Apologies for the quality but I think you fellow cinephiles will understand, that we are definitely in the midst of an end times scerario. I expect to see Pynchon on Fox news next week;
He’s actually getting quite prolific in his advancing years isn’t he, with yet another one on the way, and I haven’t even seen the erratically praised Voyage Of Time yet. Some scamps have already anointed it as ‘Wide-Angle: The Movie’ which should became fairly evident when you watch the trailer;
Ungodly, that’s what it is – ungodly. To awaken at the hexing hour of 7:00am on a Sunday, to sacrifice a well deserved lie in after a hectic week scoping Guildford’s recently costed £1.2 billion first phase of the future, in order to make one final push on this years festival as it draws to its conclusion. I’m still faintly furious that I missed Carol, The Witch and Room, not to mention I didn’t really manage to pull off a elite acquisition – as in seeing something totally unknown and unheard of which turns out to be one of the quiet gems of the year, but so it goes and all three of those will pick regular distribution so it’s just a matter of time. So while I didn’t see nearly enough of what I wanted the good news is there were no misfires, everything was a three star or better movie, and I had a particularly strong final push over the last weekend. There was also something of a lesson learnt which has fallen away over the past few years, and that is to mix it up a little and see films with regular punters rather than just the continual dreary early start of the press screenings, sure it is a gamble with the potential of some nearby jerkward fucking about with his phone & talking and/or breathing inappropriately, but you do get more audience engagement and more importantly the talent Q&A’s following the screenings. Still, next year I vow to book the entire fortnight off come hell or high water, so none of this pesky career nonsense can continue to violate the truly important things in life. First things first my last tranche of reviews have dropped here and here, now on with our final weekend schedule;
I started the weary road with Crimson Peak but that wasn’t in the festival line-up and deserves its own separate review, so let’s snuggle up with Yorgos Lanthimo’s warmly received The Lobster instead. If you’ve seen Dogtooth then you know what to expect, a scenario revolving around a bizarre, surreal concept – recently heartbroken individuals check into a hotel with 45 days to establish new relationships before they are transformed into an animal of their choosing – as a metaphorical framework to reveal deeper truths about human relations, the social construction of the family unit, the emphasis on the primacy of sexual and legally enshrined relationships in contemporary society. Alienating Brechtian and satirical Bunuelian techniques aside this was absolutely hilarious, in the same brutal, very nasty and dark way that Dogtooth was. I and the audience was bent double at certain points and gasping at others, as when the concept is absaorbed and accepted it pump-primes a potent land of absurdity to explore. I’m not sure all the queries that Lanthimo raised were fully appreciated or exploited, as in the second phase of the film when the core character (a playing against type subdued Colin Farrell) links in with some anti-couple liberation fighters in the wilderness the plot and level of interest started to wane alongside Rachael Weitz’s sharply efficient voiceover. Nevertheless this was probably the funniest and at times most painful film I’ve seen this year, physically as well as mentally, and its nice to wheels back in cinema after being lost in Kill List and A Field In England.
Did we save the best for last? Well, kind of, at least in terms of events if perhaps not material. The closing night gala film of this years festival was the star-studded Steve Jobs biopic called, remarkably, Steve Jobs. Directed by Danny Boyle and armed with a machine gun script from everyone’s favourite walker and talker Aaron Sorkin this has been eagerly awaited in some quarters, while Job’s widow has added a frission of controversy by publicly opposing the project. To begin I have read the ‘official’ Jobs biography purely due to a charity shop acquisition and my relatively lengthy commute to Colchester earlier in the year, so I was already well versed with the algorithms of Jobs personal and professional career. I’m not a particular Macolyte – well, so says the man whom has moved through all 6 generations of his telecommunication device, whom owns a Mac-Mini, a 2009 iMac, two iPod’s, an iPad and has recently invested in an Intel Core i5 1.6Ghz Processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD MacBook Air. Nevertheless I find him interesting as a modern-day Thomas Edison, a man whose influence as a synthesiser of the competing areas of marketing, design and technology have forged our modern world in an undeniable way – all I had to was scan the audience during the conference and see how many iPhones and iPads were in attendance recording the event just to anecdotally scope the companies pernicious penetration into our world. In a spectacularly contrived fashion the film is programmed around Jobs life in the hours and minutes run up to three critical product launches – the Apple II in 1984, the strategically (and some speculate intentional) disastrous NeXTcube in 1988, and his phoenix like return to the fold in 1998 with the launch of the iMac. Like some sort of Dickensian visitation the film oscillates between the personal interactions and infractions with the key people in his life, starting with the mother of his initially disputed child played by Katherine Waterston, followed by Seth Rogan as fellow Apple garage-hobbyist pioneer Steve Wozniak. Then we have Jeff Daniels taking on the mantle of Apple CEO and chief architect of his 1986 ousting John Sculley, while Winslet rounds out the cast as his long-suffering confidante & senior marketing guru Joanna Hoffman.
