It’s Oscars week and the usual montages are doing the rounds, haven’t they all voted already? Here is one of the better efforts which details every SFX winner from 1927 until last years Interstellar success;
Something quite literally amazing for a gloomy Sunday, here is one of George Lucas’s finer achievements;
As a prelude to tomorrow’s gargantuanly anticipated fearing of Godzilla this seems apt;
Have I posted this before? If not then shame on me as I should have, elemental material on the infrastructure of modern popular movie making from one of the all time great technical pioneers;
I thought of this when this fabulous, awe inspiring site recently did the rounds…..
So this is doing the rounds, and quite nice it is too – WARNING: Ingrediants May Contain Robin Williams;
Compare and contrast with this nifty feature.
So then my accursed minions, let’s dust off the cobwebs, stagger nervously through mist drenched marshes, summon up a posse of pitchfork and brasier wielding peasants and give 2013’s first programme a resurrecting blast of cobalt electricity, *distant booming spectral laugh* yes you hunchbacked fools it is time to exhume the Universal Monster movies of yore. Having received the glorious Blu-Ray package for Christmas, officially the best horror themed release of 2012 according to numerous genre specialists and aficionados I knew that this could form the spine of another ambitious season of reviews and articles, and this time my insane plans may have just gone too far, or at least that’s what the superstitious fools down in the village would have you believe. Although there are eight core movies in the box-set the entire Universal cycle encompasses no less than 27 pictures, or 30 if you include Abbott & Costello meeting Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, or the Mummy. So my inhuman experiment is this – to compose capsule reviews for the 27 ancillary movies, and fully fleshed articles for the central octave of monstrous darkness, a programme that should eclipse my expansive Hitchcock season and should give me enough to chew/gnaw/feast upon for the next twelve months. I already have some other strands planned so fret not if you sacrilegious cretins have no interest in this moody material, I’m making my inaugural 2013 visit to the BFI this afternoon and a very interesting screening has cropped up at the Stratford Picturehouse next week. But let’s stay on subject so here’s a reminder, ‘the abyss gazes also’ and all that eh;
First things first, I realise that the Wikipedia article cites something in the region of 40 films belonging to the cycle, these things are always open to debate (is The Hunchback of Notre Dame really a horror film?) so my 27 is culled from the list inscribed in the box-sets supporting booklet, even I won’t have the time for 40+ plus reviews if a few plans come together in the next couple of weeks. Anyway, you have to admire Universal’s commitment to their heritage in this their centenary year, these creatures and their movies are no doubt the studios biggest licensed money spinners over the decades when you consider their iconic status and the copyright fees they must accrue when reproduced in media around the world, but nevertheless it is good to see a studio devoted to maintaining their legacy which stands in contrast to the approach of some of the other major studios who landfilled or simply sold off their memorabilia due to a succession of corporate mergers and philistine executives – and who’s heard the recent scurrilous rumor that Warner Brothers have accidentally destroyed the original camera negative of Days Of Heaven? That’s scary stuff. Anyway let’s get started with the first strand of the cycle, the 1925 first silver screen iteration of The Phantom Of The Opera, this terrified audiences way before some rich Tory munchkin got his grubby paws on it and made some bloody awful West End musical out of the original Gaston Leroux novel;
Starring the near forgotten Lon Chaney this horrific tale in the mould of contemporaries Edgar Allen Poe concerns a deformed ghoul who haunts the gothic chambers, concealed infrastructure and Seine soaked catacombs of the Opéra de Paris. After falling in love with Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) whom he has secretly coached from the cloaked shadows from understudy to prima donna he kidnaps his muse, setting his will against Christine’s tenacious lover Vicomte Raoul de Chagny (Norman Kerry). During a masked ball which echoes The Masque of The Red Death the Phantom ignites his wicked plan to despatch his adversary and win Christine’s love.
