Thursday, 21 November 2013

Gravity



Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron- There has been enough hype and publicity surrounding this film to incur the dreaded Prometheus Effect … unrealistic expectations whipped up and soaring beyond any possible chance of satisfaction…but thankfully Gravity is not at all impeded by its robust advertising, its bus-plastered, five star, word of mouth hysteria is silenced as soon as the 3D goggles are on and you see. The visual mastery with which space, zero gravity and the experience of light are so vividly conjured is staggering. The pioneering effects (four and half years in development), which capture weightless movement, the eerie serenity of light and sound, and  jaw dropping aerial depictions of Earth, are unlike anything before in cinematic representations of space. In addition to the visual spectacle, Cuaron’s camera moves with a continuous, roving mobility which lends the film an exciting movement that again feels utterly new. Rather than unfolding with the usual rhythm of cuts and scenes, the film instead seems to unfold in one dizzying take. The continuous floating cinematography travels through airless space, up close to an astronaut mask, through the helmet, rests in reflections of a dilating pupil and reverses with fluid ease to move from eyeball to earth. This fluidity, combined with genuinely effective 3D, makes for a film which becomes closer to an exhilarating ride.


 

The elements of dialogue that feel underdeveloped or that flirt with philosophical cheese become utterly immaterial – when a film looks this spectacular, dialogue is not an issue. Sandra Bullock carries the demanding performance with a natural and uninstrusive competence, allowing her depiction to become a more universal symbolism – an everywoman – an everyman – a vessel which enables the film and never distracts from the film. Cuaron also embraces the frequent visual implications of maternity, birth and intra-uterine existence. Tethering ropes between astronauts become precarious umbilical cords, the satellite becomes a womb, Sandra Bullock’s main character- detail relates to her lost child and so, again, emphasises elements of maternity, loss and birth. Space is traditionally mined for its metaphorical sense of the void, the external mapping of the internal and the unknown – but rarely have these notions been tied so eloquently to the life-bearing imagery of planets, teardrops, eyes and helmets, all as womb-like spheres in orbiting communication of  the mother, the absent child, the Earth, re-birth and retreat. It is a film that deserves to be seen, both in 3D and at the cinema. It is rare for a film to draw its thrill with such equal and resounding success from both its diegetic action and visual prowess; Gravity triumphantly merges its space and time to create a (by today’s mainstream blockbuster standards) short, stream-lined narrative with which to perfectly deliver its spectacle of adrenalin. 9/10


 

The Counselor


The Counselor – Ridley Scott – Directed by one of the largest names in cinema, featuring the first original screenplay from the novelist Cormac McCarthy and boasting an astounding, beyond star –studded cast, The Counselor somehow manages to eschew all its potential qualities to instead deliver an uncomfortably judged and flat oddity. Michael Fassbender plays the eponymous ‘Counselor’, a high powered lawyer who, against all warnings, becomes involved in a drug trafficking deal across the Mexican border. Javier Bardem plays Reiner, a bizarre, spiky haired criminal entrepreneur with a taste for tasteless clothes. Reiner is in love with Malkina, portrayed by Cameron Diaz as a coldly calculating and provocatively dressed femme fatale. Meanwhile Brad Pitt reprises his Ridley Scott connections with a cowboy themed nod to Thelma & Louise (1991), his only other collaboration with Scott. Caught in the fray of encroaching violence is the Counselor’s love interest, Laura: Penelope Cruz stifled into a role that requires her to be nothing more than beautiful.
 
 

Cruelly debased to an objective level of capital or commodity, only ever vessels of worth or dispensable bodies, people in The Counselor become unconvincing parodies of life. While it may be part of McCarthy’s vision to render these characters without any human warmth, the film lacks the intelligence or clarity to realise this artistically instead creating an impression of weak characterisation smugly – and wrongly - assured of its own meaning.


