• Sorcerer William Friedkin (USA 1977)

    Sorcerer William
    Friedkin (USA 1977) Roy Schneider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal, Amidou

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 Dec 2017; ticket £6.75

    nobs on

    In the opening credits William Friedkin dedicates Sorcerer to Henri-George Clouzot, the director of Wages of Fear (1952), of which Sorcerer can only be seen as a remake. This is the only moment of honesty in Friedkin’s movie.

    Clouzot’s original movie, based on the novel by Georges Arnot, was an extraordinary achievement. His film set out its stall from its opening shot which pulls together in one succinct take a complete replete expression of his film’s core idea. In Clouzot’s opening shot we see a number of scorpions climbing over one another in a dusty hole in the road. As the camera tracks back we see that each of the creatures is attached by a string to a stick manipulated by a boy. When the boys starts in response to a street commotion, the insects are yanked up, their legs and bodies thrashing about in mid-air, all them completely helpless, hapless. The shot is of course about power. Who has whom by the balls. In Wages of Fear the answer is always the oil company. Clouzot’s genius was to take good action novel, and keeping the action make it into a left field existential political statement. Clouzot’s Wages of Fear is driven by political perception, made magnificent by his understanding of the settings: the town – the oil field – the dirt road – the trucks.

    William Friedkin doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand the heart of the film he is trying to replicate. The material he tries to animate is out of his depth, he hasn’t seen, or hasn’t wanted to see, the forces Clouzot brought into play in his scenario: the exercise of raw power set against a background of men who stripped of their identity are marooned in a town, that like a concentration camp, reduces them to the status of body or corpse. Where the difference between body and corpse is that one of them can be put to work.

    Friedkin remake, strangely titled Sorcerer, is simple a hollow vessel. It has form. It makes some noise. It is empty of content. Friedkin brings to the movie the usual Hollywood attributes of fussy details and big bang production values.

    But Friedkin’s approach simply tries to exploit the unnecessary detailing of action. Instead of Clouzot’s marvellously economic depiction of the four men as they come to terms with their existential situation in the border town, Friedkin’s pads out his script with four back stories. Friedkin thinks we have to know who each one of the protagonists is and how they got there. As if in a concentration camp it matters what you ‘were’; all that matters is if you know how to survive. Clouzot understands this and it is reflected in his cinematography: the shots of his protagonists, his shots of the town favour wide perspective allowing us to see relations. Friedkin of course favours the close shot, as his film is committed to individuation not situation.

    Coming from the director of the Exorcist who built refrigerated sets so that the actors’ breath would condense, it is no surprise that Friedkin’s script gets bogged down in irrelevant detail. As if overwhelming the viewer with slickly edited detail, would distract from having to think about what they are seeing. His emphasis on detail dominates the section of action immediatly before his four characters set out on their journey. We are shown them as they fit out the two antiquated trucks, repairing them, readying them for the journey. Uninterested in social relations, Friedkin has to bulk out ‘Sorcerer’ with American ‘can-do’, the literalism of fix-it mechanics.

    My memory of Clouzot’s Wages of Fear is that, although little is known about the protagonists their situation creates a level of audience identification that is lacking in Friedkin’s direction and script. Certainly Clouzot’s Frenchman, with his carefully preserved Paris Metro ticket, a psychic token binding him to the city, has a more powerful symbolic hook than Friedkin’s Frenchman, with his engraved watch given him by his wife. These symbols and their place in the film highlight the differences in approach of the two directors. The Metro ticket symbolises a series of possibilities and of social relations; the watch one individual relationship. We have all had subway tickets; few of us have had expensive engraved watches.

    Viewing ‘Sorcerer’ it is difficult to see why Friedkin chose to direct this remake. Bogged down in detail it delivers nothing beyond the immediate series of spectacular images. Sorcerer looks as if it is nothing more than a macho statement of an A list director, wanting to show he can mix with the best of them and handle the big budgets. ‘Sorcerer’ is William Friedkin. Perhaps in his own mind, after being the Exorcist, he becomes Sorcerer, the Hollywood bigshot whose movie weaves the spell that enchants the Big Studios into parting with pots of money. adrin neatrour

  • Happy End Michael Haneka (2017; Europe)

    Happy End Michael
    Haneka (2017; Europe) Isabelle
    Huppert; J-L Trintignant

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 5th Dec 2017;
    ticket: £ 9.75

    The Medium is the Message

    Haneka’s film has a strange title. As far as I can tell he has used this title right across Europe, without translation. Usually his film titles are translated. But what is the title pointing to? Perhaps it’s being at the happy end of the IPhone.

