Always found it clunky when they do this in movies, but this super-cut is kinda fun;
Ah, another sensei ascends to the great screening room in the sky. As an enormous fan of Japanese cinema I am ashamed to admit I’m certainly no expert on the so-called ‘asian Godard‘, but having perused that list I am surprised to see I’ve seen more of his films than I realised, including his swan-song Taboo, his most notorious film of all, and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence;
Seems a shame that his long and complex career should be primarily remembered for one picture which had a lot of fucking in it, but here we are. In other news with Sundance on the horizon another trailer has surfaced of one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year, at least I think it’s a film;
I’m particularly impressed that a full two-minute trailer doesn’t feel the need to explain or signal much in the way of anything, and maintains a real sense of mystery – if this doesn’t come to London in April as part of Sundance I won’t be responsible for my actions – can’t wait….
So how was your Xmas? I had a quiet one with the parents, hung out with Sweetberry and Zipzee, business as usual really. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t much on TV although I did enjoy the Cecil B DeMille documentary on More 4 and am enjoying the repeat of the BBC’s 1986 series on RKO Studios that is currently airing on BBC4. Film-wise 2008 was a pretty good year I’d say, I’ve identified some new cult and genre movie fissures to mine in 2009, I caught up with some world cinema classics by the likes of Fellini, Dreyer and Antonioni and there is plenty to look forward to over the next twelve months so I can’t complain. So let’s begin, as a general rule there will be minor spoliers with some of my comments so read at your peril – I won’t be disclosing major events such as the ending of ‘The Mist’ though as that is something you have to see for yourself. Yeah, I know….
‘There Will Be Blood‘ – Film of the year. Mark my words, this is the one they’ll be talking about for years to come. If you believe as I do that truly great films are a synthesis of outstanding achievements in each of a films major ingredients – the story and how that is constructed in the plot, the performances, the soundtrack, the cinematography, the direction, the editing and that most elusive of qualities which is a film that carves its moment in time in terms of theme, style and relationship to the world in terms of a work of art – well then sorry Oliver Stone, here is the definitive film of the past eight years of US hubris and beyond. I’ve picked it up on Blu-Ray and whilst the extras are woefully short the transfer into the small screen does not diminish its incredible power. In addition I’m wracking my brains to think of a film this year that has genuinely achieved a classic line that will be embedded in cinema history so the final word is ‘I Drink Your Milkshake‘.
‘The Mist‘ – A perfect companion piece to ‘There Will Be Blood’ if you consider the shift from an epic, big, sprawling ambitious film to a tight, compact little B movie that both reference the times we live in in their own idiosyncratic ways. This was just so much fun and I love the sense of urgency that seeps into the movie from the films production given its tiny budget, minuscule shooting schedule and need for old school improvisation on set in terms of cutting corners and coverage of scenes – take a look at the DVD extras to see what I’m getting at. The black and white version of the film on the DVD which echoes its 1950’s inspiration is good fun (yes you can just adjust the contrast and colour on your TV anyway but hey), in either version this is simply brilliant good old school horror fun that takes itself seriously and ditches any tiresome tongue in cheek winks to the audience. Its ultimate achievement of course though is that shattering conclusion. Stephen King is on record as saying the only reason he didn’t include such a nihilistic and shocking ending is that he never thought of it himself and I think that is the best praise that Darabont could expect.
‘No Country for Old Men‘ – Or ‘No Place For Old Bastards’ as my Dad amusingly called it. The best American chase movie that I’ve seen for quite some time on a second viewing you really absorb just how taut and lean a film this is, there is almost no extraneous filler to distract from the relentless chase that forms the films spine. Bardem has already gone down as the best villain in American movies since Hannibal Lektor and this was the film that has really catapulted Josh Brolin into the A list stakes, I do love how the final act goes into some unexpected places and fucks around with some conventions (what, he’s dead? But how did that happen?) and also screws around with some other screen expectations – the final scene is outstanding. I hope that after cleansing their system with ‘Burn After Reading’ that the Coens come back with another serious film, looking at their IMDB profile they have a number a new projects in various states of development – we shall see.
‘Wall-E‘ – Yeah, I know, a frickin Disney movie in the top films of the year? What’s happened to gore-hound Minty? Well, it was a tight run race with this and both ‘Hunger’ and ‘Four Months, Three Weeks & Two Days’ but having caught this again last week it just nudges itself in amongst the extremely dark and ominous films I’ve really enjoyed this year. It really is a beautiful, genuinely magical film and represents a quantum leap forward in animation. It’s almost photo-realistic, once these Silicon Valley visual creatives nail CGI eyes and hair on screen I swear all the new actors and actresses in, well, say 2025 will be digitally generated. After they get to outer space it does vaguely lapse into Pixar by the numbers stuff but that brand of criticism is testimony to the strength of the exquisite opening thirty minutes in my book. I mean tell me that this isn’t enchanting. I admire the premise of the film that should seep into the kiddie audience subconcious and what more can you ask of a massive mainstream animated production which is obstentiously for the ankle-biters these days?
