After all, it's just a ride….


Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

TPIf there was a glimmer of joy in what will go down in history as one of the most shameful, scandal drenched periods of the moving image industry it was of course David Lynch and Mark Frost’s  triumphant return to our screens with Twin Peaks, a mere twenty four years,  6 months and 21 days since the domestic release of Fire Walk With Me.  Spectacularly unburdened from any creative molestation from the  studio suits and granted an impossible to believe complete freedom of expression it is pure, unadulterated Lynch, bookending his incredible career with another epochal upending of the traditions of formal visual storytelling , as well as serving as simultaneous celebration and summation of his entire forty year career. Can we now speak of an expanded Lynchian Universe™, as per the current vogue for entire franchise landscapes populated by small and large screen spigots which suckle nourishing material for the parched fans of the DCU, Marvel, Star Wars or J.K. Rowlingverse? Perhaps not, but as a parade of his greatest collaborators over the past four decades (Badalamenti, McLachlan, Dern, Coulson, Watts, Stanton, editor Duwayne Dunham, casting director Johanna Ray and DP Peter Deming) it also served as a final cosmic stew of Lynch’s fiction fetishes, his celebration of dream logic, internal damnation and the power of ideas, of the eternal and colossal struggle between the light and dark rendered as starkly as the alternating zig-zag ziggurats slithering across the Black Lodge’s floor. A mere hour or so in its May debut I sensed just how much of this was going to explore the series mysterious interdimensional mythos, relaxing into a treat as we plunged over that Great Northern Hotel waterfall into pure Eraserhead era eugenics. I still can’t believe that something so abstract has permeated the strict hermetics of the TV formula even in this era of hundreds of channels and streaming services, but then again that’s exactly what he achieved back in 1990, only this time he’s really gone to fucking town,

For a show titled Twin Peaks we really don’t spend too much time there do we? For us Lynchophiles this was a, well, a dream, his cacophonous aesthetic which he honed with Mullholland Drive sharpened over 18 mischievous hours with final resolutions leaving more questions posed than ever answered – beware ye from going forward for here be spoilers. I loved that narrative threads and ideas are not even remotely metabolised, merely spun like a web from some crepuscular core to form a discordant yet umbilical patchwork of moods, incidents and trauma.  Just as the 1990’s incarnation operated (at least on one of numerous levels) as a satire on the contemporary soap and TV drama  format Frost and Lynch continue to toy with the core notions of narrative itself, of cause and effect within the fictitious headspace that we all conjure internally when we watch a film, read a book or even listen to a song. Like a bittersweet, slowly expiring dream fading from the purlieus of memory Twin Peaks: The Return was also riven with a sense of melancholy and tragedy, seeing Catherine Coulson (whose relationship with Lynch tracks all the way back to the early 1970’s) reprise of the Log Lady while in thrall to final stage cancer was deeply sad, not to mention the loss of both Miguel Ferrer, Bowie and Warren Frost before the series aired. Now, I loathe the entire social media tsunami outpourings of grief when a celebrity or public figure passes on, it is in no way relevant to the actual respect or affection that the figure actually engendered and is totally about the Twitter or Facebooker signalling their virtue and their self importance, but that said I am a little frustrated with myself for not remarking on the passing of Harry Dean Stanton given that he’s among my all-time favourite actors, so it was comforting to see him grace us with one final, appropriately moving swan-song;

So long HD, long may the code endure. The fact that a number of the Sight & Sound cadre of worldwide critics have selected it as among the best of the year has caused commotion, and it’s a testament to the merging of the small and silver screens, the usurping of streaming services over traditional media that  such a venerable institution now actively seeks nominations from across the moving image realm and no longer restrict the entries from just the theatrical production model. As usual, the commentary has been terrific. One reviewer remarked of this year’s Silver medal winner that ‘It’s not TV or cinema, it’s an uncanny law unto itself’. Another identified the Jacques Tati influenced antics of Dougie as he navigated the perils of both the Las Vegas housing project he found himself unceremoniously materialised within  and  the corporate landscape populated by mobsters, quivering showgirls, and backstabbing colleagues. Others have noted how the live acts at the Bang Bang! bar act as a tonal bridge between episodes, while how Lynch confidently expands scenes and sequences simply to let the series breathe as much as he nonchalantly turns his back on the conventions of entertainment constrained into the traditional 43 minute plus 17 minutes adverts hour long units of corporate mandated time. It was quite a dizzying nocturnal exercise, staying up until the early morning hours of Monday morning for the UK transmission almost every week, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t simply stream an entire series in one bloated digestion rather than anxiously await each weekly instalment.  Those first half run episodes were staggering, a truly avant-garde assault on the senses, causing me to  giggle like a sleep deprived hyena that this could pass for popular entertainment in today’s formulaic firmament – yeah, so it is reasonably clichéd at this point but I have to ask, ‘gotta light?’;

Throughout the series Lynch folds space and time like the melange addicted Navigators of Dune,  the very first scene inciting queries and compulsions which were partially revealed 5 months and plateaus of space and time later. Frequently time as a narrative construct is elongated and compressed concertina style not just over episode arcs but also in individual scenes, Sarah Palmer in particular the victim of some malevolent daemon manipulating her reality for its own, abstract amusement.  Alongside the mourning Twin Peaks also offers a mediation on the passage of time between 1990 and 2017, all the characters have aged, wizened and most have suffered some tragedy or loss, a gloomy ideology punctuated by the series final piece of dialogue when Cooper puzzledly inquires ‘What year is this?’

So you may have noticed I haven’t really delved into the story that we were presented with, the twin alignments of BadCoop evading the clutches of the lodge while being pursued by the Knights Templar of the FBI, while amnesiac reconstructed GoodCoop wrestled with his new found identity as a Being There akin Mid-Western insurance officer.  That decision is fostered by the fact that I don’t care, reason and logic sacrificed on the altar of mood and tempo. The plot was secondary to the overall experience of the show, of simply letting the images and ideas wash over you without any intellectual inspection, as it was quite clear from episode one that this was a work that operates primarily on Lynch’s instincts, occasionally steered through the turbulence of incoherence into the blue skies of logic by co-pilot scribe Mark Frost. I do have my personal favourite moments to be sure, and it was certainly fun to inspect the numerous fan theories and theorising on-line, but there are simply no definitive answers other than those that you as viewer bring to the table which for me is the function of truly great works of art. To isolate one example of hundreds in the show is it significant that the terrifying  head-crushing, zippo seeking woodsmen has a similar visage to Abraham Lincoln? Undoubtedly. Is Lynch going to explain what he means by that (and in fact does he even consciously know)? Of course not. To explain is to destroy, to evaporate the magic and diminish the audiences interpretation, forging a fixed path of cognition which serves no master;

Still eerily terrifying, no? The techniques were also a summation of the Lynchian aesthetic, yes we were subjected to the atypical strobing effects, the frankly terrifying omni-dimensional audio mix, the over and under-cranking chittering film speeds, and his utterly unique Norman Rockwell Americana perverted through the lens of 20th century European surrealism. But these techniques seemed refined and finalised in this coda defining work, concocting a witch’s brew  that left me in awe – the shift of space and place via B&W and colour photography alone is majestic.  I can’t think of many filmmakers who can oscillate through nodal points of the same themes without getting stale and repetitive, but his deployment of Doppelgängers, a binary light dark motif he has  instructed through Lost Highway, Mullholland Drive and Inland Empire remains fascinating and interesting, curdled with bouts of remorseless violence and trauma which the most legendary of horror directors can’t equal. OK, yes, I’ll admit to being a little conflicted at some of the decisions, the entire Las Vegas mobsters / GoodCoop arc didn’t entirely work for me, series primary antagonist Bob being dispatched by a Cockney armed with green washing up glove seemed somewhat anticlimactic, and the lack of resolution or indeed illustration of Audrey Horne’s story was frustrating, her suggested mental cage hinting at deeper, comatose horrors following the climax of Season 2. But we were blessed with this transcendent moment which operates as simultaneous tribute to her popular persona in the original series and a leitmotif of Lynch and his work,  a fallen angel weaving narcotically in the throes of (to steal a phrase) some sort of ‘Bunuelian limbo’;

