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Posts tagged “Hollywood

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;


Kong: Skull Island (2017)

kong1About a third of the way through Kong: Skull Island, Warner Brothers latest bid to recapture the franchise crown from the house of mouse, marooned Second World War airman Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) yells how happy he is that a military expedition has finally arrived to save him – ‘I heard you were coming, they told me you were here’ he feverishly exclaims. The problem with this exchange is that he is alone on the remote pacific atoll of Skull Island, exiled since he crash landed almost thirty years ago,  apart from the standard issue deployment of a primitive tribe whom have also just discovered the expedition, mere moments before. His potential saviours are a reassigned Vietnam Marine unit – this film is set in the early 1970’s for no qualitatively discernible reason – captained by a standard issue Samuel L. Jackson blustering lazily through his usual blockbuster bricolage. That such a elemental disregard for narrative script logic has surpassed the studio QC test speaks volumes of this  productions disregard for the audiences intelligence (who are they, exactly?), the incremental tip of an insulting iceberg, in what I am afraid to report is this year’s worst movie so far – and I’ve seen Hacksaw Ridge.

kong5So let’s rewind a little and outline the plot, as much as there is a semblance of such things. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is the senior executive of the secretive government organisation codenamed Monarch, a unit charged with investigating the mysterious and clandestine caverns of the globe. Despite being enveloped in a mysterious, permanent storm which obscures any satellite penetration (not to mention defying the laws of physics) he has spent years lobbying for an expedition to  Skull Island, a remote archipelago situated in the deeps of the Pacific Ocean, which due to its unique qualities has never been crawled over by scientists like a phalanx of curious climate attuned toddlers. So finally, despite being ignored  by centuries of inquisitive homo-sapien exploration Randa finally convinces the powers that be to assemble a B-Movie battalion of character tropes to see what’s going on,  and whom, or indeed what might be roaming around this Eukaryoteic eden.

kong2Quite how you waste an ensemble cast of Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchel, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and Terry Notary  is a gargantuan achievement, as no attention has been aimed at assembling any sliver of adventurous creation, Hiddleston in particular being spectacularly miscast as some roguish adventurer in a desperate grasp for Han Solo symbiosis. Second lead Larson as Mason Weaver, a self-proclaimed ‘anti-war’ photographer recruited to the mission also yields no internal instruction or arc, no political purchase or indeed personality, but she does get the ‘best’ line in the film when she reports for duty and a surprised military attaché exclaims ‘Mason Weaver? But (dramatic pause, scrolling through the ship deployment manifest)…but…you’re a woman?’…’Last time I checked!’ she retorts. Alas, I am not joking.

kong3After half an hour of this tedious stumble  through the labyrinth of lazy Hollywood engineering I recalibrated my expectations accordingly, as even if we can’t have anything resembling fun characters or dialogue, any graze of excitement or energy we can at least reel in some scintillating CGI and mirthful monster mayhem, right? Wrong. Blockbuster brawlers such as Guillermo and Jackson have consistently and correctly reasserted that an essential element of any monster movie is to invest your creations with some semblance of personality, a trait that is fully absent here, there’s just no there there beneath the CGI carapace.  The main draw of the movie, the almighty Kong who squats atop the pinnacle of American monster movies since 1934  in this incarnation is simply boring to behold in all his supposed simian stupendousness – it’s all inertia, with no metaphoric gravity nor heft.   That critical, fatal flaw is reinforced in the design of the perfunctory flora and fauna of Skull Island that assail our heroes, the supporting characters are picked off red-shirt style with no human dimension nor consequence, as we progress through a plot untroubled  by interest or consequence. Sure, I am fully aware that you should perhaps check in any concerns of reason or logic at the ticket collection booth – this is a big, loud, brash blockbuster intended to deactivate the cerebellum – yet the flippant lack of quality or design in any other dimension of filmmaking, the set pieces, the SFX, any sense of exotic adventure or mysterious investigation, they all render this movie as mediocre par maximus.

kong4Predictably the wider movie references are speared throughout the film like a postmodern skewer (including a nod to this), but the obvious antecedent is Apocalypse Now which I detected from the initial trailer and the colour palette, period soundtrack and those images of  mosquito  framed choppers shrouded against a blazing oriental sun. A cold opening of Marlow’s initial arrival on the atoll in 1944 is pinched from Boorman’s Hell In The Pacific when a Japanese airman is also marooned along with Marlow, a plot point which is suitably set up and then thoroughly abandoned.  Gentle reader, given the deliberate historical locality I’m not necessarily expecting some squirming subtext of an arrogant battalion of Westerners invading an exotic oriental locale, raining napalm and ordinance on  the denizens and arousing the wrath of some ancient, gargantuan,  elemental wrath, but a movie on this scale has to be fun on its own genre terms, and on that front Skull Island fails abysmally.  Once again the studios have drafted in a talented Indie director, Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts (helmsman of 2013’s charming Kings Of Summer), and ruthlessly crushed any potential flourish or notable technique, as all must be in thrall to lowest common denominator blockbuster banality personified in the near ubiquitous and groan inducing post credits sting – see also Jurassic World. Doug McClure must be spinning in his volcanic grave, as taken as a franchise inceptor or mere creature feature Skull Island is a colossal  disappointment;


Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 (2017) Trailer

There is clearly something in the water as the full trailers for this years nervous franchise holders are dropping thick and fast, and this looks several parsecs more entertaining that Alien 8. Still, not sure they had to crowbar in that fairly major spoiler;


Boogie Nights (1997) Commentary

OK you fucking mooks, OK, I feel bad about this, I’m feeling especially guilty and useless at not posting anything concerning my Scorsese blitzkrieg over the past few weeks. Truth be told I have six or seven full reviews in the pipeline, but wider considerations have fumbled my intent, and it has proved difficult to find the effort or inspiration to continue this increasingly monumental effort – real life can sometime intrude. Nevertheless I’ve only got one more full movie to see in the season which on a whole has been a revelatory season, there is just one more of the classics to finally see on the big screen, so I keep telling myself to wait until that is absorbed until I get chained to the keyboard. Until then here is some more adjunct material which is fascinating, one of the core figures in recent Amercian cinema whom would not exist, as we known it, without Marty;


Academy Award Nominations 2017

oscar2017Yes, it’s that time of the year again. I must admit to finding it difficult to muster any genuine enthusiasm for this years announcements, I have made a concerted effort in seeing some of the inevitable nominees this month, with Jackie still to see when it opens toward the end of the week, and Moonlight soon after which I’m really looking forward to given the exemplary feedback. For my sins I’ve been toying with going to see Hacksaw Ridge despite the rather eyeball rolling trailers, I’m also not sure I wish to contribute to the coffers of Mel Gibson even with the rudimentary pennies that would be allocated through my Cineworld Card, but I’ve heard that the action sequences are equivalent in power and brutality to Saving Private Ryan, so being a weird sort of cruelty junkie that has piqued my interest. As it stands I’ve never, in now a venerable ten years of conducting this ridiculous and infinitely pointless exercise (in public) managed more than a 60% or 65% accuracy rate with my predictions, but we live in hope and its just a piece of pointless frivolity to while away the endless days until we all die. So as always the rules are to bold the films I’ve seen, italic the films I think should win, and underline those I think will win, with the everlasting caveat that I haven’t seen everything, so am having to make some choices based on compromised information.

osc201Amusingly, as I write this I am catching up on a few of last years blockbusters, namely In dependence Day 2 and X-Men Apocalypse, both of which, as expected, are total gash. this industry really needs to start rethinking itself along these high exposure, high visibility lines, as some of the rumours I’ve heard coming out of the disgruntled technicians and junior players are growing increasingly depressed with their products, as the studio executives and senior producers simply not caring about plot inconsistencies, illogical scripts – they are literally telling them not to worry as the audience don’t care, and the spectacle and energy of the films are enough to play in China and other developing international markets – depressing. More positively the ceremony has already caused history, as La La Land enters the exalted trio of films with the most nominations in history – 14 – joining All About Eve and Titanic, even Gone With The End only managed a paltry 13 nods. Looking through the nominees I note that we now have to go and see Lion  which didn’t exactly grab my attention from the trailer but I’m willing to be surprised, but I draw the line at Fantastic Beasts in the SFX category which I have absolute zero interest in. It’s good to see Arrival warping into so many nominations, but  lets face it La La Land is going to obliterate this years ceremony – completely. We are in dire need of some simple, unadulterated colourful escapism right now, not to mention the slightly more worrying prospect of a temperature in the culture of yearning for an allegedly simpler, more prosperous earlier time, no matter how warped and unglued from reality that nostalgia may be.  It’s not a criticism per se of the movie, but for a Los Angeles set film it is spectacularly Caucasian, innocent and defiantly individualistic, where even human relationships and warmth are sacrificed on the altar of unimpeded commercial success and wealth;

Best Picture

la3

Only nine nominees eh? Strange number, but here we are. Not having seen Moonlight this is a difficult one to judge, I think we can assume that Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Hidden Figures are the outliers. La La Land will take it down to Chinatown, however….

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director

hack

No Kelly Reichardt for Certain Women? What a travesty, but it looks like the rehabilitation of Mel is complete, right? Well, out of those I’ve seen both Lonergan and Villeneuve conduct exemplary work at either end of the scale – one a tiny, modest, performance scoped drama, the other a major technical blockbuster with empathic and narrative fracturing elements. Jenkins for Moonlight is a long shot but you never know, but I still think Chazelle is gonna win…….

Arrival – Denis Villeneuve
Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins

Best Actor

casey

Not wishing to prejudice my full Manchester By The Sea review this might be one of the upsets for La La Land – Gosling was fine in that but not exactly best actor nominee levels of achievement and richly deserved it is to as Affleck is astounding, although some of those allegations surrounding his conduct may prove difficult. Garfield is having a fairly spectacular career post Spiderman isn’t he? I’ve got Captain Fantastic on my priority Lovefilm list so should catch that over the next week or so, but this and perhaps screenplay will be Manchester’s only achievements…..

Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actress

jackie

No Amy Adams for Arrival? Damn, well, it wouldn’t be the Oscars if Meryl didn’t get nominated for something, right? I wonder if she would get a nod even if she took a year off, just..because? I’ve got nothing against her you understand, I was in appreciative awe of her putting her head about the parapet during her Golden Globes speech, but c’mon. I’ve just seen Jackie and as I’d heard Pablo Larraín has coaxed out a very different sort of performance from Portman, a punt which actually takes some time to acclimatise to during the course of the film, so I think she’ll take it as a somewhat less controversial choice than the other front runner Elle.

Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Best Supporting Actor

nocturnal

Fantastic to see Lucas Hedges here which is probably the biggest surprise, he holds his own against far more experienced colleagues so it’s good to see him nominated. Bridges is great but maybe a little too obvious, Patel is the best I’ve seen him in Lion, and I can’t comment on Moonlight – yet. So let’s go with Shannon, because, well, he’s Michael fucking Shannon…..

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges –  Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

fences

“Seven of the 20 nominees in acting categories for 2017 Academy Awards are non-white” notes the Daily Mail, in accurate reporting accident’ tweeted Sight & Sound editor Nick James after the announcement, which made me chuckle. As much as I love Michelle Williams to be perfectly blunt she is barely in her film, sure she has one pivotal scene but apart from that little more than a few transitional moments, so I can’t in good conscience elect her as a favourite. So for now, until I see more of the nominees, I’ll go with Viola Davis as she’s always great;

Viola Davis – Fences
Naomi Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay

lion2

A roll of the dice, until I see Moonlight. Arrival was quite revolutionary but again the Academy is resistant to awarding SF out of the technical categories, which leaves us with the entire arc of Hidden Fences which can be detected from the trailer – it looks worthy but not following the usual ‘triumph over adversity’ path. In a similar way so does Lion but seems to evade any clichés, so for now I’ll go with that;

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay

manch

No Nocturnal Animals nod? Well, that is odd given the previous form, but I can’t say I disagree. I did see the film last year but couldn’t find the appetite to craft a review, the framing structure of a film within in film is curious and could have been utilised to great effect, but the rest of the film was cluttered and quite unsure of itself. So, back to the actual nominees and I’m going to have to go with Manchester By The Sea as one of those almost consolation prizes, unless La La Land begins to look like a clean sweep on the night….

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea
20th Century Women

Best Animated Feature Film

moana

Not exactly my specialised area, and I’ve heard great things about all of these but lets go with Moana as a Disneyfied guess.

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
Zootopia
The Red Turtle

Best Cinematography

silence

As always a strong field, again until I see Moonlight which I’ve heard has some ravishing moments this is difficult to call. Silence was a beautiful film if an ideologically troubling one, but I think the La La Land juggernaut will continue, especially that magic hour & crayola colour schema.

Arrival
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

Best Documentary Feature

oj

This is a slam-dunk, having powered through the five and a half hour O.J. Simpson epic over Xmas I can vouch for its brilliance, drawing in issues and observations far in orbit of that horrendous event.