OK, here’s the deal. I’ve obviously missed something but to be honest I’m still working on a certain other picture which rounds off my films of the year, my thoughts on that movie have grown particularly unwieldy and has distracted me from posting on the usual retrospective pictures I’ve loved in 2008 and what I’m really looking forward to in 2009. So, to break with tradition I’m gonna post each section separately as I finalise and polish my posts on the latter two elements of Minty’s cinematic year. Below is a quick sypnopsis of the slighly marginal movies I’ve got marked on the calendar, I’ll get the other stuff up within the next week or so. As a taster here is my favourite scene of the year, ‘There Will Be Blood’ aside that was the most electrifying five minutes I’ve spent in the cinema in 2008.
In addition I’m looking forward to the previously mentioned third world SF movie ‘Sleep Dealer‘, Rian Johson’s ‘The Brothers Bloom‘ is still awaiting a UK release date although the trailer is hardly inviting, Scorsese is back with ‘Shutter Island‘ then there’s ‘Synecdoche, New York‘, the hugely praised ‘The Wrestler‘ by Aronofsky, the horrific ‘Martyrs‘ ( if it doesn’t get buried – no pun intended – by Miramax like they did with ‘À l’intérieur‘), Ash is kind of back and most importantly John Carpenter is back with, err, well, a Nicholas Cage movie. The tagline is ‘Uncaged’. Look, it might be good, alright? It…well it…….it might….anyway some other exciting news here which will no doubt be redundant by the time you read this. So there you have it. I think it’s been a great year for movies and plenty to look forward to next year, personally speaking I’ve found a brilliant place to live and a new assignment with some other opportunities in the pipeline so am looking forward to what suprises the new year will bring. There is at least one, possibly two Best Man privileges to navigate. The US election result aside it’s hard to imagine a more disruptive year in global events but let’s not dwell on such downers, in order to combat the dark clouds I guess I’m gonna have to remind us all of the code with which to live your life. Happy New Year and I’ll see you all in 2009….
And so gentle reader I enter my terrible twos. Accordingly I intend to become more boisterous, opinionated, self-absorbed, mischievous and hysterical. What’s that, business as normal I hear you cry? If you’d like to get me a birthday present then I’ll always accept donations from the superb Criterion Collection, fascinating link on how they are upgrading to new technologies here.
May you live in interesting times – fuck that. Recent economics 101 here. Text heavy sure but I found it to be a brilliant synopsis of where we’ve arrived at including educated predictions of how the Jenga banking system could possibly come all crashing down – it was written in January so quite superbly prescient. As the immensely depressing fallout continues I’ve read and discarded many observations on the inevitable implosion, I cling hopelessly to the belief that such a shock may lead to a real and proper consideration of western values in light of the real challenges facing the planet. Exactly what progress could have been made on poverty and tackling climate change, investing in new technologies with (as I write this) £50 billion from the UK alone, $700 billion in the US, no doubt more to follow as the…look, its just too fucking much. It is a fucking disgrace. Words fail me. I don’t know about you, but I am continuing my training for the inevitable, although the upside is a possible new girlfriend. Clouds, silver lining etc…..
Riddle me this – what links ‘The Italian Job‘, ‘The Wicker Man‘, ‘Don’t Look Now‘, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth‘, ‘The Deer Hunter‘ and a quietly admired early 80’s tech-noir Raymond Chandler picture? Go on, I’ll give you one guess? What, no idea? No idea at all? OK, I’ll put you out of your misery – it’s cult movie UK born supremo producer Michael Deeley of course, good lord do keep up. Last week I went to a NFT hosted book launch of Deely’s autobiography with the requisite on stage interview, interspersed with clips from his work and traditional Q&A follow up session. It pains me to report that this was far and away the most disappointing event I have attended at my beloved NFT as quite simply the whole evening failed abysmally to unearth any interesting insights into his career and work, mostly scuppered by the sheer ineptitude of the interviewer whose entire strategy seemed to revolve around the same line of interrogation – ‘what drew you to this project?’ That’s not a bad start but to repeat that for every stage without teasing out any tit-bits or revelatory moments was a real waste. Apart from the revelation that Steve McQueen hired Peter Yates to direct the Deeley produced ‘Bullitt‘ on the strength of the car chase in their early UK film ‘Robbery‘ there was nothing of any real value here, the old and well known tale of Kubrick submitting out-takes from ‘The Shining‘ for the final reels of the original cut of ‘Blade Runner‘ was trotted out as some amazing coup, must try harder. I don’t know about you but I’ve been using this question as a curve-ball in my interviews for years (one day those HR witches will understand my method) but now its tired.
Birthdays are always an apt moment for pensive reflection so I’ve nominated Ridley Scott as this months choice of director whose work I follow with interest. Along with Carpenter he’s one of the first filmmakers where I detected something of a particular style of approach and beautiful visualisation, even if they didn’t always result in a satisfying final product. I think it’s fair to say that Sir Ridley has had his ups and downs,after a stunning early trilogy he seemed to get sidetracked into poorly written mainstream rubbish that never made the best of his particular visual skills, recovering with ‘Gladiator‘ which put him back on the Hollywood A list.
I love the story of Russell Crowe discussing future offers on the set of ‘The Insider‘ with Michael Mann, uncertain whether he should take an offer of the role of a Roman Centurion in some complex historical production with a director whose pedigree had somewhat waned. Mann urged him to take the role, explaining that Scott was ‘in the top 2% of visual filmmakers at work’ and the rest as they say is history. Scott has been long attached to ‘Blade Runner’ sequels which I’m curiously ambivalent about, whether he or someone else makes them (must be mellowing in my old age), other projects like this seem far more intriguing and relevant.
