November 29, 2015

Death and the maidens

Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015). Call this evolution: the “Bond girl” names have gone from the sniggering Pussy Galore to the Proustian Madeleine Swann. I really like the gloominess of the Craig-era, Mendes-directed Bonds, and part of that gloominess comes from the intense seriousness of the acting – Daniel Craig, Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Belluci, less so Christoph Waltz as usual – and part of it comes from the visual quality but most of it derives, as in Skyfall, from the morbid, death-haunted themes. Bond is an assassin, a death-carrier, and he is bad luck for everyone who associates with him. Death is in the first seconds of Spectre, in Mexico, and stays almost to the end. Dead villains, friends, family and lovers keep being remembered. Bond’s first (most callous) conquest is a widow at a funeral. So it goes. But there are new traces of lightness too, of the glamour and absurdity of the 60s and 70s, as if by popular demand: a romantic train ride through North Africa, a ski setting in Austria, a wildly overlong car chase through the night-time streets of Rome, complete with gadgets, a villain’s secret base in a crater, the erotic-octopus opening credits set to a suitably terrible song. The depression is lifting, but hopefully not too much. 

November 27, 2015

Old machines

Terminator Genisys (Alan Taylor, 2015). Here is the worst film of the year, if only for its pointlessness and cynicism. Imagine that the first two, Cameron-directed Terminators were dismantled and then reassembled the wrong way. The pieces don’t fit. You know the names but not the faces; the old catchphrases come out of the wrong mouths at the wrong times; familiar scenes replay but without the same meanings; the past is cancelled and all that is solid melts like liquid metal.

November 23, 2015

Dinosaur act

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow, 2015). Twenty years later, we’re all so jaded that the things that scared us in Jurassic Park have become our friends, or even our pets. Anonymous understudy Colin Trevorrow and his effects team do less with more; the script barely goes further than being a list of sub-Spielbergian themes and ideas that someone forgot to flesh out later; and the reverence towards its traditions is embarrassing. On the other hand, there’s that pterodactyl attack scene.

November 12, 2015

The helicopter at the end of Werckmeister Harmonies

Which should have appeared in this blog’s selection of great helicopter moments in films. As it’s Tarr, it’s prolonged and ominous. It sees out, we don’t see in. 

November 5, 2015

Wounded animal

Marlon Brando rearranges the disordered ruins of his life into something closer to a redemptive shape in Listen to Me Marlon, with posthumous narration from beyond the grave assembled from Brando’s private audiotapes by writer, director and editor Stevan Riley. The idea of secret recordings in dark rooms might suggest Nixon, Kurtz or Jim Jones – or any other maniac or recluse – but the private Brando is a warmer, much more sympathetic, troubled figure: not so much paranoid as flawed, endlessly self-examining, wounded and deeply sensitive. And no matter how much Brando tried, none of us ever really get to escape scrutiny but at least Riley, acting for Brando Enterprises, finds something to salvage from a tragic and raw story of generational damage, violence, life-changing early success and wasted talent. The meaning of Brando’s life that Riley creates, in the end, is about the pleasure that acting brings to others – a suitably generous conclusion to a fascinating and constantly entertaining account.