Fire at Sea
I am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
O.J. Made in America
13th Hour

Best Documentary Short Subject

Extremis
4.1 Miles
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

Best Original Score

lala.png

Should they even bother opening the envelope? Strange to see Passengers on here, there is a beautiful piano leitmotif in Lion which is worthy of an award, and it’s a shame that Arrival missed out here;

Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Best Original Song

la-la-5

As above;

“Audition” – La La Land
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” – Trolls
“City of Stars” – La La Land
“The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

Best Foreign Language Film

edrmann

Goddamn it. It’s always the same, isn’t it? I arrogantly assume I have kept my finger on the pulse of international cinema, following the antics of the major film festivals, and while I may not have seen everything due to distribution patterns I’m at least aware of the general population of International Cinema. Apparently not as not only have I not seen four of the five nominees, I’ve never even heard of them. Completely oblivious. Not a peep about these pictures, not through my Sight & Sound subscription, not through the scattering of film websites I visit almost daily, not through the two dozen or so weekly podcasts I am subscribed to. Just who is sending the Academy these films to see and getting them nominated? Well, of course the exception is Toni Erdmann which has been justifiably cresting the wave of breakthrough popularity and audience affection, which surely has to take this one back to Berlin.

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Best Animated Short Film

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider & Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Best Live Action Short Film

Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode

Best Costume Design

jacks

I think Jackie might offer an upset and it certainly looked amazing to me, but my sartorial skills are questionable;

Allied
Fantastic Beasts
Jackie
La La Land

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

suic

Well, that’s a surprise, with Suicide Squad, one of the most maligned films of last year, getting a nomination. I’ve never heard of A Man Called Ove so let’s guess with Star Trek;

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Best Sound Editing

human

I’m going out on a limb with Arrival as a final offering of support;

Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Best Sound Mixing

hack

Action and combat films usually do well in this category, so lets go with the Ridge;

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Best Film Editing

arrival

Crikey these all seem proficient to say the least, but again Arrival had that fractured timeline to master. Nevertheless La La will prevail;

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Moonlight
La La Land

Best Production Design

hail

Whilst I think Arrival should take the top set SF never wins production design awards, which closes down the odds somewhat. Normally I’d go with Hail Caesar for the old-school Hollywood vibe, but I think this might be a case of the vote for everything for the same picture syndrome for those Academy members who haven’t seen all the films…

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Best Visual Effects

deep1

Having seen The Jungle Book recently I must admit I was very impressed, it was the best rendering of anthropomorphic animals I’ve seen on screen, and whilst it didn’t always convince the blending and rendering was exquisite. Still, I’m going for Dr. Strange as those folding hexagonal headspace scrambling was almost unique on screen, as opposed to the text book designs and execution of Rogue One.

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


BFI Scorsese Season – Italianamerican (1974) & An American Boy (1978)

As is my idiom, I do like to post some ancillary material when indulging in a director season, so I thought it best to keep the flow running with some acclaimed non-fiction material which is often overlooked in favour of Marty’s crime epics or spiritual sojourns. The BFI, as usual are doing a comprehensive job by showing many of his documentaries on the big screen alongside the movies, but I’m not inclined to spend precious resources in catching these on the big screen when I can barely keep up with the January new releases and tackle big, iconic movies such as a certain boxing picture which I have tentatively begun assaulting. So, courtesy of the inter-webs here are a couple of his highly regarded pieces, modest little examinations of his family in the first instance and a colourful acquaintance in the second, to keep things ticking over while I catch Manchester By The Sea this week and hope to bring you the story of brutalised boxer by the weekend;

I should say that this exercise has ballooned out of all proportion as I have committed to and made great inroads into re-watching every single Scorsese movie on my HD home A/V system, which has included upgrading some films to high definition from their mediocre DVD masters, thus so far I have powered through Gangs Of New York, Cape Fear, The Age Of Innocence, Boxcar Bertha, Hugo, The Aviator, Bringing Out The Dead and The Departed – not bad for a weeks work, with more still nesting on my watch-list. Anyway, here is his interview with the rather squalid Steven Prince, star of one of the key scenes in Taxi Driver you’ll recall, and his O/D story which Tarantino lifted for that sequence in Pulp Fiction;

You might be as bemused as I was to discover that we have a recent sequel, well if you consider 2009 as ‘recent’, that you can see here…..


La La Land (2017)

lala1It will not surprise any of you regular visitors to lean that I am not a fan of musicals. Well, OK let me quantify that – there are some musicals I like, I was raised on the likes of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy for example, but I’m broadly referring to the more traditional song and dance jamborees of Hollywood’s golden era, pictures such as Anchors Aweigh, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers or An American In Paris to name just three. I have no problem with broaching the fourth wall of convincing artificiality, or with the slightly strange idiom of characters suddenly bursting into song and dance routines in order to express their evolving motivations and drives – that is digestible. No,  it’s just that the music and vocals that accompanies these fantastic flights of fantasy is rarely attractive to my ears, even as the coldly academic cinephile inside me can appreciate the skill of the choreography, the luxurious production design and spectacular camera techniques. In that light I have observed the snowballing popularity for La La Land with a distanced distress, knowing that at some point I will have to go and see this picture as a part of maintaining a finger on the contemporary cinema pulse, my own personal idioms and preferences be damned. Fortunately after many months of staggering praise my antipathy has slowly thawed, to the point where I have metaphorically thrown my arms up in mock disgust, and bitterly muttered ‘OK, OK, I’ll go and see it, are you satisfied?’when in fact I was secretly kinda looking forward to it. There are two potential asides to this entertainment, the first is director Damien Chazelle’ previous form with his debut picture Whiplash which I throughly enjoyed, an incredibly skilled debut which while flawed managed to dazzle in technical prowess and J.K. Simmons captivatingly cruel performance. Secondly I’m not completely immune to the charms of Golden era musicals, Singing In The Rain for example is a throughly entertaining film, providing a fine backdrop of the paradigm shift of Hollywood from silent to sound. So in anticipation of the Academy Award nominations I ambled along to the local multiplex to see what all the fuss is about, and left the venue a couple of hours later with a modest, appreciative spring in my step.

la3Fortunately, and rather refreshingly I went into this completely blind, I hadn’t even seen the trailer so any expectations were abscenl, other than the knowledge that this was a modern musical which everyone from the festival circuit to the critical intelligensia seems to have fallen in love with. It is love, of the bittersweet and interrupted sort which drives the narrative, the real world and its diverting ambitions that disrupt the path of true happiness, as two ambitious creatives seek their fortune in the glittering, magic-hour framed City of Angels. Seb (Ryan Gosling) is a passionate jazz pianist, fully committed to his craft who yearns to open up a club committed to keeping the legitimate history of authentic improvisation alive. Mia (Emma Stone) works as a beleaguered barista on the Warner Brothers lot while striving through a brutal parade of depressing auditions, furtively awaiting her big break as an actress among the hundreds of other prospective stars. As you’d expect our ravishing couple meet-cute, follow the well trod path of the usual boy meets girl / girl meets boy / divergent success of their career paths placing insurmountable obstacles in the second act climax. Fortunately for the film Gosling and Stone are third time lucky with a gushing Niagra (or should that be Viagra?) of on-screen chemistry, this swirling musical romance punctuated with some fantastical moments, some genuine laughs and tender tears, all set to a shifting seasonal sequencing that moves from the joy and anticipation of spring to the clammy death of winter. Mark my words, this charming throwback is going to win every Academy Award imaginable come February, and probably steal a few categories it’s not even nominated in by sheer force of osmosis.

la2Although I am aware of Jacques Demy I can’t pretend to be fully au fait with his work, I’ve seen maybe two of his pictures over the years and the experience simply hasn’t carved a trench in my memory bank. From my reading and general cinema knowledge I recognise the primary coloured shadows his work casts across this film, particularly the prismatic palette and his romantic inclinations, but I also was reminded of Coppola’s colossal folly One From The Heart which also tempered its amour with a bittersweet bite. La La Land is a far more successful movie, it’s unashamed deployment of classical syntax – iris transitions, the blossoming costume palettes which look like the debris from an explosion in a Smarties food colouring factory, the frequent and deliriously dexterous plot accelerating montages. We’ve been speaking a lot about fluid camera work recently with the Scorsese material but I can’t avoid repeating similar gushing praise, the twirling and yearning coverage makes the pulse quicken and the heart soar, with its seductive CinemaScope framing La La Land is an unalloyed technical marvel, and even if you’re not particularly attracted to the trope of musical cinema the craftwork alone is worth the price of admission. The background is plastered with nostalgic references, some quite ostentatiously frank – an Ingrid Bergman street etching here, a Casablanca shooting location there. Being Los Angeles denizens and show-business slaves of course Mia and Seb go to the cinema, the magical beams refracted back over their wonderstruck faces, heck they even get to visit well-beloved movie locations such as the Griffith Park observatory of Rebel Without A Cause. It’s a film in love with the history and fading magic of its California location, as much as it wallows in a pool of Post-Modern edification. 

lala4One of the functions of the Golden Era musical, intentional or not, was to supply pure, unvarnished escapism from the horrors of the great depression and the subsequent anxieties of World War II. The studios provided a stream of opulent, undiluted fantasy divorced of any pregnant social or political commentary, beguiling those pre-TV, pre-internet audiences with beautiful, sybaritic silver screen sophistication. Why am I bringing this up? Well, no reason, but if this film continues its award momentum then we can expect similar pictures in its wake, as Hollywood will always carnivorously seek to replicate any success, which might be a repeat of some sort of cultural cycle given the current social temperature – we’re already saturated with super heroic speciousness. I’m also amused to see yet another example of the ouroboros digesting its own movie history, like The Artist, Argo, and Birdman once again we see Hollywood celebrating itself again in an onomastic orgy of self-congratulation, as the media landscape becomes more diffused and their ascendant position as the gatekeepers of dreams becomes increasingly degraded. I’m not suggesting this is a bad film as I’m a sucker for a bit of nostalgia, and this is a expertly aligned piece of genuine entertainment, it’s merely an observation of a particular strain of hemispheric cinema continuing to turn inward rather than look outward for new stories and techniques to express them. Would this have pirouetted into my best of 2016 list if I;d seen it at the LFF last year? No, because as I said musicals simply don’t arouse my particular moving picture peccadilloes, but this is a throughly charming and seductive film, marking Chazelle as an ascendant talent to watch, and further cementing Gosling and Stone as two of the most assured talents currently at play. La La Land is a testament to the enduring lure of Tinseltown, a pleasurable, heartfelt and vibrant pastiche;

 

 


Zashchitniki (2017) Trailer

Well, in true cowardly fashion I for one welcome our new Soviet cinematic overlords;

Given all the disruption in the wider world concerning anglo- Soviet relations this is almost satiric, right? Like a comedy sketch of a Russian film adopting the Hollywood blockbuster aesthetics? Welcome to 2017 comrades…..


BFI Scorsese Season – The Color Of Money (1986)

money1In order to provide the most comprehensive cover for this seminal season we have to delve down into the lesser known, more neglected films in the Scorsese canon. Rifling through the material in my film book library there is unsurprisingly a wealth of anecdotes and analysis on the likes of Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, but I could barely glean a half-dozen pages on the making of The Color Of Money, the loosely grained 1986 sequel to sports classic The Hustler which starred a fresher faced Paul Newman in one of his iconic roles. Curiously to me, the 1980’s have usually been considered as Scorsese’s wilderness years, the period where he fell from the pedestal of one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation following a litany of incredible pictures, even managing to recover from the annihilating reaction to his tribute to the Golden era Hollywood musicals New York, New York with what is widely considered as one of the greatest ever post war American films – Raging Bull. He kept working throughout the following decade, kicked the debilitating coke habit that landed him in hospital for exhaustion a number of times, but it wasn’t easy to convince the studios to fund his uncommercial projects. Sometimes however the movie gods would smile and the talent would approach him with opportunities, as Newman did when he raised the prospect of a return to the life of ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, pool shark turned wholesale liquor salesman, a quarter century after he abandoned the life. Personally I love 1980’s Scorsese so we will be lavishing a particular emphasis on this period during this season. Even within that enclave this is perhaps his most overlooked picture which crackles with that whip-crack energy and emphasis on character and conflict, yet another man writhing in an existential web of regrets, half-imagined hopes and degraded dreams, with one more elusive shot at glory a chance to transcend their personal purgatory.

money2I’ve always had a soft spot for this film for a number of reason which I hope to unpick here. Unlike some self-important directors, slowly casting their imperious aspersions over the numerous scripts that pass through their aides fingers and only committing to a prestige project every four or five years Marty decided he wanted to keep working, to keep learning, to collaborate with new and established talent and to expand his repertoire – I admire that. Maybe some of this was commercially minded as we all have bills to pay, but after a cursory glance through the material and one assumes the chance to work with Newman he thought ‘yeah, fuck it’ and committed to the project – I get the same sense of instinctive decision-making arising from his remake of Cape Fear which enabled him to get his full Hitchcockian anxieties exorcised into another project. Paul Newman plays Felson a quarter century on from his rejection of the fugitive life, longer in the tooth and more temperate in his dealings, he initially senses a money spinning opportunity if he can harness and mould the skills of the volatile Vincent (Tom Cruise) and manage the possessive instincts of his girlfriend and partner Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Shot during a grim Chicago winter Scorsese’s regular DP Michael Ballhaus straddles the film in shivering greys and whites, the palette coming to life when the road-movie plot reaches Atlantic City, just as Eddie’s slow awakening and new-found faith in his own prowess coalesces in a conspicuous climax. Along the way we see the internalized mechanics of the con, of the sweet nectar of the hustle which I’ve always found fascinating, the psychological games and feints which Newman has prior pedigree in one of the all time great grifter movies The Sting. However, unlike more straightforward con movies like House Of Games or Nine Queens which rely more on their serpentine plot mechanics The Color Of Money strives for a deeper purpose, a character study of a man in the twilight of his career lamenting past glories, wondering and yearning if he can recapture his youth which fate and his own foibles snatched from him a generation ago.

