Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Crappy Conventions and an Update

Recently re-visited Disney's excellent 'Gravity Falls' and discovered that it might just be my favorite show ever- and will certainly feature on here in the future. But am I "Too old" to have done so?

People (rightfully) worship 2001 A Space Odyssey and ignore the fact that is rated U. The Elephant Man is one of the best films of the 1980s. PG. Do we negatively mention that when we talk about it? Hell no. Neither were marketed to kids or launched on a platform aimed at a younger audience- but why have a double standard? Just a thought. Highly recommend you check this one out- no matter your age.

I have sadly been unable to get my hands on L'Avventura. The schedule is not stopping or anything like that- Just had a lot on my plate at the moment. Tomorrow Halloween month begins- and posts will be longer and probably released a little more frequently given all the content I want to cover. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

October Horror Spotlight

Next month I am going to highlight the 'very best' horror movies of the 1970s. Its a decade that birthed many if not all of the genre's finest works- and trust me I think I've never had so many A reviews in so short of a time. I loathed horror. I despised it and saw nothing to love- only mindless pulpy crap. loathed. After working through the seminal works I've discovered some movies I absolutely adore and even more I admire to no end. Suffice to say: I had a lot more fun than I thought I would- So much so that I've expanded the length of my reviews to over double what little it used to be. So... a little taste of whats to come...

Don't Look Now
Nosferatu The Vampyre
Dawn Of The Dead
The Wicker Man
The Omen
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Exorcist
The Ascent

As well as...

Director Retrospectives: David Lynch
The Actors: Dennis Hopper
Essay: They live [and learn]
Top 5 Performances Against Type

And (a little) more!

I am only going to post once more this month- that being a review for L'Avventura- but come October it’s a special one every other day. One month only. Prepare to be marginally scared :)

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Actors: Henry Fonda

The last great star of Hollywood (in fame, more than quality), Fonda was the leading man in practically every movie he was ever in and if not he made himself the leading man. Not through greed or egotism- but in just how compelling he is to watch. Stealing every single scene with even a brief look outside of silence- he dominates; with modesty. If that isn’t admirable in a huge Hollywood icon- I don’t know what is.

Tom Joad – The Grapes Of Wrath

Fonda’s turn as Joad may not be as beloved as his other great work in the 40s in as Wyatt Earp Ford’s superb My Darling Clementine- but to me it is vastly superior. Yong Henry Fonda proves from his very first scene that he has it. The fearless sting in his voice as he tells a man who just took him on as a hitchhiker that he killed a man is a perfect introduction to the role. Fonda puts up a front of toughness and cool wherein there lies only regret and creeping dread. Each step he takes is a step closer to landing back in a cold hard cell and unlike any other seemingly devil-may-care youth he takes each one with caution and reflection because of it. Ford offers us up a shallow introspective study of Joad’s mind- though its lack of depth is born of Fonda’s harshness. His exterior. He is trapped in a prison he can’t escape from with the walls steadily moving in- and we see every second of his silent torture. This was Fonda’s seventh on-screen performance, and at the age of 35, he had all but mastered his craft. On this note I must also commend his excellent work in Hitch’s criminally under seen The Wrong Man. Another reserved, restricted and quietly devastating turn, near two decades later.

Juror #8 – 12 Angry Men

With this, I assume we can all guess no.1. Fonda’s work in 12 Angry Men is literally biblical. He might just be the greatest hero I have yet seen on film. Juror #8 is the very epitome of cinematic heroism. Fonda’s work here is nothing short of masterful- and for 1957 he peppers his performance with such remarkable detail; particularly considering we only ever see him in one situation. He plays compassion with such a persistent desperation and yet is willing to back up his peaceful talk with power plays. I am a young lad of this generation- so perhaps my response was a little… unorthodox- but who didn’t leap out of their chair- all alone in the house- and yelled “OOOH SNAP” (having never uttered those words un-ironically before) when #8 tells #3 that he didn’t mean that he was going to kill him. Anyone? Anyone at all? Just me?

Just me.

…Moving swiftly onward.

Frank – Once Upon A Time In The West

People probably know by now that Once Upon A Time In The West is one of my favorite movies. Like: My top 10 of all time. For those who don’t, allow me to gush at you for a while.