 

 In a moment of frustrated boredom I even began to consider how the film unconsciously presents a sour allegory of Hollywood excess. Brad Pitt is reduced to re-visiting the cowboy- hunk template that originally found him recognition; the act is now a stale contrivance, emptied of youth his seductions become womanizing and effortless cool becomes unnecessary aviators worn in a too-dark bar. Michael Fassbender also seems to echo Pitt’s throwback Scott performance by evoking the cool, robotic façade he honed so immaculately for Prometheus. Only here, his unfeeling distance is no longer a sci-fi ploy, but seems a sad indictment of the unreal and vacuous male-lead. When he finally breaks down, too irreversibly submerged in a fate he unwittingly, long ago decided, it seems a discordant rupture of emotion – a display that elicits no natural sympathy or involvement, just a melancholy voyeurism. There is a scene in which Javier Bardem shows Fassbender their new bar/club (built by drug money – and to take care of cash flow) and very briefly Fassbender is shown staring at a black and white portrait of the actor Steve McQueen. One male hero observes a past icon of this heroic film tradition, a brief moment where you wonder – like the Counselor, too deeply lost in crime to know his own decisions, has Fassbender been propelled into a ‘star status’ with momentum enough to eclipse his own conscious decisions and acting intentions?



 

 In the, admittedly indulgent, conjecture of my boredom the two female leads seemed similarly entwined with reflexive career critiques. Cameron Diaz is forced, yet again, to justify her acting presence through sexualised appeal – here contorted to a crazed extreme. In one memorably weird, but again strangely directed/handled scene, Bardem reflects that he has found out too much about women. By way of a begrudging explanation he recalls an incident where Malkina (Cameron Diaz) literally ‘fucked his car’. This involves Diaz removing her underwear and climbing up the car’s bonnet and on to the windscreen, on which she spreads her legs – sliding herself up and down to achieve a climax J.G. Ballard would have approved of. Rather than being turned on, Bardem is left in a mixture of horror and curiosity, describing the action (as seen from the car-seat, staring up into her exposed and sliding bottom half) like a ‘catfish mouth – a bottom feeder – how it sucks the side of the tank’ (or words to that effect)…before concluding ‘it was too…gynaecological’. Forced to suffer the manipulative wrath of the male gaze, Diaz is perhaps sexualized in film not through her own comfort or realistic sexuality but through pressures of a pornographic leering…one which here becomes grotesquely realised in its objectivity. While Cameron Diaz may have been originally discovered as a model, it seems increasingly uncomfortable to see her repeatedly cramped into such roles. Is this an unspoken contractual inevitability like Fassbender’s descent into suave male leads whose nuanced characterisation amounts to ‘handsome’ or ‘troubled’, or challengingly ‘handsome and troubled’? Perhaps the worst off is Penelope Cruz who we first encounter in a nauseatingly scripted, beneath the sheets affair with Fassbender’s over eager tongue. Not only is she devoid of any discernible character, being a fairly lazy counterpoint to Diaz’s oh so sinful libidinous empowerment, but she also becomes the expendable body, unceremoniously dumped as waste. Read in this light, the whole film becomes a far more interesting proposition, a waspish dissection of the film industry’s treatment of so-called ‘stars’. However, I am not for one second convinced that this is at any point an intended artistic objective. Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the interpretive delirium - I just think to gift the film that level of attention is a disingenuous and misleading reading.

 

The overbearing visual impression was of a string of soulless car adverts, stitched together between awkwardly delivered, pseudo philosophic dialogue. While such language may work on the page, or fully supported by McCarthy’s authorial command, in Ridley Scott’s film it flounders into painfully hammy territory. Limp aphorisms trip alongside hammy wit (an example being Laura’s retort to being told her views are ‘cold’: ‘truth has no temperature’…I mean…really? Said without any humour. It sounds like a lost tagline for a hard-boiled, weather- based caper). While there is much in this film to contemplate for fans of McCarthy’s fiction (apparently, I’ve been told, posing a familiar brew of his themes-masculinity, globalisation, border-crossing etc.), as a film divorced from literary analysis it has very little to offer. With no suspense, a convoluted plot, misjudged casting, uncomfortable acting and little to inspire care or involvement in characters, The Counselor is an empty juggernaut of a film unable to will any of its constituent talents into flight. 4/10