Despite the absurd call sheet I thoroughly enjoyed this once I’d adapted to the rhythms of the film, at the start I admit I was a little irritated at the structure and the exceptionally clumsy crowbarring in of exposition and history into characters mouths – ‘But Steve, ever since you took the company public three years and earned yourself a personal fortune of $414 million a gamble like this is crazy’ – but to be fair not everyone has read the biography and some of the broad strokes are quite cleverly crafted. It has some big laughs, some armour-piercing Sorkinesque exchanges if you like that sort of thing, and it seemed to do a reasonable job (heh) of showing some of the different sides to the man, including just what an utter twat he could be in the way he treated people (not least his daughter and her poverty-stricken mother), the influence that his adoption may have had on his psyche, and the unrelenting fanatical pursuit of perfection which ensured why he is in the history books and not just the corporate executive lexicon as one of the most influential human beings of the past fifty years. Danny Boyle largely restrains his signature style, covering with long takes and steadicam stuttering around the backstage of the launches, the only real directorial flourish being film stock selection for each historical phase – 16mm in 1984, 35mm in 1988 and of course digital for 1998. The conference was rather odd, one of those contrived industry situations which I’ve still not quite got used to, and I must confess to being a little star struck of being within 10 feet proximity to that bird from Titanic, Ace Rothstein from Boardwalk Empire, one of Dumb & Dumber, Mr. West Wing, that upcoming actress from Inherent Vice and the oirish chap who keeps getting his wanger out whom is something of a hit with the ladies. It was quite a frisky affair as you can see above with a few more laughs than the Suffragette conference, Winslet swears like a docker, Daniels falls asleep and as a heterosexual male I will say that Fassbender does have that elusive quality when he enters a room, so that roguish charisma on-screen is also emitted in real life. I also espied Bill Nighy in the lobby of the Mayfair hotel on what seemed to be completely unrelated business, and in a bizarre coincidence when I connected back through Canary Wharf they were shooting a movie at the foot of the main escalators – weird. Now, as I understand it the full trailer for a certain anticipated December release is dropping at 8:30pm Eastern seaboard time with some European souls even staying up until 1:30am GMT to see it, I will not joining them but will naturally have some comments when I arise from my meditation chamber tomorrow morning….
‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’ – that’s a great early line from the bard which was etched its way into the cultural vernacular, and never has the mood of dire apprehension, inescapable fate and grim oppressive doom been articulated in movie culture more than with this latest screen incarnation of the so-called ‘Scottish play‘. Director Justin Kurzel – he who assaulted us with the Australian psycho drama Snowtown a few years back – follows in the imposing footsteps of no less than Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa and Roman Polanski in terms of taking on one of Shakespeare’s higher profile plays, and judging by this sophomore effort he is emerging as a master of atmosphere and evocative dread. As a reluctant product of the UK’s comprehensive education system I inevitably have a passing knowledge of my countryman’s literate achievements, as you are guaranteed to have studied some of his plays by the time you exit stage left and either continue your studies or begin a hesitant career in your late teens. Alongside The Winters Tale and A Comedy of Errors I have studied Macbeth, and I actually found it pretty amazing given the swordfights and medieval Machiavellian manoeuvring, which wasn’t at all bad for an academic activity populated with boring old people from olden times speaking in a really stupid and weird way. Macbeth concerned itself with the power dynamics, rituals and the deceitful posturing of noble people and their consorts long before the scheming Game Of Thrones, as a Tolkien fanatic a lot of this medieval fantasy type stuff was already in my wheelhouse, plus we got to see some tits by watching the Polanski version on VHS – result. For the uninitiated the we open in the 12th century Scottish hinterlands, where the upstart yet ruthlessly efficient general Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) defeats the combined forces of Norway and Ireland in the name of his clans ruler King Duncan (David Thewlis). With the Kings son newly enshrined as the heir to the throne Macbeth’s wife (Marion Cottillard) whispers of treachery and deceit, echoing a spectral prophecy from a trio of sorceress who prologue the tale of Macbeth’s righteous ascension. Aggravated at his dismissal Macbeth nurses a grievous blood-lust, a thirst for power which is stoked by his malicious wife, an augury inevitably cloaked in violent tragedy. Rounding out the impressive cast are the likes of Paddy Considine as Banquo, Sean Harris as MacDuff, and Elizabeth Debicki as his wife, Lady MacDuff.
If you’ve seen Kurzel’s Snowtown then you’ll know that he is adept in invoking an atmosphere of choking apprehension, where the threat of brutal violence lurks around every corner, no more so than in this brooding, malevolent take on one of the bards great tragedies. This translation churns with elemental forces ingrained deep in the blood soaked earth, erupting in orgiastic reveries of power, of lust, and of madness, chittering and clawing like the hyperborean winds howling through the highlands. Kurzel opens up the play from its theatrical origins by framing the drama against some epic visual tapestries, the drama twisting and turning beneath a corpse grey bruised sky, with sulphurous mists masking the principals as spectral apparitions from a mythic, long dormant age. Black and red are the primary colours, with interiors shrouded in mysterious lurking shadows, or entire battle sequences submerged in crimson infernos, an impressive and impressionistic take on the material which is reminiscent of Winding-Refn’s Valhalla Rising.
The story revolves around the titular villain and his manipulative, malodorous wife, played with sultry, wraith-eyed intensity by Cotillard, a porcelain succubae who spins a web of deceit and grief in order to usurp the kingdom. Indeed it’s the concept of grief as a propelling, poisonous force where the film departs from the play, as Kurzel and his three scriptwriters have added the concept of a dead child as Macbeth and his wives machinery of mania, opening the film with his funeral and the couples desperate, paralysing grieving. Fassbender is fantastic as always, a thoroughly repellent figure wracked with an internal intensity, while his delivery of the great soliloquy ‘is this a dagger I see before me’ seems worthy of those legends who have seized the mantle over past screen translations. One moment where he hears some terrible news is just a fantastic screen moment (I guess after 400 years we still need to avoid plot spoilers eh?), as a tsunami of emotions course across his face before he sets his courage to the sticking post, and charges out to face his dire destiny.
