Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Frame By Frame: Halloween Spotlight

Yes I totally nicked this format off of someone else- But as soon as I discovered the structure of these such posts I knew I had to do my own. So to begin- here is a double whammy. Today I’ll be tracking through, frame by frame, all the things I loved about nearly every film I watched for this month’s Halloween Spotlight. Then tomorrow, I’ll finish the festivities with another of these posts on a certain movie we have heard all too much about already this month :P

To those unfamiliar if you didn’t take the chance to learn from the fantastic post linked above- this is just a big stream of images that represent moments- colossal or almost undetectably minute- that I loved during these films. Let’s crack on.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

1984: 365 Days In 5 Great Movies

Yea the clicker with this one is the amount of movies I don’t like from this year… sorry about that.

Monday, 26 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: The Ascent

Set during the Nazi invasion of Russia in World War Two, The Ascent follows a pair of Russian rebels sent to search for food after their group is attacked by the Germans- but who are themselves then captured by the Gestapo. This is a very simple film. A story netted across several cheap locations- minimal sets and lesser still set-pieces. What sets The Ascent above every other film I saw this month- and indeed most of the movies of the 1970s- is what it does with so little. I have never, not even in Lumet’s masterful 12 Angry Men, witnessed such a potent exercise in minimalism. In fact this isn’t even an exercise: it’s an experience.

We begin in a tundric Winter- nature silenced by the crackling beat of war- shells zipping overhead as the group retreats into a wood. They all collapse, safe but exhausted. In any other film, I’d imagine that the director would have this as a vehicle for exposition- but Shepitko has them sit gasping for air, totally silent- for minutes. We see faces scarred with the marks of war- sunken eyes and battered spirits shining through their ashen skin. So too does the look of the film add to this moment- the people framed between endless wooden spires- stripped naked of any leaves or life. In these opening moments we don’t even hear our protagonist, Sotnikov, speak- yet we know him. Shepitko presents us his fear- his desperation and ingrowing pain plainly on screen- and yet doesn’t force us to empathize. This is presentation, not propaganda. She plays to the technique of Resnais or Franju with Night & Fog or Blood Of The Beasts respectively- painting horrific images but never injecting any bias or personality- never herding us onto either side of the fence. It would be like a documentary if not for the moments of tentative intimacy- handled like fragile gems trapped in a cavernous hell with no end and no merciful hints of colour.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Top 5 Performances Against Type

Each of these actors were known for one thing. They were cast again and again in the same roles as similar characters because they were that person- A profitable little comfort zone within their talents. Then they took a role that challenged all of that- not only utterly destroying people’s pre-conceptions of their careers, but also delivering some of the most viscerally effective performances yet seen on-screen.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Actors: Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper was the craziest son of a bitch in Hollywood. Notorious for troubles with frankly pretty frightening amounts of substance abuse and playing a cavalcade of carnivorous madmen- as well as a peppering of poor career choices sprinkled in- this guy was a mad-crazy genius enigma you wouldn’t want to piss off. Whilst his work isn’t all the pinnacle of cinematic art (to say the least) he delivered a fierce bolt of thunder into each role he played- and forged a committed, varied and unforgettable persona as a result. If there is any better actor to cover this Halloween- I don’t know them.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Anatomy Of A Moment: The Ascent

Up until this point, Shepitko’s film has explored the vast, empty expanses of the Russian tundra- save two short stops in cramped houses riddled with so many holes that the dense snowfall seeps in from every angle anyway. She has intimately woven a battle-born relationship between our two leads set against the icy bleakness of the Second World War. Then Shepitko changes everything. In one simple cut- we are shown a fire. Interior. Warmth and by extent life. Even the ‘colour’ palette, originally a cold shade almost drained of any colour is now drowned in delicious monochrome. Everything has become far less transparent. Shepitko has made her world opaque- even tangible… and yet something is off.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Top 5 Interrogation Scenes

Speaks for itself really. Great works of writing where we sit two characters in a room and have them verbally (and usually physically) joust for several minutes. I love these, and if you do- feel free to leave your picks in the comments. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Top 4 Movie Scenes I Can Never Watch Again

Now I have seen hundreds of movies over the past three or four years- and yet I can only find four from which I am forced to avert my eyes. Four films featuring scenes I cannot and will not ever watch a second or third time around. I don’t necessarily think that doing so will ruin the experience as I’ve already had it once- and that was sufficient- but for this list I decided to conquer each of these sequences for the last time and make sure they are so horrific I couldn’t bear them again...

