Archive for November, 2017

Will Penny (1968)


When it comes to Charlton Heston in Westerns it’s a mixed bag for me, having a few classics to his name. Known more for his Biblical work which suits him more, or his more just readily associated with them, either way I’m really got in the saddle with Will Penny (1968). Initially thinking it was going to be like Monte Walsh (1970) which again looked at aging cowboys who were coming to the end of the lives in the saddle, or so we thought. I was quite taken with the film, taking two of the genres bigger supporting actors are given this quiet film to relax and get comfortable.

Looking at Will Penny you can see it’s definitely a precursor to Walsh who follows on from the earlier. Focusing on Heston’s film for now I want to look at how he has made this cosy domestic Western. For a cowboy we see very little of the rugged open country that we associate with the genre. At the opening of the film we see cows being driven to a station, rounded up ready to go off to slaughter. We only hear of the promise of the train, which we wait for, whilst wages are paid out to the men. It’s virtually unseen to have the bureaucracy of the cattle drive on display. It’s generally get the cows the market, blow off some steam and see how much money’s left over before you join up on another drive.

It’s the next job which we focus on, where the men are heading off to. Two men Blue and Dutchy (Lee Majors and Anthony Zerbe) are making plans to find another drive before winter sets in, another cowboy is wanting to get the train to see his father one last time. There’s no place for having a good time here, it’s about keeping the money coming in, not spending it as fast as you can. The realities of Frontier life without any of the Hollywood trappings. Penny (Heston) is one of the more experienced men on the drive, who can’t easily being driven to violence before losing his job, he just wants to survive and do his job. Now Penny’s supposed to be playing older than he is, in his mid 40’s he still looks too young, relying on grey hair dye and the elements to age him up. It’s true life expectancy wasn’t that good in the frontier, however Hollywood is pushing it slightly.

He eventually rides off with Blue and Dutchy who we next see camping when an Elk’s spotted in the distance, fresh meat for the taking that leads only to trouble. The three men fight over it when an unscrupulous Preacher Quint (Donald Pleasence) and his boys who claim the game for themselves. One played by Bruce Dern in an early screen appearance setting the tone for his career. The gang lead by the fathers twisted interpretation of the good book taking the eye for an eye passage too literally. The death of his son he wants to avenge along with his sons who wont give up their quest for “justice”

Being a rare domestic Western there was more time given to Dutchy’s self inflicted gunshot wound. He’s not left for dead – for long anyway. Taking him to a small farm where the Penny and Blue want to get him to a doctor. Advised by the farmer best to let him die, come and have a drink instead. There’s little drama in these scenes, its pure conversation. Dutchy romanticses his accident to passing mother Catherine Allen (Joan Hackett) and son whose shocked at the story, taking his boasts at face value, painting Penny in a poor light. All moving at a steady pace, with no sense of urgency before they reach the town of Alfred where he does finally get care, where we leave him and Blue for a long time.

The focus now on Penny who finds himself a job, after bringing back the dead predecessor, again no drama, only that implied by the dialogue. Employed by Alex played by Ben Johnson whose settling into the older roles comfortably. We think that Penny can rest easy now for the winter just around the corner, his troubles are just about to begin. With the appearance of Mother and son once more in his own cabin, he wants to go easy and fair on them before his return. Even after she held him at gun point. Reflecting how hard it must have been for traveling families to defend themselves out on the frontier. Meeting himself with a bloody encounter with Quint and his boys. The group aren’t the hardest of men I’ve seen in the genre, acting like Native Americans would have been depicted, jumping around, throwing Penny around. Pleasance is strangely suited to the role known for the playing the bad guy this looks like fun for him. They leave Penny for dead in the now snowy Rocky’s, its survival time for him.

Arriving back and taken into his cabin, nursed back to health, we discover a more vulnerable side to Penny and the predictable build up of a romance between him and Catherine. It’s these scenes in and around the cabin that make it takes us into the home and the family dynamic like never before. Of course there have been many families, either warring against one another or all grown up, dysfunctional and feuding. Here these a sense of new love and discovery, without even knowing it. Brought to an abrupt end by the arrival of Quint and his boys, disrupting the dynamic, Penny now a prisoner, Catherine a sexual object to be played with. I’m reminded of the forced dance scene in Day of the Outlaw (1959) when the passing renegade soldiers lead by Burl Ives men who are finally allowed to let off steam, treat the most desirable woman Helen Crane (Tina Louise) as little more than a rag doll, showing no respect for her. The scene is drawn directly from. It’s just as painful to watch as the woman can do little or nothing about it. Made worse by a woman who came with the men who does nothing to stop it.

Falling back into the rules of the genre the hero has to save the day, if only to save his dignity and self-respect, with the help of Blue and Dutchy who appear out of nowhere its time to get the guns out and finally sort the Quint family out. Allowing domesticity and reality to set back in, Alex and his men ride into view and the mother and son have to face reality, not just of where they live, but with who. Penny is reluctant to settle down, feeling his life has not allowed him earlier to do so has left him emotionally at a disadvantage. Unsure if his own skills could support a family, knocking his confidence greatly, he has to carry on alone, riding off into the wilderness, this time out of choice, he had the option to make a family, a life on a farm. His own inadequacies, perceived or real hold him back. A more honest ending, for the film and the man who would have rode away with her, decides not to. A mature and hard decision to make narratively and emotionally for the audience. With reluctance I accepted his decision, nothing in his life has prepared him for a family, running away scared, better off he may think, still he leaves a potential family and lover to survive alone.