There is a nice documentary on Dave’s early career doing the rounds by the way. I will keep my gunpowder dry for the moment on that sequence in Episode 8, the cement of an hour of intravenous information which has instantly instilled itself as among the finest hours of television ever broadcast in any period from any country, a sequence I aim to include on my final ever entry to this blog – there is a method to my madness. It is rare but sometimes you just know when watching something for the first time that you are witnessing a potential masterpiece, an immediate entry into the cultural lexicon (the last time I remember thinking this was during the Under The Skin premiere in Toronto) and its detonation is a masterstroke which evokes Stan Brakhage, Mark Rothko, and dare I say it Stanley Kubrick, the terrifying resurgence of a species threatening event which we had hoped been stunned into hibernation at the alleged conclusion of the Cold War. Similarly the last two hours of the series were among the most gripping I’ve spent in front of a screen over the past few years, literally returning to the scene of the crime to reconceptualise and reframe the entire series and its wider cultural phenomenon. As I’m sure you’ve heard the final scene was shot at the real world Palmer house location with its real, present day 2017 occupant answering to Cooper and Laura, igniting a final, horrific, howling primordial scream – guillotine cut, run muted titles & a silent whisper, then get thee to a nunnery. Was Twin Peaks: The Return a momentous statement, apt for our current oppressive and apprehensive times? You betcha, but there is always hope among the darkness, like the dream of the Robins, two souls offering  some relief, among the encroaching dark;

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;

Godzilla VR…

A slight aside today as this just made me gasp. This weekend I’m preparing to fire up for the first time my VR kit which has now all arrived – I’ve been waiting twenty-five years to experience this immersion. I think if they ported on a Godzilla style carnage application on to this platform I’d never leave the flat again;

Skull Island (2017) Trailer

I generally shy away from posting every god-damn trailer in our current age of x 4 previews for the same bloody film, but I don’t know about you but I could still do with a distraction from the real world with some monsters. Some huge fucking monsters;

Hmm, not fond of that speed-ramping but I assume that’s a trailer effect they’ve thrown on the piece, and at least it looks like it has a sense of humor. – here is the greatest John C. Reily impression in recorded history. In other news, yes, we can do better – Indeed, we nust…..

London Film Festival 2016 – Blue Velvet Revisited (2016) Trailer

Here’s a trailer for what seems to be a rather different approach to movie making documentaries, naturally I was attracted to the material but I just couldn’t align the screenings with my schedule. Now I’m kicking myself as this looks fascinating, but I guess it will get a VoD release in a few months or so what with the enhanced interest in Lynch in the run-up to next year’s return to  Twin Peaks;

Any outtakes of a behind the scenes Dennis Hooper as the truly terrifying Frank Booth could be appropriately distressing, In fact there is another documentary on ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ screening this year, as you can see here;

Stranger Things (2016) Trailer

It’s not often I divert into TV territory but a combination of small town eerie Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons and Winnona means that yes, I will probably be giving this a d20 Charisma check for interest;

The Wailing (2016) Trailer

Well this looks fairly intense, a new South Korean horror ‘descent into hell’ that has received strong plaudits from Cannes;

BFI London Film Festival 2015 – Day Three, Four & Five

Well that was quite a weekend, mohitos in a skybar over St. Pauls, a friends birthday celebration pub-crawl through Soho, and three solid movies. I’ll try to find some time next week to expand on my comments but suffice to say we had good appreciative crowds, a few special guests, so there is plenty to keep me occupied next week. First of all back to Friday and the (for me) eagerly awaited Son Of Saul;

Suffice to say this was incredible, an exceptionally harrowing and tough watch, and one of those films that while admired I don’t think I ever want to see again. I mean that in a praiseworthy way, the technique was befitting the grim subject matter, and I think we have a major new talent on our hands. Next up we moved into documentary waters;

Far too short at 80 minutes as I could have easily watched another hour, especially with the likes of David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Oliver Assayas, James Gray, Paul Schrader and of course Marty educating on us why Hitch still matters. They lavished attention on Psycho and Vertigo in particular, in probably the best film theory related documentary of the year. Then we scuttled back to British waters;

One of the most eagerly anticipated films of the festival, and I was fortunate enough to get a ticket for the second public screening. Wheatley did a Q&A which was quite funny, and while I still think Kill List is his best film to date this is essential viewing. A special guest arrived in the form of Loki himself who got a massive roar from the crowd, and he read a brilliantly prescient quote from a 1978 interview with Ballard which predicted reality TV, selfies, and pretty much the entire modern narcissistic & interconnected world. Several million kudos points for Wheatley selecting this as the final track as the credits rolled;

And finally the best horror Western of recent years – they warned us this was going to be exceptionally violent and they were not wrong. Alas no sign of Kurt as a special guest (seeing Macready in the flesh would probably put me in hospital anyway) but the producers were on hand for an insight into the films long gestation. Some of my reviews have dropped here, here here and here, more to come next week…..

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…….

Epic Auteur Battles….

On paper this shouldn’t work and could be cringe-worthy bad, but this is kinda genius in its own well researched way;

Can’t believe I haven’t seen it before, that image of Kubrick pulling dance movies at the end has given me the giggles for the rest of the day. Speaking of the dude here is a glimpse and what might have been which I’ve neglected to share with you before – its rather melancholy viewing;

So I’ve just put the finishing touches to my review of the year (if you’re already bored of the festive season here is a round-up of the best web cinema studies of the month) but I have a penultimate review of 2014 to complete first – watch the skies ma homies……

Universal Monster Movies Season – The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

creature1 It’s been a long and winding road hasn’t it gentle reader, moving from the dank sewers of the Parisian underworld in the 1920’s, through the suffocating mists of Transylvania and accursed Egyptian catacombs of the 1930’s, through the intangible British countryside and canine ravaged moors through to our final hellish destination, the steaming subtropical Palaeolithic jungles of the 1950’s. Over a quarter century we’ve seen Universal studio’s acclaimed monster movie cycle morph and mutate through its gruesome cycle, from the chiaroscuro stricken, studio-bound expressionist nightmares of the early 20th century predating the coalescing horror in Europe, feasting on other studio genres to create crimson spattered hybrids, only to finally retreat away from the interfering prying eyes of humankind, withdrawing to the primordial pits of the drive-in and B movie exhibitors chain for this final picture in the chillingly celebrated studio cycle. Now I know I had some rather grandiose plans to compose capsule reviews of all 27 associated Universal movies but frankly that was ambitious in the extreme, both from a constitutional and intellectual perspective, as although I’ve immensely enjoyed composing these reviews I feel its time to punt out into waters anew, especially given the horrific bend of three months of BFI Gothic coverage. So this will be the final picture in this series but I’m always keeping one distorted and misshapen eye out at the BFI and other repertory houses for any big-screen outings of these murderous beasts, so who knows maybe we’ll be back here before the next full moon swings into a low shrieking orbit. Until then let me acquaint you with this slimy second-run classic;

The plot is direct – an Amazonian expedition traverses the mysterious and smouldering waterway, furtively seeking further evidence of a the missing link between man and fish, an obsessive quest driven by expedition leader Dr. Carl Maia (Antonio Moreno).  Maia persuades his collegial ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) to expand his work and raise the necessary funding to fund the sojourn, hiring the tramp steamer Rita  captained by a Mediterranean seadog Lucas (Nestor Paiva) to transport him, colleague Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) his girlfriend Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams) and another scientist Dr. Edwin Thompson (Whit Bissell). Discovering the devastated campsite of Dr. Maia that has been ravaged by an unidentified, slimy interloper the expedition soon nets a loathsome creature from the deeps, who might have more than just food on its primitive mind….

creature3The Creature From The Black Lagoon was one of the vanguard pictures of the studios 3D assault  against the entrenching evolution of Television into American households, it’s since managed to achieve a cult classic celebrity, as one of key monster & SF  pictures of the Eisenhower era.  Dwelling beneath the surface of skimpy clad ladies and the cosmopolitan jungle carapace is perhaps a sense of mans unconscious links to our liquid dwelling kin, and the film has even been read as an early environmental tract against man’s erosion of the natural world. In terms of structure it’s not particularly advanced, it takes a leisurely stroll downstream to an encounter / analysis / encounter template, with a little light crew insurrection drama thrown in to froth the dramatic whirlpool. For a scientific expedition they seem unusually well armed with rifles and handguns, with a curious lack of cameras or other recording devices, with a rather amusing disregard for indigenous stability which wouldn’t be accepted today. It’s the usual archetype of the scientist seen in the 1950’s genre period, spouting the importance of the grand new universal narratives of physics and chemistry to the lesser intelligent (Children, non-Americans, Women) in this brave new nuclear framed world. The guerrilla captured location landscapes frame the scale before the shoot moves to the Universal back-lot, with rickety and loosely decorated interiors, ghastly quality back-screen projection, yet in this case some rather graceful underwater footage.