    Haneka’s movie opens and closes with footage taken by Eve on her IPhone and registers in the projection of the film as ‘IPhone’ footage. In the first shot she describes what she sees filming her mother’s bed time routine. Although Haneka scripted and ‘shot’ these clips, there is a sense in which they are not his or rather he cannot claim complete ownership of them.

    Smart phone technology has triggered a culture which is flooded out by pics and clips. Dying fucking eating suicide are grist to the smart phone mill. Secret ‘shared’ thoughts breakdowns intimacy the body: what was once considered ‘private’ now is subject to public broadcaste.. There is sense in which smart phone recordings can be understood as generic, not in a meaningful sense owned by anyone but just part of the milieu in which we live, the water in which we swim. It is the medium that has become the message.

    McLuhan’s vivid insight, is explored by Haneka through both Eve and then through her father Thomas. Through Eve we can see the effect of cool smart phone technology on her relationship with the world. Filming on a smart phone she reduces what she sees to objects of a detached curiosity. Filming and on-line media engage a world that is characterised by fragmentations discontinuities disconnections and detachment. Subjected to the process of continuous recording, the technology is absorbed into everyone’s psychic reality, it becomes part of who we all are.

    The smart phone is a cool technology that mediates its objects as the subjects of a detached gaze. It is a gaze that has all the heat of meaning abstracted and lacks emotional consequentiality. In ‘Happy End’ Haneka draws on and depicts what is generic in the culture to depict the depersonalisation of relations in the film: the relations between father – daughter, mother- son, and the impotent isolation of George, the pater familias, the old grand-dad.

    Whereas Eve’s world is located in the cool detachment of smart phone technology, Thomas is in thrall to the hot print of internet e-relations. The heat of the texted instantaneous feed back loops between him and Clair, have reduced them both to an genito-anal infantile fixation. Whilst Thomas invests in his image (even if it is in self deception) Eve in contrast distances herself from image. The hot cool relationship between father and daughter is mirrored in the hot cool relations between son and mother. Their relationship is introduced by Haneka with CCTV footage of a construction site accident.

    CCTV material is impersonal fixed image which has a purported objectivity but may have multiple implications. The accident triggers the dynamics that cause the split in the Anne and Pierre’s relationship. It reinforces and motivates Anne to take the cool analytic corporate line: to do whatever is necessary to save the business. Whereas Pierre is shocked by the accident and the harm his firm has caused to an individual, rejects the legal machinations and embraces the hot world of emotional responsibility.

    In one long durational shot, a sort of ‘Pieta’ set up, Haneka affectively compresses the son /mother relationship as Anne visits her son Pierre in his room after he has failed to turn up for work. After a period of immobility, with camera focusing on Peter stretched half naked on his bed, the camera tracks and pans following the action, of mother and son stitching the all the dynamics of their changed relationship together as one statement. In contrast George, the pater familias, isolated from the crossed wires of the intergenerational tensions of his children and grand-children, has nothing left to do but to die. There is no place left for him in the world. He is not in the movie.

    Haneka seems to me primarily a satirist, working the dark veins of didactic representation in the manner of a Dean Swift. His satire works best when it is undeviating and delivered at face value. Happy End takes up the moral theme that has driven Haneka’s directorial career: the bankrupt and morally degenerate nature of bourgeois consumer society. Happy End pays homage both in script and shooting style to Haneka’s previous movies. In revisiting particular settings and subjects we see the shadows and hear echoes of: The Piano Teacher; Funny Games, Hidden, and l’ Amour.

    And this is the problem with the film: it attempts to cover too much ground. Haneka’s decision to reprise elements of Hidden and Piano Teacher don’t work effectively. The refugee scenes and the actual appearance of Clair who we know of through her on-line psycho-sexual tryst with Thomas, both look like they have been bolted onto the body of the film. They are both essentially outside the satirical unfolding of film’s logics, bulking out the body of the film with topical but specious material. The penultimate scene depicting a hyper enervated Pierre inviting immigrants to his mother’s wedding feast comes across simply as a failed homage to Bunuel’s Viridiana. It is cursory and undeveloped, as is the appearance of Clair at George’s party: token gestures.