money3As character study The Color Of Money is a picture which rests entirely on the quality of its performances, and Marty shepherded an Academy Award winner from Newman, and buttressed Cruise’s emerging screen persona as a cocky, charismatic all-American boy. This was released just as Cruise had just broken the sound barrier of superstardom, already a hot property after the previous years Risky Business, blasting into the fame stratosphere launched by Top Gun which opened five months earlier. Of course the box office receipts weren’t remotely comparable but he carries his purpose in the picture with his usual chutzpah, this scene the perfect encapsulation of his arrogant adolescence. The associated energy comes from the spectacular exhibition shots and the skilled montages dropped over the various games, I’m not a particular fan of sports films as, well, I’m just not into sports, but the skill on display is fascinating and gripping, all the more impressive as with the exception of one spectacular jump shot every stroke in the film was conducted by Cruise or Newman. Far more interesting is the hustle, that fine psychological game of convincing your opponent that you are an inferior player while slowly coaxing the prize money higher and higher, the act of losing while your ego demands revenge, the ability to walk away and nurse that hunger for revenge until you revisit your mark months later with the bookies odds stacked heavily in your favour. That’s where the characters come to the fore and the intrinsic drama of the film lurks, that struggle between male posturing in Vincent and the venerable wisdom of Eddie’s street smarts, although he isn’t totally immune to his ego obscuring his intellect. These nodes are the pinions of the screenplay by the always brilliant Richard Price – an acclaimed urban novelist in his own right whom has also written episodes of The Wire, Clockers and cult gang movie The Wanderers. Through his research and life experience he has developed a real ear for the argot of the street, for the genuine hustles and scores that this sub-class have developed, all of which gives the films a fascinating authenticity as backdrop  to the internal ideological struggles. There is some fine supporting turns from John Turturro and Forest Whitaker as a portly prestidigitator, and keep an eye out for a youthful Iggy Pop making a small cameo as another ignorant mark.

money4The towering presence isn’t Scorsese’s direction or the economic script, the real bounty is of course the lamented Paul Newman, a real screen legend who managed to laminate his late career with a scattering of incredible performances, see also Lumet’s The Verdict and Nobody’s Fool for how you populate the latter stages of your career with some incredible punctuation points. His reprisal of Felson is an aging chancer with a twinkle in his eye, slowly coming to terms with his own mortality and declining opportunities, hell-bent on one last blaze of glory before his star inevitably must diminish and fade. In terms of style Marty winds up his camera like a taut cluster of vivacity, before detonating the mechanism to dizzyingly orbit the baize battlefields as the games commence, tracking the ricocheting balls and thrusting cues like some general monitoring the forward deployment of his assets and his opponents ambushes and counter-strikes. The narrative is clean and compact, a linear journey which educates Vincent and Carmen in the various skillsets of the hustle across a frigid landscape of smoky pool halls and dive bars, as Eddie regenerates his mojo and confidence in his own ambitions. Scorsese’s usual darting coverage, long-takes shifting from perspective POV to mise-en-scene is just so skilful it brings a smile to the eyes,  and as I’ve said before and will say again it drapes his films with such an effervescent energy, I just love the technique which makes his films such as joy to watch and revisit again and again. This time around what I found truly compelling, away from the insight into the street was the shifting motives of the characters, and Eddie’s conscious or unconscious use of Vincent to put himself back in the game and rekindle his dwindling confidence. Cleverly, the script probes  that grey landscape between being confident enough to throw a game, to build confidence in an opponent before fleecing him with your superior skills, and not being hustled yourself by a stronger player, turning your own ego against you in a more devious and surreptitious manner – that’s the query that the film alights upon yet never definitely answers, wisely leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions. This was another well-preserved 35mm print, overall a minor Scorsese perhaps but no less rewarding with its spiritual self-flagellation and adrenalined aesthetics, so rack ’em up;

 


Star Wars – Rogue One (2016)

sw1Not exactly off to a punctual start of the year are we? It’s been a few weeks since I caught Rogue One, the long anticipated first wider universe film set in the Star Wars universe, and to be frank I just haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm to collect my thoughts. Then of course tragedy struck which threw an entirely new shadow across the film, with the passing of Carrie Fisher the first loss of the primary acting talent of the franchise although we also lost Kenny Baker earlier in 2016.  Just to be a hideous, privileged soul I remember sitting at Frightfest 2010 when Monsters was showing, a mere five feet from Gareth Edwards who took to the stage for a rapturous Q&A, and look at him now, one of the corralled and manageable directors that seems to be the current studio executive strategy in controlling these dollar spinning franchises – see also Disney’s Marvel imprint, Universal’s Jurassic Park behemoth, and the Warner Bros. DC Universe. I loved Monsters, a genuine achievement of a fresh new talent assembling a movie at zero budget, utilising the new trajectories and abilities of digital equipment, with a fine understanding of story, character and empathy. Something is intergalactically amiss in this film in those crucial areas as although it’s already cliche to state this Rogue One is the biggest fan-fiction movie ever made, stuffed full of lip-service and nerd nuggets for the converted to mutter and coo appreciatively, but fatally lacking in anything resembling rich and engaging characters, or even the slightest dregs of emotional drive which is so crucial to this specific franchise. I didn’t hate the film, it had its moments and strengths that we will come to shortly, but until it reached its final act I was deathly bored, and even then none of the climactic story beats detonated with any impact whatsoever.

sw2It’s all about keeping it in the family for this franchise, and this first picture nested away from the tragedy of the Skywalker clan flirts with the same territory of estranged patriarchs and hidden secrets. A nordic flavoured opening sequence introduces us to Jyn Erso, a young woman separated from her parents when the Empire arrive and threaten her father to return to work for them on their secret, planet devouring super-weapon. After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) captured we smash-cut to some time later, with Jyn all grown up and played by a neutered Felicity Jones – more on that phraseology later. It’s murky but she’s either a thief or scoundrel of some sort, soon rescued from the prison camp by the Rebel Alliance in order to join the effort to rescue her father,  a mission led by intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Eventually this chemistry free couple manage to recruit Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), the blind monk Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his heavily armed grunt Baze (Jiang Wen) – all of their ideologies and motivations I perfect mystery, other than Chirruts mystical ramblings about some strange alchemy known as the force. So, from a kernel of familial strife and guilt the film warps into a mission movie, in a scrappy and fractured narrative line which fails at numerous dramatic hurdles.

rogue6The neutron core problem with Rogue One is just how manufactured it feels, how designed by committee, with a critical and fatal disregard for character. From the potentially offensive Zatochi clone and his mate I just didn’t care about anyone in this picture, just like it appears neither did the screenwriters who were clearly directing their efforts into the avenues of fan-service, references, and crafting a film whose sole purpose is to reference other entries in its own bloody franchise. None of the principals get any decent lines or tangible development moments, the first half feels very fractured and scattershot, and whilst I’d concur that the final section is a marked improvement it all comes to little too late to save this plundering product. If you compare and contrast with The Force Awakens (or indeed Episode IV or V) within seconds we given enough information to form our own ideas and backstories – Ren’s a mischievous and resourceful with dreams of getting off-world and into wild adventures, Finn’s a fractured yet spirited conscript whom is struggling with his moral compass. In this film we know nothing of our main protagonists, the prologue aside we learn nothing of Jyn’s interviewing struggle, her drive or reasoning, so when the character moments arrive they don’t land with any density whatsoever – her sudden transformation for inspirational speech orator was ridiculous. In his role as some sort of mentor / father surrogate / Afrika Bambaataa clone Forrest Whitaker is a terrible over-actor with his wheezing portentousness and husky, and quite frankly the main character we met in the trailer, the arrogant and brooding Jyn has been transformed into a much more, well, feminised archetype . There was so much they could have done here, the thriller trope of this being an assassination mission not a rescue mission, and what about the notion of Jyn, our heroine, spending her life as a the daughter of a collaborator – theres plenty of drama and tension to mine. Instead we got some limping procession from one planet to another, drizzled in flat and inspired dialogue, and some feeble stabs at humour from the reprogrammed Imperial droid K2-SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) which missed my funny bone by about 10 trillion parsecs.

sw3SPOILERS SECTION – Yes, Darth effortlessly scything through doomed hordes of Rebel redshirts was highly amusing albeit pure fanboy masturbation, I felt his appearances were listless and not exactly squirming with menace, and very poorly written – what the hell was that ‘choke’ ‘gag;?.\ The entire connection of this story into the opening frames of Episode IV smacks of huge executive interference, it is clunky, it is ugly, and stinks of pure incoherent ‘hey this would be cool’ rather than letting the story be guided by any inconvenient diversions such as character arcs, logic or emotional closure. Some of the other cameos were almost embarrassing – the droids moment might retain their fidelity as the central characters who have appeared in every Star Wars film but it’s just pointless and distracting. Unfortunately Hollywood still hasn’t cracked the uncanny valley as the Peter Cushing resurrection was just weird and deployed far too often, it completely threw me out of the film, although I guess it is meta-commentary amusing to see na actor who spent his entire career grappling with the undead back on the screen a couple of decades since he slipped this mortal country. I quite liked the Leia cameo though, unlike most that kinda worked for me, even with the rather clunky line delivery – although I saw it before the sad news so I’m not sure if this just won’t play as deeply disrespectful. I also quite like the idea of the two reprobates from Mos Eisley engaged in some intergalactic pub crawl after they inadvertently bumped into Jyn, I’m sure there are numerous other references I missed but this is what has just curdled in the memory banks. Just to be really picky, the decision to nuke the final battleground, considering that they hold all the Empire’s plans and numerous intelligence assets seems a little extreme, a bit like nuking the Pentagon if the generals learned that some F23’s secret blueprints had been compromised. Why did Forrest Whitaker’s character just stay in his home intoning gravely instead of getting the fuck out of dodge with everyone else, and what was the fucking point of the psychic tentacle thing?  SPOILERS ENDS

sw4Most amusingly I have recently learnt that director Gareth Edwards, also graduated from the same Surrey University as me back in the mid 1990’s, I don’t specifically remember him as he would have been on a different course, but it was a small colleague so I’m sure our paths crossed at me point. I don’t quite know why he was stalking me at Frightfest but here we are. Not wishing to psychoanalyse his intent but he’s evidently one for apocalyptic instincts, big broad metaphors like the creatures in his debut and his Godzilla remake, but like the new generation of malleable directors they serve in obvious thrall to the franchise behemoth, delivering some acceptable product with any fiscal polluting edges and controversies whittled away. Thankfully the film improves dramatically once it reaches the final stretch and the climax begins to coalesce begins, it almost transforms into an actual Star Wars movie with the cross cutting between parallel planes of action to power the dramatic crescendos,  but without any genuine investment in any of the occurrences it is all too little too late. To be a little more positive I did enjoy spending some more time in this franchise world from a nostalgic perspective, seeing the ship designs and costumes was fun, including Bahamas Stormtrooper © and was that a new horizontal TIE fighter design I spied? To deny that didn’t depress some nerd buttons would be dishonest. I also did like the sense of a teeming and populous universe which the film just about mustered, skipping from one planet to the next, and I wonder if the lack of traditional wipe edit patterns and inclusion of planet inter-title introductions (which haven’t been deployed in the franchise before) weren’t a deliberate effort to distinguish this movie from the Skywalker saga. But none of this can fully detract from an imaginary realm populated with dull and uninvolved characters, a bruising lack of camaraderie or comradeship, and an utterly unearned heroes journey from jaded criminal vagabond to inspired guerrilla leader who can inspire noble souls to join her on a doomed suicide mission. Oh and a quick memo to the next film producers – decide who your villain is, for fuck sake. Rogue One has at least three villains oozing around the galaxy and cackling over their nefarious plots, which left Ben Mendelsohn flailing for any presence or nefarious heft, in a completely wasted role.

sw5The other reason its taking me so long to pull this together is that I didn’t want to start the year on such a tepid, negative posture, but for me the Scorsese season starts in earnest tomorrow with a screening of Silence so I need to disintegrate the back-log, no matter how distasteful. The film was subjected to reshoots before release which is par for the course these days, almost all major films do this so it’s not necessarily a warning sign, but the shift of emphasis from that original trailer alongside rumours and whispers coming out of the set smacks of Executive molestation a la Suicide Squad, where certain key moments have been culled to the cutting room floor to actively change the pace and tone of the narrative and the characters – ‘this will play gangbusters, so who cares about the plot’ is the corporate mantra especially with more receipts coming from overseas. Then again, apart from a few of us rare dissenters everyone seems to be loving this, or at least giving it a pass as fun couple of hours and upon reflection I can’t necessarily disagree with that for a major blockbuster, a distraction from the increasing ominous shift of the culture. Fine. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I saw this as I wasn’t particularly excited about it, as I’ve said before I’m of the generation that grew up with and was obsessed with this universe when I was a kid, but those pangs have faded partially due to its unearned ubiquity in the cultural landscape, but while I’m always down with some fun big dumb SF opera my exhaustion with this series is becoming overwhelming. So maybe it’s not for me and that’s fine, if people are throughly loving this then great, more power to you, the world is lacking in enthusiasm and genuine enjoyment these days, and perhaps a message of committing to fight against the darker forces in our world, no matter how futile as it might just make a difference isn’t such a bad shell of message to offer. Churning these out every year will inevitably tarnish the brand however, the appearance of a Stars Wars film was a major event for good or ill, and inevitably when we get to the Chewbacca: The Early Years dregs of the series it will have amassed enough in merchandising trillions to justify a reboot of the whole Skywalker saga again, from A New Hope, just in time for a 2027 50th anniversary treat. Rogue One is better than the I-III trilogy but then rampaging case of necrotic syphilis also occupies the same dubious qualities, so on that note ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’!!…wait, that’s the right franchise, right?;


Life (2017) Trailer

Another expensive looking SF drama, with a top-drawer A list cast – however this looks a little flat to me, a little rote, if you will….


