Art School Confidential (2006)

Not so ironically it was at Art school I was recommended Art School Confidential (2006) by another student, not a lecturer. That was probably 7-8 years ago now, that in itself makes me feel old. I looked out for it every time I was browsing and never found a copy to bring home, yes I’m old school. It even looked good from the trailer, which sold me a suggested film that I would ultimately never find. I feel cheated and robbed, mis-sold and bored by it all. I know what Art school is and this was not it. Well it is but it’s not, it’s a collection of cliche’s and trying to be funny about it. Coming from the director of Bad Santa (2002) I thought this would be outrageous and lift the lid on what it’s really like to be an art student. Well in America at least.

Maybe the film has simply just dated, the humour, the content, the whole thing has just lost its power to entertain since it was released 13 years ago. Could it be me who has forgotten what art school is really like, a hot bed of creative talent wanting to make a name for ourselves or is the film just perpetuating the cliche. I suppose to an extent all students on any course hope that their chosen degree will lead to success and fortune, able to lead a successful life. That myth in the UK has long since been blown away. My class was told we would be a success if we even worked at Tesco, allowing us to make work, not exactly my idea of a career but I could see the lecturer’s point, some money coming into supplement the real work. But we all know that you have to keep that wolf at bay constantly.

We don’t even get to the final year of art-school when Jerome (Max Minghella) has dreams of being the best artist in the world. Taking the cliche that all artists are great painters and draftsman, truth is we’re not all painters or draftsman. Personally I don’t have the talent for painting…although I have an idea to push that further. My drawing is far better used mainly for sketches. However it’s not how accomplished you are at these traditional skills it’s what you convey with them. It’s ultimately the concepts and the method of delivery to your chosen audience. Jerome has a history of being bullied, his only outlet is his art, even that got him into trouble at times. He seems to believe that going to his chosen college/university he will meet the girl of his dreams – the model in the prospectus, that’s if she’s still there. Oh the dreams of the young.

When he arrives he free of the bullying but thrown into what is now a concentrated pool of art students who are labelled straight away, from the “militant vegan” to the “macho lesbian” etc. How fast have these terms become offensive in a society that tries to be more inclusive. Sure all sorts that come to an arts degree, yes there are characters in there that ring true but all they’ve done is give these walking cliches a bunch of one hit jokes tailored to their cliche, it’s just lazy. When they have crit group (group discussion) this is where things ring true, eve though it’s set-up rather differently from my course. Here each student hangs and drawing/painting up to be discussed, well with the hopes of being noticed. Jerome hopes they will see his talent, and yes he’s accomplished by there’s nothing that’s truly honest in his work, and arrogant in what he thinks. These sessions are a wake up call to who he is as an artist. Mine were used to discuss up to 3 students work, 3 in a 90 minute session, always constructive in a supportive environment, it was the tutorials that had the potential to be brutal. Every art student goes through this. For dramatic purposes the discussion makes more sense to show how far he has to grown both as an artist and adult.

Frustratingly the lecturers are also drawn to show they have rivalries, which is further from the truth, being part of a smaller supportive community of creatives who are engaged with both the students and fellow artists. The wider commercial world of art is nearer to the truth, there are tiers of artists who get recognition, whilst others look on. But isn’t that life?

Early on he’s followed by the cliche of the student Bardo (Joel David Moore) who changes course every year because he doesn’t know what he wants to do. Again another label, even though he’s the one doing the labelling in the film it really makes for lazy script writing, just pointing and saying you’re this type of person, here are your characteristics. He finally meets the model in the prospectus – Audrey (Sophia Myles) who is surprisingly approachable, even modelling in the second life drawing class. What a lucky guy to meet the woman of your dreams just where you hoped you’d find her, it’s just too good to be true really.

Whilst all this personal struggle is going on at campus there has been a serial killer of a the loose, who has been killing students, we already know that one student was thought to be the killer. Now that added layer is brought forward more. It becomes the source of film student and Jerome’s dorm mate Vince (Ethan Suplee) whose way too old for the role is inspired to make a film based on the events. It’s a tired idea that gets no extra laughs. With all the school shootings that have happened in the last decade it’s now just tasteless

Meanwhile Jerome has found his rival in both the classroom and in love – Jonah (Matt Keeslar) who seems to be getting all the plaudits and Audrey’s attention. Jerome the everyman who has tried hard in his short life so far does all that he can, going to his lecturers for advice and even failed artists who now live as drunks. This is where the obvious twist that brings the murder mystery and the first plot together. As soon as the first clue is revealed its too obvious what is going to happen. At this point it’s just about letting the conclusion draw up all the dots. I hardly laughed through this predictable that did little to remind me of all the fun, the friends I made the experiences I had. It’s more concerned with a few cheap laughs that never land in the first place.

Me Before You (2016)

It’s been just over a week since I watched Me Before You (2016) I knew at the time of release it caused some controversy, not really reading into it at the time it soon passed me by. It was only the IMDB rating that won me over to finally watch it. A mid to low budget British film that has got two young leads Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke with a plot that on the surface could lead to some dramatic moments.

What begins as a soft social drama when Lou Clarke (Clarke) loses her job we could have entered the world of Ken Loach or even Mike Leighas we watch a young woman try to find a job after the recession. Tonally it’s all wrong to enter those director bleak realist worlds. It’s all soft and cosy with her family all cramped around a kitchen table. A montage of failed jobs and interviews soon leads her to one that is surprisingly well paid and requires little to no experience, perfect for a quirky woman who knows her own mind. A carer for a quadriplegic who lives close by and only a bus ride away.

Somehow the bumbling dreamer who has kept her confidence going through multiple failed jobs land this one, even when she’s bursting out of her mums old clothes, its awkward leaning towards embarrassing. How did I carry on with what was essentially a safe and dependable film at this point. Probably because we get to meet the patient next where you’d hope things would improve. After seeing Will Traynor (Claflin) in a previous life before an accident that changed his life forever, losing the use of his body below the neck. Relying on a Frank (Stephen Peacocke) his physio to keep his physical strength up and his medical needs. So where does the Lou fit into all of this. Well she’s supposed to keep him company, engage him in conversation and hopefully improve his mental well being, not too much then. Will is understandably angry, having lost the use of his body after leading the life of a businessman and playboy, he had everything going for him, now he relies completely on others to care for him. And that’s where the compassion really ends, the humanity that makes his character ends.