So then, the best 500 movies of all time. I stopped reading ‘Empire’ a long time ago – bring back the sadly lamented ‘Neon‘ or morphed ‘Hotdog‘ for real fun cult/mainstream periodical perusal but such an obvious challenge to be offended and disgusted at the predictable results couldn’t be resisted. No late periodFellini? Philistines. Where’s Rivette? Sacrilege. Calm down, I’m joking of course as obviously it’s an English language centric list with the obvious pictures leading the pack, just as my favourites are and always will be. Gun at my head, family in gas chamber, every existing Kubrick film print suspended over a Volcano, what would Minty choose between the entire (a quick guess) of Tarkovskys 20+ hour work or ‘Escape From New York‘? One answer – ‘…I heard you was dead….’ What I do find fascinating as a film nerd are the choices of film makers I love, for instance Fincher has quite an interesting choice which was quite revealing, ‘Kane’ being the only prior 1970’s choice. I can’t find a link to his submission so you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out what I’m talking about but think ‘Chinatown’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Days Of Heaven’, ‘Strangelove’, ‘All The Presidents Men’, that sort of thing. Nick Hornby must be sharpening his pencil as we speak.
That said, general discussion threads from this ‘Empire’ poll has lead me back to the Holy Grail of Film lists that I stumbled across some years ago. 500? Fucking amateurs. Any real film nerd must worship at the temple that is 1001 films you must see. Praise Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Thor, Odin, Thunderbird or any other fictitious deity you care to follow. As an antidote of sorts I have posted in the first comment of this post that omnipotent list which is real tough stuff – it covers the majority of my reasonably educated base of mainstream film (meaning narrative film, none of the Avant-garde experimental type stuff like the Warhol’s, Borzages etc.) and I think its superb. Yes, I pride myself on my twenty year plus movie obsession but there are many titles on there I have never even heard of which is a humbling experience, I stand in awe of such an encompassing and massively knowledgeable pantheon, purely by virtue of what it does cover by historical era and geographic scope. It flirts from Greece to Russia, Korea to Argentina, genre to genre, movement to movement. I love it when you stumble across things like this as it can lead a fan in previously unknown and unforeseen directions. As expected the DVD acquisition coverage ain’t great prior to 1930 but there are many titles in there from the 70’s to 90’s which are now on my research list. I have included the films in the first comment a separate entry to this post, purely as an memory aide for my absurd new cinematic endeavour. You can find the list below, should keep me occupied…
That’s enough movies for the moment. Lets finish off the ‘party’ with some music links which have been gracing my ipod during my commuting maneuvers over the past few weeks. I’ve pretty much got my podcast addiction under control with everything up to date (this was a recent find which is admittedly fratboy humor heavy but still fun to listen to, also recommended is this) so without further hesitation, over to the tube of you…..
Courtsey of Neil, my most learned friend when it comes to music. ‘The Monks’ are one of Mark E Smith’s favourite bands…
Shout out to the Bryski massive. Or something.
Forgot to thank the Scally for turning me on to this guy, apologies but it took me a while to get round to listening to the disks. Good stuff.
The closest any individual release have got to the original Mode for me. Rubbish video but I’m happy to hear that the Basildon trio are playing down the road at the o2 next year, tickets are hopefully en-route….
Best track when I saw them in Hammersmith a few years ago and the best live quality version I could find…
Looking forward to the new album. It’s possible……
Polysics or Die!!!
Good. Better but unable to embed in the blog for some stupid reason….
Just to fuck with you…..
I’ll always treasure having friends who worked in one of my local vinyl dealers back in my teenage years, I got the album this terrific track was on for free, slipped in with whatever noisy nonsense I was spending my hard earned cash on. RIP Andy’s Records…..
OK, just one. Has to be said though, it’s typical that my favourite bands leader had to be such a short sighted twat to call his musical collective ‘The the’ and then compound that moment of genius to name one of his most desired and rare albums ‘Pornography Of Despair‘ – fucking excellent web results I get from punching that combination into Google or ebay. I won’t argue that it doesn’t lead to some intriguing avenues of exploration but that is, as they say, another story….
‘The Hollowmen’ Posh Club. 1989. Not pretty. Some of you know what I’m talking about.
Just for laughs, some old and rare ‘Cure’ brilliance. You’ve got to love YouTube….
You can’t keep a good horde down. Yes that’s right, the fifth in George A Romero’s zombie quintet finally shambles onto UK shores. Old school gorehounds like yours truly get jolly excited at the prospect of a new zombie flick, raised as we were on a charming diet of exploding heads, gore-strewn guts and eviscerated soldiers. Lovely <drools uncontrolably>….
Once again the dead rise to roam the earth due to an unspecified scientific accident, or perhaps as the man says, ‘when there’s no more room in hell…‘. Romero returns much more to the feel of his early low-budget, guerrilla filmmaking roots with the undead armageddon being captured on video-cameras by a group of student film-makers who just happen to be making a low budget horror film of their own. The footage is predicitably uplifted to the web as the carnage unfolds and the body counts starts to rise…..