You really do get a sense of the changes in the art form when revisiting the Silents, the pacing and static camera, the way that scenes are covered in mid-shot with few edits, the exaggerated figure movement and Intertitles supplanting dialogue, and if you peer closely the lavish production design, set dressing and costumes can be discerned through the boxed ratio focused, murky and malodorous, shuddering images. The Grand Guignol stylings are appropriately macabre, I’m going out on a limb in terms of my knowledge but I’m also sure that a 1 hour, 47 minute run-time would have been quite lavish for the period, thus this was probably quite a prestige production for the infant studio under the dominion of the now legendary Carl Laemmle. This is certainly less moribund and languidly paced that many Silents of the era I have seen, it dances along with a grotesque grace, and some of the Phantom’s moral traps could even be discerned in more modern fare almost a century later – I think you know what texts I’m talking about. I distinctly remember that chilling skull visage of Chaney as the Phantom from the photo captures in many of the Horror handbooks I accrued as a child, it’s still a little unsettling today so I can only imagine the swooning and fainting it provoked amongst the more refined punters back in 1925;
Lon Chaney is a criminally overlooked figure in early horror cinema, whilst fans dote on the films of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, James Whale and Tod Browning we tend to overlook one of the pioneer physical performers and make-up geniuses who established some early parameters of the genre, and I shamefully include myself in that estimation. Fascinating article here on his techniques, a pioneer of make-up artistry that paved the way for Jack Pierce through to the modern grotesques of Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini, maybe one day his sorely missed London After Midnight will finally surface, just like the full version of Metropolis and recent rumors of Hitchcock’s The Mountain Eagle there is hope. Next up we tackle the ‘Listen to them, children of the night. What music they make…’, but before that on the horror front look what else is slowly materialising out in the twisted woods…..
Literally standing on the shoulders of giants, rest in peace Mr. Carlo Rambaldi, alongside the likes of Willis O’Brien, Jack Pierce, Eiji Tsuburaya, Ray Harryhausen, Bud Westmore, Stan Winstone, Tom Savini, Rick Baker and the numerous other design and make-up fantasists over the years he’s a dude whose incredible creature work is instrumental in many of those movies you’ve loved and grown up with, which can still provoke a childish burst of horror or glee;
I grew up with that fluttering, spider armed creature at the end of Close Encounters, and of course Spielberg’s surrogate father figure has been etched into popular culture, also Dune. If you haven’t seen it before then may I strongly (NSFW & SPOILERS) recommend Possession as a rather more adult example of creature design, plus it’s an incredible, difficult and draining film.
Like many I’ve been mildly perturbed and amused by the Guardian newspapers bizarre vendetta against Steven Spielberg’s latest project, his first punt into the virgin waters of motion capture film-making, grappled on to the swashbuckling activities of a strawberry blond quiffed journalist in the early 20th century – The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg picked up the rights to Herge’s popular creation back when he was shooting Temple of Doom, perhaps as a second generation template of his and George Lucas’s tribute to the Republic serials of the 1930’s, thwarted in his vision for the franchise in the intervening years due to the constraints of an accursedly primitive rendering technology. The breakthroughs of Avatar and the digital prowess of Peter Jackson’s WETA SFX studio have now made these dreams a reality, as a whole new casket of digital treasures has been unleashed, enabling the reproduction of fully realised digital worlds on modest production stages, which had Steve jetting down to New Zealand in early 2010 to regain his purely glittering entertainment mojo after a decade of more serious, more adult projects. Some complain that this trend toward the fully artificial is extracting the soul and vitality of these tent-pole productions – a view I’m not averse to in the light of Lucas’s artificially bland Star Wars prequels (although a script, acting, passion, excitement, ingenuity and sense of narrative might have helped) and other ersatz chores from the likes of his acolyte Robert Zemeckis – but although it gets off to a limp start this new vanguard of 21st century mass market cinema has some promising possibilities when manipulated by a true master of his species of film, the fantasy action spectacular.