I’m coming to this film with a greater understanding now that one of my family has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, I know it will slowly rob him of the ability to move freely and without the aid of his wife and family who have had to accept in a short time how fast their lives have changed forever. Knowing my relative, he’s not going to just sit there and let the disease eat away at him, he wants to work, he wants to have fun while he still can. That’s something that’s not really explored with Will who has given up, like so many characters in film have just given up, believing their quality of life has diminished to a state where they are insignificant and just want to die. Why should a profoundly disabled person on film just want to die, to give up what they have of life? That’s what is wholly wrong with this film.

As much as I want a cure to be found my relative, I also want him to have the best quality of life, after leading a very active life in the past decade or so, he’s not just giving up. Will we learn has been in contact with Dignitas in hopes of ending his life via Euthanasia. Naturally this shocks both his parents and and even Lou, I have to give credit where it’s due, they all want him to live and carry on. There’s a concerted effort on Lou’s part to encourage him to get out and do things. Leading to some not so funny moments at the races and even a classical concert. Before learning he’s not a walking upperclass cliche, he’s educated but still young enough to engage with Lou culturally. As a carer she’s doing what any carer would do, fill their lives with moments of fun, things to do to get them out of the house and see that life is worth living.

We don’t really know if all of this has paid off yet. Friends from his old life treat him differently and have changed around him and not for the better. He can see that he was obnoxious before the accident, but why should that make you want to end your own life? Surely a change of direction is a better approach to take. We can see that he’s built up a rapport with Lou, leaning almost to the romantic at times, taking her to a wedding and even on holiday, all the essentials of an on-screen relationship. She has her own boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis) a fitness mad cyclist who enjoys pushing himself and incredibly confident in what he’s doing. The opposite of Will whose giving up even the chance of having positivity in his life. Patrick can see that he’s losing his girlfriend to this former playboy whose still got all the charm and money that goes with his name. Emphasising a discussion on how we approach those with disabilities, they are still people, they just have experience the world differently to us.

The final blow comes when after all the trips, the days out and the holidays have done nothing but entertain him before he wants to take his last trip to Switzerland (we are lead to believe) in a what could be a holiday home complete with nurse that will give him the lethal drug that will bring his life to a close. The teary goodbye is frustrating because the potential in the film has not been explored, even though adapted from Jojo Moyes book it could have been expanded, than to simply gloss over and give up on life. The role of Lou becomes problematic after she inherits a sizeable sum that could help her change her life, making her look a gold digger, going after the rich and disabled, walking about his even more eccentric clothes than before, because now she can afford to.

I’m not saying this is an advert for Euthanasia, individuals must make their own minds up, weighing up what it really means to end their life and the effect it will have on others. Me Before You is such a shame, a discussion was completely missed here, suggesting that having a disability that confines you to a chair makes your life meaningless. You may not be able to do what most able people can with ease. Yet there you still share in the beauty of life, which he was given a snapshot here, he like so many cinematic characters before him have just given up, sending the message that being disabled is a death sentence in itself. It’s not.

The Boys From Brazil (1978)

As I mentioned in the previous review I’ve just posted – High Life (2018) I’ve just watched two films that have been hard to shake off since completing them. The Boys From Brazil (1978) was honestly not a film I thought I’d ever find. After being recommended it a few years ago via another blog I did keep a look out for a time before giving up. The name stuck with me long after the review had faded, now it’s time for the film to take affect. I knew it would be a dark film but nothing quite prepared me for this.

With a strong reliable cast of now ageing actors, all having been on-screen since the 1940’s, most of them playing the hero The Boys was a stark change. Of course actors relish the chance to play someone completely different than before. For James Mason, Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier they all took on roles they may’ve turned down before. Of course Mason was no stranger to playing the bad guy from The Man Between (1953) to North by Northwest (1959) and even Field Marshall Rommel in The Desert Rat’s (1953) he’s no stranger to playing a Nazi. Whilst the dependable rock Gregory Peck was seen as an upstanding man, father and lover always wanting to do the right thing, such as his Oscar winning Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962). Whilst Olivier had a varied career, which after The Boy’s might have seen him typecast as the foreign old guy. It could easily be said that they had all reached a point in their careers where they had wanted different more challenging and interesting characters to play beyond those they may have been typecast in.

The 1970’s produced a few Nazi conspiracy films, inspired by then theories that have been floated around ever since. Rumours that Adolf Hitler was in fact living comfortably in a secluded part of South America to a ripe old age. Others where other high ranking members were also in hiding. The Boy’s plays into those fears of a possible rise of the Third Reich to take on the world once more. Lead in part by delusions of power and that there was enough Neo Nazi’s to rise up with them and start a revolution. Well it’s not happened so far, even with the rise of the Far right in parts of the world. Thankfully most of the world and Germany in particular has learned from its past mistakes and has ensured that history wont repeat itself.

The film begins rather disjointedly with Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) snooping around in his van as he tracks old men travelling around Paraguay, complete with camera and crudely adapted radio with a new transceiver that can pick up conversations. A wannabe Nazi hunter that wants to be like the great Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) who wants him to stop what he’s doing, it’s not a job for an amateurs as we soon find out. What at first stating the obvious becomes all too close to home for Lieberman to leave alone. Before meeting a shocking end he’s able to pass on a far-fetched plot that might have some truth in it.

The Boys is full is disturbing moments, mostly at the hands of Peck and Mason who together with a small team of Nazi assassin’s plan to kill 94 65 year old men over 2 and half years in multiple countries. They don’t understand the motivation behind these orders, Dr. Josef Mengele (Peck) is keeping tight-lipped for a while yet. The Nazi butcher is surely up to something that matches his unethical concentration camp experiments that brought him results that no other medical professional would touch. I’m reminded of the Star Trek Voyager episode Nothing Human that explored the use of medical research gained through equally unethical means in order to save a crew member. The ships doctor is torn between his ethical subroutines (he’s a hologram) and his feelings for the patient. Not wanting to do harm to both her or the organism that has attached itself to her. It takes a command decision from above to move things forward, letting the captain take the blame. The usual thought process is bypassed by Mengele who sees his research as a means to an ends, in the hopes of breathing new life into the Third Reich.