 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Utopia


 Utopia – John Pilger – John Pilger is a tireless, passionate and provocative journalist whose latest film revisits a topic which has dominated much of his sustained research and filmmaking: the abuse and mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous people. The film begins with footage of an Australian politician calmly discussing plans to poison water supplies. We then cut to a young boy being tasered and a semi-conscious man physically abused by police, followed by the white on black title: UTOPIA. Within the first few minutes the unrelenting abhorrence endured by a misrepresented history of aboriginal culture rears its ugly head, made all the more confrontational with the two-faced and sour irony of the title, an irony which becomes increasingly appropriate to the subject and its place in current media representation.



 Pilger’s film reveals the complicated nature of Australia’s colonised history, the repressed and silenced identity of its indigenous people and the ongoing extent of their suffering. It is by no means a light, frivolous or enjoyable watch – and nor should it be. Conversely it is a painfully important document. The discordance of aboriginal day-to-day living with the widespread wealth and comfort of the country is devastating. Dangerous and crumbling accommodation, lack of electricity, limited medical support, restricted water and rife, curable but untreated disease.  In troubling addition to aboriginal abuse there appears to be a wider racist attitude underpinning many systems which Pilger interrogates. If Pilger’s documentary is reliable in all of its claims, which it frighteningly appears to be (resting on the commitment of his ongoing research, engagement with aboriginal communities and access to political figures), then it seems the majority of this racism goes expansively unchecked by Australian political and judicial authorities. ‘Rack ‘em and stack ‘em’ systems of cramped incarceration keep a staggering percentage of Australia’s black population unjustly and inhumanely imprisoned. While a huge percentage of racist abuse is encountered during periods of custody.





Some of the most unsettling parts of the film arise in the queasy refusal to publicly acknowledge injustice, an ignorance encouraged and inflamed by various media campaigns. This led to the disturbing discovery of a former concentration camp on Rottnest Island which is now used by families on holiday as a health spa. No public acknowledgement anywhere of its actual and horrific history. As a result the architecture of imprisonment goes through its own sickening transformation, three cells that would have held up to 70 Aboriginal men is now a family suite. Where cramped thousands died tourists now picnic and take their families – with absolutely no awareness of the massacres that took place. The horrors of the documentary, from mass media deception, hidden histories, the ‘stolen generation’ (a huge scale kidnapping which robbed mothers of their children motivated by a form of eugenics), physical abuse, poverty and socio-political injustice, are all punctuated with interviews based in Aboriginal communities. The communities we encounter are Utopia (in central Australia), Ampilatwatja in the Northern territory and the Mutijulu in the eastern end of Uluru. Pilger’s film ends with him facing the camera in what feels like an appeal. Having made the documentary The Secret Country – The First Australians Fight Back! in 1985, a reoccurring sadness and sense of desperation in Utopia derives from the impression that nothing has changed. In a Q and A (18/11/13, held in the Ritzy in Brixton, London) Pilger described the editing of the film, in which footage between the two documentaries (1985 and 2013) were at one point even confused. This is an exhausting, at times excruciating watch, a film that asks for recognition and reaction for an ongoing injustice that has received neither.


The Selfish Giant


The Selfish Giant – Clio Barnard – Taking inspiration from her previous, award-winning film The Arbor and the Oscar Wilde short story of the title, Barnard’s second feature follows the relationship of two young boys as they drop out of school and try to make money from scrap metal. Taking place, like The Arbor, in Bradford, the cinematography of Mike Eley conjures its landscape with a poeticised reaslism comparable to the work of Robbi Ryan (Andrea Arnold’s regular director of photography). It uses a handheld honesty to express a tangible ‘grit’ of textures; whether it is the tangled metal wires or upturned washing machines hauled on to the rusting scrapheap, or the slide of muddied grass under drizzle and slipping foot, it is felt. Between this palpable style and the more patient shots, lingering over fields, humming pylons or the ominous grey power plant draped in fog, Barnard creates an unforgettable and haunting portrayal – for such naturalism to build itself a powerfully accumulative potency suggests a genuine directorial control and talent. The film’s social realism calls to mind the influence of Ken Loach, while also sitting comfortably alongside the equally striking work of Andrea Arnold.