Tintin is the story of an intrepid journalist cum adventurer, an inquisitive sort who battles with international counterfeit rings and nefarious criminal masterminds, whilst excavating ancient treasures and arcana in an early 20th century setting replete with stealthy pickpockets, dunderheaded goons, secret legends and precious heirlooms, with his faithful wire-haired fox terrier Snowy as his constant, loyal companion. Adapting one of the early tales in the canon The Secret of The Unicorn is one part franchise introduction and one part Mo-Cap showreel, as the titular explorer (Jamie Bell) purchases an impressive Galleon model which leads him on an adventure on land and sea, through deserts and docks, populated with a menagerie of Herge’s creations including the bumbling Thompson Twins (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), two ineffectual Scotland Yard detectives and more importantly the rum soaked Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who surfaces as the central character of the film. The galleons secrets reveal a treasure map to Haddock’s ancestors pirate hoard and the trio are soon on the hunt, but other flagitious forces are also in play, as the moustache twirling villain Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig, muted) emerges from the shadows as Haddocks historical nemesis. Ancient enmities are illuminated , shivers are timbered, as the gang of plucky heroes battle the foreign defilers of gentlemanly conduct….
In terms of some personal context let’s get a few things out of the way. As much as I am a big fan of Spielberg and have seen every film of his at the flicks since Schindler’s List (well, OK, apart from Amistad so I dodged that bullet eh?) the early glimpses of this did not seduce me, I thought it looked like a horrible CGI cluster-fuck populated with glassy-eyed mannequins that would distract mightily from the potential swashing of buckles. I read the Tintin books as a kid and enjoyed them (if memory serves this was my favourite, typical SF nerd eh?) but then I grew up and forgot about them, I’ve got nothing against a wispy nostalgia for ones youth but this whole cult of aged fanboys wailing at the audacity of a 21st century port from one communication model to another, from page to celluloid, really need to take a good, long, hard look at themselves in the mirror and ask if there aren’t some slightly more important things to get fucking worked up about in the world. Um, anyway, as the mildly evocative Catch Me If You Can titles dissolved to the digital playground of Herges imagination I was not initially impressed, the visual texture is glorious (close-ups on characters faces reveal indentations in the skin and convincing hair, that glassy-eyed facsimile problem is mostly mastered) but the first hour of the film feels uncertain and glitchy, although Spielberg has the confidence to launch straight into the world without wasting time on origin stories or needless exposition the storytelling is uninvolving and rather staid, and quite frankly after a gruelling day at the cliff-face of local government I was struggling to stay conscious.
But as the adventure deepens and the narrative requirements of introducing the arcana’s denizens are surpassed – the Thompson Twins (pretty annoying and unfunny despite Pegg and Frost in the digital chassis) and Captain Haddock (Serkis is the Mo-Cap god-king) – the film gets much more confident, it shifts up through its stuttering gears, and soon we’re careening around the globe with some beautifully crafted transitions and throughly exciting set-pieces, including a fantastic flashback to Haddocks and Red Rackham’s ancestral pirate battles, an amusing problem with a sea planes rotor blades (reminiscent of this) and a wonderful chase involving a hawk, a rocket launcher, a tank and a parchment. I’m not sure if the film was assembled in sequence but that’s the ambience, as Spielberg’s dexterous camera plunges through and around the kinetic canvass, it’s a dizzying rollercoaster which disinfects the previous tedium. With a screenplay forged from a triumvirate of geek cred, including the Whovian favourite Steven Moffat, Attack The Block’s Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright (too many citations to mention) the visual gags get more effective and finessed (I’m certain there is a host of in-jokes that went over my head), although the film needed a much more threatening villain to really elevate the stakes – more Toht and Ram next time around please – as incompetent henchmen should have really been beheaded with a casual wickedness by Sakharine to really impregnate the danger*. Personally speaking I also have a problem with Tintin himself, as a character he’s a rather bland fortune hunter, more an insufferably posh, know it all gap-year speculator, like I said it’s much more Haddock’s film as his families quest eclipses the trustafrian’s globetrotting escapades. It’s not a fantastic film but once it accelerates into gear Tintin’s charm and proficiency won me over, and the technological delivery method eventually suits the material, it seems that contrary to some opinions that there’s life in the Spielberg sexagenarian ‘old dog’ yet;
*I know, I know, yes it’s a kids film and that level of nastiness isn’t in the source text but I think it would have made things more memorable and exciting, if delivered appropriately…..
