December 28, 2016

Unthemed triple bill




This was yesterday. I struggled to think of a connection, but there is one. Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: Episode IV  A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977); Patrick Stewart in Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, 2016); Maria Callas in Medea (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969). 

December 27, 2016

Irrational world


Medea (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969). The achievement, as I see it, is to put you not just in an ancient world (that seems relatively easy) but in the ancient mind, and its startling otherness. I can’t think of anything like the early sequences Pasolini stages in his imaginary Colchis, these elaborate and bloody ceremonial sacrifices in bright, dry landscapes. 

December 23, 2016

A date with Elvis


Elvis & Nixon (Liza Johnson, 2016). Does it bother you if a historical figure is played by an actor who bears no resemblance? Michael Shannon looks nothing like Elvis Presley  a skinny, black-haired, insomniac speedfreak, his Elvis looks more like Sisters of Mercy frontman Andrew Eldritch  and he suggests an inner life more tortured or complicated than we usually expect of Presley. Such is Shannons gift. This slight and generally mediocre film imagines the circumstances surrounding a famous, or famously strange, photo of Presley shaking hands with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office in 1970, when he reportedly offered his services as an undercover narcotics agent. Kevin Spacey plays Nixon as a kinder, gentler Frank Underwood  his right-wing paranoia is nothing compared to that of the Kings, whose side of the story dominates. But one brief reflection on the psychic burden of being a surviving twin is as deep or memorable as it gets. This cartoonish Elvis mostly muses in cryptic silence. The sadness is interesting but is it Elvis sadness? 

December 15, 2016

Arrival again

Arrival is better on a second viewing, once you know what its time structure is telling you. I said it bit off more than it could chew, but actually we need to see it twice at least to digest it. On your first viewing, it is a cerebral story about aliens, the military and language. The second time, it becomes more intimately focused on motherhood and even courtship: you notice when time leaks in and why, you notice the subtlety of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renners physical performances, the growing closeness. The first time, I remembered the dark outlines of the alien ship and the powerful score and sound design; the second time I remembered the water on the lake and the years passing, all the Malickian stuff.

December 11, 2016

Year in review 2016: witches, models, dads, mothers, hopeful aliens


THE 10 BEST 
1 The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015).
A different kind of horror movie, made with historical fidelity and Bergman or Dreyer-like seriousness – and a rare economy and a gradual increase of dread throughout. This small masterpiece may be the greatest religious film in years – relatively calm and steady where Lars Von Trier’s more personal Antichrist was psychologically overwrought and fiercely anguished, but it is just as deep. And it was even timely in ways no one could have expected: in a year of Satanic child-abuse conspiracies in the basements of pizza restaurants, maybe it’s useful to go back to the source of America’s founding Puritan terrors.


2 Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016). 
The funniest film of the year is nearly three hours long and German. Peter Simonischek in wigs and false teeth is the disruptive father who acts as a mischievous prankster within the carefully controlled professional life of his daughter (Sandra Huller), a German businesswoman in Romania. The comedy unfolds within the drab non-places of EU commerce: hotel lobbies, meeting rooms, serviced apartments.
3 The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016). 
As though Dario Argento and Kenneth Anger had collaborated on a far-too-beautiful horror film about a Los Angeles modelling world that apparently chews women up and spits them out. There are elements of Lynch as well in its Hollywood occult gothic – you might wait for someone to say “this is the girl”, Mulholland Drive-style. Watch this as the second half of a double bill with Terrence Malick’s esoteric LA film Knight of Cups.
4 Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015). 
People leaving and arriving, crossing roads, half-hidden, seen through car windows or behind the wheel: this marvellous and subtle Todd Haynes film of a Patricia Highsmith novel both opens up the mystery of romance and lets it remain enigmatic. Haynes’ rock biopics (I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine, Superstar) turned lives into complicated mysteries to be solved or not solved ­the same may apply here.  