Henry Fonda, after a lifetime of playing the good guy or better yet the good guy framed as the bad guy- turned to villainy. There is a funny little interview in which Fonda talks about Leone’s casting and how he turned up on-set with brown contact lenses and a thick mustache and crooked teeth for the role. Leone hated this. He demanded it be cast off. When probed as to why, Fonda talked about the shot. That shot. Directly after the McBain massacre, the trench-coat clad killers stalk out of the bushes and Morricone’s electrifying score explodes itself to life. We see a man stand out in front of the others as the leader- the camera pans around and here we have Henry Fonda- the great American movie hero- having just decimated an innocent family. In the man himself’s words- the audiences of the time had only one thing to say…


And that is just the very beginning of the mayhem this man so cruelly inflicts. The way he relishes so devilishly his use of Jill- transforming from kind old man to lecherous, depraved mercenary in seconds. His wry grin as he finds a reason for his men to accept his killing of the child (oh my god it’s Henry Fonda)- masking his sick sadism with an excuse to save face. Above all though- take a look at the picture above. I literally don’t recognise the man. Moreover, it takes me a second to realise that’s the same guy from the mass murder we just witnessed a few scenes ago. It’s fucking frightening. Fonda took a colossal career swerve to bring Frank to life, and with him blessed (?) us with one of the most viciously vile baddies in cinema. When you think Henry Fonda, you immediately think hero. When you think Frank- you don’t think Henry Fonda. Exactly. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Top 10 Best Films Of The 2000s

A central motif of these ten years in film is power. A century’s worth of cinematic advancement had been achieved and now was the time to use it. To push the potential of the medium to its very furthest extent. Films of the 90s and before could be powerful but here each and every movie on this list rocks me to the very core, in so many different ways. The power to confuse, to enlighten, to dream, to dare, to make me sick (and not at what you’re thinking), to live, to electrify, to demolish, to love and finally not to love. People often ask me to qualify my love for old movies, assuming I hate new ones. Don’t get me wrong- people can make crap nowadays... but they always have (see. Basket-case) and they always will. The difference is there is 100 years of great movies before these “modern” and only 15 years’ worth of great movies now. Don’t make any mistakes: The films listed here are as worthy as any 10 best of any other decade- and damn are they good.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Five Great Films On Regret

A theme I hold very near and dear to myself (in that each of the films on this list cracks my top 40, and many more honorable mentions lie just above those), Regret is unique in its simple subtlety. I will mention several times in this post the unspoken nature of this feeling, and how this can corrupt a person from the inside, tendrilling through barriers and across bridges of our subconscious. We can become trapped in regret as much as any psychical prison- but addressing this feeling is vital to escaping it. Here are five films about five men whose attempt at escape was chronicled the best. Enjoy.

On The Waterfront 

To feature such an untouchable film at the lowest place on this post does not reflect my admiration for it in the slightest. Elia Kazan’s very best film is, as always    referenced, one of the best films of its decade- thanks in part to the presentation of its key theme. Malloy’s simple, sheer wall of anger and anguish that is built ever higher in each passing moment he spends fighting for the future of his life. He tries in futile desperation to cling to those around him, clutching at fragile straws many of whom are afraid to even go near him for his infamous reputation. Malloy cannot interact with the world he perceives as reality because of decisions he has made that seemed like nothing. Take a job for a little extra dough, get in with some guys who can set him straight- man is murdered, it haunts him for the entirety of the film. Malloy was exploited. He was taken for a bold, brutal and intellectually harmless ape. Cheap labor. On The Waterfront is as much a story of self-redemption as Kazan’s own life after the HUAC challenged his earlier works- and the believable tension of the situation is brought to ever more expressive life by the man’s own personal struggles.


When I think of sequences that are perfect in their simplicity, I usually think no further than Kanji drifting out of that hospital, empty silence sliced open by the sounds of the open road. It’s about five seconds- yet think about exactly what is going on there. His own private anguish engulfed by the blaring scream that the lives of others exude. The man is literally fading into his own grave, day by day. He doesn’t matter to the world anymore- just another old man getting old and passing on. By, not dissimilar to Wild Strawberries (which I wasn’t exactly going to have on a third list of these)- presenting to us the emptiness in Kanji’s life, as well as his capacity for knowledge and kindness even in the last, bitter throes of his existence allows us to fully know him as a human being, rather than a rich, decadent ghoul wandering the world snatching more and more money they will never spend. Among the finest achievements in one of the most impeccably constructed and diverse careers in film- Ikiru is getting a special recommendation here. The majority of the other films on this list are bearably recent, but who really watches a film from 1952 anymore? You. You need to.