Without that film genre cinema could have been a very different beast – it was a big risk at the time for RKO and quite the unique project for its era, but the crowd loved it and it was an enormous, hulking smash. We’ve supposedly come a long way but the originals are still more fascinating to me, as they demanded different methods of particular, specific technical craftsmanship to more recent projects;
Don’t get me wrong, I quite liked the bloated remake and it’s certainly an interesting double bill as some kind of cineaste comparison exercise, but give me the grubby, grasping 1933 original over Jackson’s vacant valentine any day of the week. We do not speak of this. In other news a memo has been floating around, unearthed no doubt in response to this and originally this – OK, here’s an easier round-up. It prompts me to write a sentence through gritted teeth, that Bay’s absolutely god damn right, the experience of seeing a movie, as technically intended, in a vast chamber with a bunch of strangers for that shared experience is one of the few weapons in the art forms arsenal that must be mustered to combat the increasingly encroaching drift away from the flicks. It might help if they had government sanction to execute anyone, on the spot, for making any sort of noise louder than a mouse sneeze in the theatre but that’s just my controversial solution to the problem. This is amusing for all sorts of reasons, I’m almost convinced to go and see Transformers 3 if only to assess the latest state of the art production dynamics and see if they can save the incrementally sinking 3D pontoon (this years results have not been promising for the suits) – but I’m positive that after half an hour in I’d be uncontrollably yelling and screaming at the screen. Again. To close, here is Eberts original review of Pearl Harbor, the first sentence alone is critical gold.
It’s been quite a year for the movies when you think about it, during the final gasp of the, erm ‘noughties’ we’ve had new films from the likes of Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, Sam Raimi, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke, Lars Von Trier, the Coens, no less than four Soderbergh’s, a Gilliam, a Park and a Fincher. Oh, and a couple of Herzog’s. I’ve seen a cluster of my favourite films – The Godfather, The Thing, The Shining – on the big screen not to mention a whole Kubrick season all the way back in March. On the smaller screen I’ve ‘discovered’ the likes Seijun Suzuki, saw seven Mizoguchi’s, caught my first Agnes Varda and Deny Arcand films, away from the arthouse stuff I’ve have also immersed myself in some sleaze by catching up on a few unseen Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi massacres, delved into the jungles of Brazilian voodoo with the work of José Mojica Marins and embarked on mini Douglas Sirk, Tarantino, Mizoguchi, Mann, Haneke and Bigelow seasons. Phew. It was the year that 3D cemented its presence in the multiplexes with Avatar and Up incorporating the technique seamlessly into the fabric of their fables and I’m certain that’s what the historians will remember of the period in years to come.
There seem to be two strands comprising this years reflections of the state of the movies in the press and blogosphere, the first to take a look at the last decade of movies such as this top 100 and this (Borat at number 2? Fuck the fuck off you obviously comment baiting manipulators) whist some podcasts have been comparing 2009 to 1999, a vintage year including as it did the return of Kubrick and Malick to the screen, innovations in the big budget area with the first explosive instalment of the depreciating Matrix series, the new Brats cementing their pedigree with the outstanding Magnolia, Election and Fight Club (hands down the definitive American film of the 1990’s?) and other innovative, intriguing gems such as Being John Malkovich, Ghost Dog, Rushmore and Office Space, genre-wise the influential Blair With Project and Sixth Sense which are both precursors of their own mini-genres, the overlooked Ravenous and the likes of All About My Mother, Open Your Eyes and Run Lola Run from the European markets. If I get the time over the next month (and given the fact I’m taking January and perhaps February off) I have no excuse not to put together a list of my personnel favourites of the,<sigh> ‘noughties’, I’ll see what I can throw together. For now though lets cast our gaze over the past twelve months and see how things turned out.