To be honest after the disappointing ‘Land of the Dead‘, a new Romero zombie film doesn’t fill me with the quivering fanboy anticipation that it would have a few years ago. I will of course still catch a new zombie picture on the big screen as I am a massive fan of the original trilogy – a combination of films which are amongst the best horror flicks ever made, up there with all the old Universal pictures of the 1930’s, the Italian giallos (isn’t this one of the best film titles you’ve ever heard?), the occult films of the 1970’s (The Omen, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby) and many of the better slasher films of the 1980’s and 1990’s. I’ve been hearing great things about a cycle of explotation & horror films from Indonesia of all places which I will start to track down, although I’m not confident about their availability on any format.
Unfortunately, the film is a goner and lacks any real bite. Ha, can you see what I did there? It becomes a bit of a road movie as the students travel back to their homes to find their families and is all so formulaic – drive, zombie encounter, death. Drive, zombie encounter, death. Romero usually has some interesting, unusual characters in his films not a bunch of witless students some of whom, it has to be said, really cannot act. There is never any sense of the global epidemic, of society itself disintegrating into anarchy and hysteria, no aura of terror or horror. It has a few moments, when they get to the Amish farm for example the film ratchets up a notch and you get a sense of real threat as the place becomes surrounded by the ghouls. In this sequence there are actually some amusing moments, (my favourite being the footage of the zombie clown at a children’s party which is quite perversely amusing), but these are the rare pearls in this major disappointment.
I’m getting a bit exasperated at the continual use of youtube and laptops, facebook and myspace being employed in movies in an effort to generate some vague ‘cutting edge’ kudos. If you look back at some of the films I’ve reviewed this year – ‘Cloverfield’, ‘Be Kind Rewind’ – you can see this being repeated ad nauseum. ‘Diary’ is even being referred to as a ‘reboot’ of the series, and uses the found footage technique which I’ve already discussed in my ‘Cloverfield’ review. Give. It. A. Rest. It’s all a bit like watching your Grandad dance to the Arctic Monkeys – embarrassing and just not right. It’s not edgy, it’s not hip, it’s mainstream and boring now.
Chronologically, Romero’s zombie films have examined racism, consumerism, vivisection and slavery, the War on Terror and ideological insanity and I suppose there is some sort of message about contemporary USA hidden amongst the corpses. It makes much of the fact that the authorities are suppressing details about the outbreak and only through social networking sites can the truth be revealed – so, governments lie to their populace? Well hell, I’ve got a newsflash for you – this is not news. It all ends on a terrible line of dialogue, much to the effect of ‘but hey, who are the real monsters? Do we really deserve to be saved?’ Sixth form stuff Mr. Romero, grade D-….
Probably the one thing I can thank for the film was the enormous fun I had researching the links. I stumbled across this gem which is a series of programmes that was essential viewing for a budding cult film fan back in 1980’s. Due to an almighty trademark cock-up the original ‘Night’ is in the public domain and can be seen here – ‘they’re coming to get you Barbara….look, there’s one of them now’ is a great moment. I should also recommend this which takes much the same premise as ‘Diary’, a zombie outbreak, student film makers and a verite approach, except this time set in the UK. It was released last year and is OK, worth a look. One horror film I am looking forward to this year is ‘The Orphanage‘, a spooky Spanish little number that has already been getting strong reviews.
Well, this should be different. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s has a reputation as an extreme film-maker whose work occupies the twin worlds of both avant-garde and cult cinema. His films feel like they’ve been saturated in mescaline, unorthodox visions that defy easy description – he is someone whose work has to be seen to be believed. He is another surrealist, but unlike Bunuel is not widely considered as a member of the canon of ‘high’ or ‘worthy’ cinema, especially given his popularity with the acid heads and freaks who first flocked to his irregularly distributed movies in the cheapo drive-ins and run down cinemas of 60’s west coast America. Born in Chile in the late 1920’s, educated in Paris he is something of a bohemian who developed his own Mexican Theatre Trope, wrote mimes with Marcel Marceau (I still wonder if at Marceau’s recent funeral they had a two minute pandemonium?) he painted, wrote, drew comic books and engaged in performance art before turning his intellect to the cinema. If Bunuel is a polite, dryly spoken scornful English gentleman then Jodorowsky is a incandescent Mexican bandit -I’d only seen ‘Santa Sangre‘ before a few years ago but Jodorowsky’s output is so scant I’ve included it in the post after a second viewing. I’ve decided to view the films chronologically in an effort to detect emerging themes or an evolution of style over his career – this provided to be something of a failure as the dude was seriously fucked up from day one. All very, very NSFW so be warned with the links.
‘Fando y Lis’– This was too avant-garde for me, and it was a struggle. I’ve read that the DVD transfer was poor, but this was little more than a hastily constructed series of vignettes of strange characters interacting in a surreal fashion without any detectable purpose. The ‘plot’ concerns the title characters seeking the fabled lost city of Tar, a city that promises eternal ecstasy and fulfilment. It’s essentially a road movie and en route they interact with frisky transvestites, homicidal children and hungry vampires. Granted it was shot on a very low budget with non-professionals but hey, so was ‘Eraserhead’ and that film at least kept me gripped. Whilst the images are powerful by virtue of their pure originality I felt my attention wandering. What is interesting is that the film’s premiere resulted in a full blown riot with Jodorowky fleeing the 1968 Acapulco film festival and going to hiding for a brief period – the film was banned in Mexico after further incidents which gives oxygen to Jodorowsky’s assertions that he can change and manipulate ‘consciousness’ with his movies – more on this below….