London Film Festival 2016 – Paul Verhoeven In Conversation

verhoevenWell, I think we’ve finally hit our peak event of the season, as my delighted impish instincts were molested by uber-satirist Paul Verhoeven in Q&A mode at this years London Film Festival. Paul’s in town to promote his festival favorite rape-comedy Elle, and please believe me when I do not collide the words ‘rape’ and ‘comedy’ lightly, but once you have seen the film and understand its corrosive intent you can’t fail to be impressed by what is one of the most daring and selfless films of recent years. It opens here in January, but to begin let’s ease ourselves gently into the cinema of Mr. Verhoeven with a little  montage culled from across his career, while the  South Bank event opened with the first three minutes of 1973’s  Turkish Delight, still the most successful Dutch film of all time. In that scene (which I can’t source, luckily for you puritans out there) we witness a young Rutger Hauer fantasizing about brutally murdering and killing his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, before he furiously jerks over a picture of her in his squalid, filthy, decrepit Amsterdam apartment;

PAUL VERHOEVEN FİLMLERİ / FILMS from Modern Sinema on Vimeo.

The first words out of his mouth was to jocularly complain that the subtitles in the clip we saw were not accurate, and what Hauer was actually muttering in that scene was ‘I want to eat the shit out of your ass.’ Yes, welcome to Paul Verhoeven ladies and gentlemen, and after the crowd had regained its composure we were treated to a lengthy and intelligent cantor through his bi-Atlantic career, with an equal emphasis on his early, ‘funnier’ work which naturally had him loathed and pilloried by the right wing press in Holland, just as he was attacked for the sex and violence in his controversial films Showgirls, Basic Instinct and Total Recall after he decanted to Hollywood in the early 1980’s. He is quite candid when inevitably pressed on the sex in his films, where he kinda shrugged his shoulders and explained that he presents it accurately, with genuine passion and sweaty friction, rather than the airbrushed veneer of the puritanical vetting system, as well as it being a useful character tool as we are all, to one degree or another, sexual beings ourselves – he has a point. Then of course we had to tackle the violence sized elephant in the room, and the curator decided to air a perfectly selected clip to move into his American period;

If it wasn’t for his wife who talked him into making the film we would never had had the treasures to come, as he didn’t care for the Robocop script which had none of the deeper, darker manipulation of the 1980’s Reganite American psyche at the time, and had been artistically burnt by the poor reception and his directorial performance of his first English language and studio funded picture Flesh & Blood. What followed with a few detours is  the unholy SF brutalist trinity of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, all strong candidates for the best genre films of their time. I didn’t realize that he had directly lifted imagery from Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will for arguably his best film, and never let it be forgotten that he earns playing in such controversial areas because as a young boy who remembers the close of the second World War and the destructive bombing runs of the Allied forces, the corpses in the streets, and the existential, brooding ambient terror that you could be annihilated at any time from a rogue bomb or vicious retreating Wehrmacht warrior. Ever the true gentlemen he continually insisted that the real praise lies with the producers and screenwriters he collaborated with over these years, as they were just as hungry and driven to make the films as darkly satirical as he desired, pushing him to go further, and apparently falling over each other laughing during long, coffee-fueled development sessions on Starship Troopers;

He kinda went into one when pressed further on the violence, explaining that it is a inherently violent universe, before going even further and expanding out to distant galaxies that collide with and everything is obliterated,  all sentient potential life and million epoch eras civilizations annihilated in the blink of an eye – although yes of course he does loathe real-world violence, with some sobering allusions to Syria which all gave us a moments pause for thought. As usual with these sessions the talk diverted to the unrealized and dream projects He still lives in L.A., and has a neo-noir script ready and raring to go which he can’t get funded because the hero dies in the final reel – it doesn’t seem to matter that he would craft a fantastic, stylistic thriller, it’s the powers that be which refuse to fund such an allegedly audience downer, showing how far the creative instinct has curdled even since his heyday of the late 1990’s. More pertinently his long gestating Jesus bio-pic was raised, and it seems that even through exhausting three writers and exploring numerous approaches he just can’t get a script in a satisfactory position, even before he goes to try and finance what might well be the most controversial film of all time – think Jesus as more of a Che Guevara revolutionary figure, none of this illusory divine heritage or powers, and certainly none of this resurrection nonsense which as a member he Jesus Seminar whom has studied scripture and biblical history for decades he smilingly explained was all a total marketing job. A standing ovation ensued, and justly deserved, so as far as I’m concerned if everything else this year at the LFF is poor this would still be a fundamental success, would you like to know more?;

Verhoeven in Hollywood from Martin Kessler on Vimeo.


BFI Spielberg Season – A.I. (2001)

ai1Like most, I was frustrated with A.I. when it first assimilated into multiplexes during those ominous, dust choked final months of 2001. For reasons I can’t quite recall I was in a terrible mood when I went to see it at my then local multiplex on Harrow high street, despite eagerly following it’s long and unusual marketing campaign which featured such innovative elements as alt-reality interfaces and a revolutionary cluster of on-line, world building IP instruments. Kubrick’s death was still woundingly recent, making Spielberg’s inheritance of the project something of a bittersweet boon, the chance to see shards of what could have been filtered through the lens of a close colleague whose artistic instincts seem to divert at an almost molecular level. Kubrick was the cold remote nihilist, performing his autopsy on our species foibles with a detached and uncaring gaze. Spielberg was the warm humanist, celebrating the fragments of wonder and solidarity that can emerge in even the darkest corners of human experience. The melding of these two streams  forged an odd elixir of form and frame, with the cloying, sentimental finale particularly derided as Spielberg suffocating Kubrick’s artistic affectations. In the intervening years however what was regarded as a mysterious misfire has coalesced into one of Spielberg’s oddest additions to his canon, some even cite it as his most misunderstood and maligned masterpiece, perverting some of the common themes that dominate his work – the bittersweet structures of family, the dark margins of wonder and adventure, our spatial relations to how the future is influenced by the past. I am in concert with these reassessments, I think through his historical films of the late 1980’s and 1990’s he matured from the blockbuster manipulation to a more serious and somber storyteller, heck I’d even posit that you could see A.I. as the central  in a trilogy encompassing Minority Report and War of The Worlds, but that is a thesis for another time. It is a film which operates on a number of levels, oscillating the instincts of two great American legends, with more depth and digitized disquiet swirling helplessly like that scattered corporate paperwork tumbling over that bright, September Manhattan skyline.

ai2For a fifteen year old film it could have made last year, it has dated exceptionally well in terms of design and SFX, which perhaps speaks for the quality of the work that Denis Muren and the ILM illusionist commissioned back at the turn of the millennium. Structurally it concertina’s out in incrementally wider sectors before deflating to a bittersweet climax, moving from the opening contextual vision of a climate change depleted future world where man has advanced artificial mechanics to a remarkable, near human sophistication via the genius of pioneering Professor Allen Hobby (William Hurt). The scene forebodingly set the narrative moves on to our initial meeting with David (Haley Joel Osment), a new model of artificial child or ‘mecha’ that has been commissioned by two bereaved parents, Henry (Sam Robards) and Monica (Frances O’Conner) after their biological son was committed to a cryogenic chamber due to a fatally incurable condition. After activation and bonding to his mother an increasingly haunting deconstruction of nurturing bonds is explored by Spielberg, as David behaves with an uncanny cherubic innocence, masking his pre-programmed precision perfected interior. A miracle sours to disaster for David when his surrogate is cured and returns to the family home, rendering him obsolete as his behaviors fails to gel with the meatbag family unit. In one of Spielberg’s cruelest ever scenes David is abandoned with his only ally, a diminutive cybernetic talking Teddy-Bear with whom he embarks on a fairy tale odyssey through the nocturnal netherworld of his binary brethren, whether as discarded slaves, sexual surrogates (in the form of Gigolo Joe, Jude Law’s male mecha escort) or cannon fodder entertainment in the ferociously cruel flesh-fair. Finally, in a truly Kubrickian disregard for narrative comfort the plot accelerates thousands of years ahead into an ice age future, where an advanced descendant of the primitive automatons resurrect David as a historical curiosity, and grant him his final fairy tale wish to be reunited with Monica in an eternal and infinite mirror of the human cage apex of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, that’s one way to read it but we’ll come back to that……..

ai9Reaching for the cinematic shorthand stylus Spielberg litters the frame with symbolic reflections and distortions, indicating the murky masquerade of an artificial boy with a false algorithmic empathy, while John Williams mournful score lacquers another coating of questionable reality, a futurist fairy tale made flesh. It used to be that I wasn’t enamored with the plot of A.I. but  if you approach it as a mood piece, as a feeling rather than a story the film is quite the disquieting experience, with a devilish final feint which inverts Spielberg’s entire career as a sentimental, treacle coated humanist. The world building is organic and measured, from earlier iterations of so-called ‘super-toys’ in the form of Teddy leading to advanced models such as David, like some ancient  ipod (the first of which was released four months after the films release) prefiguring the powerful latest generation of iphone, a single device with more computing power than the entire NASA space programme of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Like Minority Report some of the tech has already been superseded,  touch screen and voice activated mechanics are presented as vaguely revolutionary in the film, yet now commonplace and accelerating with the cool precision of Moore’s law. At its nucleus the film harbors a cold artificiality which collides with a vision of humanity which is consistently unsympathetic, detailing our greed, cruelty, hubris and selfishness across almost every speaking part in the film. Despite some of the obvious Kubrick homage reverse zooms and long dollys Spielberg’s style is also in the antecedent, those long  establishing movements and temporal editing ellipses that he’s so affectionate for, in a film which is curiously diluted and drained of emotion. After the exposition set up the suburban sequence is a self-contained silo, just slightly tilted off kilter as unreal and manufactured, an almost  grotesque parody of an ideal WASP nuclear family sharing idyllic summer days and bountiful mealtimes, tainted with an ignored and denied falsehood. It’s difficult to discern how much of this was Steven or Stanley and his decades of shaping the script, but it does feel like the like the best of Kubrick observing the techniques of these holy symbols – family, marriage, nature versus nurture – with his usual contemptuous silence.

ai11After the claustrophobic interiors of the home the narrative and space opens up as David embarks on his journey, his interactions and observations detailing a proto-catastrophic future world with humans writhing in their final extinction spasms, abandoned to an uncertain fate with all the remorse of unwanted Xmas puppy. Through this section some of those recent questions that SF cinema has probed in media such as MoonA Clockwork Orange, entire swathes of Star Trek:The Next Generation, more recently Ex Machina, and of course Blade Runner percolate to the surface, what does it mean to be human, how do you judge what is human and where is that imaginary line to be drawn? Is it empathy and sympathy, two qualities that the mecha emit but the humans do not – that cradles the soul? Osment encapsulates this in a studiously manufactured performance, a boy playing a boy playing a boy, another unearthly juvenile performance to rival Spielberg’s discreet direction in those 1980’s family favorites. With his usual DP Janusz Kaminski the shadows coil and the palette descends through layers of oozing obsidian as David’s search for the mythical wish-granting Blue Fairy gains traction, through the lurid neon of Rogue City or the carnival cruelty of the Flesh Fair the film adopts an episodic structure so beloved of Kubrick and his ‘non-submersible units’, a programmed Pinocchio searching for a hollow dream which is fearsome in its futility.

ai3So the story shifts fully to the mechas, their childlike yearnings and inquisitive lack of self safety again signalling the fairy tale tenacity of the tale, with specific visual and character references moving from Pinocchio to The Wizard of Oz. One observation I excavated for this section is a stretch but amusing, during the capture of the mechas the activities are spearheaded by a fellow in a leather jacket and fedora riding around in a hot-air balloon moulded to look like a full moon – or is it a Indiana Jones proxy astride the Amblin logo which in turn was yielded from one of his most favorite icons – the full moon flying shot from E.T.? What is the purpose of this directorial self-insertion from Spielberg? Well, played by a perennial gruff Brendan Gleeson this future pundit  then goes on to rather pointedly explain that you shouldn’t trust any of the ’emotions’ of the robots, because the entire thing is an illusion, they aren’t real, they’re shallow simulacra designed to manipulate our own feelings. One may be able to level this charge at the forced emotional manipulation of the entire blockbuster model, programming its audience in how to feel through sound, spectacle and SFX rather than allowing any organic reactions to such old-fashioned techniques such as characters, situations, drama and plot. Speaking of ugly manipulation the flesh fair itself is reminiscent of a Roman collesium and a Trump rally, although the ugly, jeering crowds turn to pillory the ringleader does seem a little trite, once they appreciate that David may be an android but his appearance as an anthropomorphised child activates some dormant mothering instinct in them all.

joeThe A.I. of the title is portrayed throughout this section of the film in its primitive infancy, as homo-sapien was to Homo habilis before we divined tools and fire, as Davids encounter with his maker Dr. Hobby prologues the narrative leap forward in one of the more audacious jump cuts, since, well you know what. In this dystopian twilight the automatons have been used by humans as slave labor, as simple to discard tools with the same attachment than you would have for your toaster or lawn mower, or rather more predictably used as sexual instruments in the form of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) who betrays a glimmerings of self-awareness and curiosity beyond his seductive programming, an inquisitive adolescent to David’s single driven juvenile. Like the great sexual chronicler William Burrows said, the first thing human beings do with technology is to weaponize it in a sexual fashion, from the car and its attendant advertising industry to the heavy breathers on the phone, to the cinema immediately generating nudie and stag films all the way through to the chaste and discrete, vast pornographic canyons of the internet.