Films Of The Year
Let The Right One In – Hard to believe this came out in the UK this year isn’t it? It feels a lot older already. Not a great deal to add my previous remarks on this perfectly carved paragon of genre cinema, despite the glut of undead media chittering around the large and small screen this year Let The Right One In was one of the best films of the year, not merely the best horror themed release. It diminishes a little on the smaller screen – what doesn’t – but that frigid atmosphere endures and the fascinating relationship between the leads remains as mesmerizing as ever. I guess we’ll have the remake at some point next year, I’m more interested to see what Tomas Alfredson is going to do with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman in his chilly sounding follow-up. I must get round to tracking down some of his earlier work to see what it’s like.
Moon – I couldn’t summarise it any better than William Gibson: ‘My favourite SF on film usually consists of brief luminous moments in what are generally rather low-budget and often actually very bad movies. The outstanding big-budget exceptions of course being Alien and Blade Runner. Duncan Jones’ Moon challenges my aesthetic of brilliant pebbles, though, because it’s so tightly and consistently excellent. It does everything I want an SF film to do, and none of the things I don’t want an SF film to do. How did *that* ever happen?’ Having just watched it again I’ll nominate Rockwell as one of the best actors of the year, he crafts not only a technically brilliant performance but also that rarest of achievements in the context of a SF movie, an incredibly emotional performance. I’ll just add that I’m so proud of the UK background to this, I hope that it stimulates a lo-fi breed of smart SF which at its best doesn’t just explore the nature and impact of technology on our culture and society but like the best SF scrutinizes that perennial question- what it means to be human.
Enter The Void – Bollocks to Antichrist, that was a reasonable movie but for a real challenge, for really testing your limits then Noé takes the prize. This still surfaces now and again, some of the frenetic imagery of the directors diseased mind has evidently burrowed into my cerebral cortex and likes to unexpectedly emerge during impromptu daydream sessions. It really was the most absorbing film I’ve seen for a long, long time, cinema as an almost fully immersive, arresting experience, I made a quip a while back about Noe getting his hands on a 3D camera (incidentally I also joked about Jodorowsky making another movie and voila) and you know what, if you are of an unusually strong constitution I think a double bill of this and Avatar would make an astonishing double bill, just as long as you had a psychiatrist on hand to manage the inevitable mental fall-out. Not to mention the mammoth running time.
A Serious Man – Brilliantly made, subtly textured, open to a panoply of interpretation depending on your idiom – A Serious Man is one of the Coen’s best films to date which is high praise indeed. I loved one thing I heard from Ethan which was along the lines of ‘I’m not sure what the prologue means or why we included it, but it would be a weaker film without it’, that’s an interesting insight into their instinctive method of film-making. At the turn of the decade there was some consternation that the brothers had seriously lost their way with the disappointing Intolerable Cruelty and excruciating The Ladykillers, as the decade closes they have delivered some of their strongest, most mature work with this and of course No Country For Old Men. I’m looking forward to a second viewing, the final scene is amongst the best and most ambiguous moments they have ever crafted.
The Hurt Locker – Action pyrotechnics for the boys, submerged allusions for the academics, the first truly great film to tackle the central conflict of the decade which serves as a great companion piece with In The Loop which almost made the cut but doesn’t quite escape its TV shackles to overwhelm Bigelow’s glorious machismo. I haven’t seen it again yet but it lingers in the memory for its fingernail shredding tension, taut construction and sly commentary that I’m certain will cement its position as the best combat movie of the year – Tarantino be damned – and an incredible skill in rendering essential the same bomb disposal set pieces with an accelerated presence of gut-wrenching fear and intensity. It might even get the Oscar.