    Happy End is uneven but it is a film of European sensibility. It encodes, in content and process the idea that we have to interpret what we see. We can never see the complete picture. Haneka does not generally make films that comprise only the simplistic images of the Hollywood Cinema. After our intensive socialisation through the symbolic language of the advertising industry, Hollywood feeds us with images that we simply have to read. Like hamburgers we chew them up and swallow them whole. But in the European vein, Haneka gives us shots that we have to interpret; shots that are detached from the lexicons of product manipulation; shots that we have to look at and to decipher in relation to what we know, both from the film and from life. Happy End is a film that we have to interpret. adrin neatrour

  • Battle of the Sexes Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (USA 2017)

    Battle of the Sexes
    Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (USA 2017) Emma Stone, Steve Carell.

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 28 November 2017; ticket £9.75

    winner and losers

    There is not much to say about Dayton and Faris’ ‘Battle of the Sexes’ as film. It is a good story but which is given the Hollywood treatment so that the film itself is a predictable formulaic product, shot using standard shot reverse shot, it’s overlong and weighed down by its own expectations of political and personal correctitude.

    AS a biopic it suffers from the curse of genre that its heroine, Billie Jean King is rendered as pure as the driven snow – BJK as an image that steps right out of a shower gel advert. Without blemish, she’s a great advocate for women’s rights, for women’s tennis and has the guts to put these on the line in taking on Bobby Riggs’ challenge. All accurate as the image she projected, but un-interesting. The script of course a la Hollywood mode tries to cover all bases; all two of them: the professional and the personal. But neither of these areas kindles dramatic tension.

    The script loses focus in relation to BJK in the sense that in the modern vein it wants to include everything: the tennis and the personal in equal proportion. As the personal involves her lesbian relationship which today is a personal choice approaching the norm, there is little contemporary interest to be derived from this ‘transgressive’ area of her personal life. In particular as her husband is happy enough to go along with her desire and not stand in the way ( Their marriage as scripted lacked passion on either side and may at this stage of its life been a convenience). But the personal aspect of BJK’s life is filled out cinematically with ‘falling in love’ which the directors equate shot wise with bulking out the film with dull longeurs of the lovers staring doe eyed at each other before slithering genteelly together between the sheets.

    This is tedious cinema, that may justify itself as promoting LGBT rights, but if so the Battle of the Sexes ( in the best Hollywood traditions) is fighting a battle already done and dusted. There is nothing in the script that encodes or actually probes what price BJK might have paid for ‘coming out’ at this point in her career, or even the tension her career creates in prioritising work over play. There is no cost depicted by Dayton and Faris even in BJK’s personal anxiety for her lesbian affinity. So this is an inconsequential cinema, that reduces its core personal relationship to a scripting device.

    Given that the outcome of the Riggs/BJK match is well known it is almost impossible to generate any tension in relation to the result of the Match that is the film’s centre piece. Because BJK in Battle of the Sexes is an image pure rather than a character there is no psychic dimension to the movie, a dimension that might have probed the more deeply into the layers of her responses and self belief. In effect all that Dayton and Faris achieve in relation to BJK’s story is a triumphalist anthem, that in today’s lexicon is free of the troublesome business of doubt and self reflection.

    If BJK can be rendered as no more that a two dimensional caricature, not so Bobby Riggs. Even though the film goes to great lengths editorially to give equal time to both protagonists, Riggs is immediately interesting, in a way BJK is not. He cannot be boxed into two dimensions. Riggs was himself, a time back, a tennis champion (and like BJK not out of the college side of the tracks). But ‘tennis’ as a world had not fenced him in. His commitment to tennis was as part of the life process Dayton and Faris can’t stop Riggs being the gravitational centre towards which their film is inexorably pulled. Riggs has energy. He ducks he dives he bobs he weaves. It is clear that at the core of Riggs’ being is the drive for immanence, life on the edge; life as the hustler. To create situations where he is dancing to his own dangerous tunes, playing his own game to high risk stakes.