‘El Topo‘ – Leather clad lesbian cowgirls. Incest ridden criminal dwarfs. Elderly transvestite hookers. No, it’s not a textbook Saturday night at chez Minty, just some of the ingredients of Jodorowsky’s most famous work and one of the lynch-pins of the midnight movie phenomenon. There are threads to his work as this feels like a more structured and considered film than Fando y Lis’ which employs the same sequence of challenging and visually lurid sequences which are almost unique in my experience. The plot, as much as there is one, follows the black clad gunfighter (played by Jodorowsky) escorting his naked son through a village strewn with the detritus of a vicious massacre. After saving a mysterious woman ‘El Topo’ is quested to find and kill the four gunmen responsible for the carnage. Then things start to get a little…strange….It’s easy to see what a certain type of person can admire and enjoy in this – it’s fucking mental. The phrase ‘retina scorching’ springs to mind and I actually had to rewind back certain scenes to make sure what I’d just seen actually happened. It’s enjoyable in its own unique way and follows ‘Fando y Lis’ in his quest narrative being the hook upon which to hang a succession of bewildering scenes and imagery.
‘The Holy Mountain‘ – At this point, reality is collapsing and I seriously doubt I’ll ever be the same again – if I’d actually watched these back to back I’m pretty sure I would have succumbed to uncontrollable insanity and been locked away in the local puzzle house.Again, we are assaulted with a procession of lunacy and madness albeit this time with a more overt critique of the ‘system’. Jodorowsky hones his vision down onto the means of production, the factory shop floor and the CEO boardroom for his targets. At the climax of the film he even abandons the pretence of cinema itself as a mechanical mechanism of control and production and reveals the artifice of film-making itself with the camera revealing the crew, lighting rigs and actors on set.
‘Santa Sangre‘ – finally, something of a return to normality. All this has to offer is amputation, rape, murder, incest and clowns. It’s certainly the most coherent of the four, for a start it actually (shock, horror !!) has something resembling a plot – a family of circus performers are torn apart when the father cuts off the arms of his religous zealot wife. Years later, the son escapes from the mental institution he has been incarcerated in and rejoins his mother, becoming her surrogate arms as they embark on a murderous spree of revenge.This was my favourite purely for its accessibility. It retains the qualities of his other work – the invention, the imagery, the vivid ingenuity within a tangible structure and plot – heck, he even uses such conventional mechanics as flashbacks in this one. The scene with the elephant funeral is one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time let me tell you. Highly recommended, but not if you’re in any way ‘under the influence’…
Phew. I think I need a stiff drink and a psychiatrist. This is a film maker who has a prodigious imagination and almost fanatical disregard for the conventions of taste, decency or restraint – good for him. He’s more interested and skilled in composing bizarre symbolic, imagery sequences through the use of actors, through make-up. He is not at all concerned with some of the more formal aspects of film-making such as editing to a overall pace, building a A,B,C,D plot – character developments are obviously totally ejected for cyphers to be replaced by puppets at the heed of his deranged vision.
It would be criminal of me to close this without mentioning that Jodorowsky was briefly in the frame to direct the big budget Dino De Laurentis version of ‘Dune’, a project that of course was finally handled by David Lynch. Given his track record, the idea of a lunatic like Jodorowsky being let loose with the equivalent of a £100 million budget, in the Sahara desert, with a HR Giger design and a Pink Floyd soundtrack boggles the mind. Speculation on what certain films would have become had some of the directors attached to them not eventually bailed out or been fired is always good fun (Lynch was offered ‘Return of the Jedi’- Ewoks in Radiators, David Cronenberg ‘Top Gun’ – let the homoerotic combat begin!!) anyone got any more?
I’ve no doubt that Jodorowsky is a major influence on other artists I admire, especially Grant Morrison and Alan Moore. They all seem to have a similar commitment to a working practice of employing what they term a form of creative ‘magic‘ through the prism of their art in order to affect consciousness, both personal and cultural. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like some acidhead casualty New Age obsessed fuckhead and I certainly am not referring to any physical, tangible reaction – more of a cultural ripple that can be seen as enacted by a catastrophic event like 9/11 which upheaves the political, cultural, personal and historical. I’m certainly not stating any success in this approach – I’m far too pragmatic and boring for that – but I find it an intriguing idea.
Now, can I have my medicine Nurse Ratchet?
Well I’m back and a happy new year to you all. I’m going to throw some brief thoughts at you concerning my final cinema visit of the year, ‘The Golden Compass’ and then I’ll get busy writing up my exploits in Stockholm and Estonia – two quite different travel experiences.
As you may have gleaned, I always enjoy visiting the cinema in foreign climes if only to get to see some amusing adverts and trailers – my cinema experiences in Japan were particularly baffling and amusing in comparison to the usual car and mobile phone adverts you get in the UK. In Sweden there is a similar set-up to Japan with trailers for domestic films that commonly wouldn’t get a release in foreign markets followed by the main feature being projected in English with the subtitles of the host country. Unlike Japan the patrons in Sweden were a reasonably rowdy lot, content to talk (albeit quietly) through some of the slower parts of the film whilst consuming a seemingly inexhaustible supply of popcorn and sweets – not ideal.