Avatar – Far and away the technical marvel of the decade, this is the film that will map the next ten years of mainstream, big budget entertainment. I have been more than a little exasperated at the haters opinions of the film, yes it has its flaws – the score, the predictable plot and dialogue – but again I’ll reiterate the question of just what did they expect, just what planet are they living on (heh) to imagine that such a expensive project wasn’t going to have to appeal to the widest possible demographic? It’s a spectacle, it’s a visual symphony couched in traditional American genre paradigms and taken on those terms it is an awesome achievement. I chime with the opinion that whilst the Brett Ratners and Michael Bays of the industry use SFX to sell their product which are no more than marketing platforms for the associated corporate tie-ins, Cameron uses the SFX to tell the story and that is a crucial difference – it’s also slightly refreshing to see a big film that isn’t a sequel, that isn’t culled from an existing book, computer game or graphic novel franchise, or worse still from a fucking board game or fucking kids toy line.
Just to go a little pretentious for a change on a second viewing it is chock-a-block full of Cameron’s themes and tropes – the notions of motherhood (the richest being the ‘cradling’ scene toward the end), the clash of technology versus nature, the film masterfully educating its audience to its revolutionary format by incrementally acclimatizing them to the denizens and landscapes of Pandorum, all bookmarked with opening and ending imagery of a characters eyes opening, a comment on cinema if ever there was one. I am positively salivating to see what this technology can craft in the hands of the likes of Park Chan Wook or JJ Abrams once of course it becomes adopted as a de rigueur, affordable tool – can you imagine a Lynch film in such a immersive format ? For the inevitable sequel I’ll stick my neck out and predict some coverage on the future conflicts that are alluded to in the film – the wars in Venezuela and Nigeria – as well as some focus on the nature of the cloning technology, if we have become so advanced to meld alien and human DNA together then logically human cloning has already been achieved? Here’s a nice primer if you haven’t caught it yet and here is some indications of what the future holds in store for the films Blu-Ray release and 3D technology that the film heralds in a vaguely irritating but increasingly insightful interview. 3D photos? 3D TV by next Christmas? Bring it on….
Wendy & Lucy – If Fahrenheit 9/11 was the overt political movie of the decade that attacked the poisonous Neo-Con project that will define the decade then here is its more intimate, micro level companion that explores the consequences of the ideological, economic consequences of ten years of social and fiscal incompetence and corruption. In a lo-fi, verite hand-held shooting style we follow the fate of teenage runaway Wendy and her dog companion Lucy as they struggle to survive a transient, dangerous life on the road through small town rural America. Its a film about the people who slip through the cracks, whom society and the state has abandoned with wanton cruelty and indifference, a devastating simple and enormously affecting tale that punches far above its modest 80 minute run-time. Michelle Williams is proving herself as one of the more talented actresses out there at the moment, like Moon she is essentially the only character in this movie and captivatingly holds the attention of the audience all the way through to its heart breaking conclusion. An independent triumph.
Ne Touchez Pas La Hache – Jacques Rivette is probably the most ‘difficult’, the most impenetrable of the French New Wave auteurs with his four, five hour achingly slow movies of which I’ve seen about a half dozen over the past few years but this one is different, as least in length if not in his unusually mannered, austere style. The film features Gerard Depardieu’s son Guillaume (who tragically killed himself earlier this year) in the central role and is based on a novel by Balzac that concerns a doomed romance between a French general and Parisian coquette, she is trapped in a loveless marriage and the rules of society prevent the slightest hope of a successful union. Now I know how that sounds, like one of those bodice ripping yarns or Eighties UK heritage films but there is much more to it than that, it’s a very sombre, very controlled, elegantly ascetic film whose final, devastating mediation evokes the likes of Barry Lyndon. Like Lyndon it is a film rigorously structured in terms of its tone and pace, the atmosphere rendered by those choices that has haunted me since April – give it a chance if you’re in the mood for something different.
