Monthly Archives: October 2017

  • The Death of Stalin Armando Iannucci (UK 2017)

    The Death
    of Stalin Armando Iannucci (UK
    2017) Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey ,Tambor,
    Simon Beale.

    Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 25 Oct 2017; ticket £9.75

    No truth content.

    The Death of Stalin is a stylistic farrago. Iannucci has directed and scripted a hotch potch of a movie that amounts to far less than the sum of its stylistic flounces. The skeletal scaffold upon which the Death of Stalin is structured is a transposed ‘brit style’ loveable but vicious Cockney gangsta movie, tricked out with Monte Python inlays (there is an effective John Cleese like cameo from Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin) and ‘West Wing’ designed look. Ianucci heads out for the sea of laffs but ends up in the quicksands of failed ambitions. In the end in pursuit of distraction he misses all the targets.

    Iannucci’s one cheap decision was to go for Lock Sock (sic) and two Smoking barrels/ Kray brothers type scripting. Using this as his template creates an immediate problems of how the film is grounded. It necessitates clumsy subtitles to makes sure the audience realises that Moscow, and not the East End of London is the film’s setting. But despite all Iannucci’s flailing, despite the use of captions to explain what is happening, the film still seems grounded its loveable but naughty East End ethos. The transposing of the material and jokes from London to Moscow, makes much of the humour overlaboured in delivery, overreliant on mere crudity of language to produce a few guffaws from the cinema audience.

    The transposing of setting also causes a problem with the Death of Stalin’s truth content. The confusion caused by its template of stylisation causes a detachment from context. The film ceases to be a film about the Soviet Union, a particular situation at a particular time, it just becomes a generic ‘baddies’ vehicle that happens to have a Cockney feel. The loss of specificity is paid for in that as the humour’s target becomes more generalised, so the more attenuated it becomes. It loses edge as any stand-up comedian can tell you.

    Iannucci’s decision is cheap because the alternative would have been much more difficult and time consuming. To develop for the Stalin project a more definitively Soviet/Russian voice. Of course one of the folk glories of the Soviet Union was the black underground humour. This humour pervaded the whole of the Iron Curtain with its mordant embrace of the terror of reality of life under a totalitarian regime. There is something of this in the scenes that dominate the opening section of the movie, the duplication of the classical concert in order to make a recording demanded by Stalin. This section of the scripting gives a glimpse of what the Death of Stalin might have been, an idea grounded in the parallel flow of alternating divergent realties characterising Soviet life. But Iannucci sells out for a ride on the cushion of easy laughs, stylistic switches into Monte Python and West Wing conspiracy territories.

    SO my final thoughts were that Iannucci makes a transposed gangsta movie transposed 65 years back in time into forgotten back water of Soviet Union. The events are safely outside the grasp of living memory, event now relegated to the (admitttedly interesting but specialised) pages history. But now, 65 years later, another group of gangstas occupy the Kremlin control all the strings of Party and State. Putin through his security apparatus the FSB and the crony capitalist oligarchs rules Russia permitting no opposition. He imprisons rivals and those who annoy him, murders journalists and controls the Church and Army. Why bother to make a movie about Stalin? Except as a dead man he’s a safe subject. Surely to make a film about Stalin without even obliquely referencing the current situation in Russia is an action of little consequence. The Death of Stalin is not even an allegory; rather it’s a betrayal of truth. adrin neatrour

  • Blade Runner 2049 Denis Villeneuve (USA 2017)

    Blade Runner 2049
    Denis Villeneuve (USA 2017) Ryan
    Gosling; Harrison Ford

    viewed: cineworld Newcastle 10 Oct 2017; ticket: £4.00

    replicant film

    Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (BR49) is a terrible movie, made by a film maker who has forgotten film and now knows only how to make walk through installations.