The New World

On the face of it, Malick’s mid-2000s opus doesn’t seem like one of simple regret. Of course the man works with many themes, but to me this one shines through in an almost claustrophobic clarity here. Beneath each glance and action of these explorers lies a tortured regret. A painstaking state of indecision and strife clouds these men throughout the film and despite the fact we never see what they have left behind on their journey their stalwart resolve does little to mask its presence in their thoughts. Malick studies these men as a frightened colony of Europeans alone in a distant land, far from home and the warmth of the women they love. There is no ‘superior Christian race’ here, no defining racial hatred that would go on to see the destruction of the new world’s native culture as explorers became settlers and settlers became conquerors. So too do we know the future of these natives. These ‘primitive Indians’ whose art and way of live will decay and diminish as the pace of colonization accelerates to its alarming peak. Not all at once, not one single event that wipes it all out; a slow, maddening extermination that drives the magnitude of loss right into the souls of those dying out. Both sides of the war that wages in the very fabric of The New World are plagued by the agonizing inevitability of their demises: who they will never get to know, or love, or say they love, or pay or play with or even just talk to again. Regret is often unspoken, but here Malick screams it from the furthest depths of his lungs- without making any noise at all.

25th Hour

Spike Lee’s best film (an opinion of mine not often shared) brings regret to the very forefront of the fray. All of the other films on this list never openly speak of the theme. They avoid addressing it because regret occurs within ourselves. It is entirely personal, and only really resonates with the individual or those who have experienced similar pain. 25th Hour says fuck that (among other things). Spike Lee’s study of Monty Brogan is both intimately introspective and massive in its magnitude. Not only do we witness the final hours of a man who is about to lost 7 years of his life in the scariest place on his earth- everything he fears there and fears he will lose on the outside. Even the ending, which quite frankly has always soured the otherwise flawless experience, works to dissect Brogan’s deepest regrets in one last façade, a final fantasy for a life of the future. Along with this, Spike Lee responds to 9/11. One of the most tragic events in recent memory, Lee chose not like others to remove footage of the buildings or give the trauma a wide berth. He threw it right back at us and made us realise the importance of loss: That regret is the first step to acceptance. I was only four when the September eleventh attack occurred. I had no real physical knowledge of what was going on. Now, over a decade later, 25th Hour is still the very epitome of cinematic power. It is the pinnacle just how affecting the medium can become; and yet much of this stems from the politics it so defiantly pushes. How many films can you think of where the same is true?

Once Upon A Time In America

I can watch Sergio Leone’s masterpiece on repeat. For a film of near four hours (in the version I hold) that’s no easy feat. It’s no easy feat for anything- and it is the measure of this movie’s complexity that merits that endless immersion in its world. Noodles’ life is studied in intricate detail and yet with complete detachment. We observe these events rather than live them. We are being told a tale of whose very veins surge with the force of the regret that pulses through them. I could write forever about why I love this film, which is the precise reason I won’t go any further. All I can really say to explain its position as the best film about regret ever made is the fact that it take four hours to study the theme, covering 50 years of a man’s life and each horrific struggle and mortifying loss that punctuates it and, sadly, go on to define it. To miss Once Upon A Time In America is to miss a lifetime of learning, of a mixture of both melancholy and pure joy. Trust me: you’ll regret it. 

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The Look: Casablanca

Casablanca is the best romance film ever made. Period. It is not perhaps the best depiction of love on film (though there are many types, ranging from the gorgeous optimism of youth in Before Sunrise to the enduring perseverance of Amour)- but Casablanca does the formula the absolute best. Why? Because it’s the exception. Now I understand there are hundreds upon thousands of films that have probably used this device, but the finest feature of Curtiz’ film is the fact that Rick (spoilers) doesn’t get Ilsa in the end. How many modern romances end with, despite hardship or struggle along the way, that conclusion? Spare me your Love, Rosie’s and other assorted answers to that question- because no-one did it the same way, back in the day. Unlike Chinatown, the big, tragic twist that immortalized the film is rooted with happiness, rather than anguish. We are imbued with a feeling of accomplishment, rather than robbed of any joy the film might allow us. Why? How? Because we see the worst of these people’s lives, in love- and we see it through their eyes.