    Steve Carell playing Riggs commands attention every time this parallel cut movie shifts to the Riggs perspective. Despite Battle of the Sexes attempts to sex up BJK’s role, the real story is Riggs. Riggs’ stunning decision to turn his bad ass attitude towards equal pay for women tennis players into a scam and caper on a truly epic scale. To become the prankster ring master of the virtual tennis circuit.

    Battle of the Sexes gives some idea of the enormity of Riggs’ conceit. A documentary would have done better justice to the scale of his realised achievement as he successfully sold the whole of the media world in the USA, the match in Dallas, as the Battle of the Sexes.

    Most sports stars are uninteresting because they are self confined to the bounded worlds and rules of the game from which they earn their money and in which live out their life. Unless something happens that catastrophically smashes through these bounds, the people living in these toy towns, carry through their duty of filling the sports sections of the back pages or prime time TV slots. That is their world, and they stick within it and to it.

    Riggs however was out of this world. He had moved into a world of his own self creation where he made the rules. Briefly BJK was at least partially assimilated into his world on his terms. Riggs may have lost the match but in terms of the game of life, he was far ahead. But Jonathon Dayton and Valerie Faris seem not have been happy with this more honest depiction and opted to make a dull biopic with a Riggs Side show, even though on their own terms they couldn’t contain him on the tram lines. adrin neatrour

  • Florida Project Sean Baker (USA 2017)

    Florida Project Sean
    Baker (USA 2017) Willem Defoe; Brooklynn
    Prince; Bria Vinaite

    Viewed: Tyneside
    Cinema Newcastle 13 Nov 2017; ticket: £9.75

    ticket to Disneyland

    Seeing Florida Project made me think about director Sean Baker’s previous movie Tangerine. Tangerine was an intermix of setting script and character, that pulled together architecture gender sexuality and character strips of chaotic lives, crafted into a strong humorous script.

    But the film works primarily because of the central roles of its main characters who represent the pact that the film makes with truth. The contribution of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra) is pivotal to the movie. Tangerine is a about a seeing of the world through the filter of their obliquely referenced socio-sexual filters. Through the mediation of their characterisations the viewer glimpses and enters a different but parallel LA world. A world of the side walk, of the street. Their presence, their sash-assed poise and immediacy drove the film. Everything in Tangerine originated out of the honesty they brought to the film from their own lives.

    Of course in Baker’s scenario the creative choice to film with iPhones, the settings and locations, and his script were all clever and inspired. But these were all lesser factors in a filmic equation dominated by presence of Sin-dee and Alexandra.

    Florida Project, Baker’s follow on movie is a a betrayal of all the attributes that made Tangerine a singularly effective filmic statement.

    Baker’s Florida project, lacking in honesty of performance, reveals the poverty of Baker’s ideas. Florida Project reduces its characters to the status of two dimensional figures, in particular the child subjects. Moonee, the main child character is simply an object for the camera, a fixation about which Baker tries to organise his material. He seems not to have understood that if the child is to be an affective medium, then the viewer has to be able, along some dimension, to enter into or experience life through the eyes of the child. There has to be a seeing by the viewer of the situation of the child.

    This idea of enabling a ‘seeing’ seems not to have occurred to Baker or to have been beyond him. Baker goes for the simple solution of exploiting the child image. He pumps the child image hard for those externalities of expression that confirm its childness. The script and filming are simply crude renditions of Moonee’s exploits, none of which create moments for the viewer to see something that she sees. Moonie is cutified but but not deepened, we know nothing more about her at the end of the movie than at the beginning – just like Mickey Mouse, she is a given. Instead Baker offers us Moonee’s faciality; her face shot in a variety of different poses poises gesticulations and situations. Sometimes she is right in your face (as when she eats ). Mostly she is just Disnified: she eats ice cream, she’s supplied with one liners, she is sketched as indomitable in spirit, perspicacious and little wild at times. But nothing too far out of the Disney range because ultimately whatever she does, even if it’s bad (but of course only unintentionally bad therefore excusable), it is only her face that counts in the final verdict of the cinema court of judgement. Her face as an object for our gaze. Her face as image.

    The film has some of the attributes of Tangerine. A sharp eye for settings, the Project itself, the Magic Castle Motel and the Disney themed zone of Florida. But Baker puts nothing that is truthful into this setting. The film looked as if the original script was based on a sort of Robert Altman type ensemble idea, interweaving the entangled chaotic strips of life of different Project characters into a single theme. But for some reason, perhaps weakness of script and sub-plot, or loss of confidence in the acting itself, this type of idea didn’t work out.

