Friday, 21 July 2017
Thursday, 20 July 2017
George Romero's pointedly unromantic take on the vampire myth drops any semblance of Eurotrash sophistication to recast the central bloodsucker as a prowling, sweaty home invader. John Amplas' Martin, who's either a directionless youth emblematic of inner-city rot or a hundred year old creature, resists being completely deciphered. His crimes are cowardly and opportunistic, often involving people that have either been kind to him or those who are simply down on their luck. His motives are selfish, hinging on supernatural details that the film, wisely, chooses not to clarify.
The rush of full-blooded sexual excitement usually associated with the amorous undead is replaced by clinical encounters in which Martin dopes and abuses his victims. Romero (who writes, directs and edits) uses an early encounter on a train to establish Martin as both dangerous and repulsive. After attacking a woman in her carriage room with a syringe full of tranquilizers, he lulls her to sleep with soothing baby talk before staging her suicide, drinking and bathing in the gushing blood. Despite the sudden and alarming violence done to the woman's wrist, it's Martin's lies that linger.
Most screen monsters, especially in their moment of victory, would allow delight to creep into their demeanor, to gloat over their prey. Romero and Amplas never permit their creation that kind of power. Martin is always pathetic, pleading even. He isn't strong enough to overwhelm, nor alluring enough to seduce. He sedates and supplicates, a methodology that slowly seeps out into the film itself. Scattered throughout are brief black and white interludes depicting Martin drifting around billowing, Hammer Horror situations. These clips are layered into the film at crucial moments, representing either memories that clash with Martin's current, depressing reality or juvenile justification dreamt up to protect the killer's fragile sense of identity.
A short Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers tournament that shows off, among other things, how utterly broken the new Violent Ken character is.
Ansel Elgort's Baby isn't your typical wheelman. He isn't an intense spectral presence waiting to be prodded, he's gangly and animated, an observer, locked into his own headspace by a cocktail of tinnitus, crate-diver playlists and some truly terrifying associates. The titular Baby Driver copes with this stimulation overload by obsessively recording and cataloging his interactions, then retreating to his apartment to transform them into chopped up musical loops.
Baby doesn't allow information to stream in at him, he blocks out as much as he can, pruning and refining whatever penetrates until he has his own product at the end of it - be that the terse half-sentences he uses to communicate or the hundreds of C-90 audio cassettes he consigns to an unwieldy briefcase. It's a small detail in the overall film but Baby's analog audio suite, rescued from flea markets by Edgar Wright's pal Kid Koala, reads like a physical manifestation of the writer-director's magpie process.
Baby Driver is built out of Wright's earworms, the shots and movements that have lodged in his brain and refused to budge. Wright's film chews up and recontextualises the bits and pieces of film history that the director has clung to, be that the freewheeling buzz of The Blues Brothers or the unkillable enemy of The Terminator. Given Wright's big screen fluency, Baby Driver has a lot of material for editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos to cleave through. The duo assemble the film on pronounced, insistent beats, using music and diegetic sound to layer and dictate pace even outside the action. This energetic, often chaotic, approach to film form peaks with a warehouse shoot-out that uses automatic gunfire to transform a geographical mundane sequence into a ferocious series of jolts.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Sometime in the early 1970s jobbing Hollywood screenwriter Walter Hill put the word out that he was a big fan of director John Boorman and the film Point Blank in particular. This effusiveness was rewarded with a copy of Alexander Jacobs' mythical (in writing circles) screenplay. Hill has described the reading experience as revelatory. Jacobs didn't waste a word, rattling out scene directions as bursts of pure information; haiku compared to the flowering prose of his contemporaries.
Jacobs rejected standard screenwriting assembly, doling out detail in a manner that hewed closer to bullet points or pure, impartial data. Hill was impressed. Jacobs had created a document that wasn't simply an anonymous filmmaking blueprint. The writer clearly had a voice, a sensibility that demanded his work be read as a complimentary piece of art rather than a disposable outline. Hill resolved to bring the same terse, vital readability to his own work. The Driver stands as the purest example of those labours.
As filmed, Point Blank follows a spectral criminal fixated on the former allies who acted against him. The film presents its lead character as an emotion writ large, pushing closer and closer to the people who turned him into an undying engine. Hill goes a step further, boiling his characters down to even simpler motivations - their job and an attendant will to succeed. Ryan O'Neal isn't playing a heroic archetype struggling manfully against impossible odds, he is simply The Driver. His character defined by an unshakable belief in his own abilities rather than any romantic, interior ambitions.