Again Casablanca is surely not the only example of this ‘technique’ (?), however I’m highlighting it because it’s exceptionally done- and I love it. Take the scene in which Rick in bathes in the booze to face his troubles and those that echo back now from the innermost halls of his repressed past- Paris. He utters the best line of the film (though it is never short of exceptional ones) and then Ilsa glides in, wanting to see him. The lines are short. They snap and crackle as it always does, except here the tension between the two lovers stands as a buffer to the ebb and flow of the fluid dialogue. Take not to their mouths, but to their eyes. See the deep, crippling regret burning bright within Ilsa as her pupils flicker up and down Rick, searching for an opening, an inlay in his cold, hard exterior to pierce and journey into for forgiveness or respite or for him to forget about her and what she did.

Watch too Rick’s steady gaze, glaring at Ilsa with frightening malevolence. He could strike her but he wouldn’t and he doesn’t want to. He too is pained by that regret, his own questionable involvement in Ilsa’s deportation burning its own bright mark in his vision. Both of these people’s perceptions are abstracted by the horror of the truth. Their love has been derailed and deceased for years and yet they continue in desperate futility, trying to worm their way into each other’s consciousness’s and try to find forgiveness or respite, respectively. Indeed this moment, unlike that of Babel, is a series of looks. A mere fragment of a thousand tortured glances these two share throughout the film. They want to be together, but they can’t be. Explanation for this phenomenon is thrown to the wind, and again unlike many a romance Curtiz makes Lazlo a redeemable human being. If anything, his morality and fight for justice makes his a better man than Rick’s cracked façade of existence- even if the noble suitor shares little perceived chemistry with Ilsa.

Again, this post cannot express in words what goes between these people in emotion. It flies and fizzes through the air each time they lock gazes and is dashed twinkling in its twilight to the floor when they throw a glance out of the fray to escape the crushing imprisonment that clouds their interactions. People talk to me about Brief Encounter, The Apartment, 500 Days Of Summer, Brokeback Mountain, A Woman Under The Influence, In The Mood For Love and a whole host of other master classes in exceptional romantic film-making- but I could probably cite this scene alone- that isolated night at Rick’s joint, spotlights gracefully sweeping across the dark emptiness of the place as two lovers try to talk- as a piece of film-making far exceeding any of those films, some in their entirety. As much as I detest the majority of silent cinema, I adore any modern film that can speak in its own silence. Casablanca, a film with perhaps the most flawlessly flowing dialogue in all cinema, does this better than all but two films in it’s decade and the preceding one- and when each look whispers and screams a thousand words in a movie filled to bursting with a thousand more of the most perfect words- it’s gotta be something special. I called Citizen Kane highly overrated (if absolutely brilliant) in my review a while ago, but I hold no such sentiment for the regularly compared Casablanca. It is and always will be an undeniable masterpiece.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

60s Reviews: Week-End

Now as much as I love Breathless, outside of that I simply do not take to Goddard. Erratic editing cuts that hop to and fro with almost frightening glee are not a storytelling device for me- and sadly, since his films oft feel like feature length trailers, I find it hard to bear even the shortest entries in his filmography. That being said- Goddard made great films and hardly ever made bad ones- and Week-End certainly falls into the former- For it is one of the very finest films on the Apocalypse ever made.         

Spiked with an absurdly hateful malice throughout its brief stay, the film was designed as a commentary on contemporary bourgeoisie society. Despite the fact I have never lived in late 60s France, nor do I know anything about it- the film feels viscerally accurate. A raw yet gratuitously stylised mess of violence, rage and the crumbling of our community- there is no remorse in this film. No mercy or respite or compassion, only humanity. So whilst we may laugh when a hellish car crash’s worst victim is a Hermes handbag, or when everyday disputes descend into maniacal carnage- the reality of these situations, or rather in what they are trying to say and very successfully evoke is certainly no joke.

What some cite as the man’s last good film, Week-End is a carnival of chaos, a cornucopia of human destruction and the apathy that can blind us to the insanity of our actions and indeed the world we live in. So whilst the jump cuts are unignorably jarring and the smell of burning gasoline can oft hang far too thick in the air and the flames lick all too close to our fingertips- it is the uncompromising resolve of it’s withered, cynical soul that makes it worth a watch, even for its startling coldness. Any film that can drive to the edge of the abyss and sneak a quick peek over the precipice is effectively required reading for anyone and everyone- and to top that all off, pretty damn well made too.