Yea, this wasn’t fun.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Deliverance

Four drastically different city boys take a canoeing trip down the Cahulawassee River in the Southern Wilderness and let’s just say things go awry. Suffice to say Deliverance has received its share of critical praise- though unlike many I didn’t just appreciate the film- I adored it. I have done for years now. It’s one of the definitive American contributions to the medium and heads and shoulders above any non-horror movie ever made in terms of the insurmountable horror it evokes. To many who watch it- it isn’t impressive. Films today oft rely on colossal set pieces and smart enough storytelling to garner the word ‘epic’ and sway audiences easily into their favor (glad to see movies like Whiplash doing so much with very little). Deliverance cannot rely on scale to impress but rather: actual substance.

Monday, 19 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: The Exorcist

Following a young girl’s demonic possession and both religion and science’s battle to win what effectively becomes the war for her soul- The Exorcist, as you all know, is a classic of horror cinema- Hell- of all cinema. That being said I have put off watching it for quite a few years. It’s a seminal work of the genre- but I hate the genre and barley ever go near it- so naturally I used that as an excuse over abject terror to avoid it. Now, at 17 (after pretty much an aware lifetime of skirting the thing) I finally braved it.

Now: let’s have a little conversation…

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Top 10 Best Films of the 1960s

Movies nowadays really don’t get enough points for efficiency, y’now? It’s a well discussed topic in film circles but I have to stress how something being ‘epic’ generates such easy praise (granted very expensive praise). Films that are able to articulate their point without having to rely on big-budget set pieces are far more impressive- especially in the level of nuance they can attach to even the simplest actions or lines of dialogue. This list may contain a plethora of colossal epics, but also features some far smaller works that are equally admirable for their use of simplicity- those who respect the confines of their stories and do with them something far more remarkable than, say what ‘1900’ attempted to achieve with so very much. To cut this shit short: succinctity in movies just rubs me the right way. The 1960s are famous not only for their unimaginable boom in international cinema (evidently)- but for working something into everything. No matter how little something is, or how big the movie- each and every one of these indelible works of art (and perhaps a little something more) has something to say about it. Without further ado: let’s dive in.

Oh, and: 100th Post! Woooo!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

1945: 365 Days In 4 Great Movies

Sometimes it isn’t about the quantity of stand-out picture that a single year produces- but the quality. Each of these movies rank among the very best of their respective genres- and some even spawned their own. Suffice to say that these are some of the best movies of the 1940s. That so many indelible works of art them came out of just one year is nothing short of astonishing.

Friday, 16 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: TCM

Director Tobe Hooper runs around with four horny teenagers and a wheel-chair bound guy missing out on all the fun for about 83 minutes- shit happens, blood is spilled, people die. After marathoning Halloween by day in light and The Exorcist by evening in less light- I witnessed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in complete darkness, wrapped up in bed in the earliest hours of the morning. It was not as horrifically uncomfortable as the latter, nor as glacially impaling as the former- though what Tobe Hooper did with his debut film (!!!) quite literally warrants a trip to the psychiatric ward.  

Thursday, 15 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: The Wicker Man

A tragic tale following a British Policeman’s venture onto the Summerset isle investigating the disappearance of a girl there- where he finds a strange society of Pagans less than happy to accommodate his search. Yet again I am forced to mention a re-make- and sadly one that we all know far better than the original film. Nicolas Cage, having offered up one of the finest acting performances in history (see. Leaving Las Vegas)- took a trip down the lane and then straight down to hell. Just so you can get it out of your system before you read this review- here it is. Now let’s forget that ever happened and begin.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: The Omen

The story of a boy imbued with satanic powers after he basically turns out to be the spawn of the devil unwittingly rampages through his family’s life. This review is going to draw strong comparison to the modern re-make a-la Dawn Of The Dead, except this time in the right direction.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Suspiria