5 Julieta (Pedro Almodovar, 2016). 
Just as Haynes adapts Highsmith, Pedro Almodovar adapts Alice Munro and produces his most mature and melancholy film so far. These are stories about estrangement and forgiveness that allow Almodovar to demonstrate once again that he is a subtle master of film narrative who can move effortlessly between different iterations of characters, times and locations. Tendencies towards camp are entirely suppressed.
6 The Revenant (Alejandro G Inarritu, 2015). 
Nature is a cathedral and the temporary works of man are a ruined church, a fort on the edge of the wilderness and, most notably, a mountain of buffalo skulls. Look beyond the western: in this intimate epic of struggle and revenge, Apocalypse Now and the Mad Max series seem like natural predecessors, and by building on and deepening the fluidity and ease of Birdman, Inarritu avoids the pretentiousness that threatened to sink the likes of Babel and 21 Grams.
7 Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016). 
Extending cleverly from his collaboration with Kristen Stewart on the more classical Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper has Assayas asking that most contemporary of questions: can you be trolled by the dead? This film is both an up-to-the-minute ghost story and an almost experimental character study developed for the precise talents of Stewart: that hurt loneliness, that sullenness. 


8 Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016). 
You didn’t make the mistake of thinking Verhoeven had mellowed, did you? This remarkable rape-revenge story, with a mesmerising performance from Isabelle Huppert, is the wildest thing he has made since … we probably have to say Showgirls, but we would rather say Starship Troopers.
9 Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols, 2016). 
Better than Stranger Things, more intimate than Arrival. This under-rated film is so deeply American in its story of religious persecution, so packed with early 21st century anxiety and terror despite its deeper yearning towards the more innocent 70s/80s science-fiction of ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Starman, and it contains Michael Shannon’s most tender work so far for Jeff Nichols. Watch in a double bill with 10 Cloverfield Lane.
10 Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson, 2015). 
Laurie Anderson’s deeply immersive essay film plays like a complicated dream about death, family and memory. Despite what it is about, and the person it never directly addresses, it feels joyful at times and even hopeful. That rare commodity.
Honourable mentions: Anomalisa, Arrival, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I, Daniel Blake, Knight of Cups, One More Time With Feeling, Paterson, Son of Saul, 10 Cloverfield Lane.


OLDER FILMS 
1 Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
2 Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)
3 Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
4 Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
5 River’s Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986)
6 Damnation (Bela Tarr, 1988)
7 Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
8 Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2006)
9 Yella (Christian Petzold, 2007)
10 Enemies of the People (Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, 2009)
11 Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz, 2010)
12 Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzman, 2010)
13 Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)
14 Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014)
15 Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015)
Some of these were seen for the first time (Chimes at Midnight at the NZFF) and some were revisited (River’s Edge nearly 30 years after seeing it at probably the Paramount, Wellington).

November 30, 2016

Humiliations


I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, 2016). Ken Loach has been so consistent for 50 years that we almost risk taking him for granted or feeling we know what to expect. But still, I, Daniel Blake is very powerful and moving in its plainness and compassion. We see the deep, personal humiliations of austerity; this is almost a culture of humiliation. What Loach does here, and elsewhere, is more European than British: his use of non-professional actors in important roles, his commitment to quiet realism. 

November 29, 2016

Interplanetary ego

My Scientology Movie (John Dower, 2015). Does the cutesy school-project-style title suggest that we all have a Scientology movie in us? But Louis Therouxs version adds little to the groundbreaking work in Going Clear (Lawrence Wrights book and Alex Gibneys film) and other, earlier cult-abuse exposes, opting instead for stunts over scoops. So we watch as Theroux tests the patience of security guards, films people who are filming people, cribs an idea about re-enactments from Joshua Oppenheimer and, ultimately, reveals the limits of his personality-based journalism. (Ethical limits included.) Or could you argue that the empty, hall-of-mirrors self-centeredness in this Scientology movie is a comment of some sort on the churchs intergalactic, celebrity egotism? 

November 28, 2016

Swimming pools in The Neon Demon



Because a film set in Los Angeles should have swimming pools. But no one swims. They have other uses, largely ceremonial. 

November 25, 2016

This is the girl


The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016). There is something about esoteric colour symbolism, and all these triangles and prisms, so it makes sense that The Neon Demon is screening (finally!) in the pseudo-Kenneth Anger-ish Alice Cinematheque in Christchurch, with its golden Egyptian kitsch and red walls. Call this The Inauguration of the Americas Next Top Model Pleasure Dome. Deeper and richer than Only God Forgives but less accessible or romantic than Drive, this is a cold, slow, brutal, intensely artful, beautifully shot and uncompromising film  a savage horror riff on beauty, envy and violence that owes much to Anger as well as Argento, Jodorowsky, Dressed to Kill-era De Palma and of course Lynch (I was waiting throughout for someone to say this is the girl). Elle Fanning is pretty wonderful in it but can we also say that we really need to see Keanu Reeves doing more of this? 