AI4In that light the two mechas oscillate between David and his Grimm fairy tale guidance and a simple fu*k machine, a species trapped between adolescence and maturity in a short evolutionary glitch. Perhaps by this stage there are too many half expressed and seered  situations which visually slam metaphors into the narrative, there is a myriad of ideas percolating through the subsequent 9/11 imagery and climate change chin-stroking, which blends directly into Minority Report’s political  pre-cog (we must pre-empt and neutralise threats before we are attacked), and The War of the Worlds dust choked, obliterated landscapes under the thrall of an implacable terror, forcing our every-men to contemplate the worst acts to defend their families. Trapped in the shadow of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel – a location noted for its frivolous childhood escapism – David almost pathetically prays to a silent and implacable idol to realise his dreams, before the most ambitious time shift in Stephen’s entire cinematic canon.

ai4When I first saw A.I. the sheer gusto of this narrative shift caught me like a crystalline chainsaw to the cerebral cortex, the leap to David and Joe’s brethren some thousands of years hence obliterated all expectations, even as this final sequence is allegedly then poisoned by that final, saccharine seizure inducing finale of resurrection and renewal. How many films even remotely attempt to leap forward in their time frame across such vast distances and truly speculate on our and our offsprings species capacity for evolution and transcendence, heck even today films of any genre rarely trade in those intellectual infrastructures, as the shift in SF cinema has warped from intellectual curiosity or social metaphor to simple, action framed pyrotechnics. The misunderstood finale still gets written off as typical Spielberg whimsy, but I’d charge that there is something far more disturbing squirming under the surface. The entire film has been formed around a cascading narrative of sequences moving from David’s activation to decommission, seeing our species final dwindling fall through the animatronics sensors of an artificial boy. Through this vessel we witness the last ember of human life, simulated and simulacra, a not ironic Moebius strip to the film’s artificial opening and the establishment of the family unit, the supposed cradle of  nurturing and evolving civilisation. Through its fairy tale logic the film engineers our quiet withdrawal from existence into the dim halls of infinity, the lock of hair a final totem of the organic and ‘real’ framed in the grasp of a artificial creature and his childlike companion. The playing of the scene makes me uncomfortable, Kinglsey’s narration in both dialogue and intonation is ugly to me, a single day of pre-augmented reality that chimes with some of the contemporary warnings of the like of Elon Musk. As has been confirmed the finale was Kubrick’s, it was always there in the pre-production storyboards, not in fact a terrible contamination of Spielberg’s instincts scattering against the bulwark of Kubrick’s  nihilism. It’s nothing less than one final bitter shroud to shawl our entire civilisation, built on a artificial engineered lie, all or struggles and suffering rendered as a infinite sick joke – how Kubrickian is that?

AI8Nevertheless, Stanley always held the view that technology would be the next phase of sentience if you’ve done your research around his discussions with his development screenwriters Brian Aldis whose novella Supertoy’s Last All Summer Long served as a main inspiration, before exhausted and leeched of ideas Kubrick fired his husk and moved onto the Ian Watson phase of development. This is a flawed film, a deeply flawed piece one could argue, but it at least reaches for something further than most films attempt and like the truly memorable pictures holds resonance and echoes today. It’s sentimental carapace shields a quite horrific core, a fantasy, an unreality which like all the immortal fairy tale story nags and nuzzles at deeply suppressed truths and terrors. It’s appearance on the recently published 100 greatest films of the century didn’t particularly surprise me, as even like Kubrick’s most maligned films they have matured and grown into the culture in which they were expressed, a feature, not a bug it seems of the associated projects when he wasn’t frenziedly harnessing the electrons in the CPU. What is human? Where does sentience begin and moral agency end?  What is to become of these initial promethean tamperings with sentience beyond our carbon based stardust? Whatever the questions no-one has the answers, as this rather bizarre hybrid of two of the most influential post-war American filmmakers attests, in one of Spielberg’s strangest and richest films;

 

 


Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) Full Trailer

Another trailer, but this one’s a death stared doozy. I can’t be the only lapsed Star Wars fan to have been coaxed reluctantly back to the fold with some of the elements of Episode VII, with a cool suspicion of these so-called side universe films and the associated world building that is fragmenting Hollywood cinema into the mediocre and actively terrible. Rogue One however looks fantastic with a genuine tone and spirit coursing through the previews, I just hope that energy pulses in the final mission;

In other news my long cherished dream for a modern day update to Elite has finally been realised. There is no way I am purchasing a copy of that, as it would essentially dominate my life / career / reason for existence over the next, say, two or three decades. Must resist……..


Ghostbusters (2016)

gb1With the fun but infinitely overrated Stranger Things currently occupying the genre cultural discourse it’s all feeling very 1980’s at the moment, an apt time you’d think for a deeply cherished franchise to finally return to the big screen. I don’t think I need to spend much time giving you the context of Ghostbusters, the long mooted remoulding of the much 1984 original, this time taken into the 21st century with an all female lead cast and direction from the loosely acclaimed Paul Spy, Bridesmaids Feig. So, please allow me to set the tone before we proceed. Firstly, I wanted to judge this film on its own merits or lack thereof, as its own discrete entity from a purely cinematic position, regardless of the gender of its main players or the track record of its production team. Secondly I have precisely zero problem with remaking / rebooting / resurrecting or re-inseminating this franchise, sure I was raised with it as one of those key blockbusters of my youth and enjoyed it a great deal, fuck man I still remember seeing this clip on what must have been Film 1983 and being exceptionally excited at the top-notch special effects and exotic New York location. It was certainly the first film to introduce me to the legendary Bill Murray, although amusingly his character in the original now comes across as a pretty loathsome, skeezy Lothario in 2016, not the sarcastic, anti-establishment, slightly superior we all know and love. Like the Indiana Jones films I recently covered I don’t think these texts are precious and require some fan worshipping guardians to protect the beloved memories of their childhood, and if I may be so bold to observe that if the one thing that is going to you all riled up and angrily screaming through your keyboard isn’t catastrophic climate change, or grevious political divisions, or Middle Eastern civil wars atrocities or the second imminent economic holocaust then may I humbly suggest you might just want to take a second and reassess your life and intellectual choices. It’s just a fucking movie, the original still remains to be cherished and re-watched, and of course it goes without saying that the whole orbit of outright pathetic misogny and racism that has surrounded this project has risked obscuring the film itself.

gb2For the first half an hour of Ghostbusters I relaxed into the film as it was genuinely funny with a well-oiled sheen of gags and asides which had me and the audience braying like donkeys. This preamble to the main plot sees Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) reunited with her old friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), the former is seeking tenure at her University, the latter risking this promotion after she publishes a book they both wrote on the existence of the supernatural and paranormal back in their wilder, less professionally constrained carriers. After a period of disconnection they meet up alongside Gilbert’s new eccentric scientific partner Dr. Holtzman (Kate McKinnon), and through a contrived set of spooky materializations that are guided by a sinister force quickly inherit the mantle of the Big Apple’s premier paranormal predators. The fourth member of the team is Subway Guard Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) who quits her career after witnessing one of the visitations in the underground network, an able addition to the team due to her encyclopedic  knowledge of New York’s buried and secret histories. The set-up is reasonably efficient and engaging, so it’s a real shame that after a promising first act Ghostbusters becomes more discorporeal than the discombobulated spirits that inhabit it, as it collapses into a series of laughter free scenes which slothfully shamble to their final, inevitable Big Apple whizz- bang CGI extravaganza.

gb3For me the real failure was just the slap-dash nature of the piece. The plot structure is non existent and believe me I wasn’t expecting a big Hollywood remake to have the intricate precision of a Billy Wilder or Fritz Lang picture, but numerous scenes feel truncated and stumbled into and out of, while the editing frequently crushes any potential for a joke, a pratfall or reaction beat. Nevertheless Kristen Wiig is as amusing and adorable as ever, I’ve been a big fan of hers ever since the understated sarcasm in Knocked Up and she was the one feature that really sold Bridesmaids to meMcCarthy seems to have bumbling, slightly absence shtick toned down which is welcome, she’s a very talented comedianne so again its a shame she didn’t get anything radioactive to play with. The newcomers which I understand are SNL alumni where competent enough, praise the heavens that Leslie Jones is less the sassy urban black mamma than the trailer suggested, and she actually gets a welcome position as a self declared New York history buff, a skill which could have been utilised far more successfully if any semblance of a engineered plot materialised out of the netherworld. Similarly McKinnon as the slightly deranged boffin character that Harold Ramis possessed in the original was also a welcome change to women as wives / whores / kick-ass martial artists which seems to be the general models these days, with an impish sense of humour she’s quite a marmite character that has generated love and loathing in equal measure. The inevitable cameos are all welcome but don’t add any support to the film in terms of credible characters or more crucially laughs, it’s a bit more as if Feig was viewing the rushes and realised that two or three scenes were flagging so they’d best throw in Dan Ackroyd as a grizzled New York cabbie to rile the audience from the stupor induced by of all things a Ozzy Osbourne appearance – hey Sony, 2008 called and it wants it’s cultural references back. Somehow, through all the placid pyrotechnics the quartet do have a sense of camaradarie and kinship which is one of the films few achievements, which I’m sure will be dragged through to the already announced sequel.

gb4The film is also laughed with some fairly blatant product placement which wouldn’t go amiss in a Truman Show remake, and for a supposed horror comedy its evident that the former has been diluted to the point of abstraction, no doubt to hit all the four quadrants as powerfully as a reverse tachyon emitting lance. It’s not a terrible, insulting film – we can leave that particular task to Adam Sandler when it comes to contemporary American comedies – but it is mediocre, and you can sense the inprovisation that Feig stages on set cannot compensate for a film which doesn’t have the essential infrastructure of a polished and final script to provide the framework to operate within. Case in point, the entire interview scene for Chris Hemsworth to join the team as their incompetant secretary was almost all made up on the spot, some people have enjoyed this sequence immensely, I didn’t laugh once. I have infinitely better things rot do with time to not want to laugh, so believe me when I wanted to like this film because good knows, the way 2016 is heading we all could do with a chuckle. Comedies are always difficult to parse for critics, humour is such an subjective quality, but its not difficult to see where a film is floundering to hit any cylinders, let alone come blasting out from its midtown Fire Department haunt. Still, I hear anecdotally that kids of both genders have been impressed and latched onto a rare presentation of women as professional scientists which is welcome, maybe the film won’t only be assessed for the wider issues of on-line misogny and racism which have dragged its box-office into the grave. The biggest villain in this whole sorry tale is Sony pictures, as revealed by that email hack last year it really has driven a once proud studio into the ground with these formless, risk-averse, bland committee constructed projects, yet another nail in the coffin of the reboot entities across the entire industry – see also Robocop, Total Recall, Predators, Fantastic Four, The Lone Ranger, Conan The Barbarian, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Escape From New York and on and on and on…..


Wonder Woman (2017) Trailer

One of the few, perhaps the only redeeming feature of BvS was the introduction of Wonder Woman as a long awaited addition to the big-screen superhero canon. I won’t bore you with the horrific response of certain sectors of the on-line community when women are central protagonists in genre material, you’re up to date I’m sure on that depressing diatribe. But now we have the new trailer for one of comic books eldest eldritch erinyes, and as far as I’m concerned this looks fairly darn exciting;

Strange emphasis on Chris Pine in this preview though, is he the main character in this picture? Hmm…..In a vaguely connected thread I think I’m going to catch the new Ghostbusters picture and Spielberg’s the BFG tomorrow, it’s been a while since a managed a double bill and one must catch up…..