Although Driver takes payment for his services there is no evidence that he does anything with the cash. His apartment is barren, the cars he uses are procured on-site and trashed immediately after they have served their function. Driver pointedly doesn't care about the money he accumulates, it's just part of a necessary transaction that brings him closer to an opportunity to excel. His opponent, Bruce Dern's rabid Detective, is similarly bloody-minded, willing to break the law in the hope of trapping his quarry. Their conflict exists in the abstract, rules and regulations are irrelevant to both of them, they are simply two experts testing their limits by colliding with each other.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Monday, 3 July 2017
Thursday, 29 June 2017
Michael Bay's problems are rooted in cohesion, specifically he struggles to arrive at a consistent tone or emotional wavelength. With Transformers: The Last Knight the director appears to have manufactured a solution - endless, breathless propulsion. Tossed off concepts and writer's room notes boil in a cauldron of pure, kinetic imagery. Bay is keyed into a ratcheting, agitated movement that extends to every facet of the filmmaking experience, even a constantly changing aspect ratio. The film never sits still, there's none of Christopher Nolan's stately approach to IMAX inserts, Bay's film is rabid, hurtling back and forth between the towering, vertical photography of super projection and letterbox vistas that read left-to-right.
Viewers are warned early and often that The Last Knight has been assembled to express a specific vision. It is not an easily digestible Summer product. Even for a Michael Bay film Last Knight is aggressive and inflexible, chewing up hundreds of millions of dollars so the director can scratch his various itches. Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword before it, The Last Knight holds up John Boorman's Excalibur as a primal filmmaking text. Ever the obsessive, Bay zeroes in on the details, littering the battlefield with the swords that assailed Gabriel Byrne's Uther Pendragon and replicating Terry English's chromed plate armour on a massive, techno-organic scale.
Although The Last Knight lacks Excalibur's mythic sweep, God-King Optimus Prime notwithstanding, Bay's film does attempt to replicate the elliptical storytelling of Boorman, a model in which image and feeling trump structure and order. Boorman's compression came from a desire to fit a storied King's entire lifetime into 140 minutes of film. Bay's truncation is different, more about removing any peak on the film's carefully calibrated emotional chart that isn't total, screaming noise.
The Last Knight then allows us an insight into how Bay chooses to interpret the screenplays he's assigned. An undercooked example like Bad Boys urged the director to lean heavily on his cast, using them to create skits that conveyed critical plot details in a package that, if not organic, at least had a fair opportunity to be entertaining. The career that has followed that film is indicative of a talent not completely sold on writing as anything other than a blueprint used to string together disparate, fantastical situations.
Armageddon and Pearl Harbor stand as garbled attempts to ground the director's bombastic leanings in human stories about amateurs under stress. Bay fails to draw out any finer details in these situations because he either doesn't believe the moments or simply cannot relate to them. The Last Knight is, at a conceptual level, a committee crafted jump-off designed to dangle threads and hit specific, audience friendly targets. Bay has been handed a piece wringing with a particular kind of arrogance, it's a franchise maker. Bay may be on his fifth Transformers film but the director has never been asked to do anything as vulgar as consider continuity.
Each Transformers film has been an iterative example of what a live action interpretation of the 80s toyline could be. Love interests and even protagonists have come and gone; doomsday scenarios are replayed and reconfigured; the Transformers themselves die and are resurrected over and over again with zero regard for where the previous films left them. The Last Knight places a marker and, barring another entry that dispense with the concepts presented here, asks that further sequels proceed from a point where the Earth is slowly mutating into Unicron, the world-eating machine from Nelson Shin's The Transformers: The Movie, and Optimus Prime is battling a malevolent robotic Gaia.
With very little need to spin wheels, Bay delivers a film that moves at two hundred miles an hour. Aiding and abetting this rampage is Sir Anthony Hopkins, the actor brimming with the kind of unfiltered glee he brought to the later, trashier Hannibal Lecter films. In Hopkins Bay has a collaborator genuinely capable of plugging one of the director's most obvious leaks. Hopkins can deliver stilted, stuttering exposition as a lark, turning the kind of heavy lifting usually reserved for a bug-eyed John Turturro into something that actually moves.
The winding, circuitous logic of Hopkins' info dumps are adrenalised by a companion action sequence that sees super-charged sports cars attacking London's landmarks and side-roads. The set-piece focuses on tourist destinations and the old city arteries that connect them. Bay forcing a McLaren 570GT down cramped, atypical alleyways manages to evoke the brief, busy thrill of Claude Lelouch's C'était un rendez-vous if not that piece's sustained, death-defying intensity. The image of gleaming, finely-tuned automobiles struggling along cobbled streets could even be read as the director using the absurdity of the film's unceasing momentum as a literal, self-referential component. Michael Bay has been allotted several finely packaged ideas and they're going down your throat whether you like it or not.
Monday, 26 June 2017
Martin Campbell is finally out of movie jail! Six years for the excretable Green Lantern sounds about right, shame he didn't take Ryan Reynolds down with him. Anyway, Campbell is back, coralling a hopelessly mistimed terror revenge film starring Jackie Chan to the big screen. Still, inciting incident aside, looks like The Foreigner will be filled with scenes of Jackie kicking people trapped inside tiny flats with a glum expression plastered all over his face. What more could you ask for?