Lieberman soon takes up the case, calling his favours and travelling the world to understand who these men are and why they’re being targeted in what appear to be “accidental deaths”. What you notice early on is that they all have an adopted son, around 12 years old with jet black hair, just on the cusp of adolescence. Things start to click for the elderly Nazi hunter when he meets Professor Bruckner (Bruno Ganz) who explains the concept of cloning, which is believed to be used with plants at the moment, we are yet to see Dolly the sheep that revolutionised the concept of cloning to a new level, changing the course of the technique and it’s application in modern science. Of course ethics don’t apply to Mengele and his Brazilian laboratory of human lab-rats that he still works on into the 1970’s.

The boys it turns out a clones of Hitler, placed with adoptive parents. It’s a disturbing thought to see how science can attempt to change the course of history so radically. This mission is the next phase in replicating the conditions that determined the path that lead to the creation of Hitler that history knows today. His father dying at 65, left with a mother in her 40’s, all they needed to do was send the boy off to war and get the local art school to refuse him entry. Of course these are the other factors that aren’t considered by the megalomaniac doctor who has achieved what science is still dreaming about. The hope to round up these boys or to even execute further missions to ensure that they have a number of potential Führer’s in waiting. Just what would Mengele do with those that fail to lead to another Reich…it’s unthinkable.

The finale sees a desperate Mengele trying to carry out his mission single handedly, conveniently in America where he meets the next victim, who was expecting Lieberman instead, meeting a quick end. What follows is a disturbing vision of a possible future being born. You’d think it would be laughable watching two elderly men fighting one another, yet it’s a chance for a Jew who experienced the Holocaust first hand to deliver justice for the millions who would never see it. It looks slightly dated but still packs a punch when loaded with the historical context. Before the boy arrives home, placing him in a position to leave with the evil doctor or do the right thing via a few commands to his dogs. With a combination of old school war films and modern screen violence delivers something shocking even to today’s audience.

I was left with terrible thought of what could be, the potential if this fantastical theory was realised. What’s more disturbing is how much Peck is immersed in the role, we buy that he is the butcher from Auschwitz is realised by an iconic actor taking a chance alongside other veterans of the screen, unafraid of who they are portraying in what you could call “geriaction” that you could slot this film into easily with more bite than more recent films. Part of me is glad I’ve finally seen this film, whilst another wishes I could shake off the ideas that linger long after the credits.


High Life (2018)

In the past day I’ve seen two tough films that I want to explore here, the one here is High Life (2018) a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a good few months, whilst another is The Boys From Brazil (1978), both hard films to watch for different reasons which I hope to explain over the course of these separate reviews. You could say that Claire Denis‘s english language debut is my generations Solaris (1978), that maybe stretched to the competent Steven Soderbergh remake.

High Life is a very brave and bold piece of science fiction that like Solaris is not so much about space but more the internal struggles with what makes us human. The fight for control over memory, what is real and what is not. It would be equally unfair to say this is just another version of Andrei Tarkovsky‘s masterpiece, there’s a lot of influence in this film to unpick so it may take me sometime to explain.

What I thought would be just a 2 or 3 person film with minimal dialogue is carefully unpackaged to be more than the trailer lets on before it’s release earlier last month. We begin with the sole surviving adult aboard a spaceship, Monte (Robert Pattinson) who is carrying out a repair on the hull of the ship whilst parenting baby Willow inside, being kept occupied with the sound of his voice and archive videos for entertainment. It’s not unusual for babies to be found in space or even sci-fi, it’s the first time Pattinson has taken in a fatherly role which is mentioned by his character early on. Is this an acknowledgement that the actor is continuing to grow and now taking on the role of the parent in future films. Maybe not just yet, he’s really pushing himself to work with some interesting directors making a name for himself well beyond his initial Twilight films that brought him to the Hollywood’s attention a decade ago. Pattinson’s Monte is an anti hero, a prisoner who among a 7 more inmates were offered the chance for life on a spaceship as lab-rats instead of serving a sentence back on Earth.

I’m reminded early on of the solitude in Silent Running (1972) with the greenhouse where a number of scenes take place throughout the film. Similarities are drawn even closer between Monte’s actions and There are even similarities Bruce Dern‘s Freeman Lowell in how they treat the fellow passengers/crew. Whilst Dern is left with child like robots to tend to the floating greenhouse, Monte has a baby to raise and protect. We still have no idea how we even got to this point, how has he and a baby become the sole survivor of this ship.

The tone changes to an extended flashback that acts to answers all our questions from a quiet first act. The small number of prisoners are under the care and captaincy (it seems) of Dibs (Juliette Binoche) whose able to control them by water contamination. The prisoners all know this but there’s little they can really do to fight this. One of Dib’s goals is to successfully deliver a baby in space, solely through artificial insemination. She does this with the incentive of offering drugs to the prisoners in exchange for using their bodies. We learn that the success rate has been very bad, losing a woman each time through the procedure, combined with radiation it makes the whole process almost impossible to carry through.

So with no sex allowed on board, how do they all release that pent up sexual frustration, 4 men and 4 women. One way is to use the box, which we see in graphic detail thanks to Binoche’s ride on the device that shows just hoe effective it can be. Monte finds that the best thing to do is to be abstinent for the duration, that way he can’t hurt anyone including himself. There’s a sense that all these rules and conditions out on the edges of the known galaxy is far too much for some to stay away from one another. Monte clearly has the attention of a few women on board but tries to control them, acting only to protect them from Dibs who we learn is no better and a prisoner like the rest of them.

