hath no fury like a woman, or indeed women scorned. You’ve got to hand this one to Keanu though, I can’t imagine many actors accepting a rather risky project which doesn’t project him in a particularly effervescent light, with even a suggestion that the two temptresses could be underage throwing a very uncomfortable pallor of paedophilic potential – how many ‘A’ listers are gonna get even remotely close to that? The uncomfortable aura is replicated in a few scenes where you can almost hear Roth cackling with unbridled glee, but he doesn’t quite have the satiric skill that say a terse provocateur like Verhoeven or Von Trier would invest in the actual chain of cause and effect, with opportunities squandered to really turn the thumb screws while ignoring some plot contrivences like barely concealed cadavers.. All that said I rather enjoyed this, especially for the moments of horrific hilarity, the women’s lunatic cruelty and Keanu’s tortured yells, even assimilating the moments of unintended hilarity from his rather robotic performance – Keanu is many things, a most excellent dude whom is usually entertaining to spend some time with, but a great actor he is not.

slowwestSecond on the sojourn was Slow West, a film which when I utter the phrase ‘a Sundance festival western’ may get all sorts of genre synapses ricocheting around your sun-poached cerebellum. Quirky, off-beat characters and segregated scene momentum? Quality, studious character actors known for their attraction to offbeat material? Attention demanding compositions and landscape photography aligned with a folktronic and frenetic score? All these things and more reside in the purlieus of writer director John Maclean (of Beta Band fame no less) debut movie, and never has a film screamed ‘this is my debut so I’m going to throw in everything I possibly can’ since Raimi and Campbell haunted the Michigan woods in 1979. Following a trademark Western journey narrative our slightly hapless hero Jay Cavendish (the raccoon eyed Kodi Smit McPhee) is self-exiled from his Scotland home, travelling to the badlands of Missouri to seek his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius) after her and her father fled the thistle drenched homestead due to some serious, unspecified infraction which is slowly revealed as the narrative ambles along. Through chance and fate Jay is befriended by the roguish Silas (Fassbender who also served as producer so he obviously was charmed by the material), a scoundrel who is also seeking Rose for more financially secretive measures, with the $2000 bounty on her head causing his old criminal fraternity led by the perennially filthy Ben Mendelsohn to nip at both their avaricious heels.

I mostly admired Slow West incredulous strain for artistic authenticity, the film veers from pretentious to primitive but there is certainly a valid voice trying to be heard over the clattering horseshoes and starling pistol fire.   It’s the kind of film where the two leads stumble across three African dudes deep in the Minnesota’s veldt, crooning some tribal songs to each other, a incongruous mix of setting and scenario which is unremarked upon as Silas and jay continue on their horse opera odyssey. The closest comparison I can draw upon is Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully melancholy Dead Man although Slow West simply isn’t in the same symbolic stratosphere, with just a dash of the dark humour of the Coens at their most playful the film manages to charm you over with its snake oil scaled elixir of oblique observations and bone crunching violence. Some of the photography of the teeming prairies is breath-taking and actually feels fresh for this long suffering 120 year vintage movie genre, but this is slightly undermined by a hacksaw editing pattern which has all the discipline of a sun-addled squaw, seemingly unable to hold a shot or moment for longer than a few seconds which prompts a lack of confidence in the material. The principals are as good as you’d expect and there are a few genuine laughs along the way, although life is a cheap commodity in these unyielding geographies, a sobering fact that Maclean brings to the foreground with a body count worthy of Stallone or Ahnoldt at their most blood thirsty. The title suggests the generic conventions decelerated to a tick-tock, slowing of time and movement reminiscent of the great 19th century Muybridge wager, a primer on cinema itself as a bastion of truth buried among the flickering hallucination of multiple overlapping images. Slow West is a promising enough debut of a potential new talent, at a brisk pace of 83 minutes it knows not to outstay its welcome, an ode to better things to come for Silas and his hopeful path to redemption.


Lost River (2015) Trailer

Waterboarded at Cannes last year and drowned at birth by Warner Brothers in terms of any sort of theatrical release, here is the slightly bewildering trailer for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut;

Well surely that’s worth seeing? Right?  If only just to try and untangle all those rather strange ideas and hinted plot threads, looks to me like David Lynch and Night Of The Hunter spent a New Orleans night on the tequila and mescaline with Harmony Korine. In other news I’ve been keeping a curious eye on Sundance which just wrapped up in the States of course, although I’m quite sad that it isn’t coming back to London this year (and what’s all that about eh? Poor ticket sales? Not enough European distribution drummed up for entries?) it sounds like a few treats are in store, with The Witch starring Finchy no less making some serious waves. Alas as usual there are very few trailers around from any of the winners, so there’s this related to the Gosling instead;

Drive (2011) – The Quadrant System from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Finally the inevitable and predictable ‘if you didn’t like Inherent Vice then you didn’t understand Inherent Vice‘ patronization has clearly begun, I fully support the notion that yes, sometimes a film can only yield its real intent and qualities on a second or third viewing, but sneering at your intellectual equals for disagreeing with you on a matter of clearly expressed and reasonable opinion is really quite pathetic…..


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‘;


Indigo Together…..

OK it’s trailer time again, anything to distract me from writing my Transcendence review as that is going to be a painful experience – as most have remarked it was a fairly bad movie. First up here’s the first full trailer from the best comedy at Sundance London;

Now you’re probably expecting me to post the latest Asian markets trailer for Godzilla, right? Well fuck you buddy that ain’t gonna happen, I hear there is a lot of new footage but I’m pulling a spoiler drape over this one now, I don’t want to devour any more reveals or details until I’m in the cinema in a couple of weeks. Instead here is Michel Gondry’s new movie which has a preview and Q&A at the BFI on Friday, and why yes of course I have tickets;

Even better news that I’ve just discovered is that not only is Gondry attending but so is the miscevious Audrey Tautou, should be dreamy to see Amelie in the flesh. So while we wait for some exciting news on the day job front, looks like I’ve landed another assignment just outside London on a major regeneration scheme, but until we can officially celebrate the grindhouse renaissance continues;


Sundance London 2014 – Day Three

sun2On the third and final day I tried to make up for lost time with a final trio of screenings, taking in a picture which I hadn’t originally intended to see but decided to give a chance, followed by a terrific documentary and probably the most anticipated screening of the festival – Blue Ruin. At this stage of a festival you pretty much click into a rhythm, arrive at venue, coffee, movie, twenty minute break, coffee, movie, circle and repeat. It’s so revitalising to see these films without the associated half hour of adverts which plague civilian movie screenings, or sitting through the same damn trailers you’ve seen a half dozen times before, pure unmediated movies because as Truffaut said ‘Three films a day, three books a week and records of great music would be enough to make me happy to the day I die.’ Well, I’m not quite that voracious a bookworm as I’m lucky if I manage three books a month but enough of these distractions, lets close this down for another year with a final successful tranche of screenings which may just harbour the first sleeper major critical smash of the year;

First up on the final day was Obvious Child, a twentysomething comedy drama featuring struggling stand-up Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) and the pitfalls of her career and love life. Things have hit a turbulent patch with her bookstore day-job coming to a close due to the rising New York commercial rents,, her comedy career has stalled  by playing the same routines at the same dank clubs, her long term boyfriend has just dumped  her and then a one night stand results in an unexpected pregnancy. Ten minutes in and initially thought was going to be a real chore as the central character of Sophie could easily go one of two ways, an irritating narcissist with a poor line in humour, or a charming young woman with a devastating screen charisma – the reality is somewhere in the middle. It’s a character driven film and is at times neatly observed of that uncertain period of your life when you feel things like your dream career and meeting ‘the one’ should be coalescing, and when that doesn’t happen terror and despair can set-in. I didn’t laugh much as it didn’t strike my particular funny bone, but as it ambles along it slowly works a subtle little charm, not one to dwell in the memory but a pleasant enough one a half hour diversion.