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)


When you think of biopic’s of film stars from cinema’s golden age, your mind doesn’t immediately think of Gloria Grahame who was more of a major supporting actress. Yet she’s an integral part of the glitz, the glamour, some of the most loved pieces of Film Noir, Grahame’s femme fatale’s lured in the unwitting men to their doom. I can’t personally imagine her not being part of It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) a precursor to her film noir era. Her career was sadly cut short by her unconventional private life, which is touched upon in a surprising love story that brings the actress back into our consciousness. I’ve been keeping a close watch on Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) waiting for the reviews to come out, all thankfully being glowing. The title is admittedly long-winded, acting as a draw to this sweet film that shines light on a secret of Hollywood we are more happier to learn about.

For a while I couldn’t imagine Annette Bening in the role of Grahame until I found the trailer, we can see that she has really been studying the actress to deliver a loving gesture. From the soft voice to the hidden depths of the woman who most know from her screen roles. Like most in the audience, this was my way into learning more about her, building up a stronger image and appreciation for her. I am already on the lookout for a revisit of In a Lonely Place (1950), if this film has done anything, it’s to delve further into my love of film and discover more. If film can do that alone it has been a success.

Based on the memoir of Peter Turner – played by Jamie Bell we’ve been allowed into the private lives of a couple who had a brief relationship during 1979-1980. First meeting Grahame as she’s preparing for a theater performance, her face hidden from view, creating a mystique for Grahame before her collapse which leads her to be reunited with Peter whose surprised by her request to recover in his Liverpool home. Wanting to be close to him during her time of vulnerability. No longer is she playing the part of the damsel in distress, a role that has been played by her own contemporaries multiple times.

And so begins our journey back and forth in time as get to know this couple as they meet, get to know each other and fall in love. Framed as flashbacks that takes us softly back into the films not too distant past. The transitions takes us gently back in time that you don’t realise it until we meet a healthier Grahame whose about to meet Peter. It’s a light journey, nearly as light as the softness in Bennings impression that takes the edge of the fact we are watching one actress play another. I had to research how Grahame looked in later life and it’s a very close representation and a very convincing performance. We have a mature woman whose not afraid to have fun with a much younger man – as her own past would prove. The audience is so used to the older man in a relationships with women half their age, when the roles are reversed here, it’s not even questioned. Of course there are scenes early on and you have to think, are we really going there? It’s otherwise accepted, love is the underlying emotion that carries the film through.

Staying in Peter’s family home we find Bella and Joe (Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham) who keep their son’s feet on the ground. Walters really makes the scenes in the home so much warmer for her just being there, brings us into the family kitchen. A warm loving family who as much as they fight, pull together for the unexpected guest upstairs who has turned their world upside down. The revelation of Grahame’s cancer is dealt with sensitivity, doing what they believe is best for her.

Focusing on the time we spend with just the couple I noticed that some of the scenes were clearly shot on a soundstage – the time in LA, yet I didn’t care. Its a story of film made in that universe completely. I was looking for the seams in the rear-projection – if it was used at all, I wouldn’t care if it was either. Instead I was focused on the relationship as it grew deeper, forgetting the obvious age gap at time. The gap in age was touched upon between them making for some very hard scenes, you want these two to stay together, not wanting to jump forward  to the dying actress in the spare room.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is quite simply a lovely film, well-directed, the two leads Benning and Bell are giving great performances. Benning in particular who loses herself to Grahame, which is incredible to watch. Part of that is in the hair, once golden blonde, which becomes it’s own character at times, an important element for the actress, even if she didn’t intend it that way. Scenes towards the end I noticed her use of her hair, aiding her performance at times (or maybe it’s just me). I wish I could say more, the best way is to see it for yourself, It full of warmth, love and nostalgia for not just the relationship but her own past, how this chance relationship could easily be a dream made up the hills of Hollywood.


Film Talk – Contemporary Silence – Part 2


With the loss of dialogue, a very conscious decision by the makers of the film, there naturally becomes a massive reliance on the audio to carry more of the plot. Traditionally audio is split up into 3 tracks – Dialogue, Sound effects and the Soundtrack.

“The soundtrack of any film…tends to condition an audiences response to it, sound principally creates the mood and atmosphere of a film, and also it’s pace and emphasis, but, most importantly, also creates a vocabulary by which the visual codes of the film are understood.”

Understanding Animation – Paul Wells – Pg. 97

Sound is a vital component of animation adding more depth and understanding to the images and the narrative, allowing the audience to engage with a film. Naturally we take for granted the sounds around us, helps our awareness of our surroundings and situation. The additional an extra layer to the visuals we process.