    Baker’s movie lacking coherence of character or plot, degenerates into a series of TV sketches, a series of non sequiturs in which we see: a Honeymoon couple, a paedophile incident, a bare tits by the pool incident, a flamingos in the motel incident etc., which seem designed to give some screen time to a marooned Willem Defoe to earn his pay check. Lacking a focus for the camera the face of Moonee ends up by default as the hapless saviour of the day.

    In the final sequence the film moves from exploitative objectification into dishonesty. Child welfare officials take steps to remove Moonee from the custody of Halley, but Baker at this point in the script decides to obscure the reasons for their intervention. It is unclear what Hallay has been doing; has she been working as a prostitute? Some of the overheard dialogue suggests this, but we are left in the dark as the reasons for the sudden intervention are glossed over. All that Baker’s script and scenario can offer up to the audience is spectacle not understanding. The spectacle of Moonee’s flight from the Welfare officers. An externality not a seeing. Baker’s non admittance of Moonie ‘seeing’ what is happening, take the film into the realm of evasive dishonesty. For his finale Baker decides that his safe option is to handle Moonee as if she actually never had any real experience of her mother. As if for Moonie her mother had no real psychic existence. This refusal to take responsibility for the psychic world of the film, is the dishonesty which finally defines the movie.

    Florida Project shot at the portals of the Disney Empire, reads like Baker’s calling card to the great empire of entertainment. Adrin Neatrour

  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos Lanthimos (Uk/Eire/Usa 2017)

    The Killing of a Sacred Deer Yorgos
    Lanthimos (Uk/Eire/Usa 2017) Colin
    Farrell; Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 8th Nov 2017; ticket:

    check your watch, it’s myth time.

    Lanthimos’ movie ‘the Killing of a Sacred Deer’ (KSD) is a black comedy which Lanthimos guides with uncompromising intent conforming his film to the strictures of myth. The protagonist, heart surgeon Steven Murphy, can no more avoid evade or circumvent destiny than could Oedipus or Iphigenia. The forms adopted by myth are relentless engines of design that comprise those devices that lead to the preordained outcome: those that are marked to die, do so die, not by law but by force of logic. Lanthimos holds his sacred deer to logic.

    Lanthimos’ script and scenario locate his film in the psychic heart (sic) of America: the hospital; the suburbs, generic settings that characterise the experience of being in America.

    The film opens with a long durational shot, the huge close up of a heart undergoing open surgery. Initially this shot of Lanthimos seemed to be gratuitous, focusing our attention of the establishment of Steven, the heart surgeon. But as KSD progresses the shot works through the material as a significant allegorical pointer. That he who would save the heart of another has lost his own heart, that issues of the heart both actual and emotional are the core of the film which takes as its subjects those who have lost their heart, who have traded their feelings for a series out outer gestures. The main settings, the hospital and the suburbs, are understood as emptied spaces, vessels evacuated of meaning where the living perform the motions of being alive, but are absent from life itself. They water the plants, walk the dog, eat dinner, they live not as desire, but as mechanical rites.

    Lanthimos’ camera films the main settings the medical and suburban zones as dis-connected from the human characteristics that should define them. The institutional shots of the hospital record the flat nature of the interfaces and surfaces: the long corridors, the consulting rooms, the patient rooms. One overhead shot onto the huge hospital escalators works as a condensation the hospital image: the industrialisation of the sick body. In the domestic location of the Murphy’s upper middle class family home the furnishings, the house design all seem selected not so much for use but rather as statements how the Murphy’s want to see themselves. And as Steven Murphy whirls about the suburban living room of his nice house, shooting randomly with a shotgun at his blindfolded and bound wife and two children, although no attention is specifically drawn to the expensive buttoned Chesterfield on which Ana is bagged and trussed, its quiet expression of money provide an ironic counterplay to the frantic comic scene being played out.