A little political context first I think. Although same-sex marriage was enacted in California for a short while the legality was reversed by the proponents of Proposition 8 which was brought to a referendum in 2008, on the same ballot as the voting choice of either McCain and Obama during that historic election. Whilst millions celebrated the election of the first African American president gay and lesbian dudes were devastated by the passing of the Proposition 8 mandate on a slim 53% majority which invalidated and reversed hundreds of marriages, prompting two brave gay couples – one lesbian, the other two gay guys – decide to challenge the decision in the Californian Supreme Court. Filmed over a gruelling six years this civic minded piece is a terrific documentary which follows the traditional paradigm of fly on the wall filming as the story develops and the case is fought in the legal offices, the courts and the homes of the plaintiffs, all sublimated with the traditional form of talking head recollections and reflections. Anyone interested in civil rights will be riveted by the battle and its personal effects on the legal team and the two couples, it’s also fascinating by having your prejudices challenged quite brilliantly when the team hire severe right-wing republican constitutional lawyer Theodore Olson  as their lead lawyer , on political paper he is utterly opposed to everything anyone who stands even remotely left of centre and has been at the vanguard of some abhorrent decisions (he was George Bush’s counsel and he effectively won the constitional fight for the White House back in  2000), but he sees the case as a Civil Rights abomination, a constitutional violation to prevent one sector of society to access the state functions that others enjoy, and as a supporter of the concept of marriage he genuinely feels this is the most important case of his prestigious career. As a left-winger you should loathe the guy but the genuine affection he feels for his clients and their case is palpable – naturally you’d expect him to loathe LGBT people as a religious aberration or something – and it’s in these grey areas that the documentary operates which mark it as elevated and fascinating in the form. Like a extended episode of The West Wing this documentary its a fascinating story if you enjoy legal intrigue as I do, with a few twists and turns which keep the energy levels high, all the way through to the deeply moving resolutions.

My most anticipated film of the festival was Blue Ruin so I’m enormously relived to report that it exceeded its lofty expectations, if you in any way enjoy nasty, uncompromising neo-noirs then you’re in for a absolute treat. I’ve not got much to add to my full review here, other than to say its procedural black comedy is obsidian pitch-perfect, the violence is earned and appropriately shocking and affecting, and I think we’ll be seeing much more of main actor Macon Blair who turns in a terrific performance – the film could comfortably be pitched as the Coen brothers remaking Death Wish. So that’s that for another year, overall a strong programme with a couple of four star fantastic movies (Fruitvale Station, Blue Ruin), a clutch of perfectly serviceable if unremarkable fare, and one stinker (Hits) – a pretty good ratio out of ten screenings – myself and my esteemed colleagues coverage is here.. But there’s no rest for the wicked as I’ve already committed to another festival, a less prestigious or publicised event which gets going in a couple of weeks, before then I suppose I should make an effort to see Transcendence (despite the atrocious reviews I think it’s only fair to give it a chance) and the intriguing sounding Locke…..


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….


Sundance London 2014 – Day One

sun1Well that was a reasonably successful start to this years Sundance London Film Festival, four movies back to back in a little over seven hours of screenings, given that I only managed about three hours of sleep last night I think I should be praised for my endurance – god-damn you to hell accursed insomnia. One comedy was good, another less so, one film could have sprung gleaming from the Sundance ethos mould as if elected by the independent US cinema committee, and finally a debut from the son of Malcolm McDowell which wasn’t quite successful but at least it’s heart was in the right place – an eclectic opening, I don’t think I even got through four films in one day over in Toronto. So let’s take a very quick look at what we’ve caught so far, I’ll cross-post links to the official reviews as they go live, some of this will unfortunately be repeats of previously accursed material but I’m afraid much of this fare doesn’t even have official trailers yet so supporting material is slim – let’s get started;

The strongest picture of the day was the first in a genuinely amusing if not comprehensively successful wacky satire – and I’m sure throwing out that phraseology has got you all pumped up – in the Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd starring They Came Together. It’s not often that I’m prompted enough to laugh out loud before the opening titles have rolled these days, so this broad genre satire in the model of Airplane!, Top Secret or The Naked Gun pictures really got the energy levels up with no fewer than (gasp) three rapid exultations of appreciation from my frown-upside down face. It’s got the lot, sight gags, genre riffs, token cliché characters and plot contrivances which have infected the genre for years, it doesn’t always work but it got we jaded critical grouches rolling the aisles more than a few times and that is quite an achievement for 9.00am after an Easter weekend. A warning though, avoid IMDB or any passing news items, they seem to inevitably revealing an absolutely outstanding movie-star cameo from someone you wouldn’t normally associate with the genre which executes the films biggest laugh. EDIT – OK, my esteemed editors have turned these around pretty fast.

Anyone hoping for any angelic comedy halo from Arrested Development to bless David Cross’s directorial debut – it also features a very short appearance of fellow Bluth buffoon Michael Cera – will ne sorely disappointed in this disastrous hipster bashing, civic situated, politically tepid comedy which prompted tumbleweeds of silence to drift through the screening space. Skewering the most loathed sub-culture of the internet age would be as simple as shooting Kobe carp in a retro-bootlegged barrel, but simply throwing out name checks to Reddit, Boing Boing and The Huffington Post (that great bastion of the revolutionary and chic next generation sophistication on the web) is as convincing as plastering each of this films poorly defined characters with amusing facial hair. It doesn’t help that the film is infested with horrible characters that you wouldn’t want to spend 30 seconds in an elevator let alone a champagne soaked evening at a San Francisco Social Media App hybrid launch, with the vapid, boorish and celebrity obsessed being unleavened of any commitment to silly 20th century elements such as jokes or well honed dialogue. This was a real drag even at a brisk 90 minutes, a film which appears to have been contrived around one solitary final joke which is eminently predictable, and hey isn’t mocking the alleged younger generations thirstless yearning for fame and celebrity just so darn edgy?

A little more welcoming but not thoroughly satisfying was Memphis, an atmospheric mood-piece which was almost laughable in its urge to tick the Sundance checklist – unusual characters and a wilful disregard for mainstream plotting techniques? Check. Poking the geographical camera into a little scene sector of modern mid-country America? Check. An embrace 0f an off-beat, alternative sourced music score? Triple-check. Non-professional actors sourced at location and a distancing  choice of lensing compositions, edit lingers and unconventional focus pulls? Quadruple check with bells on. This wasn’t a bad film as it builds quite a pungent atmosphere of the musical city famous for its potent pedigree, but the lack of any tangible narrative at all eventually pushed me out of the location as the mind began to speculate and wonder what the point of this movie was – apparently none. It’s a film which deliberately eschews the explanatory montage of popular Memphis landmarks or tourist attractions in favour of a verite sound-mix (tweeting flora and fauna, distant bellowing train whistles) and images reminiscent of aspiring urban photographers documenting social disintegration – David Simon meets Pasolini which could have hugely benefitted from at least one thread of narrative development.

Finally The One I Love equalled Mumblecore meets The Twilight Zone in this two-hander where current favourite Elisabeth Warren and indie-cred crusader Mark Duplass play a couple in a deteriorating marriage, plunged into a bizarre parallel dimension where they meet themselves as the possible  perfect suitors whilst on a therapy enforced isolated weekend getaway. It’s a common complaint of a films ambition exceeding its grasp, with the ideas and the consideration of the premise but that’s the case of this initially curious movie, but the premise soon wears thin due to script meandering so it’s patently obvious metaphors – can you every really know your partner – are appropriately exhumed. Still, the director (step son of Ted Danson and son of Alex) shows a little dexterity, being confined to one location can’t have been easy to muster even if it keeps the budget manageable, so maybe a sign of better things to come o my brother….EDIT – and another one…..

 


Happy Easter….

Oh well, I might be a little late with these seasonal greetings but I though I must share this, a movie which is fast becoming the unheralded greatest comedy picture of the year;

Looking forward to that arriving in the UK, it looks hilarious. So Sundance London kick-off’s tomorrow and as you’d expect we have a gruelling schedule ahead of us – four film tomorrow alone with screenings from the stupid hour of 9am – plus a unrelated concert and visiting friends later in the week. As usual I’ll publishing over at Sound On Sight  and cross posting stuff here, depending on what trailers and supporting material I can find. Bring it on….