Thursday, 10 September 2015

Scenes To Die For: Nostalghia

Warning: Plot details will be unveiled in the post.
The 1980s was not a decade in film I have ever been particularly taken to. I find it harder and harder with each passing ‘classic’ of the time I hunt down to fill a top 10 list, let alone the honorable mentions (so by the way- suggestions welcome!). That being said, one man who, for the eight films he made, has consistently enthralled me, throughout any period of the last century is Andrei Tarkovsky. The man devoted himself to his art and Nostalghia contains perhaps the grandest, most devastating personification of this adoration for film which is not, as all of you who have seen it are thinking, the final scene. Whilst the famous (and to some without context infamous) seven minute long tracking shot, which to me lasted about sixty seconds, is superb- and pulls the entire wretched futility of his existence down on us- it isn’t as affecting as the penultimate scene of the film.

 About a third of the way into Nostalgia, we meet a man. What can be said of him, or indeed much of the plot is the same with many of Tarkovsky’s works- but this feels perhaps the most intangible of all. One constant, however, throughout the existential crisis that worms its way down into our protagonist’s fragile soul- is art. Nostalghia in itself is a portrait of art and what it means to us. What we want it to mean to us. What it means for us. And then, a character we barley know- right before the end of the film- sits atop an iron horse. For about five minutes, he rambles on about art- and what it means to him. I say ramble because of his observers. Tens of people have crowded around the spectacle not to bask in the purity of his dialogue and agree with his riotous accusations- but to observe his lunacy. They see a madman where he sees martyrdom. What is so special about this scene is the atmosphere. Much Tarkovsky lies in the mind, it impales or invites but it always holds an engrossing atmosphere. There is a visual compulsion, as well as a poetic magnetism to the way his movies come together in every single scene in every single minute he has ever put on screen. Except this one.

Here, the atmosphere is vividly cold. It is cloying and calculated, waiting patiently for the inevitable that no-one sees coming. The man pours gasoline all over himself, lights a match and falls screaming off of his rusty mount, writhing in agony. About three seconds of pain. Jump cut to final scene. It’s the look on the faces of the audience to his sacrifice. Their indifference in haunting. Particularly today, where the emphasis in a situation like this is to capture it on film, rather than to rush to the man’s aid. It is the jarring cut, whereby Tarkovsky creates the illusion that no-one helped at all. We don’t know if after the cut people do, but the mood of the crowd, coupled with the cut- speaks otherwise. It’s a perfect commentary on the modern perception of art. A generalized, partly incorrect one- but what it says is not less poignant with that in mind. The penultimate scene of Nostalghia is a blisteringly effective sequence because of just how out of place it is. In the film, in his filmography, in cinema in general. The reality of this scene make it one of the most genuinely terrifying, cruel and utterly vital I have ever witnessed- because for those who take no notice to finally listen, you simply gotta scream.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

60s Reviews: Persona

The eternal question: What… IS Persona? It’s been puzzled over and studied and written about ever since Bergman released his feverish demon into the then wilds of the cinematic landscape. I myself see no real point to dissecting any of this. The only man who could even begin to decipher this rich enigma is Bergman himself, and sadly that is no-longer a possibility, nor would it be whilst it was alive. Trying to get Persona is part of the fun of it. Now, after I struck gold and witnessed a 35mm print running of the man’s masterful mindfuck- I am ready to answer the real question: Is it any good?

In two simple words: God yes. Persona is a visual marvel, an impenetrable poem, as jarring and twisted a film as was made that decade and a picture acted to such perfection it’s not even a question of how Andersson and Ullmann hold the movie alone for the entire time- but how well. I will never forget sitting there near the back of the 60s-styled Prince Charles Theatre screening, tops of heads and backs of chairs illuminated in a haunting monochrome glow, watching Bergman’s gorgeous lighting in its full force. Persona is certainly one of the best looking films ever shot, and its opening sequence alone- in the frenetic, jittery, electrified stamps of each image justifies it as one of the best edited also. Each sequence flows as a vivid, fluid dream, and that is the best compliment I can give any film.

All of this being said, I do not feel it necessary to grade Persona. If anything, that would be doing it a dis-service. Yet unlike the entirely unenjoyable experience that is Eraserhead, it is liquid genius. Entirely masterful and beautiful in its entirety. It will be dissected in futility forevermore, and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing it for that long either. Persona does not lie among my favourite films, as few of Bergman’s do- but I adore and appreciate it so much it’s hard to justify why. As to why you should see it though, see above- and indeed: see it.


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Another little Anecdote.

