Monthly Archives: January 2017

  • La La Land Damien Chazelle (USA 2016)

    La La Land Damien
    Chazelle (USA 2016) Ryan Gosling, Emma

    viewed 18th Jan 2017 Empire Cinema Newcastle;
    ticket: £3.95

    follow the dream follow the money

    Damien Chazelle’s La La Land (LLL) didn’t register with me a musical. Rather it was a romcom movie with very ordinary dance routines and some immemorable songs, bolted on.

    What was most interesting was its pitch. What’s it selling? In a similar way to Aronofsi’s Black Swan, it’s selling Narcissism. The pitch is the legitimation of self engrossment. LLL is an ad, one of those singing dancing life style promoting adverts wrapped up in a Romantic geste.

    Of course this is what makes LLL an interesting mass product tuned into its times audience and culture; no more relevant than a hair conditioner or a Porsche promotion, but of a different cultural weight in that it is not selling a tangible product through narcissistic association, rather narcissism itself is sold as the intangible product. As community and family as a source of identity are replaced by commercially factored indicators of presented individuality, image and self image become core components of defining self.

    Of course evangelical politics and fundamental religions (as Isis know) can reterritorialise voided selves. But aside from these radical identity shifts, in the West it is the mix of music social media movies and adverts that define and reflect self image. Cue LA LA Land which, like ‘the Black Swan’, is primarily aimed at the manipulation of its female audience.

    The way LLL is shot is reminiscent of a two hour selfie with the iPhone pointed at Mia. The camera loves Mia, its lens caresses her and whenever it gets the chance, it zooms in for a kiss, tracking in for that Big Close Up of her happy smiley face. Mia’s face, or perhaps a faciality Mia’s implied affective state that comes to exemplify the ‘Dream’; not just any dream but the ultimate defining dream that everything is possible. Just pursue your dream: everything you desire will be yours. In her exemplary mediocrity, Mia in herself epitomises this for her audience, in that Emma Stone’s execution of the specifically technical demands of the film is very ordinary. Neither her singing nor her dancing are particularly good. This in itself is important; it flags up the message to the audience about the levelling out of their own aspirations. LLL says to its adoring public that it doesn’t matter if you can’t do stuff very well, there’s no need to spend too much time on proficiency; just trying reasonably hard is enough to fulfil your dream. Mia is a simple uncomplicated undemanding role model.

    Sebastian interestingly is not. It feels as if Chazelle has scripted him not as a boyfriend but an animus: Mia’s psychic shadow, the unstated repressed elements of her being. Sebastian, as Chazelle sets him up, comes across as so contradictory that even the LLL script gives up trying to understand or develop him coherently. For instance, Sebastian claims to love jazz; but when he plays the piano for himself, he gurgitates the La La Land theme music which sounds like a middling Einaudi composition. Not Jazz. In the end Chazelle’s gives up the pretence that Sebastian is an independent character, and he is assimilated into Mia’s dream of perfect romance. Of course he is marginally more interesting as a shadow.

    LLL is trailed as a homage re-visiting of the ‘classic Hollywood musicals. But it is not. The great Hollywood musicals worked through de-individuation. Minnelli Donen et al created dream worlds into which their characters were assimilated. In dance the outer forms, the identities and characters of Astaire Kelly Rogers or Charisse, fell from them as they became dancers pure released into another world. But these guys could dance; the same cannot be said of Gosling and Stone. Chazelle, with the exception of the opening number, has the opposite intention than that implicit in the great era musicals: that the dance advances individuality. In particular with Mia dance serves her rather than she serving the dance. As such, given the low level of performance, the musical numbers are flat rather than elevating. Even the opening number set on the upper deck of a highway snarl-up falls victim to the curse of the one shot fetish. The camera movement although fluid always has a feeling of being ill at ease with itself, of perhaps drawing attention to itself, its individuality and taking attention away from the dance. There is one moment of energy when the tailgate of a truck rolls open to reveal a band playing; otherwise this ten minute shot falls victim to its own mechanics. The less said about the homage shot to ‘American in Paris’ the better; its not even a pale imitation. The problem with the choreography and settings of this homage are augmented by the low calibre musical composition; but Gershwins are thin on the ground these days.

    Of most interest in the development of the film was the end section of the credits roller. Up and past went an unending series of names of financial backers and co-production deals (There was significant product placement in the movie). La La Land has been an expertly sold prospect to international investors, including the Chinese. In the era of the soft machinery, the malleable ego, expect business model clones to follow. adrin neatrour

  • Silence Martin Scorsese (2017 USA)

    Silence Martin
    Scorsese (2017 USA) Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver

    Viewed Empire Cinema 10th Jan 2017; ticket £3.95

    A deadness of being

    Hollywood doesn’t do certain subjects very well: sex, mental illness and spirituality. Sex is handled as pornography image and status; mental illness as overcoming and spirituality as outward acting facial gestures and gloopy text and music.