Complementing the atmosphere is a lyrical score by Jed Kurzel whom one assumes is related to the director somehow, taking the period and location specifics to erect a portentous cathedral of cataclysm, without resorting to comedic bagpipes or simple ethnic pounding war-drums. This is high praise coming from me but I was also put in the mind of Apocalypse Now, where the lunacy and madness of the tale seems to saturate through the compositional elements on-screen, performance, imagery and sound draping the tragedy with a nightmarish hue, with some brutal moments which earn the films corpse strewn certificate. This was a good dry run for the LFF which begins in earnest on Wednesday, so seeing two films in one day (I also caught The Martian which is Ridders best movie in fifteen years) gives me some practice writing deadlines before the chaos commences in just a few days. Of the numerous Shakespeare film adaptions this is top-tier territory, a smoke encrusted soliloquy on power and malice which malingers throughout the ages;
That’s quite a team behind the product – Oscar winners© Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin on direction and script, and a high energy cast including Winslet, Stuhlburg, Daniels and Seth Rogan as the Woz. Purely coincidentally I am 2/3 through the official biography on the man which I picked up for the princely sum of 49p from a Colchester charity shop, and a well written, warts n’ all piece it is too. I can’t help think that Fassbender seems bizarrely miscast though, he’s a great actor n’all but he just doesn’t seem to fit the person portrayed in the book. I guess we shall see in October;
By the pricking of my thumbs, a Fassbender and Cotillard this way comes – yeah I know another MI5 preview dropped today, but I’m trying to ween myself off posting multiple trailers of the same damn film. Instead its heartening to see some of the well lauded Cannes crowd starting to fire up their marketing engines, and this looks suitably devilish;
Like I said I do like the Scottish play the most out of my somewhat limited knowledge of the shaker of spears, but that’s quite a volatile mixture of leads which deserves a big-screen visit – it’s bound to be among this years LFF squadron…
AM I losing my mind? I thought it was only a few months ago that Bale dropped out of this project, and now we already have a trailer and a release date of October? That’s a pretty darn fast turnaround for the movie business isn’t it? I’m not a worshipper at the altar of jobs but theres no denying he was a figure of our age, and that a pretty robust cast and a Sorkin script – I’m in;
New York city hasn’t looked so beautifully cold and ironically isolating for quite some time as it does in Shame, Steve McQueen’s second collaboration with everyone’s favourite actor Michael Fassbender, the recipient of the best actor gong at Venice for his brave and penetrating performance of a sex addicted advertising executive in a hyperboreal Big Apple. In his sparse Manhattan apartment Brandon (Fassbender) spends his evenings detachedly consuming hardcore porn on the Internet in-between random, affection starved pick-ups in local bars and clubs. His computer at work has been quarantined for potential infection, an investigation that leaves him imperceptibly shaken for easy to guess indiscretions. Every night, like an automaton, he is seduced by the flickering flesh thrusting on his laptop screen (many of the interactions in Shame are mediated through technology) as he ignores repeated voice-mails from a pleading female, whom we later learn is his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a struggling musician, who needs a place to stay for a few days. Arriving home one night Brandon discovers his sister in his shower having let herself in, and he reluctantly agrees to put her up for a few days. Although there is a hesitant affection between the siblings soon broader hints at a more complex past are exposed, Sissy seems similarly emotionally mutilated, after having a pathetically pleading conversation with a boyfriend to take her back she rebounds by inappropriately sleeping with Brandon’s boss David (James Badge Dale), placing more mental strain on her afflicted brother. As Sissy’s visit continues Brandon’s thwarted addictions begin to overwhelm him, although the possibility of an office romance which could provide genuine companionship and warmth shows potential in thawing his icy, insulated id.
Shame embraces the distant, austere style of Bresson and early Schrader; like an East Coast doppelganger to the sun-drenched West Coast of American Gigolo the film is ascetic excavation of a man in deep psychological distress, expressed through character in a conflicting context. McQueen has not fully abandoned some the more declamatory instincts he utilised in Hunger (the piss-washing single take, the central pivot long dialogue scene) but they are more tempered and refined in Shame, and the film feels more instinctive and less formalist which in turn engages the viewer more closely with Brandon’s plight. McQueen likes long takes and three scenes in particular are some of the finest cinema of the year; a long frigid jog through the nocturnal New York streets, a confrontation between Brandon and Sissy in the apartment with an outbreak of vivid emotional violence, and a revelatory rendition of New York from Mulligan in a downtown bar which is simply phenomenal. Indeed, it’s in the performances that Shame should be most proud of itself, as both Mulligan and Fassbender seem dangerously fragile and even slightly dangerous, and McQueen coaxes complicated and compelling renditions from them which are complemented by his taut, coruscating direction.
A Pandora’s box of potent themes arise, the distancing and isolation of modern life, and its stresses upon the psyche? More directly a blistering attack on the psychic fall-out of easily accessible pornography? An autopsy on the devastating cost of addiction, need and desire? Unfortunately these questions are slightly eroded in a grinding climax when the film moves into slightly predictable territory given both characters psychological fugues, with a unneccessary flirt with one dramatic convention which is obvious and frankly a little impotent. Regardless, Shame is weighty, serious, adult film-making and an essential, hardcore text of 2011.