 
 
 

Not only does the film confidently evoke its own memorable visual style, but also, at its centre are two fantastic performances by the two young boys, Arbor (Conner Chapman) and Swifty (Shaun Thomas).  The two boys were recruited from Buttershaw and another nearby estate, they embody their characters with startling energy and sensitivity (apparently roles that were opposite to their natural personalities, Barnard describes Connor as ‘shy and reserved’, whereas Shaun ‘is the opposite of his more meek character’). The bickering, playful and fiercely loyal friendship is beautifully acted with an improvised, entertaining and always believable realism. This nuanced authenticity ocassionaly becomes redolent of Shane Meadows’ This is England (and its darker, televised continuation). However, unlike Meadows’ films, there is a more pared down visual and narrative simplicity to The Selfish Giant, resonating like its literary source as a poignant fable, more comparable – in this light – to the films of the Dardenne brothers. Ultimately, comparison and influence are merely distracting touchstones in an effort to convey this powerful film. There is a spirited and roughly honest humanism to its simple story, with moments of humour alongside its sadness. It definitely fits the category of one of those films which become increasingly affecting, hours and days after viewing. The still shot of a horse, tied to its empty cart and dwarfed beneath the power plant – its two towers swallowed in fog, remains a lonely and portentous image which, like the film, is hard to forget. 8.5/10
 
 

Shivers


Shivers – David Cronenberg – Made in 1975, this is Cronenberg’s first ever feature length film and explores the same splicing of sex and body horror that animates the inspiration of much of his early work. Most noticeable in its similarity is his next feature, Rabid (1977). Shivers centres around an isolated high rise block, whose tenants become infected by a parasite that was originally engineered by a scientist. The scientist believed that man had strayed too far from his libidinous animalism, becoming ‘over-rational’, and so subsequently the scientist devises a parasite to operate as an infectious aphrodisiac. Like the ‘underarm, vampiric alien phallus’ that infects victims in Rabid, the parasite in Shivers is similarly ‘subtle’ in its manifestation. The parasite resembles a squelching hybrid between leech and turd, like a severed venereal member it stalks, nay squirms, the corridors – leaving suspicious trails of brown across walls.
 

 

With its guerrilla style budget of $180,000, Shivers is a veritable feast of bad acting, red paint and sets devoid of atmosphere. However, despite its shoestring aesthetics, it demonstrated Cronenberg’s uniquely troubling imagination. An imagination that had venereal parasites bulging from trembling torsos four years before Alien was made. There are some key and memorable scenes: the slithering peristalsis of one of the parasites as it inches between the legs of a woman bathing in her bathtub; two children barking like maniacal dogs – reminiscent of the iconic DVD front cover of Passolini’s Salo; a leech-like parasite emerging like a blackened tongue from a victim’s mouth. Despite its conceptual innovation and its historical quality, as the announcement of Cronenberg’s fascinating career, Shivers has many flaws which make it a less engaging watch today. One of the most troubling is its deeply problematic gender/sexual politics. In the rampaging visual excitement of following these unrepentant leech/cock/turd parasites, Cronenberg frequently seems to make some sexist decisions. It is apparently a requirement in this film for all women to be, at some stage, topless, or alternatively without a bra to maximise the nipple-count. Althouth this sort of brazen sexism is the kind which has become ironized and theorized as a horror trope, Cronenberg was never a director to follow such Neanderthal tics – and so it appears conspicuous here. It is a film about libidinous zombiefication, orgiastic violence and the intrusive phallus…but at this stage, Cronenberg’s ideas seem to be bounding ahead of his filming experience and maturity. 5/10