creature4The resources simply isn’t the equal of the earlier monster films of the Universal cycle, but it does have the confidence to provide long, uninterrupted visions of the creature which is quite a rarity for this breed of movie, and quite the convincing oozing merlock it is considering the period. Designed by Millicent Patrick alas as is so often the case her contribution was overshadowed by her male boss, the famed make-up guru Bud Westmore, I don’t she even wagers a IMDB portfolio which is criminal. But for all that it lacks in loot Lagoon still nets a sense of charm, of the always lyrical movie motif of the beast besotted with the more shapely denizens of our species, a perennial subtext which we can trace back to King Kong alongside a general fear of the alien, the ‘other’ before Bikini Atoll belched a radioactive cloud over the genre and distorted insects, lizards and indeed broads scuttled to the screen. It does have a fairly iconic sonic shrieking score – Duh, dah DURRR – .and one of two sequels, Revenge Of The Creature followed in 1955 , with a curious early sighting…..

creature2You have to imagine that a seven year-old Spielberg some of that underwater footage of dangling appendages and circulating talons which scythed its way into his terrified brain, only to subliminally ooze out for Jaws 21 years later,  this was the first of the influential Jack Arnold’s cycle of fantastical movies such as Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man which inspired the likes of Landis, Lucas, Dante and others. Of course remakes and sequels are under almost constant rumour, mostly notably John Landis, Peter Jackson and menagerie favourite  John Carpenter (a huge fan of the film) developing separate projects over the years, the latter actually putting a script together at the home studio as late as the 1990’s. None of these have hatched and for my money the closest we’ve had to the picture is probably the ironically slimy little merman in The Cabin In The Woods, so I’m not holding my breath for any new birthing pod soon. So that’s that, another twelve fifteen month season finally comes to a watery close, which paves the way for not one but two festivals we have (fingers crossed) on the horizon, I’ll be devoting more attention to my Fritz Lang series and I also have some loose plans for another writing strand which is also cultishly coalescing. Until then let’s bid a fond adieu to these ravenous daemons from the pits of cinema history, sleep well now;

What is an Onion?

Oh boy, I’ve debated over posting this but fuck I think it’s funny (and deeply satirical, so not just offensive or cruel) but I’ve been watching some of the Onion’s News Network, and their autistic reporter, I think, is brilliant;

Like the majority of the print version it’s a little hit and miss, but it still manages some moments of brilliance…..

Toronto Film Festival 2013 – Day Four

One of the great pleasures of festivals is taking a chance on something new, of going to see a film sight unseen, a celluloid equivalent of Russian roulette without the potentially lethal consequences. In that vein I decided to go and see You’re Not Here on a hazy Sunday morning, I did have the deja vu inducing The Double in my headlights but I can slot that in further down the line – it looks like its worth a double-take;

With the benefit of hindsight I kinda wish I’d evaluated You Are Here beforehand as it would have warned me off such lunatic risk-taking, as this was an exceptionally flat and tedious film with maybe two mild laughs in the whole two hours, you know there might just be a problem when fellow colleagues are clandestinely exiting the screening around a half hour in. I genuinely shocked that such a run-of-the-mill fare was offered by the creative mind behind Mad Men, I think Mr. Weiner must ave been having a particularly poor day when he committed to that script. Then I thought some horror was required so I braved Eli Roth’s new massacre The Green Inferno, again no trailer has circulated yet despite the film getting it’s World Premiere here today – review here. I got chatting in a bar with a fellow festival goer in a bar when waiting for some friends, turns out the chap is the Film Programmer for the University of Maine and was a good personal friend of Ebert, which gives me an excuse to post this;

A poor day for celebrities number wise, but a personal best proximity wise, I was quite surprised to turn around during this morning queue efforts and seeing Robin Wright Penn standing next to me – she’s tiny;

When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun (2013)

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

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

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

Tiff Trailer 2013

The first festival trailer has finally dropped, just as the Midnight Madness strand of programming was announced this morning UK time;

I’ve thrown together a Midnight Madness overview which I’ll link here shortly, it just needs a final polish. In the midst of a pretty mental day of errands I also just managed to catch Francis Ha, it’s was s’lright – review tomorrow. EDIT – OK, here’s the link – new Sion Sono? Count me in….and I should probably also point you to this;

International Menagerie..

Clearly someone is fucking with me from above as the old-fashioned good news / bad news dichotomy strikes the menagerie with a vengeance. So I got my Toronto press accreditation confirmed today – not bad for a first time try – and I’ve just had my day-job assignment terminated at the end of next week. It makes you wonder just what sense of humor the alleged pranksters upstairs may have;

To be fair this has been on the cards for a while, it was supposed to expire at the end of last month but my leader managed to get a modest extension, alas significant – and I mean significant – budget cuts are again about to rape local government, mark my words there is going to be blood on the streets. Anyway, I like to take solace in fictional worlds as per the proverbial ostrich sticking its head in the sand, so I guess I’d best start looking for some funds for the flight and accommodation then eh?


Killing Season (2013) UK Premiere & John Travolta In Conversation

Killing SeasonHonestly, the things I do for you people. I’m not sure how to start this report from Tuesday’s curious evening at the BFI, other than to say that I loathe John Travolta. Now I have nothing against John Travolta as a human being of course, I’m sure he’s exceedingly generous with charitable donations, loves his wife and kids, and hugs puppies and promotes equal rights for all, what I’m referencing is of course ‘John Travolta’ the screen persona, the actor who for reasons I can’t quite logically articulate or justify I can barely watch on-screen without feeling an indistinct stirring of irritation and mild hatred. I’m not sure why this is, I’m certainly not proud of the antipathy, but I think we all have for some horrible reason an aversion to certain people and public personas who just wind us up for intangible reasons, as I’m betting there is some celebrity figure from the realm of media, entertainment, politics (actually scratch that one, most of them are irritating aren’t they?) whom also riles you up and makes your skin crawl, and you will actively go out of your way to avoid a movie, a TV series, a chatshow appearance or interview which includes this frustrating figure. It was therefore with a mild sense of nausea that I attended the UK premiere screening of his new film Killing Season followed by an exceptionally rare Jonathan Ross hosted Q&A on Tuesday evening, and already the event had irked me as it clashed with a screening of Herzog’s Stroszek which I had to cancel, as in the interests for the blog I thought that this might be of a slightly higher film culture visibility than one of Werner’s suicide inducing screen ballads. In any case it was quite a curious event, so let’s begin with the trailer and a capsule review of the film;

killing-season-movie-photo-4-550x366As you may have gleaned from that the trailer the film was terrible, a supposed cat and mouse game between retired US veteran Benjamin Ford (De Niro) and the hilariously incomprehensibly accented Emil Kovac (Travolta) twenty years after De Niro’s UN platoon discovered a massacre during the Yugoslavian war, and decide to take justice into their own hands and summarily execute the Serbian marauders led by Travolta. This ludicrously offensive films begins with a portentous context setting crawl about how serious and solemn the conflict was before hard cutting to an exciting twitchy-cam combat sequence – and this tonal repulsion is only compounded by a script which then meanders through the most pedestrian route of character development and conflict interaction between the slumming leads. You know a film has rejected any  semblance to credulity or emotional engagement when in one scene one of the characters instructs the other to stake himself to the ground by inserting a steel rod and tassel through the void created by an earlier arrow wound, and this is just one of the early problems of tis deeply tedious and tawdry film which increasingly obeys the simple ‘I’ve got the upper hand, no a-ha now I’ve got the upper hand’ model of so-called tension and suspense.  You can pretty much chart the entire trajectory of the mercifully short 90 minutes directly through to the final shot, and as usual Travolta is just hilariously serious and studious with an approach to acting which finishes with  plastering on some make-up, adopting some ridiculous facial features and emitting the worse accent since Don Cheadle’s Ocean’s 13 cockney rhymed Jeremy Hunt.  In short, avoid at all costs.

PF1I do like Jonathan Ross as a UK movie culture figure (I haven’t watched any of his chat show stuff in decades) as he clearly has a genuine breath, knowledge and passion for the artform from obscure B movies and exploitation pics out to the established and revered classics, we all remember the fantastic shows he fronted and commissioned back in the 1980’s don’t we? On stage you can see just what a brilliant interviewer he is, he’s quite disarming and isn’t afraid to prick that self-important celebrity bubble when the occasion demands (‘John, exactly what accent was that you were using in the film?’) and he asked the more serious instructive questions on Travolta’s collaborations with De Palma and Malick alongside the  inevitable attention lavished on the likes of Saturday Night Fever and of course Pulp Fiction. I thought Travolta was quite a guarded persona despite his batting away Wossy’s most direct questions – ‘You’re seen as something of a remote figure, do you take refuge behind any screen persona? – with a simple ‘This is me, what you see is what is get’ reply, although of course he did shy away from any Scientology queries or indeed any reference to the classic Battlefield Earth which curiously was also omitted from a ten minute context setting montage that the BFI threw together to inaugurate the interview.