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…..


The Future Of Movies?

We haven’t checked in with the RLM gang for a while, I thought I’d post this less for the review’s which are of the usual solid character, more for their predictions of the future of movies which begins at about 20:11;

That seriously made my day, alongside a positive outcome from our Sundance accreditation application. I’ve identified 13 movies to see on a fairly ambitious schedule, it’s a good job as its deathly quiet this weekend – I can’t find one single film worth seeing – so this may be the calm before the storm….


Sundance London 2014 – Prologue

sundance14Sundance London 2014 revealed their line-up this morning. I haven’t delved too much into the Utah festival highlights from January other than reading a Sight & Sound round-up a couple of months ago, an exercise which pointed me toward a couple of movies to see, a few others were already on my radar from plaudits in various cinema podcasts  or websites. There is no absolute ‘essential I can’t wait to see that’ type picture on the level of last years Upstream Colour, but that’s fine, the joy of these festivals is much more aligned to discovering something new and unexpected, just like last springs Kings Of Summer. Plenty of short films and documentaries are on offer this year, and special guests confirmed so far  include Rose McGowan, Jarvis Cocker for some reason and David Cross, alongside quite a few up and coming directors and writers. To keep things brief I’ve highlighted a few of the twelve narrative features getting their European or UK premieres, many of them don’t even have trailers yet but I’ve managed to find some material from the American festival;

Blue Ruin – I’ve mentioned this before and I think this is my most anticipated picture, so I’ll be drawing a discreet veil over the movie for the next month for fear of spoilers. I love a good, powerful vengeance movie, which this looks to be holding in spades.

Fruitvale Station – US reviewers have been raving about this from its North American festival screenings, it’s probably the project with the highest chance of ‘crossing-over’ and securing wider distribution like Beasts Of The Southern Wild did a couple of years ago. Politics, race, gun-violence, could be a volatile combination.

Frank – Being British and of a certain age I’m aware of Frank Sidebottom, some friends of mine have even seen the eccentric perform live before his premature passing in 2010. I’m curious to see exactly how this goes down, especially with international audiences who must be wondering who the fuck is this guy, and a little light comedy should a refreshing counterpoint to the dark serious dramas on the rest of the roster. More comedy is also in the form of Trip To Italy which should be hilarious given the previous pedigree.

Kumiko Treasure Hunter – I think any film fan couldn’t help be fascinated by the story of Takako Konishi, the depressed Japanese lady who travelled halfway around the world to the frosty wastes of Minnesota  to search for the stashed loot from the movie Fargo. Yes, that’s right, the movie Fargo. Actually the whole story has become something of an urban myth and the filmmakers seem to have used that as the springboard for their story, rather than a straight report of the tragic case. Let’s see if Rinko Kikuchi can lay those memories of the waterlogged Pacific Rim to rest.

They Came Together – It’s difficult to believe no-one has satirised the rom-com genre given the rich clichéd pickings on offer, but here we are. This could be fun (‘my god you read fiction, that’s amazing’) and Amy Poehler is always worth watching – I’ve just learnt that she used to be married to the unfortunately named Gob from Arrested Development. So today hasn’t been a total loss I suppose….

Memphis – I really like the look of this, a moody, atmospheric drama named after the place it’s set. This looks like it has a real texture and temperature , but just what the hell was going on 00:49 in that clip above? Was that intentional? Fucking weird man…..

The Case Against Eight – Oh go on then, I’ll throw in one documentary to pad this out. I like a good political expose,  how the lumbering infrastructure of government can be infiltrated and manipulated to various groups ends, a bit of a busman’s holiday given the day job I suppose. This five years in the making, behind the scenes insight into California’s  battle against the repeal of same-sex marriage should be interesting, if you’re a civil rights minded soul. My position on the issue is paraphrased from some comedian I heard proclaiming that ‘if gay and lesbian people want the right to be just as miserable as everyone else who is married, who are you to stop ’em?’…


Blue Ruin (2014) Trailer

First full trailer for this US Sundance shiner, I’ve just put in my accreditation request for the London 2014 iteration of the festival where this will be one of the ‘must-sees’ as they say;

Whilst we’re on the subject of Indie US cinema, I can heartily recommend this following my TiFF viewing, one of my quiet favourites of the festival which is rich enough to sanction a second viewing;


The Films Of The Year 2013

uscWell here we are again gentle reader, yes it’s time for the annual torrent of elected excellence  as the menagerie finally scrys through the year just gone to make its final pronouncements. After the career woes of 2012 I think we can consider 2013 a major pendulum swing back to progress, two new assignments which blended quite smoothly into each other, the first to design and implement a bespoke eight figure regeneration programme, the second to take the reins of a long developing portfolio and drive numerous schemes to the next stage of delivery with all the panache and charisma of Lord Vader  – for the first time I think ever I’ve actually enjoyed managing a small group of minions and having negotiated a raise and contract extension we should be comfortable until the spring. But we’re here to talk about the movies of course, it’s been a year of explosive revelations detailing exactly what the powers that be think of our individual freedoms and how they all colluded to conceal their clandestine spooking and spying, so I reckon we could soon be in for a golden age of paranoid political thrillers given the climate of mistrust and unease we’re currently sweltering under. Most striking have been my efforts on the festival front, not only did one attend our first Sundance London fiesta and made yet another modest stab at this years LFF for the first time we took the these antics transatlantic with our first immersion at TIFF, the world’s largest by volume and second highest by profile gulags of all things celluloid, so now I have the delirious taste of foreign film excursions which may or may not continue in 2014. For various reasons I’ve decided that Cannes isn’t going to happen, but Venice or maybe Berlin could fit around my day job schedule. Closer to home we’ll gloss over the rather meagre results of my Herzog and Boorman BFI season efforts but we have made a late spurge on the Gothic  season, with plenty more chills to come with the January’s chilling roster, and we’ve covered a modest cluster of cinema classics – Chinatown, The Lady From Shanghai, A Matter of Life & Death and The Bride of Frankenstein alongside a rare Kubrick. Like many others I’ve been distracted by some small screen entertainment, including (off the top of my head ) the latest seasons of Justified, Mad MenThe Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Treme, the first season of Hannibal and remarkably all five seasons of Fringe which I quite enjoyed, even if I wasn’t entirely sure how the paradoxical para-dimension yomping all concluded itself. Yes, I know, I’ll get round to Orange Is The New Black and the last season of Game Of Thrones when they arrive in box set form, ditto for the resurrection of Arrested Development which I’m really looking forward to wallowing in – Steve Holt!!

zombiHow about small screen movie seasons? Well, I have indulged in six director seasons that I can recall, the first was for Jacques Tourneur whom is best known for his Val Lewton collaborations on the likes of Cat People (which is getting a second remake by the way) which also dovetailed nicely into this creepy double bill, this unlocked access to some older material which I quite enjoyed, it’s always wise to broaden ones experiences of earlier studio era product if one is to be considered a bona-fide ‘film-bore-buff’. Then there was the machismo machinations of Walter Hill, the man who dearly strives to compete with the achievements of Anthony Mann, Peckinpah, Leone and Ford with his hybrid & revisionist Westerns, and rather than follow the obvious trail through his work – The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hours – I thought I’d take the more treacherous mountain paths of quality and revisited The Long Riders, Extreme Prejudice and Last Man Standing: the first was excellent, the second fun in a 1980’s testosterone fuelled way, the third a bewildering mystery – how can a film with such a cast and superbly talented crew make a film based on a Kurosawa classic so spectacularly dull and unengaging? That’s the elusive magic of the movies I guess, on paper some things should work but don’t, whilst in the reverse a ridiculous premise can catch fire in the popular imagination and transform the industry. I also embarked on a mini John Woo campaign (mostly derivative but some fun gunfights and avian maneuvering), after his London appearance I autopsied some of George A Romero’s lesser known movies (the cult oddity Knightriders, the fairly amusing The Dark Half, and the extraordinarily terrible Monkey Shines), we bid a found adieu to Mr. Soderbergh (see below) and this inspired a short Coen brothers season which again I’ll reserve comment upon until we reach the retrospective section. Lastly we indulged in a pre-TIFF Cronenberg season which I’ve already discussed here, so all in all an eclectic bonding of material, or indeed a menagerie if you will. But now it’s time to get opinionated…..