Pacific Rim


Pacific Rim – Guillermo Del Toro – Big monsters hit big robots – the very definition of ‘heavy-handed’: it is a simple and gleefully boyish formula which Del Toro invests with affectionate energy. However, while clearly presenting a step up from Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, it still suffers from being grounded with insistently anonymous action man type characters. It was this rugged lack of soul that, for me, prevented Avatar from ever being anything more than visually appealing. Granted, being ‘visually appealing’ is the drive of these films, but would it really be too much of a stretch to extend some of  the imagination (poured with such abandon into the CGI monster creations) into depicting male characters that go beyond a bicep-centric heroism and devastatingly chiselled features. The exception in Pacific Rim is Idris Elba’s character, despite a fairly stock steely eyed solemnity with a buried heart of gold type - Elba alleviates the template with his undeniable gravitas and natural charisma.


 

The basic premise of Pacific Rim, aliens born from a tectonic breach in the earth’s crust, deep underwater as opposed to from outer space, is an enticing and relatively original concept. The monsters themselves, although often partially obscured by oceanic spray, darkness, pummeling robotic arms, or falling debris, are all portrayed with Del Toro’s familiar and detailed excitement in such creations. Somewhere between Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla, hammerhead sharks and vast marauding crustaceans (all lovingly customized with the standard Alien jaws within jaws feature), my only complaint is that we don’t have more time with these creations – outside of the quick edit frenzy of combat and its murky, splashing obscurity. To do battle with these apocalyptic beasts, man has naturally created huge, man shaped robots ( a la Matrix Revolutions, Avatar, Transformers and, ticking jubilant nerd boxes everywhere: Warhammer 40k). This leads to an interesting dimension of the narrative in which, in order to control such lumbering machines, a telepathic link is made between co-pilots/controllers – drawing upon a shared neurological connection. Cue: montage of bleached out memories, whizzing past to suggest ‘plugging into’ the unconscious intuition of our dearly beloved warriors. It has a Minority Report-lite vibe, seasoned with Tron flourishes of neon. All fairly fun, underdeveloped possibilities abound. Del Toro knows his terrain, that of loud, popcorn crunching adrenalin, and thus here is not the time or space to bother with such ponderous implications. So, instead we have a comedy scientist duo. Depending on your mood, this comic relief could either seem mind numbingly abrasive or, kinda charming – in an amdram kinda way. I found them closer to the former – the scientist adopting a painfully ridiculous over-English accent and wielding a cane, in my eyes, took it too far! Overall, for what it aims for, and knows itself to be, Pacific Rim is a successful, loud and entertaining spectacle. With Del Toro behind the camera, the main complaint I am left with is that neither the intelligence nor originality of Pan’s Labyrinth surfaces with any influence. In that respect, it remains as standardized as its stock dialogue and the muscled mannequins of masculinity it sports in leading roles. 6.5/10


 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Philomena


Philomena – Stephen Frears – Following the true story of Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench), an Irish nun whose son was taken from her at an early age, Stephen Frears’ film (with a screenplay written by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope) recreates her search in later life – driven by the journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan). Sixsmith is depicted as an opportunist; drawn to Philomena’s story not through compassion but through a cynical, occasionally tragic, desire to regain publication and vocational relevance through its ‘human issues’ tabloid potential. The journalist terrain of the ‘human issue’, an area he had, in less desperate times, condescendingly dismissed as “stories about weak and vulnerable people to be read by weak and vulnerable people”. Coogan brings a straight-faced control and restraint to the role, assuring his presence – though at times unlikeable – always remains enjoyable to watch. Philomena is just as sensitively portrayed in a predictably terrific, although not necessarily typical, performance from Judi Dench. Philomena exudes her wittering and humble compassion with a simple and grounded honesty, tempered with trembling reserves of Catholic guilt and her own silenced anxieties.