    The core of the film is the eruption of myth into life. Myth as the dynamic that makes the heart pulse with life. Jung’s idea of myth as a form, a pre-existent mode that takes complete possession of a man or woman, defining appropriating situations so as to guide and mould their outcome. Once a mythic form castes its shadow across man, the ending is predestined there is no avoidance of a particular fate. Myth as an archetypal force that shapes destiny has its counterpart in scientific theories such as Darwin’s natural selection, where outcomes, the plumage of a peacock, determine the stages of its development.

    That myth is a psychic reality, that nothing can happen without a pre-existing form (Jung) lies the heart of Lanthimos’ perception. It is the truth engine that drives KSD. And the compelling effect of his film is that he overlays the implacable logic of the playing out a sacrificial myth over the inconsequentiality of the life lived by his central characters. The Murphy’s live in the bubble of the American consumerist society, a land in which everything can be fixed, where there are no consequences. The outplaying of KSD is that this suburban dream life transposes and without anyone noticing is subsumed into a mythical form, in which everything has consequences and nothing can be fixed or averted. Steven will not be taking Bobby for piano lessons. Stephen will have to shoot Bobby. Lanthimos films and structures KSD in a neo-Brechtian vein of realisation. The shots are naturalistic but also have a didactic quality. Visually the shots of Bobby and Kim dragging their bodies across the floor like huge slugs are logical extensions of their situation. But as mythical images they have a didactic purpose, and also confirm that KSD, like many of von Trier’s movies, is a black social comedy, not a horror film.

    The acting, as with Lanthimos’ other films is finely threaded into the skein of the movie. Colin Farrell takes on the patina of an ancient tribal king, all beard and deliberation, underplaying to deeper effect. The close up’s of all the players of which there are many, all have a distinctive quality of affect images which deepen the connection of the viewer to the unfolding events. Two in particular, a shot of Ana shadowed by a tree, which seems to suggest a gallows shot, and the big close-up of Kim riding pillion on Martin’s bike. Her face is set in a classic comic book True Romance expression of the girl who has found her first wonderful boyfriend. The girl who in this moment has had all her teenage fantasies fullfilled. Yet we know that this boy is the Angel of Death. And the Angel of Death himself, Barry Keoghan plays out as if he comes from the deep subterranean world of the Pythian oracle.

    The West with its intransigent individualistic ethos, with its belief in self determination, is highly antagonistic to the proposition that people might be assimilated by mythic form. But perhaps in a social culture where collectivities and communities are disintegrating we become more vulnerable to being subsumed by mythic forms. Community and collectivity imply shared aspects of destiny. The lone individual is unhinged from the psychic anchor of the shared life, and as needs must have to forge their own fate. But without cultural resources it is perhaps radically isolated individuals who are most vulnerable to being assimilated into the a pre-existing form of myth. In particular those myths that speak of frustration fear and anger at not being able to control destiny. Myth such as the Herod myth with its massacre of the Innocents. Perhaps gun men, such as Steven Paddock the Las Vegas mass murderer, kill precisely because they are vulnerable to myth that give psychic reality to violence. Thus vulnerable they assimilate and act out forms such as Herod as a means of giving direction to a bereft life. Submission to the force of myth gives meaning and purpose to life when it becomes unbearably inconsequential. adrin neatrour

  • The Shining Stanley Kubrick (USA 1980)

    The Shining
    Stanley Kubrick (USA 1980) Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall

    Viewed Cineworld Newcastle 31 11 2017; ticket £4.50

    all jack and no work makes a dull play boy

    I have to say I don’t worship at the shrine of Stanley K the great movie director. Strangelove is a ranking movie, but seeing The Shining confirmed my impression that he is fundamentally a stodgy movie wrangler. Over–rated by most contemporaries but exposed by time and tide.

    Actually on release the Shining attracted mixed reviews and later pulled in a confirmed following. What immediately struck me about Kubrick’s film was how derivative it was. Kubrick seems to have watched Roeg’s Don’t Look Back with some interest and some of its key images and concepts are very similar. Recurring images of the twin girls in The Shining recall Roeg’s use of flash back and flash forewards to signify precognition. The couple situation in Don’t Look back is replicated by Kubrick as is the use of the colour red. The difference is that whereas Roeg is deft supple and inventive in his depictions, Kubrick is hammy, overstated and clumsy the film buckled in with unnecessary clutter such as what seem to be punched in superfluous surtitles telling us the day of the week. As if it made any difference; or anyone cared.