The Films Of The Year

Spring Breakers  (Harmony Korine, USA) – As usual this list isn’t aligned to any particular order of merit methodology, I’m certainly not suggesting that this lurid display of teenage flesh and fetishised firearms is my absolute favourite film of the year but for a pulsingly provocative piece you can’t go wrong with this day-glo drenched dirk of delirium – how’s that for going over the top eh? That Curzon Soho screening was terrific fun with an appreciative and attuned crowd which of course can be half the battle, so this was one of the most memorable screen experiences considering the amusing post screening Q&A and overall attentive atmosphere.  I’ve seen it again on Blu and as always the experience is diminished, but unlike Korine’s quite venomous detractors I do think there is some plausible social commentary lurking under the lurid surface, and in any case the film is worth a look just for James Franco’s performance which is simply hilarious.

Zero Dark Thirty  (Kathryn Bigelow, USA) – I think we’ve all been in meetings like this, huh? This dossier was complied way back in January so you may have redacted it from the memory banks, but now and again it infiltrates my mind and I remember just what an incredibly gripping procedural this was, even though the final outcome was historical ‘fact’. 2013 was littered with terrorist atrocities, invasions of civil liberties predicated and justified by the nausea inducing diktat of the so-called ‘War On Terror’, our precious betters across the globe raping our fundamental democratic for our own good, so with a steady stream of surveillance related scandals the temperature of the film chimes with the contemporary body politic. US cinema is content to continue with an emphasis on product and shifting units (particularly in the evolving Chinese market) so it’s somewhat heartening to see a few examples of important contemporary history getting a cinematic head-shot, and I always enjoy a film which has been read as propaganda and lies from both ends of the political spectrum – anything which riles people up that much is usually a lethally effective operation. On re-watch that final assault is one of the most brilliantly constructed pieces of cinema of the year, retaining an urgent realism and a gauntlet grip of environmental space, Bigelow and Boal continue to march from strength to strength and I hope they can re-enlist for a final film to complete the phenomenal US political trilogy of the early 21st century.

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, USA) – Out of the two final stage bows of Soderbergh I have to opt for this noirish little morality play over the ostentatious scope of Behind The Candelabra, although I reckon that like Ahnodlt that he’ll be back it’s kind of sad to see him hang up his viewfinder, as you could always look forward to a new film or two per year such was his inexhaustible appetite for storytelling. Despite its genre carapace this is a film not just a movie, with fleshed out characters, momentum, twists and developments, all underpinned with a trawling of wider cultural phenomenon – an increasingly self medicated society, widespread corporate malfeasance, indoctrinated deception, a gnawing, eidetic apprehension. I embarked on a small retrospective of his work to celebrate his career and as with the Walter Hill strand I revisited some of the lesser known films of his career – The Good GermanSolaris and King Of The Hill alongside well-regarded efforts such as The Limey, and erm Oceans 13. Since his attention grabbing debut Sex, Lies & Videotape he really has produced an extraordinarily eclectic body of work which is distinguished with a unique & brilliant visual style, a sultry command of character and unimpeachable eye for casting. Keep an eye out for one of next years cinephile treats, a re-release of the restored and recut Kafka which he has spent 10 years curating, but for now take your medicine of movies, a placebo to alleviate our social and economic anxiety.

Upstream Colour (Shane Carruth, USA) – Where do you begin with one of the most original and memorable film of not just this year, but the past decade?  In a Jonathan Romney penned dissection in Sight & Sound he made some compelling observations on perhaps the most successful return to the big screen this year (except for perhaps Cuarón), that the film’s sonic and visual flow invites the audience to make comparisons between the metaphoric connections we as an audience make between different narrative elements, it’s a mark of this films achievements that it has inspired we pretentious sorts to match its intellectual ambitions with some unorthodox queries of our own. As well as terrific connections and umbilical links to Primer some have cautiously pointed out that Carruth isn’t perhaps as singular a lone talent when set in the context of his forbears Resnais in the 1960’s or Roeg in the 1970’s, as their starved quest to find new ways of communicating  and telling stories through this embryonic medium. Anecdote wise I  like how he was only sleeping 90 minutes a night during the final months of production such was his work ethic and obsessive drive, and he has resisted of settling down with a wife or siring children as it ‘wouldn’t be fair to them and would interfere with my work – there’s a man who likes cinema. He’s currently  prepping his next film cautiously titled The Modern Ocean, let’s hope this doesn’t take him another decade to craft his next hallucination.

Oculus  (Mike Flanagan, USA) – Alas, still no trailer to speak of so I’ve resorted to that glimpse of the short which reflects the film, I’ll be sure to post a fractured glimpse of the finished article once it arrives on-line. I’m whisking my brain matter to remember the last time a horror film flayed such a visceral reaction in me during a cinema visit, we probably have to scutter back to Martyrs  for such a nail-biting expansion of genre and manipulation of macabre mechanics. Sure there have been some terrific horror films in the intervening years – I listed some of them here –  and this has a similar confidence in maintaining an electric atmosphere in a single location, of taking a faintly absurd premise into genuinely shudder inducing dimensions, and not resorting to the ‘cattle-prod’ tedium of The Conjuring, the Paranormal Activity movies and all their devilish ilk. Oculus is no masterpiece but it is a superbly executed genre piece which restored my faith in the movement, a dexterous delirium which shows that with a little imagination even the most absurd of premises can invoke a very nervous and heart-thumping cinema experience, so I’ll be keeping a reflecting eye on Mr. Flanagan from here on in…..

The Kings Of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, USA) – What’s this? A comedy on the Menagerie annual list? Inconceivable!! Personally I’m not fond of reliving my school days as I’m afraid I was mercilessly bullied by both pupils and faculty, ever since I was caught masturbating in the showers – that was one school trip to Auschwitz which no-one forgot in a hurry. Well, what can I say (I’m so so sorry) but again from a sheer audience appreciation approach this was a terrific experience at Sundance UK, there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air and as soon as the laughter started braying around the auditorium the affection was infectious for the full duration of this golden-hued, coming of age dramedy. Nick Offerman is hilarious as an ogre of a father to our hero Joe (newcomer Nick Robinson) and Biaggeo (Moisés Arias) is one of the best comic creations of recent years – an exuberant, spirited celebration of Bacchanalian youth, first crushes and sun drenched afternoons in the wilderness.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, USA) – Let’s celebrate what it didn’t do shall we since the inevitable backlash has begun? No, it wasn’t perfect and some of the dialogue beats could do with a polish, and yes a bereaved back story is a common narrative driver in American cinema so it is circling a cliche mapped by numerous sputniks, but it doesn’t resort to mawkish flashbacks, there’s no frantic cutting to mission control to destabilise the momentum – and clearly this is a film about momentum – thus it risks a silent wordless climax which is relatively revolutionary beyond the epoch shattering SFX. It’s a film built on economies, of swiftly establishing Bullock’s isolation and sets her journey to emotional and physical ressurection in a mere ninety minutes,  a triumph of precision that one hopes like Inception may convince the studio executves that original material can be just as beguiling and fruitful on both economic and narrative planes. I applaud the opinion that this is in many ways a return to early cinema, a celebration of the visual as a shared experience in a dark room as a breathless collective, an experience built on vision, sound, and spectacle with a linear trajectory to spear the empathy. One of the best anecdotes I’ve heard about the film was that the SFX leads attended an industry symposium earlier in the year, attended by their technical peers from across the globe, and when they explained how they achieved certain effects and techniques there were audible gasps in the crowd and confused mutterings of ‘but…but that’s impossible‘, so yeah, I’d say this was quite an achievement. Some films need the benefit of time to have their impact truly assessed and appreciated but I’m hailing Gravity as a landmark in cinema, of cloaking an audience in the wonder of our shared humanity as we descend through a similar disintegrating orbit, while we all clutch longingly for the stars.