BFI Steven Spielberg Season – Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom (1984)

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Otherwise known as the sequel with the annoying sidekicks. It was inevitable that Raiders Of The Lost Ark would return as a franchise given its box office obliteration and its origins in serial cinematic storytelling, with  Harrison Ford’s imimic inhabitation of the distressed jacket and battered fedora ensuring that Indy would return for further swashbuckling adventures. Three years on however and George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s domestic arrangements had simultaneously soured, and wounded through the process of scathing divorces both their pessimism allegedly bled through to the DNA of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, the so-called ‘dark’ film of the quartet. ‘Dark’ is a subjective term, and for Spielberg during this period ‘dark’ isn’t exactly a trawl through the visceral horrors of the D-Day landings or the Eastern European holocaust, its more akin to some shadowy photography, an emphasis on claustrophobic interiors and the odd glimpse of PG sanitized violence, but for an ostensive Children’s adventure movie this is quite a sobering affair. Of all the films in the franchise I remember being quite fond of the film, as a kid who tended to cheer the Stormtroopers and boo the Ewoks I embraced the darkness, giggling along to a plot which orbits industrial child kidnapping, ritualised religious abuse and live human sacrifice – perfect for a child. Infamously Tarantino has argued that it’s the strongest picture in the series, frequently airing his personal 35mm print at the New Beverley in Los Angeles, while other voices such as Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish seem to have joined their voice to the contrarian chorus. During this double bill I have to say I did find the picture lacking during some of its mid-peak longueurs and the cringe worthily Orientalism and bumbling racism is all quite despondent, with the addition of Kate Capshaw as Indy’s screeching love interest hardly equates to a Bechtel balance. But like any Spielberg film it has its moments, the glittering jewels scattered amidst  the swine, if we take a very careful scalpel to the Temple’s trembling exo-skeleton…

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Like Raiders before it I’m guessing you know the film intimately through numerous TV screenings, even if you weren’t treated to a big screen banquet back in those ancient Orwellian days of 1984. We’ll come into the structure and style shortly but the most glaring garments of the film some thirty years hence is the rather high racism threshold, as if this film was released today you could be sure of a storm controversy. You can’t avoid the white savior elements, with Indy literally falling from the skies in order to bring Western civilization and leadership to those poverty-stricken peasants, apart from the ruling caste of the colony who just happen to be heathen child sacrificing maniacs. The banquet scene is distasteful on a number of levels, with some exaggerated baiting of foreign cuisine and customs, although Spielberg plays it as affectionate romp it oozes from the screen like inebriated uncle lecturing you on how Brexit has given him his country back. – not even the effusive Delbert Grady can provide some much-needed decorum. Maybe this makes me sound like a hypersensitive member of the SJW brigade who is reading too much into a film of three decades vintage which in turn was playing on the common social perspectives of the 1930’s, but by any standards Doom has some cringe worthy contours, which isn’t exactly suppressed by the appearance of Indy’s love interest as a haughty, ditzy, shrieking blonde, a perpetual one-dimensional damsel in distress played by Spielberg’s second wife Kate Capeshaw. It’s a dramatic reversal of Karen Allen’s strident strength in Raiders, so you can’t help suspect that both George and Steven’s dark opinions of the opposite sex may have been bleeding in from the real world. Or, y’know, they’ve always been sexist jerks…..

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As a villain Molar Ram, despite sounding like a particularly agonizing dental procedure is given short characteristic shrift, he’s quite clearly just a foreign devil with his unchristian heathen ways, and you never really get a sense of his motivations or ultimate purpose. So he’s stolen the mystical stones from the village and is sacrificing to appease Kali but to what end? It’s never particular clear nor why he has enlisted his child slave army to dig for…well, what? For all these diminutions the film like all of Spielberg’s superficial yarns has a pneumatic pace and energy, cribbing from the holistic cliché rulebook of good American guys and bad outsider guys, of swashbuckling swerve and exotic locales. It’s a fine technical achievement for the era, with a reasonable mixture of stunt, design and location work, moving down to the microscopic level with the miniature and model work not overwhelmed with CGI conjurations which had just started to emerge in the industry. I’ve never quite understood why some of the key and high-profile films of this period, including the Star Wars pictures for example were soundstage shot in the UK rather than in Hollywood. Sure the craftsmanship of the British crews was and remains legendary in the business, but it still seems rather expensive to house, feed and shift your entire crew across an ocean, so are the UK’s tax incentives just as attractive then as they apparently are now? If so then why wasn’t Blade Runner for example shot at Pinewood or Elstree? Alien was, so did specific studios have specific resources and deals embedded here? Answers on a postcard please…..

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After thirty years of intervening on-screen adrenaline the calm construction of Temple Of Doom seems almost quaint, as it etches the contours of modern action blockbuster model just like Raiders before it, with a setting that is just a little more confined and constrictive. The open Club Obi-Wan sequence – jeez I wonder where that bludgeoning reference is culled from – is a lot of fun with the poison antidote / diamond / double crosses diptych, the inflatable dinghy escape from the abandoned plane as ludicrous as say, squatting inside a lead-lined fridge to survive a thermonuclear obliteration. The film does drag for a little as it desperately tries to force some slapstick romance on Indy and Kate, before the discovery of the Kali crypt and possession sleight of hand. I was dozing a little here, even during the PG perverting beating heart evisceration, but then a step on the accelerator spurned me to action as Steve does manage to set the film back on track with the mine-car chase and the rope-bridge gambit affecting a fine end to a intermittently successful picture. He’s on record as viewing the film as his least favorite of the franchise, citing it as being ‘too subterranean’ is an interesting turn of phrase, but perhaps it also raises the specter of a difficult period in his life which founds its way through into the eaves of the finished adventure. It does feel rote, as I said the banquet sequence is embarrassing and it has little of the charm of its predecessor, but Capshaw isn’t as quite irritating as I suspected, and Short Round does get one good line. So that’s two more key Spielberg’s finally covered, with one more slightly left field effort to examine which has become one of his most challenging curio’s, I don’t think any regular readers will have much difficult in predicting what intellectual and interpretative Matterhorn I decided to scale next. So until those oft-mooted rumors of Indy V coalesce into something more concrete we’ll let our weather-beaten hero ride off into the sunset, the unruly depraved runt of the frenetic franchise;


The Space Between Us (2016) Trailer

More SF is on the way in the wake of Interstellar and The Martian, although this seems more directed at the YA crowd. It’s always nice of Hollywood to give us very story beat in a extraordinarily long teaser, thus neutralising the necessity to go see the damn thing;


Knight Of Cups (2016)

kn1Ah, a new Terence Malick film. Like the pulse of the tide the attitude of the critical fraternity ebbs and wanes with the Texas tested preacher, and as I vaguely understand it from skim-reading initial thoughts from last year’s festival ornithology his latest hymn wasn’t exactly wooing the faithful. ‘Treading water’, ‘lapsing into self-parody’ and ‘self-indulgent and pretentious’ seems to be the consensus, with this his mere seventh film in his forty year career. There is a long and illustrious history of filmmakers satirizing the hand that feeds, of pouring their scorn and derision on the industry and trappings of Tinseltown, its vacuous inhabitants and never ending thirst for success, prestige and power – think Billy Wilder in Sunset Boulevard, Minelli in The Bad & The Beautiful, Altman in The Player and more recently Cronenberg in Maps To The Stars. Given the sour subject matter and critical opinion it’s a miracle that the film managed a release at all, distributors were evidently nervous about the films commercial potential despite the presence of such a heavyweight auteur before the project, and his last film To The Wonder also didn’t exactly set the box office on fire. Nevertheless I kept a cautious eye on the release schedule, and was relived to see a paltry 7 days window release on just three screens in the capital, somewhat limited my screen9ing options in tandem with the schedule. At the end of the day it is a new Malick picture and such kinship means that a cinema viewing is absolutely essential, so I trundled over to the Curzon Soho which has had something of an internal facelift last week, to see what all the fuss was about. The result is quite a difficult experience to decouple and decant from thoughts to words, and a mere philistine might belittle Knight Of Cups as I did with a friend as essentially ‘the Sean Penn sequences in Tree Of Life stretched out to two hours’….

kn2Christian Bale is the distant and slightly shambolic Ricky, a disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter adrift on the turbulent seas of life. Rootless and encumbered he embarks on an internalized quest to shatter the spell of his dismay, embarking on a series of dalliances with a sextet of alluring women: the spirited Della (Imogen Poots), his ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), exotic fashion model (Freida Pinto), an affair with the married Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a Las Vegas sojourn with playful stripper Karen (Teresa Palmer), and a final interlocution with Isabel (Isabel Lucas) who sparks some succour for his ailing soul. Ricky is also grappling with a tremulous relationship with his faintly estranged father (Brian Denehay) and his substance recovery healing brother (Wes Bentley), seemingly the only settled segments of his life revolving around commerce and the fiscal seduction of the film business. The romances and interludes and in Ricky’s life are dissected into chapter headings culled from the Tarot, signalling the yearning for a spiritual epiphany which Ricky desires, as prowls a vision of Los Angeles as a jungle of glass, asphalt and chrome, and whatever Knight Of Cups may or may not be is it’s unquestionably one of the most beautifully photographed films of the year.

kn3So, another film about an obscenely wealthy, enormously privileged white dude who has to endure the soul sapping prospect of fucking numerous hot starlets and attending a carnage of Hollywood parties and screenings, if you listen very carefully that’s the sound of the world’s first molecular scale violin playing for Ricky’s lamentable ennui. Well, that attitude seems to be the prevailing view of Knight of Cups which I’ll admit oscillates between tear inducing sublimity to wrenching boredom, Malick growing even more defiant in his rejection of classical storytelling modes, in this his most outlier and oblique film to date. The dramatic dilution has never more rigorously enforced, in standardised cinema scenes are arranged to erect some sense of a procession of events and incidents that build a character and their story, a tradition which this has been murdered at the altar of pure sensation and aerial affinity, as the film dances between location and whispered voiceover to provide a choir of yearning, seeking symbiosis. One section for example sees Ricky being robbed by two hoodlums in a frantic home invasion, a sequence which Malick pares back to about 30 seconds, drowning out the barked orders in favour of Ricky’s internal monologue. In other films that event would have been mined for all its threatening empathy, in Knight Of Cups it’s a mere aside, an empty gesture which forms another indifferent thread on his tapestry of life. Judging by the credits he’s exhausted no less than three editors on this film, parsing the incredible volume of material his improvisation technique produces , and he must be the only director working within the A list who manages to get his films funded, made and distributed without having any sort of script or storyboards to anchor the actors and performance. In terms of the closest film that this reminded me of was Fellini’s 8 1/2 which takes a similar approach to life as carnival, as a pandemonium procession of empty experiences that serve no nourishment for the soul, with a conflicted and apathy stricken protagonist wandering through Emmanuelle Lubetski’s glorious, celestial spanning environments.

kn4Regardless of the final perceived pretension of the film which may rest in the eye of the beholder I just have to admire any filmmaker who is pushing at the envelope of his own, uniquely formed aesthetic, with Malick is pushing his style even further into the purlieus of paradise. The production anecdotes reveal a completely liberated filming experience, with no confining structures such as marks or dialogue shackling the performers to any sort of plot, but those ideological underplays can provide a clear roadmap any comprehension on the part of the viewer. The film frequently abandons sequential time and instead adopts visual representations of consciousness, with a total absence of what could be classed as a purely functional shot, an insert to convey story information say, as instead every sequence holds some symbolic or representative power which although overwhelming in places can occasionally link together to evoke a truly divine drive. Narrative, the absolute unimpeachable nucleus of classical Hollywood cinema is pushed to the margins in favour of emotion and internal debate and that is radical as modern Hollywood seems to offer. The steadicam work hangs slyphlike on the borders of a scene, unwilling to penetrate, instead surefootedly interrogating the internal empathy of the sequence and the thoughts and yearning of consciousness’s trapped in these frail physical vessels. However regenerative these techniques there is no question that the presentation of women is problematic, through the whispered voiceovers and lingering shots of Ricky’s conquests the only figure to emerge with any coherent personality is Blanchet as his semi-estranged ex-wife, unless the film is subtly suggesting that this is how Ricky sees his numerous paramours, as inscrutable creatures placed aloft some lofty pedestal to be worshipped until their novelty is spent. At the very minimum this will require future viewings and as a fan I did enjoy this experience, despite some of the problems inherent in the approach. Overall it’s not been a particularly banner year so far, of the films I elected as the most exciting for the Menagerie in 2015 Hail Caser was terrible, The Reverent and Midnight Special were fine but not particularly potent, and now this screening which I defiantly enjoyed but am sympathetic to the naysayers complaints of Malick disappearing up his own magic-hour sunset. He shoot his upcoming picture Weightless back-to back with Knight of Cups with some of the same cast, so we shall soon bear witness of this remains the direction of travel. At one point ‘No one cares about reality anymore’ is asserted by one of the degenerate denizens of Hollywood, a fine apropos of our times, but Malick’s sacred saturated solution won’t be for everyone with Knight Of Cups squatting in the minor arcana of his transcendental travelogues;


De Palma (2016) Trailer

I’m far from the worlds biggest De Palma fan, but as a general all-round movie nerd any documentary tangentially related to that so-called ‘golden’ period of 1970’s ‘new’ Hollywood brats is always gonna ring my cinephile bell. He is, at the very least, an interesting director from a craft perspective, and faults and all I can’t disagree that the likes of Scarface, Carlito’s Way and Dressed To Kill are essential viewings, to name just three. So this will be worth a punt;


Dr. Strange (2016) Trailer

You know what, I’m sick of Bundersnatch. I realise this isn’t the most original opinion in the known multiverse, but it seems like you can’t pass a idling bus, buzzing TV screen or yawning theatre marquee without seeing his shark poised smile bearing down on you, in a spectacular tsunami of over-exposure and saturation. Nothing against the guy personally you understand, he’s done some fine work, and I suppose he was an ideal choice for the sorcerer supreme given his slightly off-kilter screen presence and popular fan-base. This trailer looks like it might have made some karmic amends for those dodgy looking set leaks from a few weeks back;

Are we approaching Marvel fatigue yet? Judging by the spectacular social media opinions spewing forth from this weeks secret screenings of Civil War I suspect not, and despite that ropey accent from an allegedly top chameleon thespian this had some interesting   CGI money shots, and no-one told me that Tilda Swinton inhabiting the mentor role? Me and my friends have some long running gags concerning this particular character so it is indescribably amusing to see him actually helming a major production, so I’ll be there in all its reality warping glory come November…..