    Silence has at its core an idea of the religious spirit as conveyed through the persona of Garrpe and Rodrigues, two missionary Jesuits. But Scorsese’s Silence never develops any spiritual key, and is unable to move beyond spectacle. It presents as a sort of Japanese Spartacus or Quo Vadis, with about the same claim to spiritual insight as these classic epics.

    This outcome may have something to do with the way in which Hollywood movies are put together as productions. After the purchase of a property, there is the script development sometimes proceeding alongside putting talent in place. The script development is the key stage in getting the project to production and a Hollywood script, given the green light, normally has certain key characteristics: strong characters who have potential to grow into the narrative; good plotting with a realisable through story which the viewers can understand and a stylistic gloss packaging up films for specific genres or audiences – family – horror – male youth etc. which stylistic gloss also determines the music input and tracks.

    This is the tried and road tested Hollywood production schema. Subject matter is usually less important than character or through story, though content is important for sell pitch and trail. The problem for Scorsese when he tries to work a spiritual dimension into his story, is firstly that there is no place for the spiritual outside the resources of his actors. And secondly that the domain of the spirit is usually dysfunctionally served by scripts, either as voice overs, texts or lines of dialogue. Directors who have managed to insinuate faith and spirit into film are few: Dreyer, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Bresson there are a others, but all these aforementioned directors carry spirit into the grain of the medium of film and the image. Dialogue is often sparse; characters, and the relations of the characters are revealed by the mis–en-scene. They are for seeing, for the audience to see. The dynamics are to include the viewer by enabling seeing; not being told or manipuated as per text in a script.

    The aforementioned directors rarely resort to voice over to tell the audience their characters state of mind or struggles. The use of voice over in Silence is a crass, crude device that destroys itself in utterance. Instead of playing out ‘Silence’ through his characters, Scorsese plays out through the script. Instead of acting presences, the people on the screen filling out the scenario (and directors in the past have often, but not always, resorted to amateur players), Scorsese employs two cute dudes, pretending to be Jesuit priests. At certain VO places in the script, where Rodrigues has ‘ internal moments’, such as doubting the existence of God or the reason for suffering, Scorsese resorts to close up affect images of Rodrigues. The effect is that it looks like some one is reading out the VO script while Scorsese gives direction to Andrew Garfield to look spiritual. This is according to the soap opera guide to the art of coarse acting.

    The scene that is most indicative of Scorsese’s inability to be anything other than a crude action movie director is the long sequence where the four Japanese Christians are crucified in the ocean. The camera keeps cutting back to Rodrigues and Garrpe as they spectate from behind some convenient bushes ( ridiculous conceit of a shot ). Although they mutter on about suffering the two priests are absurdly suggestive of a couple of school kids playing hooky who have crept in behind the bleachers to see the game.

    The sea crucifixion scene, as a prolonged sequence, is unnecessary ( I mean we’ve seen or can see, if we so chose, Isis obscenity) and shows that Scorsese is really only interested in spectacle; adding the two priests into the sequence, relinquishes any claim by ‘Silence’ to be being taken seriously. And the rest of ‘Silence’ adds nothing more to this contiguity of physical abuse and over voiced anguish that characterise the sea crucifixions. The debates between Rodrigues and the Inquisitor are comic book bubble speech dialogues, and the meeting between Ferrara and Rodrigues seems like two old actors getting together. Brando or Max von Sydow might have given something to the Ferrara character.

    Scorcese signs off ‘Silence, with a typical Hollywood manipulation. The final shot is the consummation of the through story: the zoom into the crucifix in Rodrigues’ palm. But this shot has been set up by the manipulation of the point in time at which Rodrigues’ Voice Over dries up. Having been drip fed Rodrigues’ internal state of mind for the first part of the movie, his inner voice dries up at the point at which the audience might like to know if he had actually become apostate or whether his outer actions concealed an inner deep resistance. Anyway this manipulation at least gives the script writer or Scorsese the satisfying feeling that he has given his audience a spectacular surprise send off with the last shot. adrin neatrour

  • Passengers Morten Tyldum (USA 2016)

    Passengers Morten
    Tyldum (USA 2016) Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt.

    viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle 3rd Jan 2017;
    ticket £3.95

    Love means never having to say you’re sorry…

    Seeing two sci-fi films in the space of a couple of weeks, first one was ‘Arrival’, brings home how sci-fi movies are in general little more than a transmutation of current contemporary issues onto an imagery future. The shift in situation and imagery towards the futuristic gives ongoing political and social themes a thinly disguised aspect. This can sometimes, lend freshness to debate (rare but it happens), and/or open up the subject matter to the possibilities of satire and parody. Woody Allen, J-P Godard and Mel Brookes have all tested out this latter territory.