Why Don’t You Play In Hell? (Sion Sono, Japan) – As usual one film about film storms my list with a cackling glee, as Sion Sono’s blood streaked valentine to 35mm massacres and ferocious film fandom collide in movie mayhem. This was one of the most over-ripened films of the year, it’s burst intestines soaking the screen during the closing celluloid eruption which was one of the most purely entertaining stretches of action cinema in 2013,  it even surpasses the barrels sequence in Desolation Of Smaug  which on a second viewing was actually a little tedious. I caught this in Toronto around half-way through the festival and as such my energy was flagging a little, so this was the perfect amphetamine shot to remind me just how much darn fun cinema can be on a simple playful level, its warm affection for the art-form matched only by its visceral pyrotechnics and crimson soaked sets.

12 Years A Slave  (Steve McQueen, USA) – I’ll admit it, that trailer looked like such Oscar worthy bait that I immediately confirmed my own prejudice, that this would be a worthy story of struggle and redemption with a final heartwarming image which dissipates the real horror of the enslaved phenomenon but the presence of McQueen in the directors chair did give me pause.  From its opening frames you immersed in the antellbulum atrocity which is suffocating in its absolute horror, and as the lights went up and the credits spooled I felt riveted to my seat with little idea of what on earth I should make of the rest of the day after such an experience. Through podcasts and certain reviews I subscribe to their has been a rather disquieting instinct of criticising the film for one element – all the white people in this film are evil, are slavers, are oppressors, are scum. Pushing aside the demographics that most of these observations have come from white, middle class, educated cultural practitioners it strikes me as just how powerful a film can be that these unconscious, ingrained divisions can slither to the surface, as just perhaps the major thrust of the filmmakers and associates wasn’t to crucify the prejudice and horror of the era in the limited time available to them (two hours), that they must provide balance as of course not every white person agreed with the market, the aura of this criticism being that the film’s black director, star and screenwriter should just stay in their place. It’s also a false allegation, mild spoilers but Cumberbatch is a ‘reasonable’ owner (if that isn’t an oxymoron of a phrase), the oppressor who accepts Grundy’s ideas and to improve their lot and turnover but as a member of the gilded gentry within this unbelievable portion of history he’s still a slaver, his ‘property’ still have no agency or freedom, an observation which by its very nature is much more instructive of the prevalence and ingrained social horror of slavery within this definitive account of this issue in cinema history. In terms of balance I offer a critical take on the film which is extraordinarily well written here, for me this film stands proudly alone bruised and undefeated, with some of the most memorably haunting images and shocking sequences of the year.

Under The Skin (Jonathan Glazer, USA) – If there is one film among this collection of reprobates destined to be a future analysed cult classic then Jonathan Glazer’s deeply smitten and literally extraordinary look at our planet through an interlopers eyes is the one. Like Gravity an avalanche of plaudits have tumbled out into the stratosphere as it marched purposefully through a parade of festival disrobings, and I’m extremely curious to see how this stands up to a second scrutiny when it gets a general UK release in February. So for now I’ll just say this haunting piece wields discord like Johansson oozes an otherwordly sensuality, if men are indeed from Mars then she is from a venom laced Venus.

joduneThere’s far too many American films in that list for my liking, not because I’m being a snooty critic but I simply haven’t seen enough foreign material for my despite the offerings available at the festivals, but as I’ve said before you have to prioritize and juggle screening schedules, and even then its impossible to see everything and hold down a day job. I’ve seen around 480 films this year, near to 100 of those actually at the flicks, so I can also heartedly recommend Mud, All Is Lost, Like Father, Like Son, Night Moves, Cold Eyes, The House I Live In, Prisoners, Nebraska, Jodorowski’s Dune, The Act of Killing and  Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Wait a second Minty? I think you’ve overlooked something, hmm? Well you know what, no I haven’t – I re-watched To The Wonder twice over a weekend back in the summer and I’m afraid to say that well….erm…err….I just don’t think I like it that much. Sure the original flushes of romance back in my initial review gave it a positive spin and of course it is essential viewing, Lubezki’s photography alone is as stunningly beautiful as always, but on further inspection it’s simply to diffuse and distanced, almost a parody of Malick’s increasingly obtuse style. Some of the visual metaphors are forced – hey let’s have a shoot of Batman mournfully wandering around the top of the house whilst in the same frame Olivia mournfully whispers around the ground floor of the house, ’cause they’re on different levels yeah? – and it just doesn’t earn its characters emotional intelligence, the whole adultery subplot for example is completely cold and remote. Maybe this will be seen as a work of unparalleled genius in the years to come, maybe it won’t, but as it stands whilst it’s still recommended I’m not sure if I don’t feel just a little bit jilted. Still, maybe Knight Of Cups will arrive next year and that long mooted documentary will finally evolve into IMAX screens…..

Retrospective Films

The Last Tycoon (Kazan, 1989) – Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald scribed account of studio wunderkid Irving Thalberg I saw this many years ago and was singularly unmoved and unimpressed, it simply didn’t connect. Now being longer in the tooth and hopefully wiser I can see its one of the more fascinating accounts of Hollywood golden era, as studio executive De Niro – and 70’s De Niro is always worth watching – navigates the enormous day-to-day pressures of studio management. Keening actress divas, paranoid stars, incandescent writers, irascible executives, rushes recriminations, mischievous directors and on and on, the gangs all here and it struck me at exactly the right time as I was researching golden era studio mechanics and just finished reading this. The central romance with budding starlet Teresa Russell is immaterial and Kazan’s direction a little on the forced side, but as a snapshot of the period it has a terrific authenticity and slightly mournful air of an epoch fading into history.   Kazan is famed for the performances he can coax out of his players and what a cast he had to play with – Bob Mitchum, Ray Milland, Jeanne Moreau, Donald Pleasance, the aforementioned Teresa Russell, Tony Curtis, Angelica Huston in one of her first roles, and yes even good ole Jack Nicholson smirks through the movie, a factoid which should arm you with a response to the pub quiz busting question ‘In which film did Jack & Bob Niro star in together?’ They don’t make em like this anymore….

Thin Ice  (Jill Sprecher, 2011) –  Like The Kings of Summer this was unexpected left-field surprise, an automatic upload to my lovefilm account which when it arrived had me scratching my head as I had heard nothing about it, and presumably this went straight to DVD here and barely squeaked a cinema release in the US. I’m an easy mark for grifter movies so as the reptilian plot began to shed its scales I found myself increasing drawn into the con, with a few deft sidesteps to keep you guessing whose fucking who, both literally and metaphoirically. It has a great script in terms of plot mechanics – it’s essentially about a jerkish, cheating insurance salesman who sees an opportunity to defraud an elderly man out of a million pound violin  – which has taken on a meta dimension as finally doing some research around the film I’ve discovered the picture has suffered that usual fate, the final cut seized by the producers and recut to their wishes. So what was the original intent? Difficult to say, but as nasty little neo-noir this was a treat, and both Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup are deliciously sleazy….

The Big Liebowski  (Joel Coen, 1997) – Yeah, a real obscure cult classic this one eh Minty? Well, I hadn’t seen this for a good few years and whilst some of the dialogue exchanges have entered the cinematic lexicon it’s not a film which has particularly challenged my favourite Coen shortlist – I’m much more attracted to The Man Who Wasn’t There, A Serious Man, No Country For Old Men and Millers Crossing – thus a re-watch on Blu-Ray was quite a revelation. It has it all, the broad, larger than life parade of Coen grotesques, the almost unique sense of humor, the impossibility of predicting where the plot will lurch next, and crucially a rewatchability factor which most movies never achieve. The structure culled from Chandler’s The Big Sleep really leapt out at me this time, like a lipstick smeared cigarette it’s quite an arousing combination of LA old and new, and surely one of the crucial movies about the City of Angels in the 20th century. Bridges is of course brilliant and there is something to cherish in almost every scene, whether it’s a sight or dialogue gag, whilst the plot strikes with an organic momentum which is very rare for comedy movies which usually foreground the gags at the expense of structure.  It’s probably their last consistently brilliant farce, as Burn After Reading and O Brother, Where Art Thou? are eminently watchable and worth revisiting every few years or so, but none of them quite scale the lofty heights of this bona-fide cult classic. For the record Barton Fink also matures like a fine Pétrus, as a post-modern hybrid on cinema and sweltering story-telling it also improves with age.