To put into context just how much power Terrence Malick’s masterpiece holds over me: Today, after watching the pretty solid ‘Warrior’ (sports films simply ain't for me), I snapped on The Thin Red Line after a browse through Netflix, with the intention of having it on in the background as I cleaned the room. I saw was a title, a few brief moments of darkness and an alligator slide into a river, all scored to Hans Zimmer’s ‘The Coral Atoll’. I immediately had to switch it off. 

“In the background.” How naïve.  

Saturday, 5 September 2015

60s Reviews: Z

“Any similarity to actual persons or events is deliberate”

Without any knowledge of the events it was based off, nor any context to the period of turmoil in Greece Gavras places us so expertly in the middle of- Z was still the second best political film I have ever seen, bar none. Our director deploys us into a maelstrom of anarchic chaos, capturing the electric political instability of the time perfectly. Despite the French language we feel very much at home, and in Greece- its bare streets peppered with mere dozens of civilians re-created, here with a zesty tinge of tension as each and every one of the people on these lonely streets could easily be out for blood.

Gavras is of course the star here, unveiling the dense political mystery with precision and grace, but the fast-firing pace of the film is all down to the editor- Françoise Bonnot (who rightly won an Oscar for her work). She seamlessly melds the fiercely stinging suspense of her helmsman with the rocket-propulsed energy of her own superb work. Early on we are treated to an immaculate fight sequence on the back of a moving car, and what in practice would be an unimpressive grapple bout is transformed into a feverishly tense scene through smooth editing, great use of the camera and of course that frenetic score that dots its brilliance all throughout the movie.

There are of course flaws- though even though I saw the film last night- I cannot but recall them. All I can remember was a frankly sublime political thriller whose editor worked wonders; and whose director makes each and every character a star. Even the wife of the eponymous ‘Z’, whose grief is conveyed beautifully through snappy insert shots like pangs of pain to her soul- barley speaks a word- and holds little weight overall: but time, effort and flawlessly executed technique are not spared to bring her role to life. Howard Hawks once said that a good movie was three good scenes and no bad ones. Z is infested with magnetic, gorgeously crafted moments all throughout its brief stay with us- and I cannot for the life of me remember a single moment that it missed its mark. A limitlessly enjoyable and vitally important picture.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

Director Retrospectives: David Fincher

The master of cool. The king of making movies that look absolutely gorgeous, if some of them only merit that. Fincher is a man who has impressed me more than many a modern director. He has not the editing of Nolan, nor the style of Anderson (W), nor does he make as many genuinely fantastic films as Anderson (PT)- though he does make some damn good ones.

Father of some of the most truly intelligent and complex pictures our generation has yet produced, including one of the very finest films of a genre boasting endless great works- Fincher has slipped up every so often- but never fails to produce something worth seeing.

Alien 3 – 1992

Now Alien 3 was the last film of the franchise I saw, and considering the fact it took me years to finish it- suffice to say I knew of the film’s infamous reputation long before I finally saw it. That being said- I did not, at first, see the hate.

I am not particularly invested in Alien and perhaps that explains my ease watching it, but to me Alien 3 was superbly shot, with classic Fincherian precision and gorgeous uses of colour and lighting, as well as a film that expertly crafted a believable sci-fi world, as the first had to viscerally captured years beforehand. The story, script and actors weren’t much- but I was relatively engrossed.

Then, of course, comes one of the most jarring moments I have ever experienced- in all cinema. After constructing a richly dark, foreboding and real feeling fantasy landscape the special effects team plastered the disgustingly rendered fully grown CG Alien atop the plain. Not in the film, but on it. It’s one of the worst special effects I have ever seen, and it effectively killed a film I thought, up until that point, was pretty decent. The grade below is saved from something far worse by the superb aesthetic- if nothing else.

My Favorite Moment: Everything up until the moment I saw the Alien. Then I saw the hate, and the hate was strong.


Se7en – 1995

Guys. Guys. Guys... its Se7en.

Anything else? Do I really need to extrapolate on why this is one of the finest contemporary films ever shot? One of the very best movies made in the 1990s and one that is so endlessly re-watchable- whilst equally being as twisted and sickening as films get?

Se7en is the second best serial killer film ever made. Hell- if not for a certain ending scene and what it meant for film in the early 30s it would be the very best. Far above most everything else. The delicate, devilish precision. The ominous, constantly eerie set design and de-saturated wash of grit and disease that drowns the aesthetic. You can practically smell this movie.

I could write paragraph upon paragraph about how it masterfully forces on us its bitter, Stygian atmosphere, whilst also sliding in subtle hints and clues- unraveling its nightmarish package slowly with gnarled, slimy hands before tearing it away right at the end for the second best ending of its decade. One of the best endings ever: straight up.