Anyway, I digress – ‘The Golden Compass‘ centres around Lyra, a spirited young orphan girl in a magical parallel earth where all the human beings have daemons, shape shifting animal familiars that settle into one final form of animal as the child reaches adulthood. This alternative fantasy world is ruled by the Magisterium, a ruthless religious cabal who tolerate no dissention from their beliefs and ideals. As the film opens in an alternative Oxford Lyra overhears a plot to poison her guardian Lord Asriel who is mounting an expedition to the north pole to investigate ‘dust’, a mysterious entity that challenges the Magisterium’s claims for there being only one world, one god and one true faith….
For the first twenty minutes or so I was impressed. They have nicely captured the feel and look of para-Oxford and most importantly got the Daemon’s perfect which really is essential for the films success. Dakota Richards is well cast as the headstrong and mischievous Lyra, Daniel Craig is solid enough as Lord Asriel and Nicole Kidman is appropriately menacing as the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. However the optimism does not last – as Lyra begins her journey we are presented with a succession of important characters without any context of who they are, where they’re from, or why they are important to Lyra and her quest. The film begins to feel rushed, with scene after scene successively failing to capture the imagination or drive the story coherently on to it’s climax.
I was less concerned about the ejection of the religious overtones of the novel as I was about the subtexts of growing up, losing your innocence and realising your parents are fallible – the whole Daemon concept is Pullman’s ingenious metaphor to explore these themes and this is what I think in the final analysis made the novels so popular. It’s all gone in the movie I’m afraid, there is absolutely no sense of the connection between Lyra and Pan, no scenes where she confesses her excitement, her fear at the journey she is on and as such later on when the threats become very real and dangerous to both her and her companion you simply don’t care.
This all culminates in two dreadful CGI sequences with the armoured bear Iorek Byrnison fighting to reclaim his kingdom and a final battle which has absolutely no soul, no sense of dimension, location or suspense whatsoever – quite honestly it was a relief when it finished. Just goes to show what happens when you award a dense fantasy project to a director with two comedies under his belt – a regrettable mess which really does no service to the source novels.
So, for the sense of completion and my mild OCD, this takes my final total to 41 for 2007 as I neglected to include ‘Oceans 13’ and ‘Zodiac’ in my final count as they were buried away as passing comments in another post. I’m glad I broke the ’40’ mark but this does pose quite a challenge to beat for 2008. I think I’ll kick off the year with either ‘I Am Legend‘ or Ang Lee’s ‘Lust, Caution‘. Lee is one of the most versatile and intriguing directors working at the moment who seems to effortlessly tackle intricate stories in every genre he turns his hand to, the film went down a storm at Canne last year so it seems like a good start…
Well, a bumper crop to shame 2006 or a year best forgotten?
I saw 38 films at the cinema, almost certainly a personal best – I suspect my efforts with the London Film Festival helped with the average. As well as those I’ve written entries on, I also caught ‘Sunshine‘ (Disappointing), ‘Breach‘, (Boring) ‘Michael Clayton’ (See below), ‘FF2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer (look, I’m not proud of it OK? In my defence I needed to take my mind off something in my personal life and therefore needed to see something, anything to distract me and stop moping about the house. I left the cinema wondering how quickly I could lay my hands on a bottle of Smirnoff and 200 valium – not quite a success…) the restored print of the Hammer ‘Dracula‘ (Good fun), ‘Into The Wild‘ (Worthy, but good) and ‘American Gangster‘, a film so mediocre, so bizarrely average I honestly couldn’t think of anything to say about it, hence the lack of a blog post. I caught ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘ last night at a cinema I haven’t frequented before, the Chelsea Cinema on the King’s Road in Kensington. Fantastic to see the ultimate Christmas film and one of the bona fide American masterpieces on the big screen.
So, <drum roll please> in no particular order;
‘Planet Terror‘ – Not much to add to my previous comments – for sheer fun and bravado, this one sticks in the memory. Part of my enjoyment I guess was seeing the movie in Hollywood, but I’ve watched it on DVD since I got back and I still think it’s pure, unadulterated fun. Given the serious tones of much of the films I’ve ploughed through this year (just look below) this was a breath of fresh air. I am and shall always be a major horror genre fan and for action, for exploding zombies, for cheap wisecracks and reference stuffed hilarity this delivers in spades. I was quite surprised to see the lukewarm reception it received from the majority of cult film sites who would normally support this type of movie but there’s no accounting for taste I guess. I read one review in ‘The Times’ which moaned that the film ‘was just like one of those B movies from the 70’s.’ Well duh, honestly, where do they get these people….
‘Michael Clayton‘ – Heard about this one? It’s the directing debut of the scriptwriter of the Bourne films and exceeds their pedigree. It’s a gripping character study set in the corrupt New York world of ambulance chasing lawyers, legal sharks who ensure that their patently guilty clients evade justice on technicalities, a slimy sub-culture where unethical practices are praised and encouraged. George Clooney is Clayton, a middle-aged failure (a broken marriage, one aborted business and one gambling addiction) who is pulled into a case that leads him to question his morals and his actions, and ultimately begin a difficult journey of salvation. He really is superb as the titular character, along with the usual solid support from our very own Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson and a career best Sydney Pollack – Oscar nods all round I reckon. It does have echoes of the great paranoid Pakula trilogy of the 1970’s but differs with it’s fragmented flashback arrangement and employment of a more degraded, morose visual style rather than relying on shadow lighting techniques pioneered by the likes of Gordon ‘the Prince of Darkness‘ Willis. The last shot, held on a character’s face as he levitates to his epiphany is wonderful. Who says American mainstream cinema can’t deliver the odd surprise eh?