High Life is clearly a film made to reflect the #MeToo movement where sexual violence which is graphically depicted is not dealt with in equal measure by the prisoners. The majority know right from wrong here and are quick to hand out justice. However one case of rape reverses the roles whereby the male – Monte is raped in his sleep by Dibs, who gives into her desires both sexual and scientific to ensure her goal is realised. Taking his “good genes” and inseminate another woman. Highly unethical but makes for some dark and shocking scenes that are hard to forget soon after. I’m reminded of Under the Skin (2013) that similarly reverses the roles in rape to place the woman in a position of power of the the now male victim, luring her victims back to devour them in her lair. The number of board slowly dwindles to a few who can survive alone in the harsh coldness of space, the radiation and a disturbed doctor who will stop and nothing to reach her goal.

The third act is surprisingly short and very abrupt in how it begins, with no titles to tell us we have moved forward in time to find a teenage Willow (Jessie Ross) playing opposite a little aged Monte (probably one of my only criticisms of the film) as they seem to have reached a point where they may reach their make. Far bleaker than the overwhelming visually splendour and bewilderment of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to an abrupt end that leaves you lost for words at last two hours, what have we just seen is scraps of humanity thrown into space to be forgotten and fight amongst themselves. I’m still processing the images, the ideas of this highly stylised bleak film that is not so much about being in space but being pushed to the limits of being human, discovering the worst and the best in us. Not too far from Solaris as it travels further away from home to a place where those onboard can’t recognise themselves.

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

It feels like there’s been a string a middling Westerns in the past few years, that’s not mentioning the disappointing remake of The Magnificent Seven (2016). Both Jane Got a Gun (2015) and The Keeping Room (2014) that attempted to rebalance the role of women in the genre failed on the basis that they just plain boring. I’m all for increasing the role of women in the genre but it has to still be entertaining, to be engaged in what they are dealing with. Jane Got a Gun had no real focus, whilst The Keeping Room was too grim. The more male dominated entries in recent years have had slightly more success; The Revenant (2015) delivered a revenge thriller in the wilderness of the mountains, whilst we had a blind teenage romance in Slow West (2015) that audiences can more easily relate too. Whilst The Salvation (2014) was a return to the classic form with a European sensibility that had a real bite.

The latest entry in the genre – The Sisters Brothers (2018) felt the other night like my generations The Missouri Breaks (1976) but not so weird that I had to sit back and wonder what the hell was going on. For one we didn’t have any camp acting and there was no strange romantic pursuit to worry about. Instead we shift between the titular brothers; Eli and Charlie (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) who’ve been contracted to meet up with investigator John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) who himself is in pursuit of Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). The jumping back to and fro between the two pairs takes up the first two acts oft the film, allowing you to settle into what is a gentle dynamic.

The Sisters Brothers we learn are sibling gunfighters who we learn have somehow survived life so far by little more than luck on their sides. They are able to outgun the enemy by pure chance whilst in the process destroying what the essentially need. As we see in the opening minutes, a classic gunfight surrounding a homestead that somehow leads to a barn setting fire and killing most of the horses inside. This isn’t how The Duke would have done things in Rio Bravo (1959) even when he shot dynamite in the final gunfight. There’s little planning to the Sisters who will load up and go into battle day or night. They would have probably made good soldiers in the opening minutes of a Civil War battle, unafraid of the danger that lat ahead of them. We laugh at the clear flaws in their ability to win out, they are men just trying but failing at times.

Sent on what is to become their final mission by the elusive Commodore (Rutger Hauer) putting the younger alcoholic brother Charlie in charge, hoping for a better result. Aiming to secure The Commodore’s superiority during the gold rush – a time in the genre that hast more recently been overlooked. We learn their major differences in the two brothers who may share a legacy and a status that precedes them. Charlie the more impulsive assertive alcoholic who wants to prove himself, whilst Eli is curious of the future, what modernity can do for him. Taking the time to plan his future. These are differences very important as they both continually pull them apart and push them together. It leaves Eli with a “middling” horse that we’re concerned about throughout. When we switch to Morris and Warm the tone becomes more intelligent, the conversation changes to reflect this. There’s a chance to breathe and understand what’s being discussed. Morris an Easterner who wanted to come out West for adventure soon finds his equal in Warm whose supposed to follow from a distance. Their ideas of modernity bring them ever closer together.

Through letters left by Morris to the brothers they mock the language of the more educated man who communicates his position. It’s a resistance to change and understanding that for a while keeps them a part. Tonally this doesn’t quite come off so well onscreen, it makes them look ignorant and the leads in the film the butt of the jokes and the film itself. As much as you want to root for these underachievers in life we become more concerned with what’s going on further away from them, when they finally meet and what they will discover.

Despite the uneven tone of humour and language we’re transported to a beautifully drawn image of the Wild West. Shot in multiple locations, you can see a lot of money went into the budget. And looking at how may production companies are involved (literally filling the screen) you can see the director Jacques Audiard has to prove himself worthy in his first English language film. Going from town to town which each look unique. San Francisco is the stand-out set piece that just shows where all the money’s spent. The devil is in the detail for this clear labour of love.

The final act is by far the most interesting, when they all come together in the pursuit of gold, almost becoming The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) when the lust for gold takes over with a new chemical driven techniques being employed to reveal gold in the water. The idea of speeding up the process of testing and digging for gold is thrown out in favour of an untested method. The consequences if which are not fully known or appreciated. Is this a Western with an ecological conscience, coming out of nowhere we’re shown how the lust for gold can destroy the natural world around us in the pursuit of greed. It’s the saving grace of the film, the fallout of this process complete alters the fortunes for all involved.

This isn’t really my Missouri Breaks, it’s a confused but original Western with a conscience that tries to do a lot in it’s running time. It does a good job but maybe needed a little more time to breathe. We have characters that are fully realised. Westerners vs Easterners in a changing world, set during a time of the gold-rush when the country began to change completely. The Sisters Brothers takes on a lot and does it’s best to balance it all but ultimately a flawed Western that tries honourably to bring something new to the genre.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Another film I’ve been putting off watching, I overlooked it at the time of release as I really wasn’t interested in You Were Neve Really Here (2017). Since then I’ve been slowly won over and wanted to track down the film, learning it was another Taxi Driver (1976), which in essence is The Searchers (1956). So once again I will be delving into how this film responds to the classic Western. It’s a chance to explore how the film has again influenced modern cinema. Of course on the surface it has far more in common with Martin Scorsese’s film than John Ford‘s original. The classic tale of the tortured male loner taking on the task of rescuing a young woman from the clutches of a sex-slavery i Cincinnati. I wonder is Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) still drives the murky streets still, had he come into contact with Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) or would that have been too explosive for a single film to handle.