 “Moreover, visuals are not always subtle-note the overly obvious miming of silent film-and words are not necessarily blatant…Engagement is called for whether one is interpreting action or speech, visual images or dialogue.”

Overhearing Dialogue – Sarah Kozloff – Pg. 11

However to rely solely on dialogue doesn’t mean we can’t understand a narrative without dialogue. Silent films relied upon title cards and the actor’s performances to convey emotions and move the plot forward. Today it’s very rare to silent or near silent films. One example is Robert Redford’s All is Lost (2013); the lack of dialogue was actually a draw for the actor who explains in this clip.

Silent film has had something of resurgence in mainstream film in 2011. With The Artist and Hugo. The Artist a loving homage to silent film that celebrates classic Hollywood. Whilst Hugo by Martin Scorsese is his tribute to early film, set in France, we meet an older Georges Méliès, who in the film is running a Toy store at a train station. It’s also a film that speaks about the importance of film preservation, something, which is very important to the director.

What they are really doing to attempting to re-energise a love for silent film.

“…Hugo and The Artist are only the most visible instances of a broader impulses to make silent cinema “new” at various moments in film and media history…”

New Silent Cinema – edited by Paul Flaig and Katherine Groo – Pg. 2

If you want contemporary silent film – not re-mastered/restored/re-released silent films you have to look out for films such as Ki-duk Kim‘s Moebius (2013), which relies on vocal expression, about

“…a father’s infidelity leads to his son’s all too literal emasculation, as the same actress plays both vengeful mother and wanton mistress, as the genital transplants pile up…”

http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/lists/10-great-nolow-dialogue-films

Back in the U.S. Gus Van Sant‘s Gerry (2002) places two men into a salt desert, where they try to retrace their steps back to the car. Very minimal dialogue, there are long stretches where it’s just Matt Damon and Casey Affleck looking over the landscape.

More recently we have The Revenant (2015) the true-life story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) whose scene are almost dialogue free. Focusing on his struggle with nature, his own torn body and his anger to seek out revenge for being left for dead.

I ended the talk with a longer show reel, which is the best way to explore and understand the power of contemporary silent and minimal dialogue in film.

 

 


Parkland (2013)


After watching Jackie (2016) I have become more curious about films that depict or revolve around the assassination of J.F.Kennedy. Just recently catching Parkland (2013) that depicts the aftermath again, but from the viewpoint of 3 points of view. This historical event broken down to the personal level was something I had to look into. Jackie took a very focused look at how the Presidents death affected the now grieving first lady Jacqueline Kennedy who we only see briefly in Parkland, still not much of a focus for film in general at this time. The mystique around her and these events are still maintained. Only seen from the sidelines, kept away from the main focus of this films version of events. It also takes a more linear and traditional viewing into the aftermath.

I was curious to know how these events unfolded on the ground away from those surrounding J.F.K the bystanders who could only look and watch as they saw a visionary yet divisive leader’s life was ended. Parkland chose to focus on Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) who was the only one to have filmed the shooting, a precursor to our fascination of recording horrific events, the need to share, be apart of something potentially bigger than yourself. We first meet him, allowing his team at a clothing manufacturer to take the day off, wanting them to share in this special occasion. He practically encourages everyone to leave their desks for the day like a public holiday has just been announced. Another focus being Dr. Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico (Zac Efron) working at the Parkland Hospital, who later attempted to save the life of the dying President. Whilst secret service veteran of 30 years Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton) is trying to piece together what happened on his watch.

I feel I’m taking the position again with Parkland as I had with Compulsion (1959) which I feel both films could have done more. Focus was rightly given to those at the scene. You felt early on for the impact of the events had on Zapruder who filmed the events on his super 8 camera, which was meant to be a record of a great day when the President was visiting the town, only record his death. Before he spent most of the day with Secret service agent Sorrels who knows all of this happened on his watch, he has to ensure they catch the killer as soon as possible, his career depends on it. The pressure is tangible between Sorrels and Zapruder whose driven around to get his film developed and copied to ensure that the investigation continues. These are rushed and intense scenes creating a sense of real urgency that is needed.

The same sense of urgency is felt in the emergency room of the Parkland hospital where we meet Dr. Charles ‘Jim’ Carrico played by Efron whose faced with the presence of a dying Kennedy, brought in with hopes of saving him. Naturally shocked and slow to react, I found myself thinking, “get on with it, save him” then you understand does he, this is the President, no ordinary patient, what you do here could change history. I felt sorry for Efron, not words I thought I’s be saying, given only a handful of scenes, sure they are important to the film as they bring to life what happened in those precious moments. However we don’t see the emotional impact this has on him, or really the whole team around him, Instead moving onto infighting between the local police and Secret Service over who has jurisdiction over the body. Yes it’s important, yet at the same time, you have a medical team in shock, they have lost the President on their shift, all they could do was not enough. Couldn’t we see them after the finished their shifts, perhaps going home to their families, drinking some scotch.