JTThere were some reasonably smart questions from the audience as well, one asking his insider opinion on the current state of the industry which he lamented for the move toward spectacle and away from character driven pieces. Well, this is course a perfectly fair point and it’s all very well bemoaning the lack of character based vehicles in todays American marketplace but when you’re actively producing unimaginative, formulaic dreck like Killing Season which from its script stage must have  blatantly obvious that it isn’t delving into anything other than Hollywood archetypes of conflict equaling character, of violence eclipsing any other solution to progress (which is exactly the point the film is so wistfully and therefore hypocritically espousing) then you really don’t have a wounded leg to stand on, not to mention how you’re devolving an incredibly complex array of social, historical and political forces which led to the conflict down to two guys violently fucking each other up for an hour without any real consequence or physical cost. Still, I did warm to Travolta a little when he got on to the fun they had shooting Face Off  between Nick Cage and John Woo impersonating each other, I must give that another watch as that was a fun action movie and there was a fairly amusing running gag about how Richard Gere essentially wouldn’t have a career if he didn’t seize upon the parts which Travolta had rejected like discarded crumbs from his table (American Giglio, An Officer & A Gentleman, Days Of Heaven), although I was surprised to hear that with the latter Travolta was Malick’s first choice for the male lead, and it was studio machinations to award Gere the part which heavily contributed to his disgust with the industry and self-imposed Paris exile for the next twenty years. I was also just as intrigued to see Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston in the audience a few rows from me, she’s an actress in her own right which you may recognise from the likes of Jerry McGuire, Twins and the yuletide ‘classic’ Jack Frost, I have some slightly more formative adolescent memories of her from the movie Mischief which I’m sure some of you hairy palmed perverts will also fondly remember…..

Richard Matheson RIP (1926 – 2013)

gremlimMemo to Death – can’t you like, take a fucking week or something you cretin? Every week we seem to hear of another mournful passing, and alongside Harryhausen we’ve just lost our second titan of speculative imagination in 2013, and that’s without counting the fantastic Iain M. Banks on the purely SF literature level – this is a film blog so I prefer to keep these sections partitioned after all. I have enormously fond memories of my brother anxiously ordering a copy of I Am Legend through our local library as for some reason it was quite a rare, out of print book in the UK back in the midst of the late 20th century, so when I finally staked my prey and read the damn thing is was quite an experience. As a SF & horror acolyte since adolescence I knew whom Matheson was of course from his numerous credits on The Twilight Zone, his involvement with X Files precursor Kolchak The Night Stalker and numerous movie credits, his passing has a curious timing given that one of his abominable creations has morphed into a particularly virulent cultural meme which is currently infesting big screens around the globe – such a shame that the movie isn’t even remotely qualified to shine in his shadow. So, like Matheson’s writing I’ll keep this obituary succinct and polished, with a warm vein of humanism running underneath the placement of his protagonists in fantastical themed jeopardy – here is an absolute classic which always crosses the mind when I take to the skies;

Yeah, we also love the 1985 George ‘Mad Max’ Miller remake with the bug-eyed John Lithgow as well. Not a bad footnote to your career to having one of Spielberg’s first ever efforts culled from your source material;

Now I haven’t seen this in many years, but I’ll always remember this crazy, existential ending – so yeah spoilers for a 50+ year movie – a film which has quite amusingly been read as a response to the emasculation of expanding feminism of the 1960’s – interesting point;

If that hasn’t blown your puny mind then how about this news, apparently it was Richard’s brother Chris Matheson who wrote Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – awesome. But let’s close with two all time SF and horror classics, first of all the ultimate Communist metaphor;

One modest interview and finally a Menagerie favourite which I’ve covered numerous times before, easily the best version og his immortal tale of a man alone among the monsters, until he realises that maybe they aren’t the monsters…..

Cannes 2013 Film Schedule

cannesWhat a week eh? I think we can all agree that this is a period we’d all like to get behind us, whether it’s the nauseating hagiography of the worst and most destructive entity to assault my country since the Führer’s Luftwaffe or carnage inducing explosions over in North America, not to mention the mind-boggling decision not to acquiesce to the vast majority of the public’s demand that something needs to be done to control the horrific proliferation of massacre and murder implements – exactly how the fuck can those Senators ever look their constituents in the eye again? Simply unbelievable. Still, we’re here to talk about the movies of course and today saw the unveiling of this years programme for the worlds most prestigious film festival, and whilst I can’t say I’m jumping up and down with excitement there are some appearances which deserve mention. Looking at the list of films in competition I am struck by the same response I experience whenever I receive a new edition of Sight & Sound, namely that I rather arrogantly assume I know a lot about cinema until confronted with a dozen directors and filmmakers that I simply have never heard of – like clockwork this occurs pretty much every month. There is still so much to learn and see, and of course this is a good thing. So forgive me for a rather Westencentric and English language orientated look at what’s on offer, here’s the latest sight of the opening gala selection;

Just posting this makes my skin crawl but one strives to be neutral, as you have gathered I loathe Baz Luhrmann and all the atrocities he has visited upon the cinema, especially Australia and Moulin Rogue which are worthy of particularly venomous scorn.  It’s nothing personal, I’m sure he’s lovely chap whom is kind to pets and children but I simply can’t stand his films, and even the threat of repeated molestations by a horde of famished rapedogs  couldn’t drag me to the cinema to see this. It wasn’t always this way, I was entertained by Strictly Ballroom for example when that came out back in nineteen ninety whatever, although upon reflection I was smoking a lot of weed then and my critical facilities may have been somewhat warped. Gatsby is a big, prestige product however and some quarters are really looking forward to it, so I’ll pinch my nose and let you make your own mind up.

I think we’re all looking forward to this, it looks ravishing and Refn seems to be powering from strength to strength as his career accelerates, one wonders if he can take the material to the next level or if this will just be a pleasantly violent and stylish thriller yarn. Now, is he still on board for the long languishing Logan’s Run remake or not? I heard that Gosling had bailed but maybe he’s looking at replacements….

This looks like a slightly different tack for the Coens, it’s difficult to articulate but this looks a lot more ‘realistic’ and less mannered than most of their recent output, I can’t say I’m chomping at the proverbial bit to see this but one has to see everything new of theirs at the flicks doesn’t one?

I quite like Sophia Coppola’s movies but this looks a little samey, but then again if it ain’t broke don’t fix it I guess? The woeful travails of the incredibly wealthy, those poor souls navigating their empty lives as they are ferried from fashion show to red carpet premieres, the poor little darlings, it must be so horrid…

And finally as I don’t have the time to delve further at the moment, I don’t want to be a complete philistine and will actually post some foreign language competition, so let’s go with the always reliable Mikke Takashi – looking amusing as always. I didn’t even know Alexander Payne had another film in the can so that’s a nice surprise, a new Polanski is always worth a look and if like me you’re a little lukewarm on this schedule as there isn’t anything which really leaps out as a must see – other than Only God Forgives maybe – there may be some hidden gems tucked away under those directors we’ve never heard of. Now, if you’ll excuse me in keeping with the spirit of the week I’m off to laugh uproariously at some innocent youngsters get torn to pieces by a pack or slavering hell beasts, it’s the only way to keep sane….

The Music Of Death

Whilst we in the Western World take a few days off the Grim Reaper never takes a holiday, and he’s snatched three differing figures over the past few days. First up, the inquisitive Jack Klugman, the last surviving cast member of the courtroom classic Twelve Angry Men, however in this age of the Internet he is perhaps best known for this amusing slice of history which did the rounds on social media sites a couple of years ago;

Much sadder to me is the passing of the brilliant Charles Durning, his obituary is quite a read. I much prefer my actors and actresses to have had vivid and powerful lives before turning to the screen or stage, they are usually much more interesting performers than scions of Hollywood royalty whom are raised in the Tinseltown bubble. He’s been lauded for memorable turns in the likes of Dog Day Afternoon and the misunderstood The Hudsucker Proxy, when I heard of the news I immediately thought of the criminally underated The Music Of Chance;

“I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” he said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.” They grappled, he recounted later — he was stabbed seven or eight times — until finally he grasped a rock and made it a weapon. After killing the youth, he said, he held him in his arms and wept’ – Wow. Finally Gerry Anderson whom is more of a TV than film figure, can’t say I’m a big fan but I was raised on a diet of Captain Scarlett, Thunderbirds and Space 1999 so I think he deserves a quiet nod of appreciation;