It’s doesn’t stray far from John Wayne‘s Ethan Edward’s epic mission across untamed Native American country in search of his nieces. Filled with an uncontrollable racial hatred for the Comanches and possibly other nations who have done him wrong before we first meet him. We don’t learn of his past, or even Bickle’s we’re just allowed to spend a short time with them. Lynne Ramsay‘s allowed us understand Joe’s past in a series of fractured flashbacks that hint an unstable domestic upbringing and time in the army. It’s been explored before with Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) who was far more reflexive about his past, Wim Wenders gave us the time to explore just how he’s in his position now, a father who couldn’t face the break up of a passionate relationship, which ultimately was his own fault in Paris Texas (1984). Travis is singularly unique, a disturbed man shaped by his surroundings, unable to connect with the outside world that deeply troubles him. An explorer of an urban jungle that holds him hostage.

Joe is very much a product of his child hood and military service that have shaped the beaten shell of a man who works as a hired gun. He doesn’t shy away from how he makes his living, it defines him, just about the only job he can get, allowing him to function and support his mum. We first meet him at the end of a job, clearing up the evidence that could lead back to him. You can he’s done this many times before, it’s just part of the job. His face is obscured during this time, for now he’s just an unknown dangerous man cleaning up yet another mess with precision that he has honed  overtime. This is not the have-a-go hero of Taxi Driver or the ex-Confederate soldier, we have a trained killer on yet another job, not a man to be messed about.

We learn he has something of a soft-side when he returns home to his mother (Judith Roberts) who he shares a love-hate relationship with, the only woman or even person who really loves him. The closest to violence he get’s with her is a joke about Psycho (1960), could that even be an influence on him. The stay at home son with his mother who stays about of obligation more than love.

The rescue mission comes pretty early on in this fairly compact film, his next job at the request of Senato Albert Votto (Alex Manette) who employs him to rescue his young daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), whom he believes has been kidnapped and placed into a sex-slavery. Unlike Ethan Edwards and Travis Bickle he has no prior relationship with the girl whose to be rescued, he only sees her as part of another job. Before he begin we see him stock up on fresh tools for the job, including a hammer that we know already is his weapon of choice that can inflict brutal damage to his victims, no one stands a chance against him.

As with Taxi Driver he waits until night before he even rolls up outside the address, he’s dangerously cool and calm about all this, dragging over a guy who works, torturing him for information, the bare-essentials to get in, the dangers that lie ahead for him. It’s a cleaner rescue than I expected, restrained by the view of CCTV cameras that only suggest what has happened to the bodyguards who fall to their deaths. It’s over before we know it, our main concern is finding the girl, which again happens rather fast. The young girl – Nina is clearly in state of desensitisation, to escape the daily abuse she receives from the monsters who pay for her. Gone is the confident nonchalance of Jodie Foster’s Iris who has find an exterior shell to survive the murky world of prostitution she’s trapped in. Mirroring the assimilation that Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) whilst living with the Comanche. Never Really Here is more aware of the psychological damage that a kidnapping and slavery can do to the mind. The realisation of being rescued doesn’t quite hit Nina for sometime.

Everything then starts to go wrong for Joe as he soon loses the girl and ends up a world that all he knew and understood is being taken away from him. The closet he got to purity is taken away by corrupt cops who take Nina away, leading him into a trap that closes ever tighter into his inner circle and even his mother. The hard exterior of the hired gun begins to show signs of cracking. Before we see an even darker side when interrogates one of his mothers killers (Scott Price) sadistically numbing his pain to get information from him before he finally dies. It’s a form of unique justice that allows him to move on in search of Nina and understand what he’s become embroiled in.

It’s far more complicated than the standard search and rescue narrative that Ford laid out over 50 years ago, becoming something more complicated with each retelling of the basic plot. Stripping away the racial hatred to leave a hardened killer who has many dents in his armour, both physical and mental. We’re left a darker of corruption with a glimmer of hope for Joe and Nina, each products of their fractured lives, leaving to start a life together where they might be able to start over. All they have known has been destroyed either by their own hands or in their wake. It’s a bleak disturbing world where even beauty has a dark side. Never Really Here is by far one of the bleakest interpretations of The Searchers, having evolved into a the Western that it could have been. I wonder if a director has the courage to deliver something so disturbing to the screen?

At Eternity’s Gate (2018)

I’m really starting to kick myself that I haven’t yet seen Loving Vincent (2017), a painstakingly animated in the visceral style of Vincent Van Gogh’s iconic style. I’m actively on the case of finding it now. Last night I caught artist/director Julian Schnabel‘s adaptation of the tragic life of the abstract expressionist – Van Gogh. A subject that has been tackled multiple times on-screen. The controversial director has made creatives biopic his main subject of his work, looking at Basquiat (1996) for his first film before turning to more tragedy in The Driving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) about magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who became paralysed in all but one eye. Now for his latest work he turns to one of the most depicted artists on put to film.

From the little I’ve seen the trailer for Loving Vincent, the aims to transport you into the world of Van Gogh’s work, where he’s best known and remembered to the world. Every depiction of the painter has tried to mimic his painterly style, the way he experienced the world around him. My recollections of Lust for Life (1956) staring Kirk Douglas who delved into the passion that drove the artist. Seeped in an extreme contrasting technicolor world that reflect the passion more so. We’ve moved away from the highly stylised use set-design and playing with colour levels to focus more on the psychological understanding of the man behind the art.

