Sunday, 15 June 2014

Random (Overdue) Round-Up

Tetsuo (dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)Filmed in skittish black and white, this deliriously dark oddity feels at times like Kafka’s Metamorphosis attached to electrodes and convulsed into a cyberpunk nightmare. A man turns into a machine as pipes and tubes replace veins and arteries and a vicious drill replaces his penis…yup; I mean, there is a slight tangle of plot behind this, but the whole cockdrill kinda gets to the heart of the matter in turns of encapsulation. As a cult, black and white film envisaging states of disturbed transformation, Eraserhead would be the obvious comparison. Yet this film shares none of Lynch’s uneasy menace and instead drives with manic glee into a more A.D.D spiral of quick fire imagery – at times close to a deranged exercise in sustaining a music video aesthetic of blink cuts, strobe and speeded energy. However, to return to Eraserhead – remember the leering, wheezing engineer type fella who is occasionally seen pulling levers and laughing manically? well, if said character were to have a feverish dream, Tetsuo would be its filmic adaptation. A film that is perhaps best expressed through the delicate, analytical phrase: BATSHIT CRAZY. 8.5/10

The Lego Movie (dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) – With the same absurdist charm and energy that made Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs such a success, The Lego Movie is memorable, exhilarating and hilarious, high-octane entertainment. 8/10


Once Upon A Time in the West (dir. Sergio Leone) – An iconic soundtrack, moments of pure dramatic ingenuity and an opening of perfectly orchestrated suspense – the film that redefined how a Western could look when ravished by cinematic style. However, that said, Im just not a big fan of westerns…however good they are I find it impossible to see desert-scapes, gun duels and taciturn heroes without being lulled into a sleepy repose…something to do with Westerns always being played on dull Sundays in my childhood. 7/10

Almost Famous (dir. Cameron Crowe)– Gloriously goofy, quotable hilarity that brilliantly captures teenage thrills and the burgeoning discovery of that enduring behemoth that is ROCK (and/or) ROLL!!! Great fun: recommended viewing should include friends, beer and easy access to lots of nostalgic albums. 8/10

Lenny (dir. Bob Fosse)Following the life of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce and with a startling performance by Dustin Hoffman at its centre, this stark and accumulatively frightening depiction of a spiralling mind is a powerful and upsetting achievement. Full of incipient unease, at times electric with coiled tension and ultimately hard to forget. 8/10


Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer) – Filmaking has not looked this bold or adventurous, certainly not in cinemas, for quite a while (Granted, this observation is based on my limited 25 year meandering on this here planet…but, either way, you get the point). Moving with striking turns of style from epic abstraction that, in the opening, recalls Kubrick, into passages of documentary realism  (drawing from Glazer’s extraordinary, hidden camera, filming methods). In this adaptation of Michel Faber’s sci-fi thriller, in which an alien (disguised as a sentien woman) picks up hitchhikers to (eventually) harvest their organs, Glazer’s film pares back detail to an enigmatic minimum. The original satirical slant on animal cruelty is eschewed for a troubling and poetic meditation on language, how the external betrays or portrays the internal, and how we can come to wrestle through these differences. Scarlett Johansson deserves huge credit, not only for appearing in what must have seemed a risky and less obvious project but also for managing her demanding role with such arresting conviction. To be blank and not boring is always a precarious terrain…one which Keano Reeves frequently fall foul of, yet here Johansson’s eerie detachment is never entirely emptied and so remains uncomfortably and irresolvable suggestive. If the innovative visual flare and unsettlingly terrific performance were not enough – there is also a spellbinding soundtrack supplied by Mica Levi. Lots could be said about this film and, inevitably, lots will be said: exciting and original, Jonathan Glazer’s film career is a fascinating and unpredictable beast! 8.9/10


Some Like It Hot (dir. Billy Wilder)Marilyn Monroe and cross dressing capers in an unrelentingly paced comedy that had me wishing for Wilder’s darker satirical edge. 6.5/10