The Dark Knight Reprise (2008) – Part II

We continue with all things batty, new readers may wish to review part one of my two-part retrospective of The Dark Knight which can be viewed here. I didn’t think I’d get the time to complete this before the opening of The Dark Knight Rises but I don’t have any other reviews outstanding at the moment, and all the smart distributors have pretty much cleared their release schedule as none of them are brave enough to programme any of their offerings against what is certain to be this years second box-office behemoth, so there won’t much else going on review wise for at least a month. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t link to this, it’s 13 minutes of behind the scenes material for the new film, I am not going to watch it or anything else until the 20th as I’m not risking any more spoilers, your self-control threshold may be weaker. Anyway, enough of this procrastination, let’s pick up events where we left them, after the climactic confrontation between our hero and his lunatic nemesis, I’m not sure why but I simply love this moment, it’s a rare shard of reflection when the films engine isn’t accelerating along at a breakneck pace, and in many ways encapsulates the film in one brief moment, of those yapping ‘dogs chasing cars’;

There is a glaring editing failure in the preceding sequence where the Joker taunts his captor in an unusually cruel dialogue exchange, a shivering piece of writing which demonstrates again just what a nasty and wily piece of work he is. Suddenly through the frantic cross cutting of Bruce racing to Rachel’s / Harvey’s side and the revelation of the internalized IED’s  implanted in the Joker’s goons – another War On Terror® reference of course – at the police station we suddenly see Detective Stephens (Keith Szarabajka) as hostage, the Joker with a knife to his throat,  presumably the same blade that he has concealed in his shoe from the earlier champagne reception crash or maybe Nolan’s just a fan of Rosa Klebb and decided to throw in another Bond reference to go along with his wholesale sacking of OHMSS  for Inception.  So the bomb goes off, Rachel is killed, Two Face is forged in the cauterizing inferno and the Joker’s dastardly scheme continues apace. I was quite shocked by Rachel’s death I have to say, the filmmakers had taken the time to establish her as a feisty, independent, professional type nor merely hostage / arm candy – well, apart from the champagne reception bit where she and Bats implausibly fall several hundred feet but we’ll just forgot about that  – which is a rarity in itself for today’s action blockbusters, but to actually kill off a major character is almost unheard off, and this time there is no cinematic sleight of hand to bring her back as they did with Gordon’s expertly arranged feint,  thus the stakes are established and the audience is distressed to understand that all bets are off, I mean it’s not like they’ll be bombing hospitals next or something (nervously laughs), right? Oh…..

I’ve mentioned in previous pieces that Gotham city itself is a defined and central character in the films, a formless vortex of myriad citizens, corrupt and decaying institutions on both sides of that porous veneer of legality, the huddled masses suspended in an urban thrall which both Batman and his repeated opponents seek to manipulate and cajole, from Ra’s Al Ghul & the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, from the Joker in The Dark Knight and I’m sure Bane will have the same objective in The Dark Knight Rises, the fight is always for the soul of the people and this is no more acute than in the second and final acts of this film, where the  fascistic drive of the film becomes fully acute, speaking from a strictly academic, dictionary definition of the ideology*. Crime fiction has always been a rich artery for channeling the anxiety of the day, operating as it does on the cusp of legality and the transgressive, and although the film was widely interpreted as a cultural manifestation of the War On Terror® Bordwell says that  Hollywood can be strategically ambiguous  about politics, as he argues against the zeitgeist theory in his usual erudite and convincing fashion, I’m reminded of the scene in Jarhead  where the Marines unironically enjoy watching Full Metal Jacket  and Apocalypse Now as exciting war films, not as the complex works which on the immediate surface are not flagrantly anti-war, but operate more as obtuse texts with different ideas and images leading to different meanings and conclusions to differing alternate individuals. Therefore the credo or dogma of the film is further obfuscated by the elevation of Nolan and his immediate companions – Michael Bay, Peter Jackson, Spielberg, Lucas and the bombastic others – into being the chief proponents of so-called ‘Shock & Awe’ cinema, deploying intense sound and visual material to literally befuddle and deafen the audience into  a numbed obsequious servitude, with 3D, motion capture and IMAX being the latest weapons in their cinematic arsenal – the volume drowns the message.

Whilst we’re on the subject of critics some of the mediums more insightful sophists such as David Denby have remarked that The Dark Knight operates in a state of almost hysterical  ‘constant climax’, a phrase which alludes to the exhausting combination of pummeling and deep edit rhythms, heightened performances, an emphasis on melee and confrontation, and the high-pitched strings from Hans Zimmer’s vociferous score, an analysis which mirrors the Shock & Awe assessment propagated by Bordwell and their ilk. It’s an observation which I broadly accept as it’s obvious that this is exactly the effect than Nolan and his team are striving to achieve – unlike his contemporaries he insists on shooting even the largest action sequences with single fixed cameras, such is the level of pre-visualisation he has already mentally constructed before building or scoping sets, instead of arranging the scenes from a plethora of sources in the editing suite, and the film has an undeniably pulsing, coruscating  rhythm and aura throughout its second half with perhaps a few too many plot strands to be competently weaved together. The conflict arises as to the opinion of this being a legitimate and desirable evolution of cinema, of whether potent ideas and  commentary can simmer under the surface of what is ostentatiously a commercial, fiscally attuned cinema, but I’d argue that from Intolerance to The Wizard of Oz to Singing In The Rain to The Godfather – to use some widely acclaimed and loved examples across both historical and genre palettes – cinema is spectacle, it is grandiose and accelerated, overbearing and in your face, in certain cases this is what distinguishes it from TV or theatre, from live music or gaming,  and sometimes I think the critics lose sight of this when assembling these critiques, just because they are genre pieces the message and interpretations are just as valid in a Nolan film as they are in a Kiarostami film.  

One of the more amusing theories I’ve recently absorbed refers to Nolan’s work being a detailed treatise on what it means to be a modern human in a post-religious world. In Batman Begins for example Bruce Wayne, as the primary audience avatar, must face his intangible, superstitious demons and self-actualize his fear, with such emotional paralysis being a major component of the film on a host of different thematic and narrative levels. In The Dark Knight, the second stage of development in the pursuit of the elusive self-actualisation is to define a framework of ethics and social order, or chaos results. In The Dark Knight Rises – who knows?  Perhaps it will be the conflict with other self-actualized beings and their definitions of self, order and ethics?  Will Bane as a Oedipal ‘other’ be seeking to usurp the city and indoctrinate its citizens to his Occupy themed socialist ideology? Will Catwoman be the franchise’s first signal of overt sexuality, liberated by the death of Rachel, Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart from the previous film?  In Batman Begins  our orphaned hero defeats the Scarecrow as a childhood boogeyman in the first stage of development, and Ra’s al Ghul as the Oedipal father is rejected and defeated to ascend to the next psychological threshold. In The Dark Knight it’s the Joker as the malicious id who fosters the birth and drive of  Two-Face as the mirroring ego, with Ra’s al Ghul now the intangible, overarching super-ego, invisibly fostering the drives and desires of the schizophrenic Batman to conduct the greatest sacrifice, the destruction of his ego (Two Face) to thwart the ruinous desires of his id (Joker), assimilating the shattered remnants of his own, better, manifest self (Harvey Dent)  at the apex of the film? With both the id locked away in Arkham Asylum and the ego subdued the arrival of Bane and Catwoman in the new film activate a new neurosis, they are just as good as Batman, if not better, at simply being who they are –  competent, goal-oriented and already self-actualized – forcing his return to the alter-ego? Or maybe I’ve got too much time on my hands and I’ve been reading far too much psychoanalytical theory dossiers. Well then hmmm….

So we finally arrive at the hospital scene where the Joker gets his most revelatory scene.  Heath Ledger’s performance throughout this controlled, asceptic film as the fractured, disembodied Loki figure with his unreliable and ambiguous origin stories are quite simply breathtakingly audacious, it breaks every Hollywood screenwriting rule where you must have a clearly defined antagonist from which the hero can ricochet in full dramatic glory, and full marks to both Jonathan & Christopher Nolan for not even giving us a final act resolution to his origin or psychological purpose. Such an approach really makes him some sort of free-floating insurgent agent of anarchy, and Ledger really captured the zeitgeist with his performance whose charismatic chaos speaks to some of the disenfranchised generation X, Y’s and Z being expressed in that speech, the mouthpiece of frustration of a segment of society (in their view) under the thrall of absurd, corrupt and ineffectual systems of control, a catalyst which viewers can chaotically indulge in some of their more disorderly fantasies.  It’s curious then that Nolan operates at societies nodal points throughout his movies, he frequently arranges scenes in the airports and the cities, in City Hall or police stations, on aircraft or in hospitals, throughout the works the march of civilisation is centered, and then there is the insane court jester whose role throughout history has always been to speak truth to power and disrupt and lampoon the perilous position of the elite, it’s maybe an instinctive choice of apparatus that we all, commonly, subconsciously realise and loathe. Ledger, in his tragic final performance was throughly brilliant; twitchy but not overwrought, malicious but not cartoonish, even in that scene above – in drag as a nurse for christsakes – he simultaneously comes off as deranged and dangerous, even during a narrative snapshot that could so easily have descended into farce. The Iraq allusions are overwhelming with an opponent using asymmetric warfare against a homogenic foe, sending scratchy, out of focused shaky footage which hints at unseen atrocities, in an identical manner to the fanatic self-proclaimed ‘Islamist’ brigades who continue to  blaze a bloody vengeance across the Middle East. The film drips with an ichorous nihilism which again tapped a chord with its vast audience, a darkness which can have only been intensified with the tragic death of Ledger and his posthumous Academy Award, is it not one of those cruel twists that a millionaire and critically acclaimed film star, supposedly a figure of adoration the world over, one of the lucky souls who through a difficult conflation of luck and talent ascended to the movie star pantheon yet still led such a wearisome life that he was wedded to the crutch of numerous legal drugs to simply face the next day? That’s no joke….