There is no part of Se7en I don’t love. It is entirely masterful, a benchmark for thrillers, chillers and pretty much any film that follows it to strive to surpass. It is, and will remain, David Fincher’s deranged, dark and dilapidated opus. I have it to thank for getting me into ‘good’ films in the first place- so for that there is simply no critique I can give; only adoration.

My Favorite Moment: The finale. Film has never felt so utterly vengeful. It’s out to get us.


The Game – 1997

Hichcockian playfulness mixed with Fincherian grimy, cynical, hardened approach leads to perhaps the funnest film in this man’s arsenal. The Game is, also, far from the best- and indeed certainly not the first you should see if you’re pursing his work- but some fantastic visuals (as always) coupled with Michael Douglas playing badass Michael Douglas (the very best kind of Michael Douglas) ranks it well up there. It tricks and toys with us, as well as its protagonist- to create a remarkable odyssey through a wonderfully warped world only Fincher could present.

It’s the film that let me appreciate a formerly scorned Douglas. Still didn’t make me like Sean Penn though- and he raises his voice in it- so that’s a downer.

My Favorite Moment: Douglas wakes up in a coffin, in the middle of no-where, in a Middle-Eastern country- for no reason. Beautifully jarring.


Fight Club - 1999 

For a long while, before I truly explored cinema and honed my taste in its works, Fight Club was my favorite film of all time. I simply adored it. I thought the nonexistence of its protagonist and their entire world and the fragile reality it crafted around that was immensely intelligent- and how each action of Tyler’s could be co-ordinated to the insomniac sleeplessness of Jack was flawlessly conveyed and pulled the entire thing together.

But of course things change and although I still thoroughly enjoy the film when I see it, and still rank it among my favorites- I think not half as much of it now. The narrative, even before the project mayhem segment slows the pace to a sluggish crawl- is almost painfully vacant, a film that projects the same disregard for the despicable human race its source material has in each frame is certainly a committed attempt at cutting art- but isn’t exactly fun to sit through.

I could never hate this film and to me, even being hugely overrated by audiences today, it still holds a hell of a lot more worth than your Mad Maxes or Dark Knights of similar explosive exposure. That being said: upon reflection- it isn’t near as good as I thought it was 4 years ago. Still a great ride, though.

My Favorite Moment: The finale, because that song and that image will forever be burned into my mind.


Panic Room – 2002

A pretty damn solid home invasion movie, packing precision and a couple of perfectly balanced shots and sequences. Sadly- it does not stand up among Fincher’s best works, nor does it fall short enough to sink among his worst. Not something worth much time, nor much memory- but a thoroughly satisfying film, whilst it lasts- we can’t expect everything be Funny Games, can we?

My Favorite Moment: The men’s exterior exploration of the house… really works.


Zodiac – 2007

I’ve seen Zodiac twice recently, both in gorgeous high definition, and I simply have to comment on its aesthetic. It documents the years as they swing by with, well, Fincherian accuracy- and does so beautifully with vibrant colours to juxtapose the almost cruel killings that Fincher frames for us to witness. Thank god he saved us of the ordeal during Se7en because good god are these brutal.
There is a scene relatively early in this monstrous film (which should be commended as a movie about men talking in rooms for 3 hours that holds pace and tension immaculately throughout)- that involves a couple at a lake’s encounter with the Zodiac. For those who have seen the film, you will probably understand why I have only sat through the scene once- and refuse to watch it again. Every movement is so believable and strangely at ease than when the killer finally pulls that blade I just can’t take it. I feel trapped in the same way I do during the final sequence of Rear Window- and that is enough credit to the cinematic technique at work here. A simply masterful film- and his finest work since Se7en.

My Favorite Moment: Gyllenhaal goes to a house for a little visit, to question a friend of the main Zodiac suspect about his work at a movie theater. A poster is pulled out. The audience thinks they’ll finally get the answer. Seconds later and we’re in a basement- chilled to the very core, and everything has changed.


The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – 2008

Meh. What more can I say? Just meh. Utterly forgettable adaptation of a relatively competent novel- and I didn’t particularly recognize any aesthetic appeal either.
Skip it.

My Favorite Moment: Credits. Sat through this one for this post alone, and was by far the biggest waste of my time that week- and I had to watch Dune.