Both performances are consistently strong – and Coogan and Dench find a natural pace and chemistry together. Unsurprisingly, considering Coogan’s involvement in the writing, some of the best scenes are those of humorous bickering – often redolent of the comedy in Winterbottom’s film/series The Trip. While Philomena offers a competent adaptation of this true and unnerving tale, supplemented by decent acting and the capacity for gently musing on faith, truth and the prickling tensions between the two, it did leave me (perhaps due to the overwhelming critical praise) slightly underwhelmed. Not that there is any expectation of grandiose or awe inspiring cinema in such a film but that, by the end, it did seem frequently more akin to a plush TV drama, than the involving cinematic drama it occasionally inhabits. Additionally, I worried that the film’s ending had the potential, despite both Coogan and Dench’s excellent performances, to diminish character complexities in favour of comedic neatness. There were moments when Sixsmith’s bristling, smug education and Philomena’s grounded priorities of morality and politeness, became convenient archetypes taking license with the story’s realism. However this pedantic fault was less a flaw of acting than of the film’s more general edits. The score seemed at times insistently sentimental, in a way that seemed discordantly ‘cinematic’ – given the understated naturalism embodied by Coogan and Dench. There were also certain cuts and moments of emphasis that seemed to condescendingly privilege a gentle chuckle over the less comfortable emotions at play. Overall it was an acting triumph of the two leads over the less consistent style and direction. 6.5/10


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Alps


Alps – Giorgos Lanthimos –After directing the critically acclaimed oddity Dogtooth and acting in Attenberg, Lanthimos’ second feature uncoils its dark premise with a haunting mystery of restraint.




‘Alps’ is the name given to a group of people who offer unorthodox services in the counselling of mourning. In a warped therapy of substitution they temporarily fill the place of whoever has died, acting out (with varying degrees of conviction) the character and actions of the recently deceased. The character around which this darkly humorous theatre unravels is played, Aggeliki Papouilia, the same actress who portrayed the rebellious sister in Dogtooth. Lanthimos uses her gaunt and awkward frame to similar ends, enacting displays of social discomfort, detached sex, deranged dancing and a desperately uneasy misunderstanding of any emotional interaction. She is a nurse, while also being a member of ‘Alps’. She comes to enact the role of a girl who has recently died in a car crash. However, in reanimating the dead daughter’s existence for the bereaved family – dressing up and adopting her phrases – her new identity becomes a dangerously comforting alternative to her own lonely existence.




Unlike Dogtooth, which felt contained and neatly crafted in its blackly comic world and conducive to allegorical speculation, Alps feels more lingeringly unresolved. Although utilizing similar themes (the meanings arbitrarily mapped in language, social dislocation, deception, escape and intrusion) Alps eschews the starkly satirical bite of Dogtooth for something less immediate. Sharing a similarly concise running time of 90 minutes, whereas Dogtooth felt like a beguiling puzzle, Alps feels snatched away too soon. Our interpretations of the film come to stand in for its ghostly sadness, and like the bizarre ‘Alps’ collective we are driven to enact, fill and explore the same troubling lack of resolution that is left behind. 8.5/10


Friends with Benefits



Friends with Benefits – Will Gluck – Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star in this abrasively perky romcom, bouncing through its lightweight world of artifice and beauty with effortless sitcom efficiency. There are many films that make New York seem iconic, alluring and dam near mythical (King Kong, The Apartment, ManhattanTaxi DriverMidnight CowboySaturday Night Fever, Mean Streets, The Godfather, Escape From New York, When Harry Met Sally…, As Good As It Gets, American Psycho, The Squid and the Whale…just a very eclectic and random few) but this film manages to make New York seem as vacuously anonymous as the resilient cheer, and inevitable relationship lows of the two character-less characters. Both Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are assigned their yuppie characters with over familiar broad strokes: the uber-driven, afraid to commit, but mischievously charming man of work – whose suit hides his puppy dog heart and a family problem (here it is an offensively slapstick portrayal of Altzheimers); Milu Kunis as the stunningly good looking, inhumanly buoyant, successful avatar of business know how, while still fostering a ‘girl next door’ accessibility (so beloved of American romance…*cough* Jennifer Anniston *cough*) and a wayward, hippie-esque mother . To return to the character assassination of New York, which Mila Kunis introduces Mr. Timberlake to with excitable pride, perhaps the main reason for its grating nature is the recurring incorporation of dancing ‘flash mobs’ as a plot driving, romantic motif. I wanted to vomit – everywhere. For a film that tries to imagine and depict a relationship simply about sex (that hard to navigate ‘fuckbuddies’ terrain) it trips up on all the conventions it superficially shrugs off in the ‘bubbly’ script. 3/10