Interestingly we spend time with the Oswald family, not so much Lee Harvey, himself we only see at the time of his own death. Meeting his brother Robert (James Badge Dale) whose naturally shocked by the accusation and the possible realisation his brother has committed such an act. We meet his mother Marguerite Oswald (Jacki Weaver), the only defender of a man whose believed to have been a Russian double agent, a traitor to the end of his life. Creating her own conspiracy theory in hopes of saving him from prison. Being in the company of the Oswald’s is something I do appreciate, seeing the cost of these events on a family level. Two families ultimately have been directly affected over the course of the film. It’s a controversial decision to depict Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral as we hear coverage of the President overlapped. The Oswald’s are not generally seen as a family in terms this historical event, both deserving a decent send-off, we see ultimately everyone with, contributing to the burial, whilst over in Washington, the world watches another, everything carefully arranged in the days have passed by.

It’s a rushed film that is over in a flash, no sooner is the President dead, are we burying the assassin, an odd way to end a film that tries to bring life to those outside of the White House. A massive undertaking of an event that at the beginning shows promise and gets carried away with the few who were actually at the parade itself. Not to take away from the trauma/shock and days they experience after, however it doesn’t follow through for those at the hospital. The F.B.I. are brought in towards the close as they attempt the destroy evidence that would later come back to haunt them. Not their finest hour, that had to be shown up once more. I’m now looking out for other films at focus on this event, to see how they deal with the assassination, which point of view do they take and how they fit with the other films.


Film Talk – Contemporary Silence – Part 1


Tonight’s Film Talk focused on the silence and minimal dialogue found in contemporary film, the notes are below.

I’m taking a look at a more obscure aspect of film – silent or minimal dialogue in contemporary film. Starting with The Red Turtle (2017) a French and Belgian co-production with Studio Ghibli. Directed by Oscar winning animator Michael Dudok de Wit, which he won for Father and Daughter (2000) about a daughter who longs to see her father return from a rowing trip.

“In this elegant short film about how love can transcend time and death, a young Dutch girl witnesses her father inexplicably rowing out to sea, never to return…A simple and poignant dialogue-free story it is complemented with elegant and graceful design and animation, and the use of silhouettes and shadows.

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier -Pg. 324

The Red Turtle is a castaway film that begins by pitting man against nature as a lone survivor is washed up on an island, we first his multiple attempts to escape, only to be prevented by nature – in the form of a giant red turtle, before a woman, who he has a family with, joins him. They stay together on the island and live into old age; complete with all the trials that island life brings them. What I was initially drawn to was the radical choice to have no dialogue in the film, an idea that has been explored in my own work. De Wit’s reason’s comes from a story telling decision, which he explains in this interview.

I wouldn’t be doing the film any favors without looking at past desert island films, which have periods of little or no dialogue. First looking at Hell in the Pacific (1968), a WWII film that placed an American and Japanese soldier on a desert island, first they are still at war with each other, before they realise they have to put their politics and ideologies to one side in order to escape. The first barrier being language that had to be over come. There are sections where there’s no dialogue, a decision taken by director John Boorman , which he explains in this clip.

Moving forward to the turn of the century – Cast Away (2000) there dialogue is kept to a minimum when Fed-ex man Chuck Noland – Tom Hanks lives for years on a desert island, he has only himself and later his ball – Wilson for company, essentially he’s projecting his thoughts onto an inanimate object.

Admittedly there are some vocals – cries or gasps of emotion when necessary in the narrative, as De Witt allows for these moments of verbal expression. An example of this can be scene in the Tsunami scene.

Staying with animation, the decision to have minimal or no dialogue is nothing new. As we saw in the director’s short film Father and Daughter (2000), other animators have made the same decision. Such as Sylvain Chomet The Illusionist (2010).

“The lack of conversation is rationalized here by the different nationalities of the characters and is carried off by the strongly visual nature of the animation, creating a treat of visual story telling that leaves space for its audience to use their minds and discover the detail for themselves.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 392

Relying on visual cues and associations to bridge the gap. In Pixar’s WALL-E (2008), the first act of the film is near silent, referencing silent film, relying on other audio to express the little robots thoughts and emotions.

“…Wall-E comes to resemble a pet whose thoughts and feelings we believe we can interpret. And like a pet, WALL-E cannot talk, expressing himself only in mechanical beeps and squeals”

The Art of Walt Disney – Christopher Finch – Pg. 400

Whilst in Japan we have Kunio Kato’s short film Le Maison en Petits Cubes/The House of Small Cubes (2008) focusing on an lonely old man who reflects on his past.

“This story is told without any dialogue or narration, there is just a simple soundtrack.”

The World History of Animation – Steven Cavalier – Pg. 379

In the next part I’ll be looking more technically at the function of sound in animation and film.


Cowboys & Aliens – Explored


Whilst I’ve been away from the studio, I’ve not been completely idle in my work or thinking, looking at a potential new piece inspired by Cowboys & Aliens (2011) which really fired up my imagination. I was thinking in anthropological terms how people – both white and Native American would cope under an alien invasion – moving forward seeing it as an occupation of the aliens, who had originally come to colonised by the “Dar” people. With the help of another alien – a friendly one taking a female form “Kai Chak Ra” who makes herself know to Zeke and Verity who before the attack had been leading a wagon train to their new home.