Tokyo Sonata – For my money Kiyoshi Kurosawa – no relation I hasten to add – is one of the most interesting and compelling world cinema directors operating today and this is another of his uniquely mannered, distanced but affecting fables of Japanese society and experience. It’s a simple tale, an embittered salarymen’s world disintegrates after he loses his prestigious, status critical job due to the economic turbulence that has cycloned around the world in the past few years, Kurosawa mounting an examination of the repercussions of such an event on the contemporary Japanese nuclear family. The redundancy exposes the fractures and faultlines that underpin contemporary Japanese society, the importance of status and honor suddenly eviscerated, the clash of generations between Ryuhei and his children with their independent beliefs and ambitions, the cohesive role of the matriarch in the family unit. Like Kurosawa’s earlier work it’s a horror film of sorts with some of the fantastic, gruesome flourishes that illuminate his earlier films like Kairo and Kyua all serving as a fulcrum to metaphorically question Japan’s current status. Regular readers may have detected my love of Japanese cinema over the past three years in all its permutations, it’s the difference in approach and technique that directors as blessed as Kurosawa bring to the table to explore global anxieties refracted through their personal experiences and culture that I find enormously fascinating and rewarding, that’s what foreign cinema, from seeing our world from alternate perspectives and opinions is ultimately what cinema in its global sense is all about. In my opinion.
Films for 2010
And so to the bad news. Casting my eyes over the distributors sites I have to say that the birth of a new decade is not looking very promising, cinematically speaking, at all. Four essentials only, two of which could be sketchy, one maybe which we’ve already waited two three years for and a handful of relatively ‘meh’ movies does not bode well. The notion that the consequences of the recession, that all the projects that were green-lit prior to the financial meltdown have now finally been released seems to hold water in this analysis, then again cinema always does well in such an environment so what do I know? Time will tell…
Shutter Island – Hope springs eternal. It’s been ten years since Marty made a film I thoroughly enjoyed so it should hopefully be interesting to see what he does in this apparent mystery/thriller verging on horror genre movie, the presence of pretty boy DiCaprio however has me concerned. Here’s the deal, I have nothing against Leo, in fact in the few interviews I have read with him he has come across as a thoughtful, smart and committed chap whose championing of environmental causes is genuine and passionate, not mere Hollywood grandstanding. As a screen presence however I just cannot take him seriously. This is my problem I guess but did he convince as Howard Hughes? No. Did he convince as a violent turn of the century gang member? No. Did he convince as an angry young undercover cop in The Departed? No, despite as a friend quite rightly pointed out his age and demeanour being perfect for the role. Well, we’ll see, Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane which is encouraging, the trailer is…..OK I guess but if there is any sort of ‘oh my god, I’m the mad person in the sanatorium and I’ve been investigating myself!!” stupidly blatantly obvious plot twist clichés then I’m going on a spree. Please don’t let us down again Marty.
Inception– Here he is again the little bastard!! I heard it was the schedule for Inception that led to Shutter Island being put back as Leo wouldn’t have been available for the gruelling worldwide press marketing tour that a star of his calibre is expected to deliver so we can blame him for that too. OK, OK, I’m joking – just a little. Having already picked up well, not exactly a spoiler per se but an explanation of what the plot of the film is I’m going to pull another media black-out on this, no doubt if Nolan so much as sneezes the fan community will swarm around his emissions, attempting to divine some arcane secrets of what the actual plot and purpose of his hugely anticipated new project is about- nice article here on the lack of mystery in film marketing these days. Is he, as some lazy journalists have posited the new Kubrick? In some sense ‘yes’ for me with his almost perfect track record – he hasn’t made a bad film yet and consistently incorporates an identifiable stream of personal themes, stylistic flourishes and predilections in his movies that straddle an art house and mainstream mentality but where is the real breakthrough, the real explosion of what cinema can be and achieve that encapsulates its moment in the evolution of the art form? That’s a rare achievement of course, perhaps only executed a dozen or so times over the past century, as the increasingly fluid nature of visual narrative evolves it becomes more difficult to imagine such a Phoenix. Those visuals of Paris collapsing into itself are extremely exciting though……