Ah...such japes!

Rage


Rage – Sally Potter – The first feature film to debut on mobile phones, making early and imaginative use of the possibilities of Multi-Platform releases. The film uses the device of brightly coloured backgrounds and talking head style interviews. Through these interviews the diverse and astounding cast are introduced - and a murder mystery scenario emerges. The film centres around the activities of a fashion show, interrupted at several points by unexpected catastrophe and tragedy. The actors are mesmeric; the potentially limiting style of ‘talking head’ monologues manages to sustain its impressive strength of dramatic tension throughout. The cast is beyond amazing, everyone masters an individual ability to transfix, entertain and startle: Jude Law turns in a jaw dropping performance/transformation as an American drag queen with a Russian Alter-ego; Judi Dench plays a sardonic and intellectually disillusioned fashion critic; Eddie Izzard becomes an emblem of sharply dressed greed and power; Steve Buscemi plays a world weary photographer, convinced of his own philosophies; Lily Cole plays a young and vulnerable model; Riz Ahmed is particularly memorable as a pizza delivery man whose aspirations of fame quickly sour; David Oyelowo struts his parody of  retro incarnations of ‘cool,’ posturing as a literary detective armed with ridiculous quips and quotes; I could continue, but these were the highlights. Using fashion as a vessel to explore fame, vanity, representation and communication, Sally Potter crafts an intelligent and compellingly entertaining masterpiece. 9/10

 
Jude Law as 'Minx'
















Lunacy


Lunacy – Jan Svankmajer – The Czechoslovakian, surrealist animator probes into the popular surrealist fascination with insanity and depicts an asylum run by its patients. The main character is haunted by a recurring dream in which he succumbs to the same madness that consumed his mother, in the dream he is cornered by two bald doctors (looking like a maniacal version of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) who chase him with a beckoning strait-jacket. The film takes its inspiration from two Edgar Allen Poe short stories, ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’ and ‘The Premature Burial,’ supplemented with the blasphemous and orgiastic menace of Marquis de Sade. Svankmajer is surrealist in the traditionally capitalized sense of the word – subscribing with polemic conviction to Bretonian ideas and the early surrealist texts. This carries with it the same problems inherent in Breton’s manifestoes and recalls the movement’s often naïve inability to recognise its own limits and contradictions. Alongside the objective mystification of Women, the romanticised obsession with mental illness was a defining case in point. This film is at its best in the interludes of animation, where Svankmajor’s magical and inventively morbid skills are made entertainingly apparent. While the rest of the film is interesting and often visually thrilling, its fidelity to traditional surrealism makes the central portrayal of madness, and its treatment, as questionable as some of Breton’s least laudable views. 6.5/10


Human Centipede


Human Centipede 1 – Tom Six – There are some things in life that you know, without equivocation, will be unpleasant. And yet, human curiosity nibbles away at the evidence of rationality and before you know it, like intrepid advocates of touching wet paint, we are plunging into the debased inevitability of Human Centipede. Alas.



I can remember, fairly vividly, the moment in which I first heard of the film’s twisted concept. I remember being huddled around a friend’s phone, watching the trailer over a post-lecture pint (twas back in the heyday of BA daytime drinking) and feeling nauseated and exhilarated. Pretty much the two key elements to the film, with one sad alteration – exhilaration is no longer on the ‘muffled-mouth-to-anus’ menu.