Batman Versus Superman – Dawn Of Justice (2016)

 bs4Ah, the indulgent pleasures of a middle-aged man writing 2,000 words on a bloody Batman / Superman movie. So we all know the drill, as we move hesitantly into the millennium Marvel / Disney has successfully transformed a near bankrupt pantheon of media entities into a juggernaut cinema franchise, resorting to its Z list creations to continually feed a ravenous fan-base across formats and platforms. Meanwhile over at Warner Brothers their 1989 acquisition of Detective Comics and the subsequent plethora of Batman and Superman projects have faded into history, as the new executive business plan is to realise an entire cinematic universe, in order to best exploit those merchandise and licensing deals that can be programmed across a variety of delivery models including new media and streaming services. The battle line are drawn, Marvel are clearly winning, and DC/Warner Brothers are floundering in establishing a new iteration of their iconic intellectual property since Nolan’s Batman series was concluded a couple of years ago. Turning to the ‘comic-book guy’ Zack Snyder for 2013’s Man Of Steel seemed a floundering start, with its mere $700 million global haul and a something of a mixed critical reaction. Nevertheless his services have been retained for Batman Versus Superman which has nothing less than the fate of multi-billion dollar franchise on its bulging biceps, and the first bat-symbol of this years blockbuster season. As a strict spoiler avoider I couldn’t ignore the general consensus emerging from the preview screenings of the past few days, while pull-quotes like ‘this is a $250 million tombstone of the superhero genre’ struck an apprehensive chord, but like any good soldier I’ll take my punches, just as long as the experience was in the aggregate worthy of he pain. Despite my antipathy toward Snyder and a general disinterest in Superman as a character I surprised myself by unexpectedly enjoying Man Of Steel but I had set my frosty expectations fairly low for this given the trailers and the rumours emanating from what sounds like an exceptionally chaotic production, and whilst I don’t think it is quite as bad as some its detractors seem to be claiming in the turbulent media maelstrom it’s certainly not very good. How and why? Let me count the ways....

bhyfFor a film whose junket-jacked stars are constantly asserting the complexity of the plot when you boil it down the narrative is literally child’s play. 18 months after the catastrophic Kryptonite rebels attack on Metropolis the world has nervously accepted the presence of an omnipotent interloper in our midst, but the tide of support and public opinion is beginning to curdle as questions of authority and oversight start to be queried. As everyone predicted Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg in quite simply his worst performance to date) wants to co-opt the alien technology for his own nefarious ends, and initiates a plot to discredit Superman (a vacant Henry Cavill) as an immigrant alien, operating with impunity as a potential threat to our shared civilisation. An opening credit montage starts the film rather promisingly, reducing Batman’s (Ben Affleck, or Batfleck for short) entire origin story into five minutes which most films in this gladiatorial arena spend their entire run-time explaining, before shuddering into a jagged and disjointed melange of characters and conflict which is more gelignite than gel. For the first two-thirds I wasn’t loathing this despite the faint incompetence – certain scenes are completely unnecessary, Batflecks hatred of Superman is never appropriately articulated and the specifics of Luthors plot seem overly complex and confusing – but then a few spirited moments of super heroic semiotics raise the attention and amusement, scattered spikes of enjoyment among Snyder’s severe and sombre CGI sandpit. Some of the political dimensions and the moral cost of the righteous battling evil in our name (branding criminals so they get shived in the jailhouse yard?) are raised then resolutely disregarded as this is a film which is really only interested in as much as pixel pulverisation as possible. Mirrored to some of the more controversial breaches of character etiquette that Snyder violated in Man of Steel our new hero also employs tactics and techniques that don’t map to the ideological canon, chiefly concerning firearms and the modus operandi of thou shall not kill. I think that things move on, that these icons that arose eighty years ago need to move and flow with the currents of popular imagination and representation, in order to keep them fresh and revenant, and the notion of indiscriminate slaughter by those valorised as our protectors finds some contemporary purchase. Immigration is an obvious touchstone given Superman inherent origin, as is the 1% influence on our wider lives and security of an increasingly fragile social contract, yet within those frames some of the politics in this film are somewhat distasteful and its no surprise that Snyder is looking to Ayn Rand’s juvenile ideology for his next project.

bfsWith the exception of Diana Prince all the women are damsels in distress to be saved or scream which I really thought we were trying to move past, not to mention one rather odd shot and staged scene with a wasted Amy Adams as Lois Lane in bath-tub which seems more than a little crude and unnecessary. Henry Cavell who inhabited the haunted cloak and symbol rather well in Man Of Steel warps into a bland vessel in Batman Versus Superman, normally I’m quite efficient at separating fantasy from reality (even when costumed actors stride purposely through the sacred halls of government with gloomy gravitas and no-one sniggers) but every single time he popped up on screen unfortunately I just thought ‘twat‘ for his misjudged and loathsome comments yielded from what sounds like a catastrophic promotional programme. On the plus side Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was engaging and intriguing despite the paucity of her screen-time, the first screen appearance of this character’s entire seventy-five pedigree – I hope that film passes the Bechtel test. As for Affleck, well, I suppose he was ‘alright’ as Bruce Wayne, his interactions with Alfred and general demeanour struck from an entirely different origins movie which hasn’t been made, but I wasn’t fond of the whole aesthetic of this Batman across the spectrum of costume designs, technology and gadgets, a much more physcial mountain of a character while I’ve always preferred  the mysterious ghostlike entity using the environment and fear-inducing tactics to his advantage – one of the combat sequences was pretty cool though. Most hideous of all however is Jesse Eisenbergs Lex Luthor which is played as some ridiculous pantomime dame, easily the worst screen villain since Eddie Redmayne’s embarrassment in last years Jupiter Ascending. The finest criminal mind in the universe is reduced to some petulant OCD sufferer who is also afflicted with severe Daddy issues, and every second he’s on screen is simply agonising. There’s lots of trademark Snyder pose shots poised against obvious green screen mattes which aren’t remotely plausible, although to be fair the film does look like a film in terms of the lavish production budget, which points north of a gargantuan $400 million dollars when you factor in P&A yields. Oh, and the soundtrack doesn’t achieve the same seraphim styling that we wanted from the usually great combination of Junkie XL and the man they call Zimmer.

loisIt’s not just the clumsy assembly of materials – for all its title championship bout title I was never entirely sure why these petulant orphans were having a pop at each other – and then there is the dirge of the dialogue. There isn’t a single solitary laugh (OK, maybe giving Scoot McNairy a scooter was funny) or kinda ‘cool’ hero line or quip for the entire 17 hours of this film, you’d expect a little more polish and finesse from one of the more accomplished superhero scribes David S. Goyer (Co-writer with the Nolan brothers on the worlds most privileged vigilante, the agreeable Blade trilogy) incoherently supported by Affleck’s preferred screenwriter Chris Terri of Argo Oscar winning fame. Like Man Of Steel there is a lot of sudden instances, of suddenly explosive events pushing the narrative forward, resulting in a dazed and shell-shocked audience staggering through the blizzards of collapsing infrastructure and dust coated carnage. Yes, as a self-confessed nerd or geek or whatever I’ll admit that there is some intrinsic pleasure in just seeing these characters on-screen (probably best exemplified in a deeply telegraphed but nevertheless awesome arrival of Wonder Woman), interacting, yelling and causing pandemonium and collateral damage that would make ISIS kryptonite green with envy. I know these are archetypes, they are icons of popular culture but there is also no sense of development or change for either character which is basic filmmaking 101, and the screenwriting hinge on which these antagonists decide to push aside their differences is idiotic in the extreme.

bs4Snyder seems to equate murkiness and darkness with depth which is resolutely not the case. The film hints ominously at big bruising questions of power without responsibility, of outsiders acting with impunity of the state, of the deadly real-world consequences of life, liberty and property in a fiction where destructive deities dance through the boundaries of our physical world as if were crafted from paper-mache. In his directors arsenal he repeatedly deploys this technique of framing character development and even motivations in dream sequences which is lazy, he quite simply doesn’t seem to have the intellect or capacity to adopt a position or conclusion which leaves his films wallowing in some Nietzschean nirvana. His stock baroque religious framing is verging on parody (one is also instantly reminded of Deadpool’s ‘hero arriving action shot’ riffing) with all the finesse of a first year art student rifling through a coffee table imprint of pre-Raphaelite prints. I’d be lying however if one little insight into were the series might be going with a few unexpected glimpses of some other beloved members of the DC pantheon didn’t nuzzle my nerd bone, but when your strongest scene is a pretty lady watching some jpegs on her laptop you movie might be floundering. I’m not sure if the attendance of Nolan on the executive producer cadre is an influence but there seems to be a defiant use of grain in the film stock, digitally engineered or not (I assume the film has been shot electronically and can’t be bothered to research) which does drape a visual motif over the series, its pure aesthetics but I quite like the brooding and tortured tempo of the franchise in comparison to Marvel’s in-house cinematography. The final showdown did stir the muscles and started setting the film back on firmer blockbuster ground with the requisite excitement and pulverizing antics, y’know all the ‘cool superhero melee stuff’, but integrating this legendarium into a 21st century mythos remains problematic, the night and day dichotomy of the titular characters far beyond the film-makers capability.

seFor all the epic set-up the Wagernian conflict of the two titans arrives without appropriate aplomb, Snyder has not just Xeroxed Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns yet somehow misplaced the gravitas or decades of frenzied schoolyard debate (Who would win?), prompting the question of why don’t you make your own film and conjure your own imagery you bloody hack? He has also framed some of the material and mechanics of the admired Miracleman series, one of the only imprints I am genuinely overjoyed to see will finally get its Gaiman and Buckingham generated conclusion – I’ve been waiting twenty fucking years for that. When it comes to superhero shenanigans the highlight of the cinema visit was an initial viewing of the next X-Men picture which looks much more exciting than the previous promotional efforts, which tells you which graphic novel stable is still winning this multiplex melee. Naturally in the final stretch we are given a set-up for the next big bad which promises the debut of am exciting seditious DC legend (SPOILERS), but it’s only through some reading around this that an earlier signal in the film alludes to this future which again doesn’t say much for the films ability to communicate effectively and absorbedly – I think I’m in line for next years Wonder Woman picture though. Upon reflection I’m thinking this review reads more critical than the film probably deserves, I’m still an adherent to the grim/dark model of this genre as an opposition to the pop-art mechanism of Marvel’s machinations, and I think there is space for both despite the overall sense of exhaustion that the entire genre engenders. Sure, I was a little bored and twitchy at some points but I didn’t loathe Batman Versus Superman, it passed a few hours on a wet and windy Easter weekend, a three star shrug of a movie which has its nerdtastic moments while the mere mortals stumbled through the dust drenched debris. Hopefully a new director can muster a new creative team to take the reins for the next instalment (this looks pretty funny as well) and inject some fresh thoughts and designs into the format, as judging by this entry Warners are at least trying to distinguish themselves from Disney’s Marvellous box office mastery. As the first instalment of 2016’s superhero sequencing Dawn Of Justice is low density kryptonite that won’t be hard to beat, so roll on Suicide Squad and Dr. Strange and Civil War and X-Men Apocalypse and on and on and on…..

 


Hail, Caesar! (2016)

caesar1I think it was the exclamation point in the title that first aroused my suspicions, as any film ‘insisting’ upon itself in such a manner should always be treated with a wide berth of scepticism. My second warning sign was that rather lacklustre trailer, whilst my interest was piqued I didn’t find myself chuckling along to the usual Coen parade of goofballs and grotesques, but I figured we’d give the team the benefit of the doubt given their pedigree. It’s been 3 years since the last film Inside Lleylyn Davis which I found one of their more successful recent pictures, a film with just enough ambivalence and to retain an interest and ponder over the Coen’s increasingly obtuse ideological indictors. As independent operators the duo have forged success through an uncompromising attitude, writing their own scripts which have been occasionally blessed with academy award recognition, working within the system in terms of studio financing but resolutely taking their idiosyncratic look at established genres, from the gangster movie to spy-caper, the screwball comedy to windswept Western. Alas however with great pride can come great arrogance, and I fear that we might have come to the point were the Coen’s are at risk of disappearing within their own orbouros, as for me Hail, Caesar! is their worst film since The Ladykillers. There have been some faint rumbling of discontent recently with a some commentators wryly observing how very, very white and middle class their universe is, and maybe some of the same exasperated characterization modes that are similarly problematic in the likes of Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne projects – broadly spread, unrealistic spirits that they treat with barely concealed distain, divorced from any empathy or recognisable human traits beyond the cartoonish, the bumbling boisterous. But in Hail, Caesar! The Coen’s start with a real person, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), studio development director , a man whom is as happy greasing the palms of a few policemen to look the other way as he is chairing a religious summit with members of the faith from across the spiritual spectrum, in order to glean their ecclesiastical opinions on his currently shooting biblical epic starring the dashing leading man Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) It’s 1951, the peak of the studio system, when such bloated widescreen epics were seen as the silver screens bulwark to the growing power of television, with Mannix ricocheting from one production crisis on the back-lot of Capital Pictures, a fun but unexploited link to their earlier dalliance with the Hollywood history in 1991’s Barton Fink.