We all think we know the Van Gogh’s story, how he had a troubled life, spending much of it trying to find out what he wanted to do before discovering painting in the last ten years or so of his life. Admittedly I was wondering when the cutting of the ear would be handled and depicted. It could have been one of those nuts and bolts films that retread the same old story in another way. Adding to that the knowledge that a researcher Bernadette Murphy who had spent her life wanting to understand the man and the truth behind the incident surrounding his ear. Learning that it was delivered to young women who was a prostitute (a profession that was at the time regulated by the state). The cut was not as clean as first thought, leaving the lobe still attached to the head. Schnabel handled these details delicately, thoroughly, whilst still using some artistic licence of his own.

Initially I didn’t know what to think of At Eternity’s Gate (2018), I had to give myself time to acclimatize myself to this way of reading the film. The cinematography echoed Son of Saul (2015) in terms of claustrophobia, but not as tightly held. Instead it was far looser, disorienting at times, it could have been nauseous as it followed Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) around, his every action’s reacted to, as if we were being thrown into his world with no way out for the first painting scene of Shoes (1886). Defoe who was rightly nominated but sadly overlooked for the Best Actor Oscar clearly took at lot of time in researching the role, learning to mimic his style and approaches to painting. Regarding the age of the Defoe in the role, being in his 60’s, when Van Gogh’s died in his 30’s is questionable. Something that has been dashed aside by Schnabel who in a Guardian interview stated –

“I’d say it was perfect casting,” he begins. “Obviously it was: he was nominated for [an Oscar]. I don’t care who won the Oscar. Willem gave the best performance of the year. He raised the bar. Christoph Waltz said: ‘That’s the bar.’ I don’t know what he did, he went into some other place that’s beyond the Oscars, beyond criticism.”

Clearly a director who sticks to his convictions and who doesn’t like to be criticised. Admittedly he does have a strong resemblance, maybe age is on his side. It also gives Dafoe a chance to bring to the role years of experience of creating dark and interesting characters to life.

Visually it takes sometime to adjust to this way of looking. With cuts to black where we have a number of insightful monologues. We enter the mind of Van Gogh however in more ways than just his thoughts. An attempts made the psychologically understand his perception of the world. Unnerving when these moments happen you soon adjust to the increasing instability in his mental stability. The journey is inevitable but nonetheless heartbreaking to watch unfold and even experience.

We’re not treading new ground that’s for sure, but we are treading into a more unconventional approach of interpreting and retelling it for an audience as we get to understand the artist in more detail, It’s not just a matter of recreating the moment he painted this painting and that. We don’t even see him paint his most famous pieces. A lot of attention to detail is on show here, from the costumes to the make-up. Even the ear incidents handled sensitively, we rarely see what becomes a brutal scar. Dafoe is the real star throughout, the agony his portrays as his talents are constantly questioned and tested by everyone he meets during the film. It’s not one for the average film-goer, it takes some patients to adjust. There are moments when I felt like it could have just been subtitled, others where the cast could have been Belgian/French, I’ve reached a point where the break from foreign back to English is too harsh, a stronger decisions made. However it’s a solid film that explores the tortured genius in a brave new light, which makes this one to admire.

Galaxy Quest (1999) Revisited

For a while I’ve been meaning to revisit quite a few films, but all the new ones seem to get in the way just recently. I decided to break that habit and revisit Galaxy Quest (1999) last night. I remember having fond if not faded memories of this sci-fi spoof that pulls no punches when it looks at fan culture and the effect it has on those at the centre. Also very much lampooning Star Trek in all it’s forms. At the time of its release the world was over saturated with Star Trek, Deep Space Nine was winding up after two years of fighting the Dominion War. Whilst Captain Janeway’s crew in Star Trek Voyager were still lost way out in the distant Delta quadrant. And the ninth film Insurrection (1998) in the series had been released the previous year to luke-warm review. Complete with a loyal fanbase that would dress up, meet up and go along to conventions to meet their on-screen heroes. Admittedly I am one of the fan-base since I was a teenager but never felt the urge to tag along. Yet I can understand that need to travel out of your way to see members of my favourite crew in a packed out Q&A or a reeling off the endless anecdotes that the fans just eat up. And it’s not just Trekers (not Trekkies) it’s any science fiction show that has stood the test of time, spilling over into comic books even more so in the last decade.

Galaxy Quest may very well be turning 20 years this year, it hasn’t dated a bit. If anything it’s become more relevant with the passing of time. For the main cast of the fictional show Galaxy Quest it’s become the bread and butter that keeps them going. Reluctantly they slip into their costumes and get on stage once more to the adoration over excited fans waiting to meet their heroes. Even before doing some research I could identify some of the characters origins. Alan Rickman‘s Alexander Dance, a trained shakespearean actor who wants to be known for his work on the stage rather than his 82 episodes of a loved 1980’s TV show. Mirroring Patrick Stewart who has long since accepted his fame graciously. Whilst there’s also a resentment in Dane towards Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) who took most his lines and the limelight from him during the shows run. Allen himself the pre-madonna William Shatner that took most of the glory and adoration both on and off-screen during his time as Kirk part of the original crew. Whilst Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) is a combination of both Deanna Troi, Seven of Nine and Uhura (Marina Sirtis, Jeri Ryan and Nichelle Nichols), the combination of having little to do on-screen, whilst being something for the camera to look at and boost the ratings is making the best of what her life has become. Turning to the rest of the Galaxy crew cast we have the now grown up wiz-kid who took the helm Tommy Webber (Daryl Mitchell) the Wesley Crusher (Will Wheaton) prodigy who crew up on the show. We have a combination of characters merged into one Mr Sulu (George Takei) and Mr Scott (James Doohan) in Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) who is equally fed up but just goes with the flow. Lastly we have the brilliantly then unknown Sam Rockwell as the eponymous red-shirt type as Guy Fleegman who lives to enjoy the obscure fame that his time on the show brought him before being killed off. Referencing the life of the ill-fated expendable red-shirt that always met a bloody end as they tried to defend against the alien enemy. Using this little fame at the convention as he awaits the cast on-stage.