Suspiria (which is literally the hardest thing to spell right ever) chronicles an American girl’s arrival at a famous Ballet school in Europe- and her encounters with the vampiric ilk that stalk its halls. This was my first experience with Giallo Horror- and suffice to say I would love to see a little more, if only on mute.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Director Retrospectives: David Lynch

Mad crazy master manipulator maniac David Lynch has opened the floodgates to four decades worth of insane cinematic evolution- and opened our eyes to just how accomplished ‘weird’ can get. I have never really viewed the majority of this man’s movies as masterful- and none as masterpieces- but I daren’t challenge their effect on the filmic landscape over the years. For better or for worse- here is the work of David Lynch.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Jaws

Jaws documents the feverous attacks on the tourist hot-spot of Amity Island by a colossal killer shark and several men’s attempt to rid the town from the scourge that now plagues them.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.
Not making any friends with this one.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Halloween

Following escaped mental patient Michael Myers’ rampage through his home town on Halloween night and Jamie Lee Curtis’ (aka the fucking worst thing ever) frantic attempt at escaping his wrath- Halloween is a classic of horror cinema for all the right reasons. I hold a slightly altered view to many however, in that to me it defies genre. True Halloween is a clearly defined product of horror and the purpose it carries out so deliberately is to chill us to the bone- but it ascends beyond the sloppy smorgasbord of the mainstream and becomes something truly special. I am not a fan of horror- at all- but I loved Halloween.

Friday, 9 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Eraserhead

Out of all of the movies this month I discovered, only one of them turned my stomach. Only one of them had me looking away- if only in all-consuming confusion. Only one of them did I have to stop and then come back to because I felt too physically sick to continue. David Lynch’s Eraserhead is not a good film, nor is it a scary one. It is, however, one of the most highly original works of film I have ever seen so that’s… something.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Nosferatu The Vampyre

Chronicling a man’s journey to negotiate selling a town house to Count Dracula and the mayhem that follows- Werner Herzog’s late re-imagining of Murnau’s untouchable original piece was, perhaps, more than almost any other film this month: The film I was most scared to go into. Not because I was too frightened to approach it (far from it- I almost knew it wouldn’t scare me)- but rather because of my history with its component parts. Sacrilege it may be- but I hated Aguirre, Wrath of God- the first and only Herzog I saw before this one. I keep watching it, wanting to like it- but the harsh truth is I despise it as a film and as the piece of totemic artwork people endlessly hail it as. Just my opinion. Perhaps an opinion even harder felt (if by a smaller sect of people) is that I despised Nosferatu: Symphony Of Fear (save its badass title) for the very same reasons. So yea: Not the best base on which to build my opinion. Did I like it though?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Carrie

Carrie follows… Carrie. A quiet girl tortured by her peers in the last year of High School with a deadly power pulsing below her fragile frame. Brian De Palma’s Carrie is a true classic of 70s cinema. It is a film that will be remembered and revered for as long as film exists- though not as highly as many other movies- and rightfully so. I do not deny that it is wholly effective and portrays the ungodly ugliness of its themes to pitch-perfection. I do however question its validity elsewhere.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Dawn Of The Dead

This. Is. Hilarious.  
Now: Whose ready to read the word ‘zombie’ far too many times?

John Romero’s zombie 'classic' tracks a few survivors of a zombie outbreak taking desperate refuge in an American mall complex to survive the undead onslaught. Despite my previous lack of love for horror- I had already seen Zack Snyder’s re-make before I got around to Romero’s original. That being said: The main focus of this review really isn’t going to be on the source material- but rather how the sub-genre has evolved and what that does to it. I'm not going to deny that, back in the 70s, this film was the (still shallow) pinnacle of zombie horror- but I have to say that compared to the re-make it doesn’t hold up. In the slightest. Why?