November 24, 2016

Washed up


The Light Between Oceans (Derek Cianfrance, 2016). This has the placeless artificiality that often strikes us in period movies that were filmed here but set elsewhere see also: Sylvia and it may not help that British and Swedish actors play post-WWI Australians, with real Australians in support parts. The material is a fable-like soap opera about grief and love in which nothing fully rings true. Would it have been better if Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) had really loosened his hold on this and let it turn into wild, Gothic melodrama? I think realism was his problem. Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander are excellent and should be doing the same thing somewhere better; Rachel Weisz is stuck as a crone-like widow, the living spirit of guilt that complicates sunnier romantic stretches. As expected, New Zealand looks good, especially around the picturesque and remote lighthouse at Cape Campbell, which has been hit by the Kaikoura earthquakes since. 

November 21, 2016

Friday night lights



Crucifixion and temptation in Boxcar Bertha (Martin Scorsese, 1972) and The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988), where Barbara Hershey was the secret and visible link or direct influence. Boxcar Bertha is lurid and roughly-made, a cheap, fast knock-off of Bonnie and Clyde in which the terrible physical shock of the crucifixion and the bright artlessness of Hershey are the only really memorable elements. It makes sense that these two aspects, a crucifixion now more drawn out and stoically resisted and Hershey as a more mature witness and female hero, were carried over to a very different, very personal project. 

November 12, 2016

Unstuck in time


Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016). Arrival is a science-fiction film that combines awe and sadness in an unusual way. How often do we see those qualities together? Is it ultimately hopeful too, as some claim? Not sure. The black spaceships hang in the air like bombs that never quite land or giant, inscrutable art objects and the screenplay bites off more than it can chew about big issues like time, grief and language. The very skilled Denis Villeneuve (his Jose Saramago adaptation Enemy is close in feeling to this) aims to give us both a deep emotional experience and a cold cerebral puzzle, as though 2001 had got in a blender with The Tree of Life. It is impressive, especially its sound and visual design, but it feels dark and insular too. 

November 10, 2016

November 7, 2016

Two words for the same thing


Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016). This is the only Marvel film so far that let me forget that it is just a small part in a much larger scheme – that vast, carefully-plotted Marvel universe. Until the two closing credits scenes, at least, which drop us back into Marvel’s mechanical, militaristic version of normal reality. Ignore that. Doctor Strange can stand alone as a surprisingly deep and psychedelic variation on the typical superhero initiation story that owes a little to The Matrix and quite a lot to two Christopher Nolan films (Batman Begins, Inception), and isn’t swamped by an over-complicated, incoherent story. The depth is largely supplied by the actors, for a change. How often have you come out of a Marvel film remembering the performances? But this has Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and I can’t think of many times I’ve enjoyed them more. (But I won’t include an unusually limited Mads Mikkelsen in that list, because I can think of many times when I have enjoyed him more.) 

October 29, 2016

Auteur theory, East Coast


Mahana (Lee Tamahori, 2016). It’s been a really good year for Maori cinema – Poi E: The Story of Our Song, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Mahana have all come from different directions, and tackle different eras, but all have had confident Maori directors in charge. In the closing seconds of Mahana, adapted from Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha by screenwriter John Collee and directed with a strong sense of nostalgia and affection by Lee Tamahori, a girl asks teenage Simeon (Akuhata Keefe) to the movies. The story’s tyrannical patriarch is dead and this meeting happens at his tangi (there is a sense of liberation: this tangi rhymes with the gloomy Christian funeral that opens the film). The patriarch had outlawed trips to the movies along with any fraternising with another local family, so this invitation breaches two of his now redundant rules. Who’s in the movie, Simeon asks the girl. Elvis, she says. Who made it, he asks. Don Siegel, she says. Oh, he made Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, Simeon replies. Which means the Elvis movie is Flaming Star and the year is about 1961. This outbreak of auteur theory among teenagers on the rural East Coast in the early 1960s might seem unlikely but that hardly matters because it really signals that Simeon is the stand-in for Ihimaera, himself a famous movie-lover and, more broadly, his love of the movies and their escapism and glamour relates to the ways that Simeon, more sensitive than the other boys and young men around him, can see the fantastic, mythical and epic in the everyday, including in his own family history, even though this is an aspect of the material that Tamahori, cleaving closely to a kind of sentimental realism, never fully capitalises on.