My initial thoughts were to make an animation of how both White settlers and Native American’s would’ve already come together, putting their differences aside and forming a resistance against the invaders of not just their home, but their planet. I’ve also been thinking about how it could be a cross-sectional model miniature, allowing you to look cowboys and Indian figures living in a gold mine that has been re-purposed as an underground base. I’m still unclear as to any real direction but feel there’s something to explore.

I also noticed a lot of differences in the film adaptation of the comic book. We don’t begin with a wagon train almost at the end of their journey, instead we have a confused Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) the comic’s heroes are Zeke and Verity who work together using their unique skills to save the day. We feel more danger in the original comic book, as much as we see danger, explosion and people being abducted, there feels more at threat in print. Maybe it’s what you can get away with in a different medium. The relationship between the Cowboys and Native Americans is resolved much earlier in print. We don’t meet them in the film until halfway through, and with the help of a friendly Native. The Apache who’re depicted know the alien invasion is beyond what the Whites could accomplish, they aren’t stupid, 2 dimensional people, instead given minds that can see what has to be done and work together far earlier. The earlier alliance allows for more action early on, it’s all about survival. Whilst in the film its takes a lot longer, getting others onside, before the final showdown that brings both sides into a harsh rocky landscape. There’s no abductions in print, all the victims are presumably killed.

There have been a few times were the two genres have collided – more recently with Westworld which was successfully adapted and expanded for TV. Both a very rich genres to explore, especially when they work together. I’m still unsure where to take the possible idea of an occupation. Should it be an animation – a series of shorts that build up a to a successful alien retreat. America is very much divided at the moment under Trump – who is not the worlds biggest fan, In his own country, you either love him or loathe him. You could see his time in office as an occupation or an invasion, which I could bring adapt for a possible piece, which would be very exciting and very decisive. However using Cowboys it wouldn’t work in terms of the gun-control which they would be all for. I think this idea needs more time to develop so it’s not so blatant.


Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


I think like everyone who first heard the news that a sequel was in the works to Blade Runner (1982) I was naturally very cautious. There have been a slew of sequels/reboots etc recently of modern classics made so long after the original that it becomes too much to even consider how a new film could follow on from a much-loved film. Then I saw Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve which I found to be one of the best piece of science fiction in a long time to be seen on film. None of the standard flashy techniques or effects, everything paired down, to help inform the tone, that sees a female linguist fight to make first contact with visiting aliens. Wanting to use words not violence that is usually associated with the genre in the past, shoot first, ask questions later. On learning that the Villeneuve  would be at the helm this film, alongside Ridley Scott as producer, it was a massive reassurance that the not so long-awaited/muted sequel to the 1982 classic would be in very safe hands.

Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, the final-cut seen as Scott’s definitive vision of the film. The lingering images from the film meant its something special, which is going to be hard surpass. Last night, a month since Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was first released, yes I know it’s a long time coming and I’m glad I’ve finally seen what in short is a worthy sequel without trying to outdo the original, which would have been wrong to even try. As I’ve mentioned before in countless reviews, the trailer can really affect a film before you go and sit down to watch it. Here the marketing team have put edited together a misleading piece that allowed me to be blown away by the full 2 and 1/2 hours film. Wanting to focus on Harrison Ford‘s role in the film.

I could never forget the opening sequence of the original, the all-encompassing eye and the burst of flame that reflect within. The never-ending model miniature city-scape and flying cars that zoom across, its a future that we fear but want to explore to see whats in the depth. Film noir had met the future with all the bleakness you can have wanted. A film that is both hard to really top or even live up to. I feel that Villeneuve has  definitely lived up to the challenge bring his own sensibility for the serious, insightful whilst maintaining the look, the legacy and the concepts.

Anyway enough of the build up, time to look in more detail at the film. I already knew from a few vague descriptions of the film that Ryan Gosling played a replicant working as a blade runner who we see on his latest mission touching down in a vast farming facility, ready to capture his next rogue replicant. There’s no pretense as to whether or not he’s a replicant unlike the original which had you guessing until the end the true identity of Rick Deckard until we get the unicorn at the films close. There’s less ambiguity at this point, we know who we are dealing with and following as he uncovers a new case that has the potential to change the balance of power in this dystopia. A skeleton of a former replicant is found with some surprising marks that are found during examination.

With K we see more into the Blade runner life, not just the found em and kill em aspect which we had before. Instead the life of a replicant, the regimented de-briefs/recalibrations which are scarily effective as Gosling just loses himself to this role. It’s quite intense to watch, the repetition and testing that goes on to ensure he’s inline and ready to function to the best of his programming. Very much the slave to his master, yet free to enjoy his time off. Spending most of that with his holographic Joi (Ana de Armas) who confined to the projector. It was the first reminder of another science fiction characters – the first of many reference – as I found in Arrival. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) or Emergency Medical Hologram/E.M.H. in Star Trek: Voyager whose confined to the holographic emitters in sick bay, a prisoner of his own programming and limitations. Until much like Joi they are given their freedom – a mobile Emitter or it’s Blade Runner equivalent. Carried by the program or the end-user. The E.M.H. character was exploring his sentience, whilst Joi was just discovering her new found freedom outside the apartment. We get under the skin, well the zeros and ones of how she perceives the world around her. Later touched in a a sex scene that reminded me of a very similar scene in Her (2013), technology connecting with another, via a biological host. Again this is explored more sensually from Joi’s perspective which made the scene more engaging to watch.