Tree Of Life – Jeez, what else can I say about this other than I’m still waiting. I really hope Malick doesn’t kick the bucket amidst this now tediously long, two years in the editing room production hiatus, like the controversy surrounding Eyes Wide Shut we’ll never hear the end of it if it doesn’t supposedly ‘satisfy the full genius vision of its creator’. Here’s that most rare of beasts, a genuinely amusing comment from the IMDB on the project – ‘I like to imagine Terry sitting down with the editing team vehemently working on the film when he suddenly gets distracted by something he sees in the window. He gets up and notices it’s a rare species of bird and he stands there, taking in the moment of serene and calm, all the while a voice over is murmuring in his head in a deep southern accent. Prompted by the turn of events he decides to simply walk out of the editing room and out into the wilderness and go exploring. He walks through the woods and tastes berries and plays with foxes, maybe even climbs a tree or two. After an hour or so he falls asleep on a log in the middle of a sunlit patch of wildgrass. He loses himself in the forest for weeks and weeks and is finally found via search team 3 weeks later. Of course his PR team kept this all hushed up, but it certainly caused some delays in the post production of the film. I imagine this occurring ever 2-3 weeks of editing’. Here is one of the finest pieces of film writing of the year, by the consistently brilliant John Patterson, making a strong case for The New World being the film of the decade. I’m inclined to agree.
Un Prophète – The best film of 2009 according to Sight & Sound and they know a thing or two about the movies, this will serve as the first ‘must-see’ of the new decade. If you’ve seen the solid The Beat That My Heart Skipped then you may have an idea of what to expect, another remorseless gallic thriller that takes no prisoners with some intriguing nods to its native cinema pedigree, amongst them the particular embellishments of Godard and Melville. It was playing in Paris when I was there earlier in the year, I remember seeing the posters on Le Metro but didn’t want to risk seeing it in its native tongue as frankly my French is atrocious. Again I’m avoiding what I can about this to go in as ‘blind’ as possible, it sounds like a cracker.
The Killer Inside Me – SERIOUS, MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THAT LINK by the way. I finally got round to reading some Jim Thompson books a couple of years ago, an author I’d been meaning to check out for years after hearing about him in the same breath as the likes of Chandler, Hamnett, Spillane and Ellroy, as the masters of their field of broodingly nasty crime fiction that I love. The news that his most cherished novel was being developed by the great Michael Winterbottom with Casey Affleck in the central role was welcomed, in its own grim little way The Killer Inside Me is something of a hard-boiled classic, lets hope that Winterbottom can make the most of that impressive looking modern neo-noir cast he has assembled. That link is quite unusually spoilered given that it pretty much reveals most of the tales central story beats, so beware if you are unfamiliar with the material. You can’t beat a good old fashioned tale of betrayal, deranged murder and sexual obsession eh?
Other films I’ll go and see include The Wolfman which I’m not holding out much hope for although it has got a hard R rating which is a surprise, The Lovely Bones despite my initial low levels of interest evaporating further since the uninspiring trailer and poor reviews emerged, the BFI Tokyo Story re-release which after Kane offers a chance to see another bona-fide classic on the big screen, hopefully the frenetic Herzog Bad Lieutenant will get a proper release, the claustrophobic Lebanon looks tense, the evil The Revenant should hit those pavlovian genre satisfaction buttons, yet another laff-riot end of the world riff Collapse and finally of course the chucklesome Machette:
So here we are. Not counting the repeated viewings of certain films I’ve managed to see no less than 69 films at the flicks this year, personally I aim to capitalise on my tentative steps of film reviewing away from this humble blog which should enjoy a cosmetic overhaul if I can find the time, I also plan to be a little more proactive in seeing, understanding and writing about more esoteric movies, thanks for reading, watch more movies and enjoy what the new year and beyond has to offer:
Remember the final titles shout-out – for those that know you know what I’m talking about….