    BR 49 is an installation movie dominated by settings and sets, with both action and dialogue set to ponderous manipulative heavy duty music, much of which sounds like pitch corrected highly slowed sound. This sound is intended to physically overwhelm the viewer, and is exploited by Villeneuve in desperation to salvage the film’s leaden pace. ( I also felt I heard a rendering of the famous ethnographic recording of the drums of Burundi, incredible rhythmic sound much lifted by film music ‘composers’.)

    Frank Capra, a director who understood pace, wrote in his autobiography: ‘There are no rules in film making but there are sins. And the cardinal sin is that of dullness.’ Villeneuve has made a very dull movie. and: despite the music despite the overwhelmingly sycophantic film reviews across the spectrum, it’s possible the punters may stay away from this boring overlong unengaging sequel to Scott’s original Blade Runner.

    Scott’s original was an expressive vision of Dick’s hallucinogenic vision of a dysfunctional world dominated by the interests of the large corporations. A world defined by bloated corrupted capitalism. Ironically enough Villeneuve and his producers now seem to regard the Blade Runner franchise as a license for product placement from the great corporations: Sony, Peugeot, Coca-Cola and in an attempt to try and pass this off as a joke: Pan-Am! I can’t remember if the original BR had product placement. But with the concern about role of large multi national corporations in the world, product placement in BR49 seems ominous and may explain the comparative tameness of BR49’s social vision. BR49 transforms the replicant social saga into a story of personalised experience organised about personal identity.

    Scott’s original movie worked because in the traditions of noir movie makers like Hawks, the script and scenario engender close identification with the protagonist: whether it be a Marlow or a Deckard. The intensity of the viewers relationship with the ‘anti-hero’ is used to open the viewer to a clear view of world from a perspective the viewer understands that they can trust. Whether it be the world of money and corrupted relations of LA in The Big Sleep; or as in the original Blade Runner the horrors of an amoral world where men play the role of Gods in creating life and deciding who lives and who dies. Scott’s movie works through an originary human dilemma (centred on abuse of power); whilst not long on humour, it has wit, as in its clever use of origami.

    Villeneuve’s BR49 in contrast has no humour (Pan-AM joke excepted, even if it is a bit of an in-joke for the ex-shareholders) no wit and its dramatis personae consist of mono dimensional stereo types with haircuts, who look most of the time like they are going through the motions of obeying director’s instructions. ( Once actors practiced in front of the mirror; now I imagine they practice air guitar) Facially for the men this means half tensed po faced tough look as default; for the women it’s the sort smiling smirk to camera that ministers to the characters default sense of superiority. Ryan Gosling has nice ears and designer stubble; the women’s main function is to sport coiffure and series of outfits appropriate to whatever setting the script diverts them.

    With a confused narrative not helped by ridiculously attenuated dialogue often interspersed with that pitch corrected slowed down music, there is in fact no story. Story disappears; replaced for the audience by a series of walk through experiences of different settings often replete with water ripple effects, just to make sure nothing stays still. Film death by a thousand sets; presumably on the premise that people will watch anything as long as it is visually and audibly overwhelming. Accompanied by our latterday would be Beethoven sound track builders, we have: vast domes aplenty mostly menacing, giant Chinese(?) rubbish tips, old steel mills (Hungary?) vast old Hotels complete with Presley and Sinatra holograms, endless city scapes, huge sculpture parks, burnt out landscapes and a sea storm finale. The problem is by the finale no one understands anything or cares. But we have walked through a lot of stuff.

    Denis Villeneuve is one of a group of contemporary film directors who has nothing to say but is a dab hand at sententious bloated gorged sfx driven movies. Villeneuve demonstrates his ability to conduct and co-ordinate the labour of thousands of SFX slaves to create the vast settings against which to place his characters. The trouble is that the sets and settings overwhelm everything, including the idea of identity at the core of the script. Villeneuve in BR49 does not know how to effectively energise this vastness of SFX effort with a governing theme, a set of interplaying and interwoven concepts that can shape characters to whom an audience can relate.