But the center rings true, at least for the moment. Some cultural theorists,  acolytes and other academic cinema types have identified a genre of film that emerged in both the wheezing, dying breaths of the past millennium and the birth pangs of the new, through a series of American movies whose purpose was to separate an illusory reality from the allegedly more authentic ‘real‘, a sequence that was immediately guillotined by 9/11 and replaced with texts positing the simulation coming under attack from overseas, from sources very much alien in both senses of the word from the prevailing ideology. I’d argue that The Dark Knight is very much the next logical development in that sequence with the disembodied threat being supplanted with indigenous foes, the paranoid surveillance state engaging in widespread doublespeak and triplethink, an enemy within responding to maelstroms of cultural contradictions which is the very essence of the ludicrous and terrifying notion of a ‘war on terror’. With the exception of Wayne, Gordon and Rachel everyone in The Dark Knight is susceptible to being perverted, corrupted and turned, from the men and women of law enforcement to the crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, solidly portrayed by Aaron Eckhert who never seemed to get the kudos he richly deserved for a difficult performance that is foreshadowed with just enough seething rage to make his final descent psychologically convincing – well, I mean convincing for a tent pole Hollywood movie, this isn’t nor is it trying to be Strindberg or Ibsen – and just a quick word on Gary Oldman – he’s just fucking great isn’t he? Another unimpeachable foundation stone in the series success, alongside Michael Caine noble Alfred, who I’ve never fully appreciated until I caught the films back to back yesterday.

Screens and surfaces, media and manipulation. Before seeing the film again I was sympathetic to the captious claims that the final confrontation, the climactic set-piece with the ferry booby traps and moral gauntlet proffered by the Joker felt just a little ‘forced’, another sequence in a slightly obese film with the sonar enhanced melee becoming a little tiresome by dredging out a blockbuster movie to an unnecessary two and a half hour run-time, a complaint that was compounded by the fiscal  fallacy circulating Hollywood at the time that more villains equalled more thrills, so  merchandising minded executives urged screenwriters to insert redundant threats  ad nauseam to pointlessly elevate the dramatic ante, but with another visit to this movie the criticism simply doesn’t hold water – Spiderman 3 however is another entity. I’m happy to be proved wrong but if memory serves The Dark Knight  is the only movie where the villains actually seem to functionally operate in the same film universe, to recant and reflect upon each other in a clearly logical and dramatic sense, the Joker’s murderous creation of the dually horrific Two Face is perfectly played and serves at the final checkmate move of his increasingly convoluted and perhaps absurdly contrived master plan, yet it makes narrative sense as his final coup de grâce in potentially disrupting the moral imperatives of Gotham’s citizens, which was anarchicaly expressed as his ultimate goal in the hospital scene. Although the film’s editing gets choppy and slightly confusing with the cross maneuvers urging a rather confrontational reaction – again the ‘constant climax’ exhaustion comes into play and this is perhaps Nolan’s occasional stumble throughout his cluttered storytelling style –  yet the meridian of one opponents defeat is expertly despatched;

So here is some more of Nolan’s gravity defying camera techniques that he went on to explore more fully with Inception and judging by the prologue to The Dark Knight Rises we will be seeing more of those unusually inverted movements. The Joker gets his final speech alluding to the similarities between the two symbiotic nemesis ‘dragging Harvey down to our level’  before he gets one final maniacal laugh to haunt us as he pushes off into the ether, as in one sense he has won and pushed the hero into his personal Gehenna, as a common murdering criminal that ignited his nocturnal crusade in Batman Begins. I really like the way that the Nolan’s have almost written themselves into a corner by  maintaining the heightened realism and cast  Bruce as a murderous vigilante, and in just a few days we’ll know how they’ve extracted themselves from that potential narrative cul-de-sac.

Cue applause, house lights up, long exhale – we’re almost done. Some of the success resides in the little touches – Bruce playing playboy and ditching the champagne on the veranda as he must remain focused and in control, the Joker responding to accusations to being crazy by nervously muttering ‘no…no…no I’m not…’ as if he’s having to convince himself,  Bruce effortlessly dispatching a goon and dismantling his weapon as he walks toward the panic room in the party scene,  the Joker’s hand-washing moment in the hospital, that evocative moment of Bats musing over his failure in the smoldering debris of Rachel’s homicide – they all add up to a textural pattern which displays a tangent of filmmakers completely in control of his material, and judging by the early word on The Dark Knight Rises that vice like grip continues into the final installment. I’m not the only one to have been immediately reminded of the ending to Shane with the close of Dark Knight, my esteemed colleague Philip French noted the same thoughts during his review back in the day, it’s a final allusion to the mythic grandeur that cinema can provoke for its eternal celluloid heroes when manipulated by the right hands. So whats next ? Watching the first two back to back reminds me of just what an outstanding narrative arc they have developed for the franchise, of the psychological allusions and confusions, I’m certain we’ll see more of the same in Rises but I was also struck by just how emotional the films are, there is a real heart and spirit churning under the action sequences and gadgets, a real sense of threat and struggle beyond the pyrotechnics and intellectual shadow-play, and this I think is what has elevated them above other superhero and blockbuster fare, and if early reports are anything to go by then we’re in for some intense material for the final chapter – I have my suspicions of where certain things will go but we’ll leave that Pandora’s box firmly closed for now. Looking beyond the weekend you Bat-fans will also be excited to hear of this bat-project which I stumbled across during my research, but for now let’s just calmly convalesce and wait for Friday, and see just how the Nolan’s and Bale, Caine and Freeman will finally wrap up this outstanding, incredible series of films – are you excited yet?

* OK, I’m not suggesting that Nolan are Fascists or anything, I’m merely pointing out if you look at the strictly academic view of what that political ideology ia, then apply that to millionaire Bruce Wayne’s ideology and activities and well….

The Dark Knight (2008) Reprise – Part I

You might have heard of this, it was a little project that Warners put out a few years ago, having been reasonably successful (over $1 billion in worldwide box office alone), it’s got itself a sequel this year. True to form after promising a write-up on this as part of my ancient Films of 2008 entry I’ve finally managed to fulfil this promise a mere four years later, punctuality evidently being my strong point. Why the delay? Well, initially I wanted to give it yet another look after the two cinema visits and a couple of Blu-Ray revisions, but after the rabid exposure the film and its potential sequel engendered over the subsequent couple of years I frankly got a little sick of the movie (although that’s not the films fault), there must have been  some tangential news story in the on-line press almost every day during the first couple of quarters of 2009 so I really wanted to go away, take a breather, then come back to the movie fresh and attempt to explain why I think The Dark Knight really touched a nerve with not only the rabid fan-boys who went to see it four, five, even six times at the cinema (which of course explains some of that box office) but also the appeal to the more mainstream punters who visit the cinema maybe once or twice a year. Of course the interest and speculation has continued to swirl unabated around what we know as The Dark Knight Rises over the intervening few years, as its 20th July release date inexorably marches forward it’s finally time to step up the plate and push some thoughts out there prior to the release of the historically difficult third movie in the trilogy, be warned as this may very well be the most absurd, lengthy, fanboy inspired nonsense I’ve ever fabricated so I’m preemptively blaming the pain-killers. It’s an obvious allusion I know but I’d argue that The Dark Knight is the quintessential film of the last decade, with its domineering leitmotifs of entropy, corruption, instability and insanity it is the primary exemplar in reflecting and illustrating many of the crumbling structures that are under assault by a panoply of threats – fear, anguish, destruction, hypocrisy, paranoia – that have perverted the citadels of the West as their hegemonic stranglehold exigently slips away, as the moral lines are increasingly obscured as independent, ideological driven groups fight for their interests by violating the margins of the status quo and established, increasingly redundant and rejected political methods are superseded by direct action, and it’s also got some kick-ass action sequences so where better to start than with the introduction of the films hero, and I ain’t talking about some nocturnal psychopathic vigilante;