caesr2All the usual ingredients are here – Carter Burwell on strings, Roger Deakins on viewfinder vectors, the Coen’s own editing nom-de-plume Roderick James on the Stienbeck. It is something of a mystery then that Hail, Caesar! is such a catastrophic chore, a comedy without jokes, a mystery without mystique. The plot attempts to pinion its charms on the kidnapping of Baird by a loose affiliation of communist screenwriters, demanding a a ransom to support the comrades cause in the mother country. These designs promise an ocean or merriment and mirth emerging from the whole concept of HUAC, the blacklist and the paranoid perambulations have forged the spine of many a movie, but the approach and tone is as flippant to be irritating here, as the plot can’t decide whether it’s a farce, a comedy, a drama on Mannix’s existential crisis or some balanced combination of the three. The script seems to care less for cause and effect, of yearning to build a mirthful, mechanical momentum, as instead we are forced to endure chains of scenes featuring some wretched and lazy Hollywood archetypes limp from one misfire to another, and crucially the words and interactions just aren’t funny, the story meandering and malignant in its pointlessness. Comedy in this broadest sense is a difficult entity to critically conceptualize as one man’s hernia inducing hilarity is another man’s James Corden, but if judging by the reactions of my peers is anything to go by the wider praise that this film has generated is just inconceivable and they must have seen another picture – my crowd was stone cold silent throughout the film, before shuffling out of the auditorium during the end titles in a rather bemused daze. OK, fine, at a push the crooning cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) suddenly dropped into the Noel Coward alike costume drama directed by a cameoing Ralph Fiennes does just about prompt a weary grin, but this was the only smirk in the entire picture, all 106 minutes of it. Tilda Swinton plays identical twin gossip columnists in the vein of the talon typewriter twittering of Hedda Hooper or Louella Parsons in their heyday, the comedy seemingly emanating (or not) from the fact that they arrive at each location roughly thirty seconds after each other. Cameos from the likes of Scarlett Johansson as an aqua-musical mermaid star in the mould of Esther Williams  or Channing Tatum stepping into Gene Kelly’s dancing shoes in some Anchors Away clone give the Coen’s an excuse to throw in a lavish musical montage, but these asides yield no narrative nor comedic rhyme nor reason, conforming instead to the awful comedy trend of merely referencing something and assuming this is funny purely by the act of reference alone – quite frankly boys, I expected more of you.

caeser3You don’t need to be some cultural Sherlock Holmes to discern that there is a twin agenda here, as the themes of the movie can be broadly allocated into one of two, conjoined conceptual headings. The first is a ramble through the intersection of art and commerce, the ideology of crafting mere entertainment through a powerful medium while wider political warfare rages across geographies of the land and intellect, the propaganda potential of cinema during its cultural apotheosis before younger and sleeker media models such as Television and the Internet eroded the foundations of the tinseltown film factory . This is framed through the existential crisis that Mannix is enduring with significant job offers on his plate from more substantial industries, such as Lockheed Martin who are courting outstanding logistical and resourceful talents as his, a man whom in one moment is helping a starlet get dressed after an ill-conceived photoshoot, the next is manufacturing a romance between two of his leading players to misdirect attention for an unexpected, and unmarried scandalous pregnancy. This has trapped Mannix in a confessional, catholic tryst in the scene which tellingly opens Hail, Caesar!, as he grapples with the urge to do the right thing, to be a good father and husband and protect his extended studio family, all for the good of the company, a good man keeping the faith which also finds its clumsy mirrors in the staidly staged epic which the Coens have modelled on the likes of King Of Kings or Quo Vadis, the Hollywood epics which were the last desperate grasp for relevance and spectacle as the studio system started to dismantle itself. This is all well and good but an engine needs energy to run upon be it amusing gags, fun characters of something resembling a engaging and entertaining plot, three crucial spearheads which Hail, Caesar! simply and irrevocably fails to formulate.

caser4There is a strange preoccupation for punctuality and timekeeping in the film which one assumes is intended as a signifier of some deeper, mercurial mediation on the concepts of the infinite and the ethereal indiscrimancy of time, or it could just by the Coens throwing in some oblique references that they haven’t particularly thought through, moving by instinct rather than intellect which can, on occasion be an efficient and effective form of prose. Take the opening of A Serious Man for example, a picture that they are on the record as stat9ing they were never entirely sure how the historical fairy tale prologue connected to the Californian setting of the remainder of the film. It isn’t clear how that sequence plugs into the wider mosaic, the narrative jigsaw of what I consider one of their absolute best films, but it all seems to flow organically and occupy the same thematic and artistic eco-system. These instincts seem to have got lost in the wilderness of pre-production planning, resulting in this confused and chaotic chore of a film, which from about forty minutes into I was actively willing to end. It reminds me of Inherent Vice as well as the lesser works from the Coens such as The Ladykillers and Intolerable Cruelty, films where the genesis is gloamed with potential glory, where the idea seems ripe for exploitation but something has curdled between concept and script, resulting in a flagging, fitful work which never achieves anything approaching a chortle cruising altitude. It gives me no pleasure as a major fan of the Coens to report that rarely has the dream factory been so dulled by dogma and doubt, in a tale which more closely resembles the failure of the very films they are mocking than you’d want to believe;


Academy Awards Results 2015

oscarAnd lo, the Oscars were once again conducted, the statuettes were unloaded, and everyone gave themselves a rather smug pat on the back. I didn’t get to see this year’s ceremony although through a cruel twist of fate I did listen to most of it, filtered through the BBC and their international media network. I’ve pretty much spent the entire weekend suffering in a horrendous vice of illness, feeling that my skull is being bayoneted should I turn my head too fast in one direction, afflicted with shivers and quivering chills, and the inability to hold down anything solid food wise for 72 hours – nice. As such my sleeping patterns have been all over the place, so a 8pm slither to bed meant that I was awake at 3am, hearing the results as they beamed live from the city of angels. My initial impressions are that Carol was locked out from every category which is a shame, although this failure is tempered with genre favourite Mad Max’s crushing clean sweep of the technical awards. I can’t comment on Chris Rock’s hosting prowess but he seems to have tackled the political sensitive’s head-on, and there was a few surprises and upsets to get the gossip sites and statistically stricken all excited – behold Chile’s first ever Oscar!! The first ever cinematography sequential trilogy win!! My showing, in terms of accurate predictions was by far my worst performance since I started this ridiculous exercise, I barely scrapped 40% which adds insult to injury of a fever stricken movie-fan, and given my current temperament makes me consider ceasing all operations of this nature with immediate effect – stupid awards, stupid ceremony, they’re all a bunch of racists anyway, I hate and it’s just all rubbish isn’t it? So, whatever, I’ve left in the matrix bold for those I’ve seen, italics for what I thought should have won and underlined for what I predicted would win, with a special gold marking the actual winner.

Best Picture

sp2

Did I get It Right? – No

Undoubtedly the biggest shock of the evening, but I’m glad to see this upset. At this stage in the evening The Reverent was pretty much a shoo-in after scalping best actor and director, but it hadn’t managed a screenplay nomination let alone a win, a sign that something might not be quite right among some strains of the Academy. It’s reminiscent of the Crash debacle of 2006 for some, except in this case Spotlight is a fantastic, well modulated and measured film, and I have to say I am surprised that the Academy has embraced such uncomfortable subject matter. Anything that brings the project, and its expose to wider audiences is to be welcomed, so I’m happy to be proven wrong here.

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

Best Actor In A Leading Role

rev1

Did I get It Right? – Yes 

That was the most flattering photo of Leo I could find, after the Vanity Fair party. Well he’s finally done it and I suppose it’s well deserved, he does strike me as someone who takes his draft extremely seriously and he’s cemented his position among the 1% of the 1% along with the two Tom’s, Harrison and Brad. It’s a shame he couldn’t have won for a film which actually retained any empathic charge as I simply didn’t find myself caring one damn jot for his furious quest for vengeance, so I guess its gonna be a couple of comfortably heated rom-coms on his slate for the foreseeable future…

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Best Actress In A Leading Role

brie

Did I get It Right? – Yes 

Brie Larson’s favourite films have been doing the rounds, making some of us cinephile’s swoon with appreciation. After Rampling’s ill-judged remarks she couldn’t really win it, and as mentioned ad-nauseum Blanchet shouldn’t even be in this bloody category in the first place for all the good it did her.  Like Leo this was a foregone conclusion, and it should be interesting to see where Brie goes next in terms of roles and profile….

Cate Blanchett – Carol

Brie Larson – Room

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

Best Actor In A Supporting Role

Best Actress In A Supporting Role

Best Director

inarritu

Did I get It Right? – No

I am, however, somewhat less amendable to this decision. Inarritu mustered an amazing experience to be sure in The Reverent, but it was a hollow and somewhat empty spectacle, cleaving to the vision of directors as tyrants of the golden age, barking orders as minions freeze while literally defying the elements. Miller however managed the impossible – he made a sequel to an 1980’s franchise and created something wholly original and contemporary, bettering the original, and crafted one of the greatest action movies of, well, recorded history. The fact this his behemoth has hoovered up all the technical awards is testament to his leadership, with dirtector as captain of the ship, ensuring that all the functions are working at their peak performance in order to reach the destination safe and dazed, gasping for more. So yeah, I think Miller was robbed, and alas given his pedigree he’ll never get another chance. C’est la vie…..

Adam Mckay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Alejandro G Inarritu – The Revenant

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Best Cinematography

rev3

Did I get It Right? – No

Clearly I need my fucking head examined, as we all know by now that Roger Deadkins will never win an Oscar. Ever. I don’t know what he has done to offend the movie gods but Lubeski is also a worthy winner, so that takes the sting out of this failure. First person to win the award consecutively over three years – an historical achievement.

Hateful Eight – Robert Richardson

Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale

The Revenant – Emmanuelle Lubeski

Sicario – Roger Deakins

Best Visual Effects

ex

Did I get It Right? – No

The little boy, or rather more accurately girl in Ex Machina who could? Beating out the huge Hollywood SFX studios on a budget which would’ cover their proverbial catering bill is stunning, and proof that there is more than just pyrotechnics and digital carnage to this most neglected of art forms within the industry. Apparently this is the ‘first non-best picture nominee in the category to win over best picture nominees since “Tora! Tora! Tora!” topped “Patton” 45 years ago’. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds faintly impressive…

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Film Editing

mm2

Did I get It Right? – Yes 

As a I said last month I’m surprised the Academy even bothered nominating the other candidates as this is about as certain a prediction as possible. There is nothing else to be said.

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spotlight

Best Production Design

mmfr

Did I get It Right? – Yes

I thought there was a loose risk to going with the future world stuff here as generally the period specific stuff likes Spies and Danish would appeal to their peers, but it looks like this gamble paid off.

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Best Original Screenplay

sp4

Did I get It Right? – No

I think I was trying to be a bit of a smart-ass for this one, assuming that some of that liberal guilt might buttress Compton’s chances, clearly I was wrong. Spotlight is a terrific, complex script so no complaints here.

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

Best Adapted Screenplay

short2

Did I get It Right? – No

And again a rather clever, deft and biting script seems to win out over more direct, procedural fare. I was glad to see The Big Short get something as I liked it was well,  but this was always the best it could have hoped for, right?

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

Best Original Score

hat2

Did I get It Right? – No

If I’d realised this that Morricone has never won a best score Oscar I may well have re-evaluated this prediction, I’m still faintly stunned that he has never picked up a statuette over his incredible and lengthy career. Once again this takes the sting out of this failure, and you’ve gotta give some love to QT for giving him one last shot at the big one……

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Original Song

spectre

Did I get It Right? – No

Prosecution Exhibit A – the case against Hollywood having any relevance to the outside world is exemplified here. Everyone I know, even civilians whom I’ve discussed such things at work disliked that Bond crooning as some of the worst of his entire franchise run, yet here we are. Bizarre……

Earned It – 50 Shades of Grey

Til It Happens To You – The Hunting Ground

Writings On The Wall – Spectre

Manta Ray – Racing Extinction

Simple Song 3 – Youth

Best Documentary – Feature

Best Costume Design

mmfr3

Did I get It Right? – No

Again, I played it safe with the historic period drama, more fool me. The lesson has been learnt for subsequent years.

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Best Sound Editing

mm4

Did I get It Right? – No

See below.

Mad Max : Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

mmfr2

Did I get It Right? – Yes 

It’s usually the way, if one film hits on the technical pathway it tends to dominate proceedings.

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Documentary – Short Subject

river

Did I get It Right? – No

I got nothing.

Body Team 12

Chau, Beyond the Lines

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of The Shoah

A Girl in the River

Last Day of Freedom

Best Makeup And Hairstyling

mm3

Did I get It Right? – Yes

Well, they certainly made these five broads look, like, totally hot, so another well deserved win.

Mad Max: Fury Road

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Diasappeared

The Revenant

Best Live Action Short Film

stutt

Did I get It Right? – No

(shrugs). Nah, I got nothing.

Ava Maria

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay

Shok

Stutterer

Best Animated Short Film

bear

Did I get It Right? – No

These are always a literal crap shoot when you haven’t even seen the product and therefore are unable to exercise any aesthetic judgement, literally any of these could have won for all I cared. Apparently Bear Story is Chile’s first Academy Award win during the industries 88 year history. Now, who was saying that diversity is dead in Hollywood?

Bear Story

Prologue

Sanjay’s Superteam

We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow

Best Animated Feature Film