Cockfighter (Monte Hellman, 1977) – It was with a clucking joy that I finally got to see this after many years of aimlessly wandering around like a headless chicken, yes I’m aware it’s out there on YT but I refuse to watch films in such a compromised format unless its trashy, throwaway stuff without much artistic merit – fine for a Corman B movie, really not appropriate for a key 1970’s cinephile feast. I think it has been relatively difficult to source in the UK and never received a TV broadcast due to the animal cruelty dimensions of the film which is regrettable, I guess PETA weren’t exactly knocking around back then eh? In any case this is a final piece of Hollywood of the 1970’s which has been sorely missing, it has a very grainy and swarthy Southern feel given the rural setting and Hellman’s linear direction, and of course Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton are just terrific as always. A second big thank you to our Melbourne correspondents in supplying the ‘print’….

Starship Troopers  (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) – More 1990’s, what can I say? I am throughly confused at some critics and cultural types distaste for this movie, as if the fascist overtones are what makes it dangerous, when of course that is the entire fucking point of the film. People seem to want their movies increasingly formalized, packaged and shrink wrapped, of being disposable commodities and a brief distraction from our daily grind through the system, so when a genuinely subversive work somehow gets made it should be celebrated and praised not dismissed as poor satire or right-wing propaganda which is everything that Paul Verhoeven stands against throughout his entire career. The point is that Starship Troopers is thrillingly exciting, it’s action packed, the SFX is still potent which amusingly passes the illusion test easier than a majority of material these days, and that genuflection of enjoyment is what makes it truly dangerous, as its symbiotically connected to itself as political theatre. Isn’t it great to see in our age of austerity, of spiking suicide rates and the proliferation of food banks in my country the plans for this multi billion dollar destroyer, or the Mach 6 Blackbird replacement? Those quivering Afghan peasants must be asymmetrically weeping into their boots, and it is these sickening dimensions of modern political society and its priorities which Verhoeven was illuminating sixteen years ago. Do you want to know more?

Films To See In 2014

wolfQuite often when I reach this part of my annual overview I can struggle to immediately identify five films to get the blood pumping, I honestly don’t conduct an enormous amount of research into this other than a cursory scan at the likes of this and word of mouth buzz which may indicate what is percolating on the horizon. The imminent steals are a new Scorsese with The Wolf Of Wall Street – a rather lacklustre trailer I thought but Marty back in his natural stomping grounds is worth the price of admission alone – not to mention the increasing clamour that this mammoth three-hour film may just be equal to the likes of Casino or maybe even Goodfellas – now that’s got me fucking excited. Then David O. Russell continues his remarkable career resurgence with American Hustle, as I write this in late November the first words are trickling out from industry and AFI screenings with praise such as ‘con-artist masterpiece’ being hurled around Twitter with a coke fuelled abandon. Spike Jonze’s Her has been accruing similar adoration and I must admit that the tsunami of praise has thawed my initial chilly response to the trailer, as allegedly a film about how we live now this could be affectionately significant. I have significantly lowered my already horizontal expectations of the loathsome looking Winters Tale, it shouldn’t hurt at this point but that really does look like a significant part of my teenage literature adoration is going to get smothered under a tsunami of schmaltz, oirish platitudes and mediocre production resources. Now that it’s finally screeched into the world Gareth Monsters Edward catastrophe framed retelling of Godzilla looks appropriately epic to me, I guess those 9/11 allusions ain’t getting buried anytime soon – a more adult version of Del Toro’s waterlogged Pacific Rim?

snowIf 2013 was a stellar year for SF in terms of volume rather than quality then 2014 should continue the mission, although Snowpiercer may have suffered at the hands of the snippy Harvery Scissorhands it’s allegedly still terrific in its original format although the chances of it arriving here in its unmolested incarnation are increasingly cold – in an amusing example of life imitating art some critics shelled out for the Eurostar to catch the train set-film in Paris back in November and as a chorus they agree the expense was worth it. The Wackowski’s are clearly not resting on their laurels with the intriguing looking Jupiter Ascending, I suspect like that Cloud Atlas it will have some arresting moments but will overall be a bit of incoherent mess, just like the rest of their career. Although its possibly in the periphery of SF I still have hope for Escape From Tomorrow, although the US reviews have been tepid at best with the greatest emphasis placed on the films guerilla production its actual content has been dismissed and confused and immaterial.  Nolan’s DP Wally Psfter’s directorial debut Transcendence could be intergalactic, Cruise is back in control in Edge Of Tomorrow, then there is Beyond Outrage, the Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes finally gets swinging, the long mooted Sin City: A Dame To Kill For takes to the road, Noah could be biblical folly and to maintain the cultural antenna I guess I’ll see X-Men: Days Future Past, the Robocop reboot, Monuments Men, and The Raid 2 should get the blood pumping. Finally, and most excitedly for the menagerie Inherent Vice is scheduled for 2014 (which I think is optimistic but whatever), Fincher returns with another crime thriller Gone Girl and Michael Mann is back with international cyber-criminal caper Cyber, that’s a bad title but it might arrive in 2014, or perhaps further downloaded in 2015 as it only finished principal photography last September.

metrIn terms of retrospective activity the BFI’s Gothic season continues to chill and I have plans to honour a certain monocled film director with a fairly extensive small screen season that I thought would be instructive to cover here as it evolves, it’s truly criminal that he has barely raised a mention here in six years despite his position in my top echelon of helmsmen. I shall attempt this in tandem with my Universal Monsters stream which will continue with a lychanthropic fury, I did at least get from birth to a wedding.  More urgently a certain black comedy turns 50 next month and I’ve already got my tickets nuked for a special BFI screening – I can’t wait to see that again up on the big board with some top military brass involved from the production also reporting for duty. Finally of course everyone is praying for a certain tale which has curiously been scheduled for a November launch – is the summer schedule becoming too cluttered even for the major A list directors? – as chatter begins to coalesce around a certain puzzling presdigitator returning to originally scribed material – I’m thinking of purchasing shares in the question ‘Is this Nolan’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?

vhs-shopI don’t particularly wish to close on a solemn note but I think we need to mourn another passing, if last year we bid an adieu to celluloid film stock as the primary cinema delivery mechanism then this year we must pay our respects to the humble brick & motor video shop, now an almost extinct species on the high streets of the civilised world. I have something of a personal stake in this passing, I grew up browsing through the video section of our corner shops before graduating to my first job in a chain Video Shop at the tender age of 16, so I have some knowledge of the retail business from both sides of the counter. I helped pay my way through college by working in a small local store during my studies, and I have stories which would cause much merriment of Surrey’s commuter belt porn renting habits, or how I could almost come to blows with punters over their philistine opinions. The death of the high street store has been cemented by the final dissolution of Blockbuster at the hands of Netflix, Lovefilm and their cruel collaborators, I have little sympathy for that corporate entity but simply as a wider concept I can’t help but feel that another phase of cinephile education and indoctrination has passed into history.

zombie flesh vhsNo more gazing longingly over the lurid video covers with just a tantalising glimpse of cleavage, monsters, brutal violence or preferably all three, the fond aroma of the era of Porky’s, The Exterminator, The Evi Dead or Lemon Popsicle  as with entire libraries now available at the coax of a mouse the simple act of accidental discovery has been sorely compromised. I think there is something to be said for genuinely browsing a physical store and finding something new purely by chance instead of perusing a directors, actors or genres IMDB profile for future viewing material, whilst the Internet has brought many unseen gems and atrocities to our software shores the thrill of the chase has gone, the chance to genuinely stumble across a long rumored rarity, whilst of course we must welcome the advent of YouTube and associated sharing sites for the general health of cinema dissemination the proliferation can sometimes prove too much, and of course this shift to watching material on your phone or tablet should have been strangled in its infancy as it degrades the respect for the image. The shivering excitement caused when from a completest perspective you finally sourced a copy of Raimi’s Crimewave, or Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead, or being so dreadfully excited to see The Wanderers which Simon Hodgkins from class 3E watched at his step-brothers and said it was even better that The Warriors, or most notoriously given it’s UK ban until 1999 that fifth generation copy of A Clockwork Orange illicitly ordered from the classified section of Melody Maker, when all these films are available at the touch of a few buttons I can’t help but think that a certain indescribable something has immaterially slipped away. I’m sure there are a few remaining stores out there and like vinyl or even CD’s a heathy black market will remain among collectors who still yearn for the tactile packaging, the cover art and the physical manifestation of a product beyond a file languishing on your hard-disk or streamed from a remote server across the oceans, and there have been a few VHS themed documentaries this year (none of which I’ve seen yet) which seem to be getting a good deal of warmth, so let’s close 2013 with a misty-eyed salute to those yearning days of discovery (this intense site should bring back some memories) and honour the few remaining survivors who still fight the good fight;


2013 Movie Montage #1

And so it begins, yes it’s already that time of year again so a polite warning – material may contain peril and pathos;

I do like these US focused Sleepy Skunk efforts, they are well constructed, and I’m sure Criterion will shortly be issuing their world cinema riposte….