This richly researched cast are placed into a world of their own fame that has become their life, the touring convention circuit. We meet them back stage waiting for Nesmith to finally arrive before an overexcited audience of fans, fed up and tired of waiting they are about to leave. This is just a day in the life for these now has-been actors living off past glories. It’s mayhem when they finally enter stage and the madness that becomes what has sustained and tired these actors. We see how weary they become during the onslaught of questions that every fan seems to have, especially Nesmith towards Brandon (Justin Long) and his friends who seems to be live as if the show is a reality. We don’t think anything beyond the effect it’s had on their own lives. That’s before 4 clearly aliens make their way to the autograph table just like another fan, but with one massive difference, they believe that these actors are just the characters and nothing beyond that reality.

I was reminded of the delusion that Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear was under when he was given to Andy as a present. Believing he was in-fact a space ranger. It took the majority of Toy Story for him to finally understand who he was and his position in life, to make his owner happy. Now Nesmith is well aware of his own reality, even the effect he’s had on the public and his fans. We learn that a whole race of aliens lead by Mathesar (Enrico Colantoni) have built their whole reality around the “archives’ of the N.S.E.A. Protector’s crew. The transmission of a distant planet’s TV show had such an effect of another civilisation that they devoted themselves even more so that even the most obsessed fan back on Earth that we hope still had not lost all grip on reality. First inviting Nesmith to not just a recreation of the ship, but a full-blown scale 1:1 version that operates in outer-space. Hungover at the time he just sees this as just obsessive fans and their faithful recreation that cost more than the original set. Hopefully filling in the gaps of knowledge teased in the show themselves to build a ship that flies.

After he’s sent back, well shot back to Earth he has a lot of explaining to do to his colleagues who are tired of his antics, before they too are persuaded to join him on the Protector for what he still believes to be a job. It maybe the roles they have tried to forget…still it’s a job. They are transported via a gooey coating into space where they meet the aliens in true form (generally using an imagizer to appear humanoid to their visitors and heroes) before they all realise their situation. Looking at their lives back on Earth, the fandom was tame in comparison to the level of love and appreciation they receive here. Just how long can it last before they have to reveal themselves to the Thermians who love them so much.

What follows is a series of sequences that cleverly nod to Star Trek in its various forms, without being cruel or belittling, it really is a lot of fun to watch, even if you don’t get the references. Some even went over my head at the time until I did a little research. A well thought out sci fi comedy that is well aware of what’s doing before bringing back to reality with the cast of Galaxy Quest who have to admit to the Thermian’s who they really are before taking on the roles with greater importance when the threat of the Saris and his ship who are after Omega 13, a device that is only a line or two of dialogue that was for a time just a maguffin, becomes central to everyone’s survival. We loose the comic moments and go into a more authentic genre mode before the laughs return at the end.

For a it’s time Galaxy Quest was mocking a group of people and a genre that was a sub-culture of modern society, now it’s gone mainstream. How many people believe that Iron Man and Thor are real. I’ve seen countless home-made costumes online in the past year at least. Being a fanboy/girl/or whatever of a sci-fi or a comic book superhero has gone mainstream, making for a subculture that is no longer the butt of the jokes. Galaxy Quest was then loving poking at them, now it’s truly embraced and part of the fabric, thats why it’s lasted so long.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Another recommendation from Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinemathis time coming from his episode looking at the Sci fi genre. Not the best rated science fiction film I’ve ever seen but still if the countries best film critic recommends, who am I to argue. So a while later and I’ve finally seen this underrated film that transposes the plot of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe to the futuristic interplanetary setting of good old mars, the only other possible planet that could have supported life in our solar system. Now I’ve never read the book, my only recollection is a kid’s cartoon, even that’s stretching the memory to a spindly bearded man on an island. I know he’s deserted there, that’s about it. So I came into the film pretty much with no prior knowledge of that plot and the sketchy details of the classic Defoe novel.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) begins as just another day aboard the spaceship Mars Gravity Probe 1, turns out to be the last for the small crew if two and the pet monkey. With typical classic rocket-ship design, all before science fact influenced future production design, they’re met with the sudden appearance of an asteroid, leading to life changing decisions being taken, using almost all their fuel to avoid impact they move out of the way before ejecting into little pods. It’s a brief chance to see Adam Westpre Batman fame who has his little companion follow him. Maybe he shouldn’t have mentioned about the escape pods to him before they have to leave.

The first member of the crew to eject is Cmdr. Christopher ‘Kit’ Draper (Paul Mantee) who crashes onto the surface practically in tact. Thought to be alone he goes into survival mode before he can even venture out to find his crew mate. Spending time working out how to stay alive, oxygen and water, which for a while are hard to come by. Constantly looking at the pressure gauge on his tanks, suggesting he hasn’t long left. I was shocked to see him try to breathe on a the surface of another planet take off his helmet. I guess that comes from watching too much sci-fi. Once he’s got a rough system in place to get him going he’s on his way to search for crew-mate Col. Dan McReady (Adam West) dead amongst his own escape pod. But for some relief and comfort we find the monkey, Moana for company, the only person that Kit has for company for a longtime survival and sanity.

We go into an early version of The Martian (2015) without the Matt Damon charisma that carried the film. Instead of having a purpose built shelter Kit’s stuck in a cave with yellow rocks that somehow release oxygen. Just showing how Kit is starting to understand how this planet works. He’s still got a computer recording his logs…just in case. What follows is some quality time with Moana as he further explores and discovers how to make the best of life on the red planet. This feels like a nice translation of the book to the new setting as the sole survivor of a ship wreck adapts to his surrounds both physically and mentally. Not as extreme as Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) and his friend Wilson who doesn’t have the ability to respond at all. It’s a natural instinct to try and communicate with another, if we can’t we make compromises as we delve into our imagination. Thankfully Moana fits the bill and brings in the kids to the film.

Things take a twist when the remains of a skeleton are revealed, believed to be murdered sometime ago, Kit is rightly on edge now, could he be next for the kill, from creatures he never even knew existed. The first to encounter life away from the planet Earth. It soon becomes clear when spaceships that resembled Manta rays hover above and fire below, trying to hit something which we can’t work out. Each time we see these it doesn’t bother me that it’s the same shots used multiple times. Simply a budgetary issue, I am excited by their presence, finally some danger to spice things up and reveal another character for Kit to interact with. Friday (Victor Lundin), a clear reference to the source material (that much I do know) we learn is a slave that works with another race mining the planet. The spaceships above maybe the true inhabitants of the planet that have since left but still protect it from damage and pillaging.