K’s investigation takes in some familiar places and faces (not Ford just yet) which again really gives the film stronger foundation that just being in the same universe, we meet old characters and others who reminds us of the original along with other little nods. If only briefly they contexualise what happened in the prologue which explains the 10 day blackout when most files from that time were erased. It doesn’t leave any detail out and woven nicely into the script without seeming forced. However on reflection that opening of the film, tried too hard in places to replicate the original tone that was then original, maybe this is more out of uniformity for the film. The world itself is very much the one I’ve visited before, relying on model miniatures to create as much of it as possible, allowing you to engage with the physical in this possible future which we maybe nearer too than we care to admit. Not only does it rain but it snow constantly too.

Turning to the Tyrell organisation, now under the weird control of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his favorite replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to hunt down. We see so little of Wallace that I didn’t feel his presence in the film, Leto is again having a lot of fun with the role. Whilst Hoeks has a meaty role that makes her mark on the film. The henchmen of the piece, nothing stops her from getting what she wants, showing us that you don’t need to male, butch with scars to get the job done, you can be incredible feminine in appearance and still make your presence known, much like K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) whose more fierce than Deckard’s predecessor.

Looking back at this very rich piece of science fiction that gracefully nods and acknowledges the original, it doesn’t try to repeat the past plot, instead it builds and expands with ease into this world that I wasn’t expecting to find. When Ford finally makes his first appearrence, which is for about 20 minutes or so of the film it feels natural, all the build up to find him. He doesn’t try to own the film or take it away from Gosling whose in complete control. The trailer wanted us to meet him early on, without knowing why. K’s investigation is a slow burner that had me glued in silence to the screen. I had returned to a world I had once explored with awe that has been expanded, getting our fingers deeper into this world. I do however miss Vangelis ‘s inspiring soundtrack, we do have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer who do a more than respectable job in his strange absence. My only fear is that if ever there was another sequel, which again leaves me uncertain, I would hope that Villeneuve is somewhere within its production. I would also ask that this sequel would be allowed to breathe before anything happened, to find a place and be appreciated for what it is and has achieved.


Compulsion (1959)


I  caught this film yesterday and it’s stayed with me and not for the right reasons. Originally recorded for viewing because I thought it would be interesting to see both Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell who I’ve recently discovered when I wrote a film talk on Sons and Lovers (1960) at the start of the year. During the time I couldn’t shake his pent-up performance from my mind. Also the fact I was editing clips which he was heavily involved in. Coming to Compulsion (1959) on the off-chance to see what he was like outside of   Jack Cardiff’s direction. Also it was a chance to see Orson Welles again, in what could easily have been a two-scene cameo which he was practically reduced to towards the end of his career.

Now I tend to write 1000+ in my reviews now, I’m not so sure I have enough to go that far today, but I need to express my frustration with this film that could have been so much better than it was. Based on the 1924 Leopold-Loeb case, two students in Chicago who were tried for the sadistic, motive-less murder of another student. This thinly guised film (attempted to avoid a lawsuit) fails to actually depict the murder or even suggest with great effect that these two young men – Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) and Artie A.Straus (Bradford Dillman) who were followers of the Nietzsche theories, which produced to narcissistic individuals with superiority complexes. Not your average cocky student who feels the can take on the world and disprove the established. Carrying with them a philosophy that placed them above their contemporaries who were enjoying the student life of the 1920’s. Even with these personalities, not the most likeable of characters, you wanted to understand who they were.

First meeting them on a late night drive after robbing a house, Artie dares Judd to run over a man walking home, just for the thrill of it, setting the tone of the film. These are young men who have no regarding for general morality that we all live by. When they fail to kill the man in the street – Judd can’t carry out Artie’s order, something is holding him back. No matter they find their kicks off-screen, the murder as we learn of the murder and kidnap of Paulie Kessler, the victim in their “perfect crime”. It’s only when another student discovers the body (working for the local paper) in the morg do we learn somethings not quite right. At this point its a slow burner until Judd realises that he hasn’t got his glasses, they’re on the dead body. It’s only now we start to realise what might have happened.

The investigation soon gets underway, lead by District Attorney Harold Horn (E.G. Marshall) whose building up a case, but is waiting for the two boys to see who cracks first. The cockiness continues, even when they are found out and the stories they made up start to crack under scrutiny. What I don’t understand is why a District Attorney would be leading a criminal investigation, shouldn’t that be the police who build up a case before its even goes to court, landing on the D.A.’s desk?