Click on the top left link to catch the final moments of that opening, alas I couldn’t find it in its entirety. Firstly, this obviously serves as the second part of a trilogy with the opening blue flame hued bat symbol – we’ll seeing that more of that temperature in the film of course – serving as a thematic and design continuation of the opening of Batman Begins and its auburn hues which both dispense with any titles or credits, both serve as semiotic glimpses of the tale that follows and its cinematographic palettes. An expansive helicopter mounted dolly penetrates the world of the film, the modern urban environment, its briefly tranquil atmosphere shattered as the goons rupture the status quo as they prepare their aerial assault that is immediately reinforced with a cunning character introduction, an empty mask shown in silhouette with the unidentified character turned away from the camera lens, a presage of the fruitless search for identity, reason and morality that gravitate around the films real protagonist – The Joker – whom subliminally mocks the film’s title. He is a void, a vessel for the audiences fears, a mysterious agent of chaos and entropy with a constantly shifting origin and history (does he even know his own back-story?) but I’ll delve fully into that in part two of this brief series. A meticulously planned robbery ensues, cut to the tempo of Hans Zimmer’s shrill and stretched score, a criminal inauguration which simultaneously references The Killing (there, didn’t take long for the Kubrick mention did it?) with similar nods to Heat  via the casting of William Fichtner, signaling Nolan’s impeccable influences and inspirations. I love the nonchalant shooting of the bus driver and the grenades imposed on the trembling bank customers, we’re clearly dealing with a meticulously prepared and efficient psychotic (unusual for a PG13 movie for obvious reasons) whom immediately obliterates the scenery chewing antics of Nicholson, reinforced with the callous execution of his comrades and the grenade smoke bomb gag which acquaints us with this clown prince of crimes nebulous attitude to life and death. This merciful introduction is inverted with a shock a few minutes later in which writers Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer perfectly pitch a moment of terrible violence with splenetic humor, a grim yin-yang that reverberates throughout the film, both times I saw it with an audience they went fucking wild and that’s cinema right there, the shared experience that nothing can equal. So the films temperature and temperament is independently established away from the usual carnage saturated action-film context, it’s afferent inductions functioning within the narrative, not being a function of the narrative, not merely an excuse for kinetic deviations that leapfrog the recital to the next ballistic set-piece  – in The Dark Knight they are intrinsic designs and conceptions that embed the characters psychology and environment – the oppidan and urban, the criminally lunatic, the dispassionately violent – at the core of the films anfractuous ambitions.

After this bravura prologue the film settles into its rhythm and the major plot lines emerge, Harvey Dent is introduced as the passive reflection of Batman, the principled idealist who is committed to make a difference, battling the crime and corruption of Gotham city within the confines of the system rather than following an individual, morally suspect, unhinged nocturnal crusade unfettered by such ridiculous notions as civil rights, presumption of innocence and trial by jury – in a word, Guantanamo. The political praxis is set, the City Hall and legislature machinations are placed in dichotomy with the criminal syndicate operations, as Gotham City itself is established as a living entity with enough sparse sociological dimensions to serve the plot developments in the films succeeding acts, a pivotal stroke as Nolan and his screenwriter accomplices understand that the city is as crucial a character in their legendarium as Bruce Wayne or Alfred, Lt. Gordon or Harvey Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes from Batman Begins as the romantic plot device, as Rachael is re-contextualised from the first movie as Bruce’s most significant personal sacrifice – a totem which shortly becomes mortally intangible – a love requited but impossible to consummate given his psychological demons and the potential of an Achilles heel should a particularly fervid villain learn of their secret affections. After an entertaining (although rather redundant) sojourn to Hong Kong and an escalating body count the narrative reaches a second plateau, the preceding hour or so is undoubtedly the films weakest section, I don’t want to belabor the point but the frantic cutting of editor Lee Smith can leave the viewers a little confused and a few redundant threads are raised – the copycat vigilantes, the blackmail attempt from a suicidally ambitious Wayne Industries executive – all of which seems a little forced even as it inevitably links in with later developments in a rather overly complex*, serpentine script. All of these maneuvers are presented in the usual single character frame shots, spiced up with a creeping track-in camera movement as characters spin out some occasionally portentous dialogue, all punctuated with Nolan’s beloved cityscape establishing shot transitions, before we are relived of this flagitious framing with a rather memorable soirée amongst the higher echelons of Gotham society;

What’s that? No, no we erm don’t talk about what subsequently happened back at the party as that seems to be quite a serious omission from the cutting room floor, given that the narrative moves along without resolving the threatening incursion upon Gotham’s 1% one assumes that the protracted run time urged some serious snipping of the editors cruel scissors. Anyway, note the swirling, circling camera moves as the Joker expresses his fluctuating origin story, a simple but efficient tool to suggest the disorientation of having that mentalist literally in your face with a knife in view, as the threat moves from the abstract to personal for both Bruce and Harvey as the competing paramour of moon-faced Gyllenhaal. I think both Wally Pfster and Nathan Crowley have been somewhat overlooked in favour of Nolan’s and Ledger’s achievements on the movie, both these talents evidently worked in harmonious tandem, populating the film with a metallic sheen of reflections in the architecture of the film and embedding stark, regimented angular designs for the forces of order and control whose arrogant perch is assaulted by the explosive campaign of the Joker. Note that the native, primeval lair of the original Batcave has been exchanged for the rigid geometric order of the Batcave 2.0, the gothic and elemental superseded with the mechanised and controlled, the new nest of our nocturnal paladin sporting a sleek, cool and fetishistic sheen (as does his weapons, vehicles and armour), a sharp contrast to the primordial, instinctive tools of his opponent, as simple bombs and knives are the inventory of his  anarchist adversary. The next sequence of note is the terrifying Al-Qaeda video inspired moment when the first hostage demand is transmitted by the press, I still can’t quite believe this sneaked into a 12A certificate film as it is numbingly nasty and genuinely unsettling, both times at the flicks the patrons were shocked into a dumbstruck silence, as cunningly Nolan cuts to an overhead shot of Gotham as a chance for the audience to catch their breath and compose their spirits, a lull in the storm before the next action sequence ignites;

After this meandering we come to the central action set-piece and the film never looks back. I’ve been somewhat beaten to the punch by this widely circulated analysis of the sequence which has its merits, although I think having issues with the 180° rule being consistently violated is somewhat missing the point – if it convinces, if it excites and thrills then it’s job is done, regardless of any arbitrary academic transgression, and the claim that this is just sloppy film-making and is not intentional on the part of Nolan and his editor is frankly ludicrous. The ominous and subtle joke of the fire engines ablaze is another nice touch, the shift from diagetic sound to Zimmer’s (quite literally) highly strung score easing us into a frenetic, brilliantly conceived  and executed action sequence which stands above its peers by virtue of being, well, real. That’s real vehicles doing real stunts with real human beings, I’m not naive enough to think some of it wasn’t tweaked back in the labs but there are real visceral thrills in the sequence which does not rely solely on CGI domination (perhaps a little too real as a stuntman was killed during production), rather than using your cornea as a punching bag the concatenation has a drama, a lift and a presence through the characters and the parallel cutting techniques, and I’d argue that the entire film strives for a slightly disorienting, anxious ambience, embedded through every level of the film-making from the costumes to performances, soundtrack to set design. For all the films submerged depths and edifying intricacies it also delivers on the action and excitement front – let’s not forget that this is a $250 million Hollywood movie and as such it has some obligations to the cultural tropes of that breed of cinema – and this scene works as a microcosm three-act embezzlement of the form with its set-up and establishment of the characters in relation to the physical universe, the underground tussle and mêlée, and a final triumphant revelation of the Bat-pod and Westernesque showdown, all crowned with the twist reveal of Lt. Gordon bringing the maniac martinet to justice. I’ll admit I was suckered, I honestly thought Gordy had been killed earlier on so when he was revealed as the arresting officer on scene I was mentally punching the air in triumph along with the audience members who clapped and cheered along with this disclosure, a superb finish to what can roughly be parsed as the mid-point of the film, but not before we interrogate one of the more critical scenes of the entire movie;