Orphee ( dir. Jean Cocteau) – A beautiful film that attaches Parisian bohemia to the the mythic tradition Orpheus; poetic inspiration and the communication, through mirrors, of life and death are all gracefully imagined. A transference of ideas, consciousness and romance focused in the enigmatic crackle of radio static… 7.5/10


Upstream Colour (dir. Shane Carruth) – Far more enjoyable than Primer, so if you liked that (as plenty demonstrably did) see this out! Have to say, Im not a mssive fan…in fact feel slightly disappointed by both this and Primer given their more than intriguing write-ups. Shane Carruth is undoubtedly a very intelligent and talented man (writing, directing and starring in both films with an apparent naturalness of enviably ‘polymath’esque assurance), however I am yet to be won over by either film. Developing what was in Primer a fairly predictable and familiar visual palette, Upstream Color injects a greater range and flare into the cinematography that results in part from its more originally bizarre premise: entwining stories and time frames in another elliptical narrative – but this time, more adventurously skipping from a pig farmer, a sound engineer/artist/ practitioner of field recordings, and the changing hosts of a mysterious parasite. The film opens out into a more essay-like structure that floats from side to side, as opposed to any linear or forward logic. This approaches a musical rhythm that corresponds interestingly with the sound artist’s narrative (narrative, in this instance, too prescriptive a word), encouraging the film’s detailed and accomplished use of sound to merge with the visual and move towards a compelling and oneiric, at times almost ‘ambient’, filmmaking. All of this chimes with a pulsating sense of reincarnation, movement, and sequential dialogue that bridges and undoes the bridging between all of Carruth’s floating forms of storyline. There is a lot to be said and admired for the achievement of this imaginative and innovative craft…most of which eludes me, as I watched the film (like so many in this post) a looong time ago. Apologies.


However, my main problem, that occurs less palpably in this film than in Primer, is a latent sense of self-congratulation. While the elliptical narratives and their ambitiously strange subjects do command a level of interest, they also feel so smugly entwined with their own contrivance that any emotive or intellectual engagement is hard to come by. Whilst certain elements genuinely prickle with adventurous flare, the majority of the film seems too over-calculated to ever lift its laurels from the Hipster Rubix cube and realise that whilst originality is inspiring – the unoriginal desire for originality is not. Which is an appropriately pretentious way of saying, it is not as interesting as it seems to think it is. The film provides imaginative muscle in the same breath that it props itself up on clichéd piano minimalism or ambient sounds – and while these are sometimes used with meticulous control they are (alas more frequently) part of a saturated shorthand for profundity. Then there is also an over-insistence on camera flare to sagely intone the presence of something so heart achingly transcendent that it must only be seen through a haloed squint. This definitely does feel like a progression from (the ball-achingly dull) forum bait of Primer, and he is clearly an interesting and clever director…but as of yet, is still struggling to shed a wardrobe of insincere and recycled gestures; a T-shirt over confidently emblazoned with a quote its wearer hopes nobody recognizes.

Amer  (dir.Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani) – A deliriously frenzied and eroticised homage to the Giallo legacy, this films cartwheels through a buffet of stylised visuals and soundtrack perfection to deliver something wonderfully indulgent. It coils with artful decadence through dazzling and wilfully absurd styles: a hyper camp that flirts with fashion advertising; a lurid but largely unrealised sense of horror; touting of Freudian and psychoanalytical drama; Escher staircase chasing; black comedy and a dabbling in magic realism; a peacock’s tail of bizarre and charged eroticism; bundles of – sliced tongue in cheek – humour; and a brilliantly cumulative thriller paced climax. Good God it was mad, silly, genius, daring, body horror teasing, lustfully baring, intoxicating and evil…in a kinda charismatic and opulent way…a needlessly theatrical villain that understands his own ludicrousy and flaunts it: magnetic, breathless, breath-taking and given to lustful heavy breathing…warped and wonderful. 9/10

American Mary (dir. Jen and Sylva Soska) – A medical student ends up in a world of underground plastic surgery, becoming an inventive butcher for obscure bodily fetishes to, y’know, pay the bills. A fairly trashy but fun horror that suggests more brain than it ultimately delivers. 6/10