By this point we haven’t even Welles’s character, a successful lawyer who never lost a capital case in his long career, a perfect role for the only “hero” of the film Jonathan Wilk  who is only known by his reputation, building up his first appearance on screen. From the moment he arrives the film is his, bring with him all the experience of his past roles, able to play the older man with 40 odd years of experience. I’m reminded of Inherit the Wind (1960) released the following year a purely court-room affair, set in the same era. The scenes are more fairly split between the two lawyers – Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March). However in the earlier film, there’s not half as much a war of words, sure they are a few disagreements and objections, but there’s not enough passion from both sides. I think partly due to the editing of the film. Made in favor of Wilk who practically given the rest of the film, with the two men on trial. Horn is left with little to do, not even his closing speech to the judge, which would have made for a longer and more impassioned film. To see why these two men should have hung. Aimed as s pro-life film, without any real counterargument for balance, letting down the film and the Marshall who had little to do in the court room besides shout.

Was the murder filmed of Kessler even filmedm or just suggested before we find the body? Given the tone of the film it could have been done in shadow at least for dramatic effect. However Anatomy of a Murder (1959) the murder is not seen on camera, we only learn of it on the arrest of the violent husband Lt. Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), was it censorship that got in the way of making a good film even better in the case of Compulsion? Leaving us with a film that has the potential to be so much, along with the script (cut or otherwise) this film could have been longer, darker and ultimately stronger. 


Cowboys & Aliens (2011)


I have to admit that I’ve avoided Cowboys & Aliens (2011) for years, not wanting to see it thinking that it was a silly combination of the two – Cowboys and Aliens, how can that work and be worth my time. So as I made a point to avoid this film. The more I have read and explored the genre, I have finally seen and actually really enjoyed this blend of two of my favorite genres; Western and Science Fiction, I never thought how fun it could be. I had been put off also by a trailer which suggested that Daniel Craig‘s character had been possessed by an alien, uncontrollable, causing destruction wherever he went. I guess that’s the art of marketing when it works well, to suggest something else from the same material.

So suspicions allayed and defences down I was actually looking forward to the blend, seeing what happens when genre’s collide. I knew that it worked when Westerns are combined with comedy and to an extent – Musicals. If your going to bring Science fiction into the West it has to be good. Going down the route of alien abduction we find Jake Lonergan (Craig) is dazed and confused, no memory of who he is or where he is, with the addition of a chunky bit of out of the world kit on his wrist. Soon surrounded by men who know he’s vulnerable, get a taste of what this bracelet can do, blasting them off the face of the earth. More power than any Winchester Rifle could ever pack. Setting the tone for the film, its going to loud, bombastic and not taking either genre too seriously. Craig’s playing the stranger that rides into town, a stranger even to himself, and the town he’s about to enter.

Getting into town we meet almost everyone who we are going to be spending our time with in the film. Paying particular attention to the cattleman’s trigger happy son Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) who takes his father position in the town to his head, thinking he can get away with almost anything. Not the usual role for Dano who we see arrested a few scenes later. Moving then to the cattle drive which is has stopped for the night this is the first time that we see the aliens presence really felt in the film. A series of explosions that leave all but one dead. It’s a mad scene of confusion that leaves everyone bewilders us, we haven’t seen the aliens, just understanding that they are here and not about to leave.

It’s only when they get to town the following night do we see the space-ships flying low, abducting half the town, looking as if they are pulled away on some metallic hooks that could have easily harpooned them. At this point I thought they would not be coming back. It’s another mad scene that both amazes and confuses everyone. Over in a flash before you can even comprehend what has happened. It’s just plain madness that leaves the townspeople both defencless and bewildered, having witnessed something that could have easily come out of a H.G. Wells novel. The nearest comparison I can draw is to The Valley of Gwangi (1969), an obscure Ray Harryhausen film that pits dinosaurs and other monsters against cowboys. Not his best effort but still fun to watch.

50 years later with more sophisticated special effects more has been achieved, I don’t even question them. I’m more concerned with how people from the 19th century would react with futurist technology, I’m thinking in terms of anthropology, how these people unfamiliar with technology that is far more advanced than even the steam train or the telegraph system that helped the development of the Western world. Here they are seeing technology far beyond their comprehension. But they aren’t really thinking about that, it’s the human cost, the loss of life that preoccupied them, the most they have to hand is a round or more of bullets.

We learn more about Lonergan when he teams up with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who after a disagreement see the advantage he gives him and the posse that travels the open country, meeting up with Lonergans old gang, who have moved on since his disappearance, reminiscent of the leadership fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). We are starting to piece together who Lonergan really is, his past and how he lost his memory. A journey that leads him to only female in the film – Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who herself is abducted by the aliens who we have still yet to meet. When we are out in the open country, the camera remains as close to the ground as possible, we are staying in the Wild West and the cinematographic conventions, its the aliens have to share that space and world, only leaving to fly around once.

It’s only when we meet the Apache do things get really interesting, For now these two sides, the white settlers and the Apache have to come together to fight, stronger together, using White leadership and tactics, there’s some sort of meeting of the minds. When it comes to the survival of humanity it’s a different story, not the a war of colours and politics that we usually find in the genre. It makes for an interesting change, it’s messy, gory and fun. Clearly the filmmakers are having fun here, pitting alien against man; white and red. This is what science fiction does – ask question, what if, how could etc. One is playing out here, how would two opposing sides in America’s West survive and alien invasion?