    Villeneauve’s ‘Arrival’ establishes the familiar situation of an alien landing on Earth, but takes as its area of concern not conflict as in ‘War of the Worlds’, but rather the subject of communication. On reflection I came to think that ‘Arrival’s scenario was actually a variant on the theme: ‘Women are from Venus’. Its subject matter, in subtext of course, was actually communication between the sexes, men and women. ‘Arrival’s’ big idea was that women, such as feminists who have difficulties in speaking or communicating with men, should use white boards. Armed with a white board, you can say and then you can point. Although the white board does not rule out misunderstandings, perhaps it makes them less frequent than they would otherwise be. Seriously.

    ‘Passengers’ on the other hand does not take itself seriously. It is tongue in cheek spoof on the American dream of the perfect relationship between the sexes as blazed idealised and trailed by teenage magazines such as True Romance, its ilk and imitators (Disney Corp). Filled out with tropes from just about every significant sci-fi movie of the last fifty years, Tyldum absorbs and regurgitates (with effective SFX) just about everything from robots spaceships and spacescapes. As we journey on Avalon we visit: Forbidden Planet, 2001, Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Gravity possibly even Solaris and I presume other movies I’ve not seen. But the sci fi input is just a wrap, a expensively formulated wrap, often spectacular, but just a wrap to sell and to promote the film. The subject matter is simply a variant on the old story of: boy meets girl.

    The first section of the film covers Jim’s accidental awakening which allows Tyldum’s scenario to create situations satirising the contemporary frustration of trying to communicate with corporate entities fronted by layers of robotic gate keepers. But although the menace of corporate strategies in controlling our lives is maintained in the script, this opening section is simply an hors d’oeuvre preparing for the subsequent determined parody that defines the action of Passengers.

    Tyldrum book-ends Passengers with Sleeping Beauty motifs. In the first part of the film when Jim wakes Aurora, it seems as if Passengers might be some sort of gloss on the familiar Grimms Bros/Disney fairy tale. But rigorously rooted in contemporary mores, Passengers is committed to gender equality; the Sleeping Beauty moment is a feint but one that allows the movie to show its contemporary gender equality credentials by having a gender balanced moment at the end of the film where Aurora wakens Jim. Symmetry.

    So the awakening of Aurora in Passengers does not presage a fairy tale. It is in fact a Lubitsch meet-cute situation with one of the parties, as is not usual, contained, and believing the meet-cute has been accidental not manipulated. Tyldrum uses the relationship between Jim and Aurora to satirise both the content and form of the contemporary career of the romance. Isolating his love birds on the good ship Avalon gives Tyldum the space to spoof the ‘love ideology bond’ as pitched by Disney and teenage magazines. The pitch that love conquers all (even betrayal), lovers exist only for each other to the exclusion of the world, love is forever and exists in a sort of vacuum chamber bereft of social or cultural ties.

    The lonely vast spaceship Aurora is a very good filmic testing ground to have fun at the expense of these jejune ‘lurve’ propositions and to look at the infantalisation of relationships in contemporary culture as adolescence is stretched out into mature adulthood. Tyldum rapidly works through the formulaic relationship models suggested by: Blind Date, Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of here! He checks into the getting to know you rituals as formulated in every Rom-Com: the sport (Annie Hall) , the swank dinner out, the disco, and of course the BED. They are a couple in love without a care in the world, and it so wonderful that young people can get on with their lives in this sort of difficult marooned situation. They are enough for each other, they don’t need other people. Tyldum’s script and scenario doesn’t play it for laughs, not even knight errant one liners, but as the film progresses the power of the satire plays deeper into the movie, cutting though the spectacle which becomes ever more a ridiculous over the top appendage to the course of true love.

    Like all tru-love stories, particularly those written by observant teenage girl diarists, Passengers ends happily ever after. Our lovers Aurora and Jim overcome all the obstacles to love, living alone, self sufficient and in mutual blissful contentment to the end of their days. Obviously it was always meant to be this way. It was written in the stars. Or perhaps a computer. Horray! Adrin Neatrour