Friday, 23 June 2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Monday, 19 June 2017
Friday, 16 June 2017
Post-apocalyptic in every detail bar a nuclear exchange, John Carpenter and Nick Castle's Escape from New York takes an action premise then describes it with the kind of anxiety usually reserved for horror filmmaking. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken, a raspy ex-special forces operative who made his name sneaking into a litany of Russian cities before dropping out, turning to a life of crime. Snake is a relic from a world that has passed, a rugged, bad-tempered individual bumping heads with the compromised and robotic company men who now rule the country.
Whatever happened in Leningrad burnt Snake out, perhaps exposing the lie that forms the bedrock of a regime that has seen America congeal into a total police state. Snake is a soldier so explicitly used up that orders have no meaning to him. He isn't on this mission into the corpse of the Big Apple to redeem himself and therefore become heroic by the standards of the men who have crow-barred him into this assignment. He's being coerced. Snake is captured, dragged to Liberty Island and injected with explosives before being loaded up with shuriken and an Ingram sub-machine gun for what amounts to a suicide mission. Despite his legendary status he's still just a disposable commodity, an experiment forced into play while jackbooting dead heads weigh up an air strike on the Island.
Snake doesn't represent salvation, he's just another component in a desperate, pessimistic mission engineered by an acting leadership going through the motions. Carpenter and Castle have done something wonderful in Escape from New York, they've taken a scenario that could be told with the sweeping, bullying voice of patriotic duty then torpedoed it. The rescue of an encircled President isn't played for glory, the situation is splayed open, exposing the rot and ruthless opportunism that would be at work if the unthinkable actually happened with these witless bullies at the helm.
The one shred of humanity shown by the establishment comes from Lee Van Cleef's Hauk, an older man with much the same background as Plissken, now acting as the warden of the vast Manhattan penitentiary. Hauk vouches for Snake, his interim criminal years made irrelevant because Hauk remembers when the ex-soldier once did something bold and impressive. Of course Hauk may trust Plissken's skills but he doesn't trust his intentions. This isn't a world founded on honour and pride, instead Escape from New York spins on the kind of utility you'd expect from a world in which Reaganomic rhetoric has infected every aspect of the ruling class. Something terrible must have happened, no-one has any higher, romantic aspirations anymore. Instead everyone behaves like cronies prepping for their next corporate appraisal.
The one nod to chivalry displayed by the government's forces again comes from Hauk. Following the mission's completion he makes himself available to Snake, asking him if he still wants to kill him. Hauk is acknowledging something unspoken, that perhaps by serving this power structure he actually does deserve to die. Snake, the uncompromised hero would actually redeem Hauk somewhat if he chose to take his life. The gesture is immediately poisoned by The Warden's insistence on pitching Snake a potential return to the fold after it's clear that the jail-breaker has chosen to stay his hand. Russell's limping, injured hero couldn't be less interested.
Snake Plissken isn't an action hero and Escape from New York isn't structured to express victory. This massive story is told in details, Snake's individual triumphs are always small and stolen. Carpenter never falls into the trap of letting his main character build up a head of steam, stakes are never lost to scale, every dangerous interaction is essentially Plissken attempting to misinform his quarry, allowing him to strike. Snake by name, snake by nature. Carpenter doesn't linger on the violence either, Escape may miscommunicate a few of its thumps but even these under-covered cracks play into an overall thesis about how liquid power can be. Violence is always a surprise.
Once in New York all bets are off, it doesn't matter if you can talk big or have access to incredible technology, are you vicious? Will you strike first? Escape has a feral quality, man reduced to teeth and claws, roaming around the ruins of a financial fortress. Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey shoot dark and wide, allowing the gutted mise en scene to tell a story and communicate the stakes. Snake is never alone once he enters Manhattan. There's always something or someone else in the frame, running interference or sizing him up.
Escape communicates a state of complete hostility. The film barely jumps around, the opening act in particular charts its discoveries by Snake's slow, hesitant pace. This segment, the film's best, has no sense of release in it. Snake is given an impossible task then we watch his attempt slowly unfold. Carpenter's film delights in this sense of pressure, the siege mentality of his horror films bleeding into the language of action / adventure. Pointedly, Snake does not surmount every challenge or bend the devastated city to his will, the film's too canny for that. Snake creeps around the pitch black streets as quietly as he can, waiting for an opportune moment to lash out and do some damage.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
What can you say? Limits are, quite obviously, completely meaningless to Nintendo. Based on this charming little infomercial and the hat mechanic it promises, Super Mario Odyssey is quite simply magical, allowing the player almost infinite opportunities to experiment and, above all, have fun. Stunning.