There is nothing I can add to what already been expressed about this by Nolan here, it’s an illuminating interview, and you can see from that piece how the film works at an iconic level, he and Goyer and his brother got it and understand that the symbiotic relationship culled from the more mature Batman & Joker graphic novels are what makes them so intriguing and psychologically charged, this scene being the crux of the entire movie from which all the tendrils and all the other themes and events coalesce to lurk in a slithering, quivering mania. How can a force that thrives on conflict and degrading its opponent to its level ever be defeated? When do the ends justify the means in the face of illogical and indiscriminate brutality? When faced with the dispassionate, indifferent cruelty of the world and its hollow and hypocritical moral structures isn’t the only sane response to go insane? On that charming note let me draw a veil over part one of this reprise, giving me a breather to compose part 2 where we’ll get into the remainder of the film along with the performances, with some of the more virulent adumbrations and crucially how the film slots neatly into Nolan’s wider worldview, it’s all to come in a couple of weeks after this apprehensive musical interlude;

* Here is my favourite, most sarcastic appraisal of one of the films most glaring flaws – ‘I especially like the part where he (the Joker) had arranged to have two guys named Harvey and Dent killed so as to draw Batman’s attention to a bullet fired into the brick wall at the crime scene knowing that bullet would shatter but that Batman would recover it and take it to an improvised crime lab where he would then discover a way to model the shattered bullet on his computer and virtually reassemble the bullet in order to discover a fingerprint belonging to the minion who put the bullet in the gun and in whose apartment Batman would then discover that the funeral guard for Commisioner Loeb’s funeral has been bound and gagged and as Batman walks to the window to discover that the apartment overlooks the funeral of the commissioner, he fails to notice that a timer has been set to snap the window shade up at exactly the second that Batman arrives at the window, causing the snipers covering the funeral to fire at the window and allowing the Joker to make his next move! That is tight planning! I can see why audiences were so swept up by this story, which was not at all horseshit’….

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Paul Schrader has synthesized a segregated career writing of the escapades of his disenfranchised, damaged masculine anti-heroes, from disturbed servicemen to aged drug dealers, from pseudo-fascist Japanese playwrights to frigidly isolated lawmen, uncertain shamans to hollowed healers, it’s a compelling, challenging and consequential body of work which reached its critical apotheosis with the bruising, destructive machismo of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, widely considered as one of the greatest American films of the past fifty years. But before Schrader connected his virile, written rage with Scorsese’s variegated direction he cut his teeth in an alternate entry to the ‘return from Nam sub-genre’ which was released as Coppola finally introduced audiences to his oriental heart of darkness and Taxi Driver also hit screens, the final component of a trio being the cult classic Rolling Thunder which has just received a 35th anniversary Blu-Ray release from Studio Canal. Exploitation fans like yours truly have endured a tortured, prolonged delay in getting our medical claws on this desolate snarl of a movie, quite apart from its championing from the likes of Tarantino who not only named his short-lived 1990’s cult movie distribution company after it he also included the film amongst his top ten twelve all time submission to Sight & Sound  back in 2002, but don’t let that put you off as this is a provocative blast of retribution, here’s the opening titles;

Taking its turbulent title from a notoriously indiscriminate and criminal bombing campaign of the Vietnam quagmire Rolling Thunder opens with two veterans returning home to small town Texas after seven long years in a brutal communist prison camp. Major Charley Rane (William Devane) has internalized his suffering to a paralysing numbness, barely registering the growth of his young son from baby to child or the infidelity of his distant wife he prowls his dimly lit home, unable to sleep or re-integrate into civilian life as PTSD afflicted nightmares offer him nothing but insomnia and a glazed detachment from the real world. After being awarded a financial tribute from the town council, a bounty curiously expressed in a suitcase full of silver dollars some local goons are drawn to the scent of criminal opportunity, inducing a home invasion these Viet-Cong surrogates steal the treasure, execute Rane’s son and wife and for good measure shove his hand down the garbage compactor. Mutilated, bereaved and left for dead Rane’s second ordeal prompts a cathartic, lethal purpose – and this is where the film starts to swiftboat into waters marked transgressive – he teams up with local barmaid Linda (Linda Hayes, a blonde version of Karen Black) and fellow veteran Sergeant First Class Johnny Vohden (an early sighting of Tommy Lee Jones, he’s almost expressive) to hunt down the scum who have wiped out his family and abrogate a terrible vengeance – it’s not pleasant;

It’s a little strange to revisit a grimy, faintly squalid exploitation piece through the lens of a 21st century digital upgrade, this transfer works by retaining some of the grainy bubbles of the master print which is incorporated with a crystal clear bursts of colour amongst some gloomy interiors, awarding the enterprise  a coarse and brittle, sandpapery visual texture that complements the movies grim catenary. William Devane is hewn from the same formidable Mount Rushmore stone as James Coburn, Charles Bronson or Lee Marvin, as stoically impassive and deceptively cool as an obsidian memorial wall, an emotionally void vessel of pure vengeance who barely registers his son or wives casually presented execution whom are barely warm in their graves before he has shacked up with Linda whom he subsequently employs as bait for the lecherous degenerates that will soon face his ruthless wrath. I don’t know what it is about the era but it harks back to the aged sense of a  silent ‘man’s’ man, before the action film pyrotechnics of the eighties were punctuated by exploding infrastructure and groan-inducing puns, or the sensitive warriors of the nineties and noughties battled to reassert the equilibrium of the family or to protect a fledgling, sensitive romance, give me these homicidal, morally vacant psychopaths any day of the week rather than those pussy whipped, organic baguette purchasing, exfoliating cream sporting ladymen. It’s the unspoken bond of honor between Rane and his fellow serviceman Vohden in one of the most celebrated moments of super-cool exploitation cinema that really lodges this in the celluloid cranium, when Rane nullifying exclaims that ‘I’ve found them, (sic) the men who killed my son’ to which Vohden immediately replies ‘I’ll just get my gear’ – there is no debate, no question of going to the authorities, the mission is clear as these moral and spiritual vagabonds finally find the violent purpose and distorted moral mission in life that was inculcated in the hellish jungles of South East Asia. Here is the fantastically orchestrated, transgressively cathartic final show-down, so yeah here be spoilers;

As well as providing a paycheck for Schrader Rolling Thunder also signalled the arrival of other talents behind the camera, with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth cutting his teeth with some dimly orchestrated shadowplay before he went on to light the likes of Altered States, Cutters Way, and Blade Runner a few years later. His expressive lighting schemes and Schrader’s submerged iconography elevate the piece above the grunts in the vigilante league table, perhaps the most famous being the Death Wish series, The Exterminator, Straw Dogs and its feminist incarnations such as Handgun or more recentlyThe Brave One, although you could convincingly trace the genre back to Bergman’s The Virgin Spring which of course also birthed Craven’s uncomfortable The Last House on The Left. It’s always been a slightly sour, right-wing aligned strand of movies down from Dirty Harry through repeatable decades  of cycles, with a recent UK strain including Harry Brown and the hilariously reactionary, cheap Clerkenwell cocaine cut Outlaw. Rolling Thunder offers much more than mere rabid tabloid attuned umbrage, it has an aura of a Cormac McCarthy short story invested with some rare codes and symbols, giving our ‘hero’ a case full of silver dollars has to be one of the more unusual financial McGuffins that lures in the murderous opponents, in  an early scene Rane lovingly explains to his son how when incarcerated in the Viet Cong gulag they secretly stitched together and coveted a face-cloth sized American flag (which simply must have inspired this), even his symbolic castration which prompts his blood spattered spree against his fellow countrymen – and note that he doesn’t return to the jungle to liberate his similarly incarcerated comrades which was the purpose in the whole rehabilitation Nam movies of the eighties such as Rambo, Missing In Action, Strike Commando etc. – he’s at war on home turf which marks this as a treatise on the ambivalent and hostile response that the veterans suffered when they returned from their terrible tours of duty. If you think I’ve over thinking things then just remember that Schrader is one of the more academic scribes out there, the author of Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson & Dreyer, but for all the submerged academic posturing this film is as entertaining and straightforward as any other exploitation film, mapping to the genres definitions with a swift set-up, a cathartic plot driver, ferocious investigation and excessive execution, all played out in a brutally compact 95 minutes. One of the great 1970’s movies that rises from the critical swamps of its abused collaborators, Rolling Thunder is a renegade, blistering blast.

‘You guys are definitely on my shit list’…Warren Oates RIP

I sacrilegiously missed honoring the 30th anniversary of the death of the indomitable Warren Oates yesterday, here’s a fine documentary to bring you up to speed;

Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, The Wild Bunch, Badlands, Two Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and Dillinger would be quite a roster on any actors CV, he was by all accounts a hard living, image fulfilling growling bastard, anyone who survives three or four Peckinpah pictures is worthy of admiration. A loosely related 1970’s attuned film review is being constructed, watch this space….