The Social Network – 2010 

One of the best films of 2010, although that really isn’t saying much, The Social Network packs two fine performances by its leads, and indeed does away with the whole massively morbid motif running through Fincher’s earlier work and goes right for the jugular with something far safer.

A shining example of his breezy pacing, smart storytelling and almost ferocious work in taking script to screen in the boldest fashion- it slides around fluidly throughout its run-time, and offers up the finest filmic treat of the year- if not the best film.

My Favourite Moment: It all comes crashing down upon Zuckerberg, and yet we don’t know if we empathise, or want him to have it even worse. Eisenberg of course plays his part superbly.


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - 2011

A pretty good movie, all things considered. Fincher certainly hasn’t absorbed me as much in his later career near half as much as his earlier (er) one- though I feel this is a man of waves: Peaks and troughs. Not yet has he made a bad movie, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was an uphill step in a far more worthy direction- if just one step.

My Favorite Moment: The opening credits. This man does those things like no-body else.


Gone Girl – 2014

Now I have spoken of Gone Girl on here before, and already established that it was pretty good, though I did not take to a single character within it. Much like Fight Club, it exposes the horrible deeds of human beings, only without the vicious tint of surrealism and a loose narrative- and indeed without Edward Norton or the magnetic Brad Pitt as an anchor in the sea of filth. This is an entirely unpleasant film experience, and I would never sit through it again. Again: Decent film, though.

My Favorite Moment: Um… credits?


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

60s Reviews: The Naked Island

To begin this review, I was going to make a comment on at which point the dialogue started- and then after 93 minutes I realised that there just… wasn’t any. The Naked Island is a film made decades after silent movies were effectively killed by the talkie (a revolution only Lang fought, in the form of his impressive restraint on the technology in M)- and yet here we are, in 1960, with a dialogue-free experiment. Does it work?

Film, for me, is nothing without dialogue. Despite how much I admire works like Alien and There Will Be Blood for doing so much, in character, atmosphere and tone, with no words at all- and indeed any film now or ever that can convey the feelings of its characters through subtlety, rather than statement- I hate silent films. There are many I admire- but without the re-assurance of speech SOMEWHERE in the film, I fall out of the experience. The whole term of ‘silent film’ is a shackle to me. A movie with dialogue that spends many moments in silence is something I adore- and yet silent films I cannot stand? Why? It doesn’t grab me. There is nothing to keep me going. It’s a stigma I have fought in futility for a while now- and sadly I have had to surrender to the fact that silent movies simply aren’t for me.

So: What about The Naked Island? Well: it’s the exception. Early along the line I stopped waiting for someone to break the silence. I became engrossed in the poetry of everyday life, shot in gorgeous black and white. The visual compulsion it exerts, coupled with an inexplicable magnetism the film just radiates in spades- made this an experience I loved. Stoic, wondrously shot and quietly mesmerising in the best possible way- The Naked Island was not the best film I have ever seen, nor is it one of my favourites- but I was certainly glad to have done so. Would you be?


60s Reviews: Woman In The Dunes

As much as I did not particularly enjoy it, I can understand Andrei Tarkovsky’s love for this film. I only heard of it because it ranked among his 10 favourites and upon seeing it saw both inspiration in photography and metaphorical integration mirroring the Russian’s own sublime pictures.

Each frame is set perfectly to an eerie, prickling score- one that surges back and forth like a crashing sea to offset the brief moments of calm and undermine any settlement in the story. After a man exploring a beach becomes trapped with a woman in a house surrounded by unassailable sand dunes, forced to work else they will be toppled- each environmental shot works wonders to convey the mental degradation and flashes of anger and panic with the changing speeds of sliding sands. So intricate and yet effortlessly presented is this visual motif that sand becomes the star of the show here, despite the two superb performances of its leads. Teshigahara also makes excellent use of the multiple exposure technique (see: here)- which is perhaps my favourite in cinema, building haunting meshes of dunes, again flawlessly showing us the impenetrable mental web slowly unravelling in such tortured isolation.

And yet whilst Teshigahara conjures some simply magical images, and fully engrosses me in the metaphysical and aesthetic world he creates- I found myself taken out of the film somewhat. Much like Kobayashi, the pacing feels like wading through hours upon hours of content when mere minutes have passed, and throw in of course the endless psychological metaphors and imagery- and I could not finish it. I have promised myself to, when some more time has passed- and when I do I am sure I will rank it even higher- but right now the ominous, haunting mastery displayed in Woman In The Dunes simply could not hold me to the very end- though whilst it did- its grip was ferociously tight.