October 27, 2016

Across Texas



Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016). This really is a Story with a capital S: a cop on the verge of retirement and his Indian partner chase two brothers with a sentimental reason to rob banks across a raw Texan landscape obviously subject to sharp economic decline. The themes are clear, but the treatment is so soulful, you will forgive any tendencies to feel too literary, too conscious of history and meaning. The minimal screenplay is by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), the very clear and precise direction is by David Mackenzie (still best known for Young Adam) and all four lead performances are strong. Jeff Bridges even finds naturalism in a character  a grizzled police veteran with rare intuition  that would encourage showboating from almost any other actor. 

October 26, 2016

You want it simpler

The Conjuring 2 (James Wan, 2016). Two films in, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are very good as devoted Christian paranormal-investigating couple Ed and Lorraine Warren, as they bring out a kind of tenderness and dedication, but now I want to see something simpler that focuses on them, their story and their faith, without the generic horror bells and whistles, the regularly timed shocks and the ludicrous Marilyn Manson goth-nun that terrifies Lorraine throughout the sequel. While the art-directed shabbiness of 1970s London sometimes feels overdone, the film is at its best when it sticks closest to the known facts of the so-called Enfield haunting, including the strong possibility of hoaxes. This is the supernatural world in all its murky, smudged, suburban ordinariness (see Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black). 

October 25, 2016

In the corner of the morning


Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, 2015). Three hours in Berlin, in the corner of the morning, that move seamlessly from rave film to crime film to something other. One of the best things about this enormously impressive stunt is that you always believe what happens is possible, which also means it is much more than a stunt. But who was she before and who is she after? Schipper and his writers wisely don’t offer any clues. 

October 8, 2016

I can see the monsters


Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children (Tim Burton, 2016). Less camp and straighter than Burton has been for years, which is very good news. There are also interesting ways in which this seems to intersect with both WG Sebald and Austerlitz. Has anyone written more about this? Here, the kindertransport has become a supernatural fable in the hands of a contemporary writer named Ransom Riggs who formed a narrative around strange old photos of children (even the settings seem right: Wales, Belgium). There might be something of the book Haunted Air in that, too. In the story, we keep replaying a loop of time to delay death, and eventually the reassuring supernatural fantasy comes to almost completely obscure the historical tragedy.

September 25, 2016

Basement


The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981). Crude, often incoherent and wildly excessive and repetitive (why do something once if you can do it at least 10 times?), but packed with memorable images that seem to have poured out from an unmediated subconscious of 1970s horror, as though the nastiest parts of Dont Look Now, The Amityville Horror, Dawn of the Dead and The Sentinel (and others I have missed) were somehow spliced together as a series of unheard warnings aimed at a hungry audience that probably left cinemas more shocked and confused than they expected to be. There are basements and windows, and eyes that are constantly at risk of being gouged out or blinded.

September 22, 2016

How lonely does it get?


I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham, 2015). What if an actor cast as someone who was troubled cannot really embody that trouble? What if the highs and lows of a musical career, of a marriage, of an addiction are talked about but are never communicated to us? What if a film named itself after a gospel song that explained the division of the world into dark and light, but the film gave us neither, just a grey in-between state?

September 18, 2016

Storytelling and violence


The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, 2015). Does this take us back to Reservoir Dogs? We have one room like a stage set, a group of strangers with aliases and secrets, backstories and revenge, plus a theme about white male fear of sexual humiliation or rape by black men (Chris Penn’s unrepeatable line about prison to Mr Blonde in Dogs; Samuel L Jackson’s remarkable flashback here). All stories inevitably end in violence, but since at least Kill Bill Tarantino’s films have been bloated with self-indulgence and clumsy attempts to include a female dimension (at its worst in Death Proof). Short answer to the latter problem: never cast Zoe Bell again. Long answer to the first: blame the Weinsteins. 

September 14, 2016

Another world was possible

David Lynch’s Inland Empire
“Extraordinary picture. It’s like standing in front of the most obscure, enormous and odd modern painting and you just connect with it or you don’t. I talked to Laura Dern a couple of days before shooting and I asked her, ‘What’s it about, because he won’t give me a script.’ And she said, ‘Well I’ve been filming for a year and I don’t know what it’s about.'”
Jeremy Irons, interviewed at Indiewire

September 13, 2016

Desert to discotheque


Simon of the Desert (Luis Bunuel, 1965). Incomplete, and with a satirical/heretical feeling that predates both Life of Brian (those comedy beards, the absurdity of asceticism) and The Last Temptation of Christ (its unexpected forms of Satan in the desert), this is Bunuel at a turning point, about to leave Mexico to return to Europe, and delivering a truly barbed ending. They’re doing dances, brand new dances, called the Radioactive Flesh. 