The Sorcerer of The Pines

Some  interesting news today which those in the know have been monitoring for about a year, but finally negotiations have successfully been resolved and William Friedkin’s long suppressed Sorcerer will finally get a digital re-release, premiering at the Venice Film Festival. Now, I won’t insult your intelligence as I know you’re all aware that this was Friedkin’s unofficial 1977 remake of Henri Georges Clouzot’s 1953 masterpiece of tense traversal The Wages Of Fear, but like me you may have been waiting like a good soldier for a decent, non pan-and-scan anamorphic print to blow up. It’s on YouTube of course but I have resisted the urge to accept an inferior viewing experience, as by all accounts it’s a pulsing little thriller which almost exceeds the tension shredding credentials of the original, and stars the sadly mourned Roy Schneider and sports a Tangerine Dream score. Combine that with the 1970’s new Hollywood Brats era and you’ve got a key jigsaw piece of my viewing ambitions finally corrected;

Then again knowing me I probably have seen it and just forgot, that’s been happening recently with some home rentals. I assume it will get a London cinema release later in the year, shortly before a Blu-Ray distribution, this is one I’ll definitely make an effort for. I think I’m done with Sundance now although the final day round-up is here, as for the long weekend which slowly advances I think I might try to finally take in this, anything with Gosling and the guy who directed Blue Valentine is worth a punt but David Thompsons claims of it being ‘one of the most significant American films of recent years’ has me positively committed, I don’t always agree with him you understand but that’s quite a recommendation. Well, that and the fact that I’ve seen everything else out at the moment, and there isn’t much choice around London in terms of repertory screenings…..

Finally, following my Iron Man 3 musings here are souls much more eloquent than I….


Sundance London 2013 – Upstream Color (2013)

uc1In William Gibson’s 2003 novel Pattern Recognition  a mysteriously binary filmmaker slowly and anonymously drip feeds footage of his homebrew masterpiece to an eagerly seduced audience of intellectually curious, avant-garde aligned internet film fanatics. Christened as a ‘garage Kubrick’ by the fictional on-line community this was prescience as normal from Gibson, as a year later filmmaker Shane Carruth released his paradoxical puzzler Primer, a film he had written, directed, edited, acted, produced and scored for an infinitesimally small sum, mostly capturing his doppelgänger debut on the off-cuts and donations from industrial and corporate sources. An instant cult classic the films time travel programming and unconventional disregard for plot progressions has fostered a deluge of debate on its contortions and purpose, with every year seeing the electronic publication of a new workflow to interrogate its syncretic structure, each of which increasingly resembling an IED assault on a PowerPoint presentation. Almost a decade later and Carruth has finally completed his sophomore sequencing, releasing the eagerly awaited Upstream Color to a simultaneously bewildered and beatific audience, through a production process that exemplifies the 21st century. There has been much cultural speculation that the advance of the internet and so-called digital emancipation would hand the keys of production to the public and wrestle it away from the corporate clutches of international finance, with the committed and cerebral able to digitally shoot their own projects with increasingly inexpensive cameras, cut them on bespoke editing platforms, score them in synthetic lap-top studios , and crucially distribute them electronically through social media platforms, maybe even funding their uncompromised visions  through Kick-Starter and other emerging funding streams, with crews recruited from Craiglist. Although some filmmakers have adopted some of the techniques in that production chain of command no-one has fully embraced (or been pushed) more fully into that process than Carruth given the frustrations he suffered with the development of his abandoned project A Topiary, and these frustrations seems to have infected his work as Upstream Color operates on a panoply of meta and thematic levels, as either a mercurial masterpiece or pretension personified.

up2The film has a plot of sorts which doesn’t web together in an immediately lucid fashion, it’s just that Carruth isn’t particularly interested in telling a story as he is in materializing the Xerox of the story, subjecting the viewer to the same disorienting mind state as the two central characters, or more accurately ciphers. What we can discern is this – Kris (a brittle Amy Seimetz) is a office worker in a vaguely creative design or animation field, aimlessly shifting through a nameless American urban suburb. In a scenario which resembles a date-rape Kris is assaulted by a mysterious figure who inserts a bioengineered caecilian into her esophagus, an intrusion which renders her in a brainwashed  and highly suggestible mindstate, and the ‘thief’ and her return to her identikit home. After signing away her life savings and assets to the nematode grifter she is drawn to the ‘sampler’ (Andrew Sensenig),  a second intangible figure who is performing some strange auditorial field recordings of stone on metal, of brick on wood, out in the wilderness on the outskirts of civilisation. After an unexplained transfusion is conducted between Kris and one of the pigs that the Sampler is harvesting on his eerie farm we flash forward a year as a hesitant romance blossoms between Kris  and Jeff (Carruth), he having endured a similar experience, as they both suffer a glitch in their lives and attempt to uncover the mystery  of their contemporary lives.

up3There was a great Roger Ebert quote circulating after his sad passing , that ‘it’s not what a film’s about but how it is about it’, a statement that once unpacked can be thoroughly attributed to Upstream Colors disorienting design and infectious purpose. In this mechanistic narrative a ghost has possessed the machine, with human beings absorbed into the data set as another manipulated cog in the Sisyphean revolutions of daily society. Channelling early Cronenberg with shadows of Eraserhead’s nervous anxieties it’s a experimental work which is sure to divide audiences, given its transparent disregard for plot or narrative cohesion,  as Kris and Jeff are  locked in a symbiotic psychosis, malfunctioning protagonists deprogrammed as glitch. Through a densely rich visual environment there is a fascination with the beauty of replicating organisms and how organic spheres elide to our manufactured and sterile work places and cities, our species urgent to exert control over visible chaos. The gynaecology is simple to divine, from the man-machine of Chaplin’s Modern Times to The Tree of Life’s 21st century hymn to the complexities and mysteries of life on this planet, Upstream Color is the echo warning that we’ve veered from the path of the sacred, into the proliferation of nullified personalities and of animated machimina.

ups5The medium is the message, a bewildering collusion of image and sound, elliptically edited like the repetitive push pauses of a Attention Deficit Disordered cerebellum, dialogue is phrased and repeated, and Kris and Jeff’s memories even merge and coalesce in a digital stew. The film isn’t completely indeciphersible nor is it completely alienating, movements and tempos in the narrative are signposted with discrete fades to black which signal the conclusion of a sequence, it has the aura of our distanced and surfaced times, the paradox of an interconnected and global aligned world resulting in higher temperatures of disconnect and mental malfunctions, with recitation and fragments collapsing the database of our memories and emotions. Every sequence seems to be spinning its head from side to side in a scan for potential predators, transmitting the bare minimum of information through a pacity of dialogue (the film has no speech in its final fifteen minutes), as the next algorithm stacks up in the films cache table, a malfunctioning malware which is CPU infected at the core. The presence of Henry David Thoreau anarchistic credo is  one tumbler in the toolset to decipher some of the films wider drives, his work serving as a  manifesto of return to a less industrialised purity, this suggests that the Thief may be a liberator not a plunderer, another of the films interpretative free-floating signifiers. Carruth’s repeated shallow focus framing concertinas the z-axis depth of field which surreptitiously visualizes the films coding , mirroring our absorption in the screens in our homes, on our commutes and in our corporate dronehouses, a calculated effect that squares the algorithms of the films editing patterns, it’s photochemical surface, the heuristic performances and obsolesce of the conventions of plot or narrative clearance.