Kit takes it upon himself to get to know Friday, try to communicate with him. It’s a case of the white man trying to communicate with the Native on his own terms. All this in a couple of scenes we see Friday learn to communicate and allows us to understand who he is. Before too long the spaceships are back, forcing them underground, where Friday’s eventually released from his chains that the aliens above use as a tracker. We see more of Mars than Mark Watney (Damon) ever saw. It’s a chance to blow the budget on some more rocks to climb, combined with some composite shots that really have dated, which I simply don’t care about, lost in the craft and the story as we reach the cold conclusion where finally hope is in sight for Kit and his new companion. I did wonder whether he would ever be rescued after his own ship finally crashed out of orbit. Is this how Robinson Crusoe ends? I don’t know. Kit’s own island is planet sized, far more to explore, more dangers to encounter and overcome. No wonder it was recommended viewing by the Kermode, just showing why we should listen to critics if not to broaden our minds to what is out there to watch. They’re indeed the taste makers of film, art, books etc, however we still make our own minds up as to what we want to watching. Sometimes they we should listen to what they are saying, you might be missing out on something.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

I think it was just over a month ago I caught The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), which I knew I wanted to see because I knew there was a remake that was released a few years ago. Out of curiosity I sat down to see what it was all about. And I was really entertained by this clever thriller with, even if some of the actors were a little too old for the characters they were playing it was thoroughly entertaining and had me wondering what the hell was going to happen next. So again out of curiosity I wanted to seek out the remake The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) to see how the two compared. I’m kicking myself for not writing a review for the earlier film, if only to compare, which I couldn’t help but do here in this heartless remake.

As much as I respect Denzel Washington as an actor, who can act usually act the socks of anyone. Whenever he stars in a remake it seems to be bad news, or just a horrible coincidence. I’ll be spending this review going through why, this remake… again staring Washington really pales in comparison to a stone cold classic of a 1970’s thriller. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea of remakes, but when they’re done badly you notice and long for the original and that’s always a bad thing.

First up as much as the premise needed to be updated to be more contemporary, at least you have guys working at the subway control centre look like they’ve still got more than a few more years in them before they retire. However you’ve lost the spark, that sense the team that work here, get on each others nerves occasionally, it felt more natural when Walter Matthau was leading the show. Maybe I enjoyed the toxicity of the all male workplace in the original that created some drama in the control centre, at least it meant there was some drama. I know I don’t miss the awful treatments of the Japanese guests who toured the original facility (who eventually showed Police Lt. Zachary Garber (Matthau) who really couldn’t be bothered with them. Instead the whole element of the Japanese was reworked cleverly into creating a past for Washington’s Garber who was facing an investigation into suspected bribery. This everyman was not the squeaky clean man that he usually plays, but a flawed man trying to do what’s best for his employers and his family.

Whilst on the subway train we have a gang of four men led by Ryder (John Travolta) who are wanted 10 times as much as the original gang led by the more sinister Bernard Ryder aka Blue (Robert Shaw) leading a team of men with coloured code names, that would later influence Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Travolta’s Ryder is more trigger happy and threatening to his hostages. He poses a real threat that even the audience can feel. Whilst Travolta’s is just hamming it up, effing and blinding every other word, which shows that he’s not got a vast vocabulary to work with. Maybe it’s down to acting approaches or me being a snob. Either way I couldn’t get over the overuse of swearing at times, He just looked bored at times. Whilst his predecessor enjoyed every line, making the part his own, even under his silly disguise.

Staying with the train there didn’t seem to be as much danger on that coach, the threat of death amongst the passengers was only felt at times, it wasn’t that same sense of constant dread that filled the earlier train. The off-duty cop was replaced with a guy chatting to his girlfriend via webcam, a modern update that now is very dated 10 years later. Today we’d being using a phone to let us see into the train that becomes streamed to the city if New York.

Moving above ground we have the mayor (James Gandolfini) whose got nothing really at stake beyond how he can project it to the public. Unlike the more fleshed out Lee Wallace whose rudely pulled out of bed with the flu, whilst fighting reelection. We have also lost the authority that Garber once had, probably reflecting the current structure of the New York Police Department, that power goes to the redundant Camonetti (John Turturro) who has to the power to run the show but has to default to Garber whose the only one that Ryder will talk to. It’s the only way we can see these two coming together at the end.

We do retain the one hour deadline, but it’s not so meticulously mentioned in the film. For every minute that the money is not with the gang a passenger will be killed. That threat still doesn’t seem real, and is easily quelled after one black passenger sacrifices himself to save a young child. Even the reason for the hijack is not explained well enough for the audience to understand, something about paying off a massive debt on the markets. Unlike the previous gang just wanting a fresh start the only way they know how for a bunch of old timers not willing to go straight. None of them really get enough screen time, we don’t see how they react to the developing situation. The passengers just react instead of being properly humanised so you feel for them.

The final act sees a blend of farce and clever rewriting of the original film to give us both something new and distinct from the original whilst still relying on old action clichés before the close of the film. Director Tony Scott trying to outdo Joseph Sargent who had a few crashes involving the police’s blown out of the water with the theatrics here as one squad car is literally pushed off a bridge to the road below. We don’t even know which car the ransom money’s in at any point, all we know is that it’s on route with any one of them. What I did found refreshing here was the meeting of Garber and Ryder under the latter’s invitation, using his skills to his advantage before he ultimately knows the game is up.

Stylistically it’s a standard Tony Scott film, with all the graphics and clever editing that was synonymous with his films aesthetic. However this time I was left cold and bored, I didn’t really care for the characters. I wasn’t filled with dread and uncertainty for Ryder and his men. If anything Scott did a better job on the trains a year later with Unstoppable (2010), which was a paired back thriller that focused on character and situation to you have something to really invest in, without having to find a new approach to a classic film that would be in the back of some of the audiences minds. I just hope now that Washington doesn’t do anymore remakes anytime soon.