Monday, 5 October 2015

70s Horror Spotlight - Halloween 2015: Alien

Following the doomed passengers of the space vessel Nostromo after she brings aboard a mysterious alien life form perfectly engineered to kill. For years, I simply didn’t see it with Alien. Decent film, but nothing more. No-where near as remarkable as Scott’s nowadays rather polarizing follow-up Blade Runner. After re-watching the original release for this review (damn Scott and his director’s cuts) I’ve gotta say I kinda get it. Sorta.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Top 5 Chase Scenes

Movie chases are great, y’now? Either way: you’re about to.
[Links to the scenes are embedded in the titles]

I have often cited TNOTH as a masterpiece trapped in a sub-par picture. There are moments of unadulterated genius in its Caligari-esque photography and the destructive monstrosity that is its score- but the pictures placed in this flawless frame just don’t match for me. Mitchum is great- but other stuff seems off. Regardless, one scene I am always wholly impressed by is the chase. The kids rush to escape the psychotic preacher Powell and all of these things come together. The cinematography shines in the inky darkness of the night. The score physically assaults us through the wavering defence of the screen. The actors, young and old, portray abject terror and deadly wrath with respective sublimity. It’s all there. Shame about the rest of the movie.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Briefest Flash Of... Fear?

Today I realized that Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Fanny & Alexander’ was not something to be taken lightly. I relented on continuing it, preferring to wait for life to offer up the appropriate time to discover it in full. What I did see in my viewing was several seconds of death- not as myself, though, but as a child. Fanny & Alexander, for those unaware, follows in detail the childhood of the two eponymous characters under an opulent Uppsala roof in the early twentieth century. In the opening five minutes that act as the prologue- we see Alexander wander the abandoned halls of his spacious abode- searching for something. Then he stops and tinkers lazily with some toys most kids would kill for as if they meant nothing to him. Finally- he slips under a table, thoughts vacant of any real purpose- and through the legs of his new home glimpses death. Cold. Distant. Unnerving. The figure hides himself behind the ornate furnishings, gliding onscreen for the briefest flash of terror before whispering away- absent for the rest of the film (all five hours of it). What is this?

Now personally, the thought of death regularly crosses my mind. I myself wander aimlessly through the many thoughts of life and eventually end up pondering its end. The grand finale. I wonder, as someone who has devoted their entire being to working in film- if my work will be remembered. If I will be remembered. If I care if I will be remembered. Perhaps I am too young to be doing this- but so is Alexander. What I find so fascinating about this split-second moment is what lies behind it. The hidden amusement that cracks across the boy’s face- when faced with the anthropomorphic personification of his inevitable demise before he even hits his adolescence. There is a gleeful wonder in his reaction. It’s such a… childlike moment. Bergman so effortlessly explores the curiosity of youth here. He allows a boy’s thoughts to walk the long line down to the end of their life and then has them scoff at it. Alexander glances at death almost as he would an imaginary friend.

I was so utterly taken by this that I simply had to share it. I do not know what this means. I doubt I ever will. Do you?

Friday, 2 October 2015

They Live [And Learn]

Let’s talk about genre. When I was at the BFI, I was gifted with the idea that genre was a shackle, rather than a definition. It outlined the tropes, ideas and purposes a film incorporated and indeed those movies that defied or transcended genre were the greatest because they were able to break free from any simplification. They were sophisticated pieces of artwork that stood alone as singular pieces- rather than the ‘best of the genre’. There are probably less than ten films that I cannot assign a genre to- movies like Rashomon or Stalker whose ideas are so complex and have small stories and sets that say far more than any colossal production could that they simply become undefinable. I say this because Horror is, along with contemporary action, a genre heavily looked down upon- perhaps more so than its thrill-seeking peer. Action films, in their essence, are produced to excite. Their purpose is not to convey any higher message or theme (though again we look to Kurosawa for a man who has done this twice in Seven Samurai & Yojimbo)- but rather to entertain the audience. Horror is even more niche- and for its relative repulsion to those who don’t take to it gets a hell of a lot of hate from non-fans. It’s the bottom of the barrel. It’s low-budget starter project for students and amateurs. That’s what I used to think. That’s what every single person I know thinks. I mention horror or what I have been watching for this month and they recoil in unspoken disgust. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

My Top 10 Doctor Who Episodes

I grew up with Doctor Who. It was my childhood. Sadly- I have missed the newest series and am going to keep pretending that I missed most of the prior one also (bar the excellent ‘Flatline’). The show is on a steady slope down to [sadly] death. Everything must end- but where my love for this show began there lie a plethora of exquisite episodes that I can’t help but adore. Here they are.