‘Inland Empire‘ – as you’d expect, less impressive and effective on the small screen, but still an almost unique experience. To be honest, it did occasionally drag the second time round but there are still some unique moments of atmosphere and downright strangeness. Still couldn’t tell you what the fuck’s going on though which I welcome as it’s film that will remain ‘open’ on subsequent viewings, one of those gems that continues to reward the viewer as you make connections between scenes and speculate on its design and purpose.
‘Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford‘ – heck partner, I’m clean out of further particulars to mention concerning this mighty fine motion pictograph. A-hem…Sorry about that. Again, not much more to add to my recent post except to say that the film remains undiminished and still plays on my mind. I hope it’s showing on the flight out to Stockholm so I can catch it again, albeit in less than ideal viewing conditions.
‘Control‘ – OK, so the scenes of the night of his suicide are drawn out and the focus on his marital relationship gets a bit tedious (although inevitable as the film is based on the memoir of Curtis’s wife Deborah), this is still a solid, promising debut. I loved the shot of the embryonic band at the legendary Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, tracking across their rapt faces to signify the impact, the inspiration on them to start their own band, an astute choice rather than conventionally re-producing the gig itself. Criminally, I forgot to mention in my review post the performance of Toby Kebbell as the band’s manager which was brilliant – ‘Where’s your wages? In my fuck-off pocket’ – still makes me laugh. Along with ‘This is England’ it shows we can still make domestic, relevant and interesting films rather than be a repository of character actors for American super-productions.
‘Birth‘ – It’s the closest someone’s got to a Kubrick picture in my experience since his death in 1999. It has it all – slightly creepy and controversial subject matter (the scene when Kidman bathes with the child sent the right wingers into a frenzy in the States), sedated performances, gliding tracking shots (the opening scene is particularly effective and eases you in to the pace of the film) and outstanding, restrained performances. Also like Kubrick, it starts out as one thing – seemingly a tale of reincarnation and re(birth) before melding and contorting into something else, a solemn meditation on grief and loss. One for New Year’s Eve then, a double bill with Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker‘ or Bela Tarr’s ‘Satantango‘ perhaps?
Ugetsu – I’ve had this film for well over a year, but have been waiting until I was in the right mood to absorb this one. It’s a film that has steadily achieved an incredible reputation over the past ten years (although it was made in 1953) and frequently pops up on the ‘ten best movies ever’ lists in the academic press. As such it had a lot to live up to, but delivered in spades in much the same way that Cocteau’s ‘Belle et la Bette’ did last year. We’re in 15th century feudal Japan, and two couples are disrupted from their homes due to an outbreak of civil war. Dividing into two strands, the film follows the fortunes of both families, one whose husband desperately wants to become a samurai and mingle with the higher caste in society, whilst the other is a haunting ghost story where a man abandons his wife and child for the companionship of a mysterious, ethereal Countess….
It’s a film about aspirations and ambition told in an utterly beguiling way. Mizoguchi’s trademark examination of the treatment of women is present in his usual sympathetic manner as he slyly criticises the patriarchal bend of Japanese society. It has a twist which is somewhat cliched today, however it works beautifully and genuinely extracts an emotional response from the viewer – and I’m not talking about the obvious twist that you have probably already solved from my brief synopsis. ‘Ugesu‘ looks absolutely stunning with the lighting schemes and movements in the Countess’s Palace achieving an almost operatic quality. The film richly deserves its reputation and at a brisk 86 minutes does not for a second feel a bit of a slog that other more ‘worthy’ world cinema classics can suffer from. I did watch it on a average print from a cheapo e-bay supplied DVD which was a shame, I may have to splash out on this mouth-watering Criterion release with all the lovely extras and insights…
‘Clean‘ – I’ve only recently become aware of the work of Oliver Assayas, a contemporary French director who’s produced a number of low key but well received European funded projects over the past two decades. ‘Clean’ stars Maggie Cheung as Emily, the wife of alternative rock star Jay, a Jeff Buckley type figure (someone who the readers of Q magazine would worship) both of whom are severe heroin addicts. Jay OD’s leaving Emily alone as her young son is taken into the protective custody of Jay’s grandparents (including a superb Nick Nolte) leaving her with some major obstacles to conquer and decisons to make if she is going to turn her life around. This is a gracefully shot and paced film, with superb performances, rumitative and sombre yet filled with hope. The global music industry background is richly observed as the film flits from San Fransisco to Toronto, from Paris to London all completed by a terrific score including this haunting Brian Eno track that perfectly encapsulates the mood of the film. I’m going to track down some more of Assayas’s work, particularly ‘Irma Vep‘ and ‘Demonlover‘ both of which look very good.
Movies to See in 2008
Well, I’ve already banged on about ‘No Country for Old Men’ and ‘There Will be Blood’ but what else can we look forward to next year?
