Well fuck me it’s darn weird being back here again, after many, many months of neglect. I could barely remember my password let alone the functions of writing a blog post, so please bear with me as I reconnect with an old but terminal exercise. The good news (I guess) is that I’m going to commit to a few year closedown posts of timid length and analysis, the bad news (if anyone really cares) is that this will lead to a final execution of this ten year project once and for all as the day job has officially overtaken this now redundant blog. What have I been doing? Phase 2 of this. What am I involved in from January 2018? This. As such I need to be spectacularly careful of my digital footprint, wary of the press for reasons myriad and numerous, especially since I’m more than positive that some of the comments and jokes I have made on here could easily be located and exploited out of context with horrific consequences. Anyway, back to the matter at hand, here is the usual December montage which isn’t particularly transcendent, and as such representative of a rather average year;
I have been relatively active over the axial orbit movie going wise, but due to project pressures I completely missed the LFF this year (didn’t see a single screening or event) as my schedule simply didn’t gel with other priorities. Ironically I am on target for seeing over 500 films this year on various eyeball assaulting formats, and have managed to cram in some mini seasons on Eric Rohmer, all of Soderbergh’s 21st century material, a revisit of Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy, all of the Jarmusch films on Amazon Prime, Ōkami’s Lone Wolf & Cub series and even a revisit of a John Cassavettes box-set. I still don’t chime with the love for him, as much as I can appreciate his ground-breaking achievements in championing independent American filmmaking before Sundance was a faltering glint in Robert Redford’s azure eyes. More montage mischievousness here;
So in order to temper expectations here are my films of the year thus far, presented without commentary or debate and in no particular order – make of this what you will ; Wind River, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Moonlight, mother!, Lady Macbeth, The Death Of Stalin, Logan and maybe Malick’s Song To Song and the eerily prescient Nocturama. Alas I didn’t see The Florida Project, You Were Never Really Here, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Good Time, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer nor The Shape Of Water, some of which I’m sure could have arisen to the 2017 Menagerie pantheon if I’d seen them at the LFF. As it stands the ultimate event of 2017 was of course David Lynch’s spectacular bookend to his incredible career, maybe there more there will be more on that……later;
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;
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…..
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;
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;
Well this looks fairly intense, a new South Korean horror ‘descent into hell’ that has received strong plaudits from Cannes;
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…..
I 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…….
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……
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….
The 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.
The 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…..
You 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;