September 10, 2016

Grief


One More Time With Feeling (Andrew Dominik, 2016). When I reviewed the Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth two years ago, at Twitter-length, I called it “a portrait of the artist as a disciplined professional” in which “Nick Cave makes a fortress out of his Nick Cave-ness”. For me, that film gave audiences the illusion of intimacy and proximity while Cave stayed behind the image he has constructed. But then, why shouldn’t he? It didn’t help that Push the Sky Away, the album the film coincided with, sounded like the work of a songwriter who didn’t have much he really needed to say, who looked and sounded settled. Hence that word “professional”. Cave in the 1980s was anything but that.
I haven’t revisited the film but Push the Sky Away has grown on me a little. The follow-up, Skeleton Tree, is similar sonically, but more minimal and sketchy, simpler overall, with a sadder and more haunted feeling. That sense of it being haunted is inescapable as the unbearable event (the “trauma”) that hangs over it is the sudden, accidental death of Cave’s son. One More Time With Feeling is the documentary that accompanies the record and the title does several things, besides being a lyric in one of the songs – it implies that this unofficial sequel to 20,000 Days is the more emotional restaging of that earlier, artificial film, and it also alludes to its own production as an observational verite documentary in which the spirit is somehow Dont Look Back as if remade by Terrence Malick. We are in the midst of a band’s process but we are also within Cave’s consciousness, relayed to us by searching, sometimes poetic, emotionally open voice-overs. It is about grief and privacy and love, and it poses questions about whether art can help you make sense of trauma or whether it’s merely a passing distraction. There is an honesty and vulnerability that Cave was reluctant to show us in 20,000 Days – this Cave is someone you warm to and feel for and the use of 3D, far from being a gimmick, increases a sense of intimacy with the subjects. It makes our viewing more individual. You are closer to them – Cave and his wife Susie and his closest collaborator Warren Ellis – and further away from the people you are sitting with in your shared (global, really) experience of communing with a private singer about a very private event. The effect is utterly absorbing. 

September 6, 2016

September 3, 2016

Language


Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014). On the DVD there is a trailer for Malick’s To the Wonder and so I came to see Goodbye to Language almost as a flipside or response to the only truly disappointing Malick film, an inscrutable and perhaps cynical version. The failure of language doesn’t point to something transcendent, something to surrender to, a religious impulse. You are in a thicket of non-meaning, carried by its broken style and amused incoherence.   

August 31, 2016

Dead heat

Trumbo (Jay Roach, 2015). The Coens’ Hail, Caesar! seemed too loose, too fantastic and farcical, but this treatment of the same material – Hollywood  in the 40s and 50s, Communist fear, poisonous gossip columnists – is just earnest and dutiful. Which wins? It feels like a dead heat.  

August 26, 2016

In a dream of being seen


Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz, 2010). Life in a dream of being seen, with witnesses, and on stages. 

August 22, 2016

The shame of history


Enemies of the People (Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, 2009). In a gentler and less cerebral way, Cambodian journalist Thet Sambath gets to the same places Joshua Oppenheimer got to in his Indonesian genocide films The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence – the shame, the embarrassment of history. It’s a low-key, patient and undemonstrative film based on the slowly evolving relationship between Sambath, whose father was killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, and Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s “Brother Number Two”, second only to Pol Pot. Chea and other former killers contemplate their consciences and their souls, explain or demonstrate their methods and show us where the ditches were. What Sambath learns, and this is something the Oppenheimer films do not convey, is that the truth from the past you dreaded or always half-expected does not come with a great flash of insight or pain or outrage, but arrives as simple human sadness about our flaws and unexplained motivations and the gaps in our memories. 

August 12, 2016

Ghost in you


Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016). Extending cleverly from his collaboration with Kristen Stewart on the more classical Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper has Assayas asking that most contemporary of questions: can you be trolled by the dead? This film is both an up-to-the-minute ghost story and an almost experimental character study developed for the precise talents of Stewart: that hurt loneliness, that sullenness. 

August 10, 2016

Curated world


Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016). “It’s like living in the 20th century!” That line defines the film. So does this speculation: there wouldn’t be a book on Paterson’s shelf that Jarmusch has not read himself. 