Never had a pitch for a film been as simple as Tom's infantile and disturbing doodle on the napkin. 


Once you’ve seen the trailer you have more than seen the film. I say ‘more than’ as the trailer preserves the possibility that the film may in fact build upon its central grotesque premise, that maybe it will be allegorical, or frightening, or startling, or deeply blackly comic. It is the wet paint you knew would be wet …and yet touched anyway. Shame on you.




It is the undeveloped result of having an extravagantly disturbing notion, dreamt up with the same sophistication as a playground insult, and then lacking the artistry or craft to do anything remotely interesting with said notion. The underlying feeling from watching such a film is one of monotonous nausea and an accumulating annoyance at having expected anything other. If you have seen the trailer, heard of the ‘ingenious,’ scatological, DIY Siamese, crawling, surgical nightmare, then: you have no need to watch this. It is a badly made, badly thought out, juvenile mess of titillating provocation, devoid of any of the intelligence or style to make such an act worthwhile. I’m all for horror or the grotesque and always receptive to indulging provocation and titillation, yet this is simply dumb. Perhaps the only redeeming features are the faintly amusing references made to the crazy professor’s ‘trial-run’ pet Labradors, condemned to become ‘My Sweet-Three-Dog’. Apart from that, avoid experiencing what is essentially a depressing low for human endeavour. However, that encapsulation suggests this has some grandiose place in filmic history, as an emblematic and abortive aberration that will be remembered as something to forget…a summary far too monumental for this meagre turd. When I first heard about it, I thought Human Centipede would be in the vein of a budget monster movie, I envisaged a towering human/centipede hybrid, crushing buildings and doing battle with Godzilla. I would still like to see that movie; thousands of insect legs grafted onto a herculean mutation, swatting bi-planes and catching screaming blondes in its lusty mandibles. 1/10

The World's End


The World’s End – Edgar Wright – The finale to the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ is entertaining and occasionally very funny - but ultimately a fairly patchy conclusion. I feel that ever since watching Shaun of the Dead, which felt infinitely quotable, immediately relatable (in terms of 20s slackers, not the zombie apocalypse), perfectly paced, exciting and consistently hilarious, all of Edgar Wright’s films (all, being for me, Scott Pilgrim and Hot Fuzz) have felt doomed to disappoint. Nothing can recapture the impact that Pegg and Frost’s manboy romance had, the jittering quick-cut cool of Wright’s editing style, the cinematic articulation of a new sense of British humour which had been previously confined to TV, the witty soundtrack and cine-literate geekery – first time around all of that felt perfect, it felt immediate, urgent and ripe for cult claiming. Unfortunately, once repeated: manboy romance becomes anonymous bromance and the familiarity of Wright’s quirks, divorced from ‘newness’ become waring. However, that said – there is much to enjoy here, and it is only because Shaun of the Dead was first – and set the bar so high – that Hot Fuzz, and now The World’s End have suffered. Having Pegg’s character as the grating boy who never grew up, from the ‘cool kid’ to the tragic stagnation of eternal adolescence, does seem to provide the trilogy with its own inbuilt critique. The style of Edgar Wright’s quick cuts and the soundtrack playlist attention, combined with the natural chemistry of Pegg and Frost (even when in hateful opposition, or begrudging friendship) all become recognisably wed to a ‘male phase’ – the obsessions, indulgence and insecurity of not wanting to grow up. This is the film that, in its first half, elegantly captures that self-awareness – and is able to reflexively apply it to the trilogy’s style of filmmaking, in addition to the ‘manboy’ condition. Sadly, the second half has to oblige to self-made expectations of genre worship – and so spirals into sci-fi action. While all of this is fun – and worth the cinema trip – it does not satisfy the film’s earlier emotional promise. The team of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is always enjoyable, compelling and funny.  I just feel as though, in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, their enormously talented writing potential, consistent wit and enjoyment of character, all seem underserved by the need to jump through the thrills of genre parody and incongruous action.  7/10