    Perhaps he should go back and have a look at some of Capra’s films. adrin neatrour

  • Wind River Taylor Sheridan (USA 2017)

    Wind River Taylor
    Sheridan (USA 2017) Jeremy Renner,
    Elizabeth Olsen

    viewed: CineWorld Newcastle 26 Sept 2017; ticket £4.00

    One cheap cut does not a movie make

    Sheridan has opted to make a cloying syrupy sub prime all American drama.. A film that ticks all the usual Hollywood post Spielberg value boxes. His idea I think was to make a film that looked like it referenced Cohn Bros’ ‘Fargo’, full of beards and bearded mutterings affirming rugged acentric idiosyncratic individualism; but which ultimately drew its values from a primary statement of American decency.

    Wind River displays an insecurity of legitimacy. A sort of tortuous white man’s guilt about his relationship to past crimes, in this case the genocide and systematic cultural and social undermining of the native American. The problem with the scripting is that it pitches message first and in consequence doesn’t use the scenario to point up what is happening. Rather it crudely showboats its concerns. Everything has to be underlined just so we know Wind River’s ‘cred’ is right on! OK.

    With its lone hero Cory the tracker and its FBI Jane, we have a corresponding version of the Hector /Clarince Starling relationship; the naïve female seeking advice from the man who knows his onions. In soft expressive cinema, this type of relationship always feels to me like Hollywood’s coded gesture of appeasement to the feminists: that men are noble patriarchs who will always share their knowledge on a basis of equality. In short it feels condescending script gesture.

    The first third of the movie is devoted to the establishment by Sheridan of Cory’s all American ‘cowboy’ credentials. Its not really clear why so much time is devoted to this cowboy ‘idyll’ the purpose of which is simply to establish the protagonist as a very good man, perhaps only slightly flawed by his ‘silence’. Sheridan makes us watch Cory’s relationship with his son Casey ( the offspring of his estranged native Indian wife). We see Cory dutifully teaching his boy the important things: how to handle a horse, some down home truths (philosophy) and some how to hunt stuff. Cory is established as a father and a good all American: humble but proud, honest and plain speaking, the man who sees clearly where others do not see. The problem is that it is predictable cliché.

    All of which sets up the horror of the final section of the movie in which Jane and Cory fall in love: she vocal ballsy; him strong silent type. Of course they should get together: the movie turns into a dating site. It was better when the strong silent types just rode off into the distance, taming their dating proclivities.

    The script develops with an inexorable predictability through to the final romancing. The good guys are good, and the bad guys bad: white hats; dark hats. The native Americans have problems, but there is hope that given the right conditions these problems can be overcome.

    It is in its staging and structure that Sheridan reveals his clumsiness in filling out the scenario. The locked gun fight sequence, when everyone pulls out their guns at the same time. The shot doesn’t work except as a reminder that Mel Brookes and the Marx Brothers knew how to pull off this type of idea; however they knew what they were doing, Sheridan evidently does not. In the lead up to this locked gun fight sequence there is a major change in shooting style. Having shot his film conventionally in basic privileged camera access style, he suddenly reverts to a series of drone shots taking us over the hills. Drone shots that look like they belong in another movie. At the very least these shots seems to suggest the opening of a new phase of the movie. But they don’t. These drone shots seem rather to be a token of the director’s insecurity; the current idea that all movie’s made today should have a drone sequence, just to show the audience know you know you can handle a drone.

    Sheridan’s director’s moment comes when he invokes a cut, a splice in the action to transport the film through time to reveal the sequence of action that explains the core mystery of the film and its opening shots. Sheridan exploits the opening of a door, to reverse both time and position, outside to inside. But somehow in the crudity of the film the cut seems barely more than crass, an excuse for cleverness not insight, even the insight of an opening door.

    Like much of the output of today’s Hollywood, Wind River wants to contain a bit everything to play out to the divergent constituencies of the leisure industry. So we have some Big John Wayne, a nod to feminism with FBI Jane, some politically correct fathering and native American Indians. The problem is that a bit of everything can end up with a lot of nothing. Adrin Neatrour