‘The Dark Knight‘ – Well, the viral marketing on this one seems to be setting a precedent. I hugely enjoyed ‘Batman Begins’ with a couple of minor gripes (the action scenes were edited to incoherence and lets just say Katie Holmes will not be missed) so am hopeful that Christopher Nolan can elaborate and expand on the difficult ‘let’s set up the franchise and give you the origin story’ success that he enjoyed in 2006. Good timing as I was just wrapping this final post of the year when all this material exploded due to the new trailer – nice of Warner Brothers to time their marketing strategy around my holiday. Thanks guys. You’ll not be surprised to hear that I am of course a fan and proud owner of the original ‘renaissance‘ Batman titles (with this hopefully a partial template for this movie) that re-invented the flying rat and arguably the whole comic book medium back in the late 1980’s so the prospect of a truly scary and psychotic Joker on screen is very exciting. The first film, for a 12A tent pole studio release really was astonishingly dark and faithful (the Scarecrow was pretty freaky) to Miller’s Year One – I really hope they can retain that fidelity to the source material.
‘Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘ – Well, c’mon, you have to don’t you? I was relived to learn that they have apparently reverted back to the original script (no doubt with a polish from the likes of David Koepp) that Frank Darabont produced a few years ago, a script that was met with universal admiration from Ford, Speilberg, Paramount and everyone else apart from one quarter, a certain George Lucas. That’s one warning sign. The enlistment of John Hurt as Indie’s brother and the return of Karen Allen is genius, but if there is anyone to fuck this up it is of course the bearded twat, destroyer of childhood dreams, all praise the Dark Lord of Toy’s and associated fast-food tie in’s. I thought we’d get some teasers for this as trailers on the big winter films like ‘The Golden Compass’ but apparently not – hmm. We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed and wait and see how this pans out, Spielberg’s been patchy over the last few films (‘War of the Worlds’ – pretty good, ‘The Terminal’ – his worst film ever, and remember he also made ‘Hook’)……here’s the final word on Lucas.
‘Cloverfield‘ looks interesting, ‘The Brothers Bloom‘, Rian Johnson’s follow up to ‘Brick‘ will be worth a couple of hours if he doesn’t fall into the usual indie movie trap of making a really original and entertaining first film and then fuck up with a higher budget and A List stars, Brody and Weisz in this case, slumming it with the independents. Miike’s mental re-make of ‘Django’ should get an airing if he can find a distributor. I’d love to actually see a Miike film at the cinema rather than just on DVD so I’ll be keeping an eye out for this one.
All in all a pretty good year and a few things to look forward to in 2008. I’ll probably catch ‘The Golden Compass‘ in Stockholm to round off 2007, it looks faintly average from the trailer but I quite liked the books although I hear they have inevitably watered down the anti-religious themes buried in the story. It was the glimpses of Eva Green as Serafina, the Queen of the Witches which sold me, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Not quite the gap toothed, child eating, warty hags of lore eh? I didn’t bother with ‘Southland Tales’ as it was only playing in two cinemas in London, one of which is a pain to get to and the other was the Trocedero centre in Piccadilly which charges you the pleasure of £12 for a film in a cramped complex of ten or so screens, with poor sound and screen quality. Fuck that – I can wait for the DVD….Finally, the good news is I have finally managed to recruit some committed Recycling Officers from the States to complete my staff roster – that’s a relief. Have a cracking Christmas and memorable New Year, I’ll see you all in 2008…
So here begins the 51st London Film festival – my tickets have finally come through and with one minor disappointment (no tickets for Wes Anderson’s closing night gala entry ‘The Darjeeling Limited‘) I got everything else I applied for. The opening film of the festival was appropriately enough a contemporary London tale, ‘Eastern Promises‘ by David Cronenburg.
Cronenburg re-unites with the intense Viggo Mortensen who plays Nikolai, a chauffeur for Kirill (Vincent Cassell), son of the head of one of the capitals notorious Russian crime families. When one of their drug addled prostitutes dies giving birth at Trafalgar hospital, Anna the mid-wife on call (Naomi Watts) takes the baby into her care and becomes gradually ensnared in the criminal world as she attempts to locate the child’s surviving family members.
This is a first class movie, very resonant with current issues in London and beyond, with some solid performances although once again Mortensen steals the show. He is so deceptively subtle and brave in this, a very different and I’d argue more difficult performance to deliver than the wild, expressive exuberance of a Jack Nicholson or even Daniel Day Lewis in some of his more recent efforts.
There is one scene which is virtuoso Cronenburg that had the audience squirming in their seats. As the Russian mob has a tradition of members tattooing themselves with their life story – where they were born, where they served time – it makes sense for business meetings to occur in bath houses where the criminals can understand their accomplices better. In this environment an incredibly vicious fight occurs between the naked Nikolai and two knife wielding Serbian assassins that culminates in a final pay-off which caused howls of pain and horror to echo around the cinema due to its brutality. Good ole’ Cronenburg…..(heh heh heh…)….
I’ve admired Cronenburg for a while, being an old school gore-hound I had caught many of his early explotation genre flicks in my teens and he has recently attracted much more attention and serious critical review – well deserved and rightly so. I though ‘Crash‘ was very interesting – for the aesthetic reasons (Seriously. No……..honest) of course not the relentless fucking – but Cronenburg outdid himself with the brutal ‘A History of Violence’ a couple of years ago which was one of the films of that year. For the record his re-make of ‘The Fly’ is also great, the underrated ‘The Dead Zone’ and ‘Dead Ringers’ also sit in the pile marked ‘must-see’.
On Friday I attended an interview and Q&A with the great Steve Buscemi – everyone’s favourite weaselly king of the US independent scene. Frankly, it was a bit dull but that’s probably more to do with my expectation of him being a fast talking, foul mouthed muthafucker when in fact he was a quietly spoken, slightly reserved American. C’est la vie….