CORRECT-SIZE-Upstream-Color-2 As the films composer Carruth revealed to his dumbstruck Q&A audience how his original soundtrack developed as the material was visualised, with pieces ejected and repurposed for scenes and sequences as the film moved through its phased evolution, it moves to the rhythm of its soundtrack as opposed to the narrative logistics of tradition cinema, the deprogrammed protagonists paralysed like two whales beached  on the oceans of the information superhighway, emitting a mournful electronica fog-horn mating call. Some mysteries remain obtuse and ill-defined – what is the significance of the children in the opening cycle? For what purpose are the Samplers field recordings? –  but these and other ambiguities accelerate Upstream Colors processing prowess, as like Primer it is destined for a tsunami of translations and deconstructions of its anodic glyphs, destined for detailed diagnostics of its incredible, molten achievements – a phenomenal film concerned with phenomena;

PS – the web is exactly 20 years old today – how apt….


Pacific Dance….

OK, I’m officially jolly excited about this, and I’m not really that nerdy about giant robots, but this just looks like lots of hilarious eye candy which should steady the nerves;

Final Sundance report is here, reviews are evolving….


Sundance London 2013 – Sunday Summary

biagioAnd so another festival comes to a close, my Sundance virginity finally vanquished. Overall the festival was impeccably executed, all the public screenings projected in state of the art environments with attentive and committed audiences, all featuring debate and discussion with talent and filmmakers to discuss the movies after the screenings. The quality of material was also very high, sure a few movies were fairly average but there wasn’t one bad film that I caught on the programme, and believe me after doing this reviewing nonsense for a few years that is almost unique in my experience. As a platform for highlighting new and emerging talent it can’t be beaten, and three of the movies here may well be sitting on my annual top ten come December.

I’m not proud of it but I ducked out of the screening of In Fear, I do my best in supporting UK productions but I received a voicemail after the previous screening which forced me to set my weary bones homeward to exploit a potential opportunity with the day job, and homework needed to be done. In any case it was ideal to leave the festival on a high after a fantastic screening of The Kings Of Summer;

All I knew of this was that it was a comedy, and it had kids in it, I didn’t even watch the trailer despite posting it here. Let me be clear and I can’t stress this enough, this is an absolutely brilliant movie which is completely hilarious, it demands to be seen when it gets a release later in the year. Nick Offerman as a quietly furious father attempts to steal the movie but that accolade rests with the almighty Biaggio, an instant cult classic character, just recalling some of his schtick has been grinning like a demented loony. For shorthand sakes you could consider it a 21st century Stand By Me, funny and gently moving, it avoids all the pitfalls that could potentially hobble it – a mawkish voiceover, life lessons learned through a sepia toned melancholy – instead it’s one of those films that you’re genuinely sad to see go when it reaches its perfect conclusion. I’ll get cracking on full reviews of it and Mud, and the second viewing of Upstream Color was bafflingly brilliant, it raised more questions than it answers the second time around…..


Sundance London Film Festival 2013 – Saturday

redWell, we’ve finally acquired our first glimpse of a major movie star in his indigenous environment, I was quite surprised to see Robert Redford was still in country to introduce the Sundance Screenwriting Lab that I attended today. When picking up my pass I was advised by festival organisers that this was one of the ‘hot’ tickets of the festival, and I have to say this was a terrific debate centering on the ‘fear of failure’ when crafting your potential next masterpiece, with insights from a panel consisting of Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland, In This World, Death Defying Acts), Lynn Shelton (Touch Feely, Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday), Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Debt, Men Who Stare at Goats), moderator Mia Bays, Oscar-winning producer (Six Shooter, 30 Century Man) and a sold out auditorium of eager young wordsmiths. In summation the message was that you have to take risks, to interrogate the norm if you really want your work to stand out from the avalanche of material that usually gets submitted for potential production, I could construct an entire post on the event but now isn’t the place or time. So here’s Lake Bell;

As it stands there have been a few of those romantic drama / comedy /quirky pieces that I’ve sat through at the festival, her debut was easily the best so far. I’ve taken a break for the rest of Saturday to recharge the batteries and get started on a few reviews, so I’m afraid I skipped Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, I’ll give it a look later in the year. This decision leaves the arena open for a final assault on three movies tomorrow, including this;

I’ve only just clocked that Alison Brie is in that – this makes me very happy. Finally we wrap the festival up with another British premiere, In Fear  has slowly been getting some quiet kudos and Simon Pegg has been pushing it on twitter, so we’ll see what all the fuss is about – alas no trailer yet. Here’s my first report, my esteemed colleagues are swifter and superb here, and here’s Friday’s round-up;

Just to be confusing Sunday begins with an indulgent second screening of Upstream Colour as I had already brought my own ticket as insurance, I don’t think you can miss the opportunity to see such a crucial film of 2013 on one of the biggest screens in Europe, as I assume that this leftfield puzzle isn’t getting a major push in North American multiplexes. If you think I’m being obsessive then just consider as one example that Kurt Halfyard from Twitch film has seen the film five times, maybe six as I write this – this is the obsession that the movie is materializing. Regardless that’s what Sundance is all about, giving a voice and exposure to indiscriminate talents, and whilst I ‘m a bit suspicious of hosting this entire festival in such a sterile corporate complex I’m guessing the filmmakers are loving the opportunity for their work to be disseminated in state of the art cinema environments, with an attuned and receptive audience. Now, let’s get back to watching Jack Reacher which is a very odd film, then maybe I’ll fire up All The Presidents Men as a tiny tribute to seeing Redford in the flesh. Does that make me weird? OK, don’t answer that….


Sundance London 2013 Film Festival – Day 3

sunpanelToday’s thought for the day, from a (presumably) faux Bill Murray Twitter Feed – ‘After committing a crime, always carry a fire extinguisher. No one gets stopped while running with a fire extinguisher’ – genius. Anyway, another successful day has just elapsed with a trio of films which increased in quality as the day lengthened, Sleepwalk With Me was rather tedious but it did crack a few smiles, I can’t help thinking it would have worked better as a This American Life monologue, stretched out to feature-length this exceptionally slight rom-com tested my comedic patience. Mumblecore matriarch Lynn Shelton’s dramedy Touchy Feely took a while to get into its groove but was manipulatively charming by the end, and she was in attendance for a post screening Q&A which was quite illuminating. The first real find of the festival however is Mud, Jeff Nichols clearly establishing himself as a major talent with this terrific take on innocence lost against a post biblical backdrop. After Take Shelter he is clearly adept at building a sense of place and atmosphere, and it was terrific to see Joe Don Baker back on-screen – I thought he’d retired.

imagesCAR7FO1TFull reviews of Mud and Upstream Color will follow next week, I must give the latter a second watch on Sunday to crystallise my thoughts, suffice to stay it has throughly infected the cerebral cortex since Thursday’s contagious revelations. As for Saturday  I did want to mix things up a little by attending some of the side panel and discussions on the production side of movies, the best I could schedule was a screenwriting panel with  Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland, In This World, Death Defying Acts), the aforementioned Lynn Shelton (Touch Feely, Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday), Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Debt, Men Who Stare at Goats), moderator Mia Bays, Oscar-winning producer (Six Shooter, 30 Century Man) and others, all of whom should make for an interesting debate I think? Should be a bit like this;

A shorter schedule follows with only one further screening in the evening, the public premiere of Emanuel And The Fishes followed by yet another director Q&A;

And finally here’s yesterday’s official little video diary;

Now, should I be worried that Upstream Colors farmyard manipulator Andrew Sensenig has started following me on twitter? Rewatching the trailer after seeing the film makes me…..