    After the film I imagined a telephone talk between Stanley and Jack. In the which Stanley butters up Jack by saying to him: Hi Jack you know all those great faces you make in the mirror when you shave?…Well you can use them in my new movie if you want the part. Jack loves it. Which is to say the acting is so bad it’s good. You get all Jack’s silly faces and then Shelley Duvall, who most of the time looks like she has drifted on set thinking she’s in an Altman movie, also gets to make her faces.

    The script doesn’t help matters for the characters. It is arch, ponderous, underlined dialogue, in particular Jack’s. In this much it matches the shooting scenario which structures the film graphically about slow tracking shots deliberately contrived to suggest a slow overwhelming of the characters by the forces of fate, the ex machina design of the Shining that moves to the inexorable logic that all those who are marked down to die, so do die. Only these slow tracking shots, with the admitted exception of Danny’s pedal car, are too invariant in employment and in effect slow the film down to their own ponderous pace.

    The plot becomes a desperate effort at temporal attenuation and extension, as if the original story was too slight and needed padding out. For instance the series of scenes set in the hotel Gold Room add nothing to the film except another setting in which Jack can act out in a period setting and Joe Turkel gets to do his barman cameo.

    The one sequence that had cinematic value was Wendy’s discovery of Jack’s writing. Those reams of paper repeating with endless typographic variations the old adage: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

    This one coup doesn’t stop The Shining from being a rather dull movie. Nor are the tasty wallpaper designs and carpets enough the save the day. Adrin Neatrour

  • 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

  • God’s Own Country Francis Lee (UK 2017)

    God’s Own Country Francis Lee (UK 2017) Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 5 Sept
    2017; ticket £9.75

    pot noodle country

    Francis Lee has taken a couple of leaves
    (and then some) out of the present day lexicon of film making cliches.

    As in Park’s 2016 movie the
    Handmaiden, so God’s Own Country is
    bulked out with extended longueurs of body flesh shots. As in Park’s movie so in Lee’s the long sex
    act sequences have little purpose other than permitting the camera and editor
    to help the producer fulfill their durational contracts. Without use of critical intelligence cinema
    reduces sex to a banality, a series of fabrications: faked gestures, faked grunts and whimpers, a carnality played
    out to the camera as it creeps and crawls round the body and body parts, driven
    at best by the illusion that the shots are transgressive, (which they are not)
    and at worst by a plea for audience indulgence.

    Lee’s film is also chocka full of
    dreaded landscape cliches. These are much
    loved by filmmakers such as Terrance Mallick and his myriad imitators who
    evince the specious belief that landscape in itself means something. That by cutting to landscape you can invoke
    for the audience a range of existential emotions that express the unsayable. This is of course a wonderful solution for
    the feckless and lazy film maker who can order the camera to be pointed at a lone
    tree on the moor, a cloud closed sky or a rough sea and hope they get away with
    the suggestion of some deeper meaning. Time was when film makers filmed trains
    entering tunnels at high speed as a metaphore for penetrative sex. (only Woody
    Allan can get away with this type of thing)
    Employing ‘scape shots have the same level of originality and the same misguided
    opportunism; and also at this point only a Woody allen can get away with it.

    Viewing God’s Own Country despite all
    its sheep shots, the general level of the acting resembles a group of misplaced
    thespians stuck out in a field and asked to improvise. Inevitable that the most
    actors can achieve in such situations is a groping after stereotypes. Lee’s simulation of cold comfort farm, his
    simulation of the stroke afflicted farmer,
    his simulation of sex, never rise above the level of the mundane

    The script is wooden occassionally
    and hilariously giving the the poor Gheorghe lines such as: “In my country spring is so beautiful.” There are other lines from the other actors
    that match this level of banality. Perhaps because the actors are so insecure
    in their Yorkie dialect, they often swallow mutter mangle their lines
    incomprehensivly. It doeon’t matter: they
    have nothing to say.

    suppose that God’s Own Country is supposed to be a tale of the redemptive power
    of gender identity honesty. The coming out and embracing your self’s sexuality. The trouble is that Lee’s film is simplistic
    and smug and dull. God’s own Country is
    to sex and relationships what Pot
    Noddles are to food. And besides pissing
    shots and sheeps backsides shots, there
    are a lot of pot needles in this movie.
    Adrin Neatrour

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