The finale is female led, Ella is the real hero, with Lonergan’s help as he rescue’s the abducted townspeople. I found it refreshing for a woman to save the day in the Wild West, placed in a position of power, she can talk to both White and Apache. She is superior and otherworldly, quite literally, unlike those she could just watch on as see them being killed/harvested by the aliens. Could Lonergan and the others have really come together without the otherworldly intervention that saves the day? Now I can’t see why I put off seeing this film for so long, its a great fun film to watch if you want to see cowboys and aliens fight each other. It’s not meant to go down as a classic, just to entertain which it does, the actors take it more seriously than we do, steeped in the history of the genre we are seeing something literally out of this world happening. Just kicking myself for not watching it earlier.


London Trip (26-7/10/17) Part 2


I started off the next day with a return visit to TJ Boulting which I had previously exhibited Stephanie Quayle: Jenga last November. I noticed that a few pieces had taken up permanent residence in the office as we entered. Work of a similar medium was down below Bloom – Juliana Cerqueira Leite.

These works examine the –often exasperated– gesticulations of individual subjects interviewed by the news as representatives of a certain crisis: a refugee, a soldier, a doctor or aid worker. Gesticulations by politicians and reporters, as they attempt to explain complex issues to news viewers, are also explored in these works. Leite aims to create a permanent register of these bodily means of extending language and the ephemeral articulations that shape and are shaped by the geopolitical landscape.

I was personally drawn to the mass of gestures created out of clay and resin, the movement of arms fighting to move, captured in slow-motion. The layered colouring reminded me of chewed up drumstick sweets, the two colours becoming intermixed with each bite. Really having its roots in geology, raising these pieces as if they have come from the ground.

In the next space I found framed stills of paused Youtube videos, blurred and collaging gestures, as if the video had been badly corrupted. I found these more fascinating, how much work has gone into create them.

The new photo-collages and video are both composed of screenshots from these same news sources i.e. Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP, Vice, BBC. These works isolate and capture the gesticulations of interview subjects while exploring the codified visual formats and time-frames employed by online news outlets for reporting on humanitarian crises.

The last piece in the show I physically couldn’t stand, a series of flashing images, similar to the collaged stills that were flashed for less than a second, you didn’t have time to really process what the images were. I had to leave just stop myself having a bad physical reaction. I feel bad as I wanted to sit there and understand the work, instead it was a fight or flight response.

The next gallery was another return visit to Blain\Southern, which exhibited Matt Collishaw’s – Centrifugal Circle, probably my best show of the year. I came to view the latest Chapman Brothers Show – The Disasters of Everyday. I had big expectations for this show, I think coming back with such powerful memories, and the reputation of Jake and Dinos Chapman who I’d seen last a few years ago at a White Cube Gallery. Instead I left with positive yet mixed feelings about the work. The space, now opened up and brightly lit for the show. Three of the walls were covered in reproduced sketches by Francisco De Goya, which were worked over the top in different styles. The first series – The Disasters of War on Terror (2015-16) saw childish characters placed into these horrific scenes of the Spanish Civil War, which detract from the brutality, playing it down. The second series – The Disasters of Yoga (2017) I found far less successful, less work seemed to have gone into these far more naive pieces, the sketches covered in coloured glitter. It wasn’t my aversion for the material, more the use, the excess of the material, it removes any real meaning or message in the work. It felt lazy, only a few I felt were really successful. Moving onto the final series – The Disasters of Everyday Life (2017) collages, which were more successful, paper collages, placing carefully chosen images and placing them into these horrific scenes, either creating a new narrative, making modern humorous statement. Figures would ignore the drama they are place into. I really enjoyed this series of works. The brothers are clearly playing with the horror of violence within the images directly, trying to mock them, yet never really drawing us away from the original. They are away of drawing the audience into the work that could be seen as a record of a long forgotten war.

In the middle of the space were a series of bronze suicide vests on plinths, these disturbing pieces, surrounded by the potential of death, the bodyless vests, waiting to be worn and set off killing countless people is unthinkable, and we were surrounded by them. The detail and time that went into Life and Death Vest I-VIII (2017) is incredible. I can only imagine the detail and time that went into the research, the near trouble the Chapman brothers could have got themselves into whilst making these pieces.

The last show I felt was a disappointment really, I was hoping to see more than I found. The only bonus was to experience what is now a rareity the sound of an film projector, to hear to the rush of film running through a projector reminds me of films I saw as a child, the rush and clicking of film passing through the lens. Phillip Fleischmann’s show Installation View at Belmacz, was literally just the film on the ground floor. I found the film itself interesting, focusing on the arcihtectural structures of a space rather than how we would usually perceive a space, not looking beyond the space we usually interact in.

A smaller and briefer trip than I am used to, however I did get to see some interesting and some nice cars and model miniatures so I’m happy.