August 8, 2016

Religious film of the year


Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols, 2016). So deeply American in its story of religious persecution, so packed with early 21st century anxiety and terror despite its deeper yearning towards the more innocent 70s/80s science-fiction of ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Starman, and containing perhaps Michael Shannon’s strongest and most tender work so far for Jeff Nichols.

August 3, 2016

70s interiors


High-Rise (Ben Wheatley, 2015). JG Ballard used to say that Britain lacked a homegrown surrealist tradition. One of the good things about Ben Wheatley’s crazed adaptation of High-Rise is that it restores the surrealism to Ballard, who is seen too often as some kind of severe futurist or Alvin Toffler figure. In Wheatley and regular writer Amy Jump’s hands, Ballard becomes a moral satirist with a vicious sense of humour. Wheatley also turns Ballard’s science-fiction-of-the-present into retro, keeping the setting at 1975 in a Britain on the edge of Thatcherism, amplifying a class war between a high-rise apartment block’s lower and upper levels and luxuriating in kitsch. Like many Ballardian heroes, Laing is a bystander in his own story, and Tom Hiddleston plays him as an effete, shallow figure who could have arrived from another time, like a preview of the 80s man (it makes sense that Hiddleston was told to watch The Conformist to prepare). The real mania goes on all around him, personified by a decrepit Jeremy Irons as Royal and a Luke Evans made up to look like Oliver Reed as Wilder. This High-Rise is 70s hedonism within a British-surrealist landscape of rubbish strikes, power cuts and smashed cars, where orgies and costume parties are soundtracked by orchestral or mournful covers of Abba’s “SOS”. There is an intriguing connection to David Cronenberg’s sexual revolution horror Shivers, released in 1975 and also set in a modernist apartment block (both films contain variations on wildly out-of-control pool parties). But where the feeling of Shivers was chilly and contemporary, Wheatley’s High-Rise is allowed the distancing effect of debauched retro. One other thing about Cronenberg: Crash was his Ballard adaptation but Dead Ringers might be his most Ballardian film and the journey from modernist luxury to death and ruin is similar to High-Rise, but slower, deeper and more tragic.

August 2, 2016

When everything has already happened


Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog, 2016). Fata Morgana is a long time ago now, and Werner Herzog is a very different kind of figure who works much closer to the mainstream, with eccentricities that are now considered to be quirks, but his internet documentary Lo and Behold reminded me of Fata Morgana more than anything else: it appears before us as a creation and destruction myth, narrated in numbered chapters that are reminiscent of the mythological chapter headings in Fata Morgana. There is the same mix of portentousness and black humour and a soundtrack, relying heavily on Wagner, that suggests both the start and the end of time at once. Mythological time. Herzog is drawn to images of catastrophe and collapse, even here. Where many would see only the Utopian and democratic promise of the internet, and the convenient ease of online shopping, travel and communication and the improved quality of life, he thinks about black holes and sun spots, destructive storms and the end of mankind, and finds a tranquil beauty in imagining that a deserted Chicago means we have all left for Mars.

July 29, 2016

College bullshit


Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater, 2016). Watching Boyhood in 2014, I had the sense that it was about to intersect with Slacker – that we were going to be taken back to the start in some great, interlocking scheme devised by Linklater. Everybody Wants Some!! grows out of the same intersection, as a first-year-of-college movie set in Austin, Texas, in rambling student houses and big American cars and to a rock soundtrack. The era – four years after the 1976 of Dazed and Confused – also suggests a “spiritual sequel” to that film. But it’s disappointing by comparison. The sense of nostalgia isn’t as powerful and the film never really drifts as the best Linklater films do, but nor does it ever deepen. It feels almost unformed. Is it too conventional in the end and not personal or experimental enough? The problem is that Linklater can be boring when he’s trying not to be himself (see also: Me and Orson Welles, Fast Food Nation). 

July 28, 2016

Old gods

Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015). I talked about Fruitvale Station, his first film, back here; on the evidence of Creed, in which the necessary sentimentality of the script is overpowered by a strong social and political sense that feels natural and fresh, you could say that Ryan Coogler is one of the most exciting young US film-makers around. But the most moving part of this comeback/send-off/reboot (compare and contrast with The Force Awakens) is in the way Stallone graciously takes a back seat, both in the story and the production. 

July 19, 2016

Like a play about the end of the world


10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016). Speculations about disaster have become the most fertile subject of contemporary cinema, but no one could claim to be wise after the event, or at any point, not even with the title presenting a possible clue.