Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Belko Experiment

Greg McLean, 2016, USA-Columbia
Writer – James Gunn

In an office building in a suspiciously remote office block in Columbia, eighty employees suddenly find themselves sealed in and told by an ominous intercom voice that they must kill each other. It covers similar ground as Joe Lynch’s ‘Mayhem’ where office life becomes a bloodbath. It’s a fine horror-drama set-up full of possibilities but James Gunn here doesn’t seem to know how to write the best of it and forgets to sprinkle some jazz to make it sparkle. It’s decently if uninterestingly played but its conclusions – a group of locked-in people will always revert to and be overcome with violence – aren’t fresh and there is little to distinguish its initially promising premise. Its satirical high-point is a fight against a projection of a company promotional film, but it ends up being just another tokenly decent guy’s revenge fantasy against the overlords.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

One moment in 'Sorcerer'

'Sorcerer' - the rope bridge

William Friedkin, 1977, USA

Very few moments in cinema can perhaps capture the lunacy and gung-ho spirit of film-making than the rope bridge scene in William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Hey, let’s put a truck on a rickety rope bridge in the middle of torrential weather and drive it across. Yes, let’s do that. This is filtered through blue and a soundtrack of relentless storm: the scene let’s one truck cross, and then another that has more trouble as the river floods violently below and foliage is uprooted and goes flying. The weight of the truck is all one side at one point and it looks for sure that it will fall in. It looks perilous just to watch and it last around ten minutes.

Of course, the mystery and mechanics of it is laid out by Wikipedia, but the filming still reportedly was as crazy and as hard as it looks. Roy Scheider commented that shooting 'Sorcerer'  "made Jaws look like a picnic." It’s one of those mysteries whose debunking only increases the admiration of behind-the-scenes development. It’s something that CGI can’t hope to replicate.


Terminator Genisys

Alan Taylor, 2015, USA

Bang bang bang exposition bang bang bang Schwarzenegger bang “pops” bang bang bang exposition bang bang double-Scharwzeneggar! bang bosh bang time travel thingy bosh exposition exposition bang bang Hey, this isn’t very good, is it? Bosh Shut up! Turn up the banging! BANG BANG BOSH BANG etc

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

My Life as a Courgette

‘Ma vie de Courgette’
Claude Barras, 2016, 

Laika studio’s ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ showed how stop-motion animation can now be as smooth and seamless as CGI, but the joys of ‘My Life as a Courgette’ are the old-school rough edges, the tangibility of the aesthetic and movements. It’s so tactile that the ridges of a crayon line stand out like Braille and the felt of the character’s mask catches the light like and seems as textured as sugar. The backdrops and clothing are full of scope and detail but retain the charm of a kid’s homemade set. The colourscheme bears the pallet of a kid’s watercolour selection and the lighting is as dense and considered as any live action feature. In shots such as a high-angled view of a house as a train goes by just above, modern and older techniques seem to meet to revel in both contemporary smoothness and the delight of a DIY history.

With a screenplay by Céline Sciamma adapted from Gille Paris’ book, it’s a tale of simple kindness and friendship overcoming trauma which, in the name of dramatics, we perhaps don’t get enough of without lapsing into trite sentimentality. There is sentiment but it feels earned and genuine, offering the empathy of giving the kid characters respect and autonomy. It’s rooted in valid darkness as all the kids come from backgrounds that speak to real trauma, but despite the threat of the loneliness of suffering, ‘My Life as a Courgette’ pays tribute to the resilience of children and their friendships, as well as the unfussy kindness of adults always in the environment. 

It’s succinct with a running time of just over an hour, written in a direct but unpatronising manner and lush with its stop-animation delights. Its mildness may be mistaken for inconsequentiality rather than strident humanitarianism, but it’s a small and considerable gem.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Highlights of 2017 cinema

Because lists are popular and because there was so much to choose from:

The confrontation between Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in ‘Manchester by the Sea’. Confrontations are so often just arguments in drama, but this was something else: two people trying to talk about what they had been through but the rawness of feeling makes it impossible and the moment is a remarkable dance around body language and non sequetirs

The final kitchen scene in ‘Moonlight’. The openness of André Holland’s performance and Trevante Rhodes’ hesitancy and reticence make this moment thoroughly disarming.

The Brazilian in ‘Raw’: and I saw someone walk out during this.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2’: Baby Groot dancing to E.L.O.’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’. Electric Light Orchestra’s feel-good bombast, the cheesiness and melodies always disarm me, and although there are many other great moments, baby Groot dancing to 'Mr Blue Sky' is unashamedly cute and delightful.

The opening of ‘Dunkirk’: sets up the stakes straight away and only stepping away for a moment might save you from that unseen enemy that only wants to kill you.

The opening fight in ‘The Villainess’: the corridor scene of ‘Oldboy’ as done through ‘Hardcore Henry’. When she looks back to survey the carnage, the FrightFest audience applauded. 

Fight in holo-Vegas and the fight in a flood in ‘Blade runner 2049’. Yes, two moments that combined a brilliant mixture of the physical and effects. And if we are talking shots of the year, shots flying over the city and that shot of the ocean wall keeping back nature were exceptional.

The train arriving in ‘A Cure for Wellness’: the reflection of the scenery on the side of a train was a truly beautiful shot.

Explaining the cultural background of graffiti on a car: ’20th Century Women’. 

The men peeing in the jungle in ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’. But keep in mind one is a woman in Jack Black’s body, discovering the utilitarian purposes of the penis. 

The party in ‘Toni Erdmann’: a considerable melding of po-faced indie-drama, farce and surrealism.

The book-reading in ‘The Handmaiden’.

The car ride to the prom with Peter Parker and The Vulture in ‘Spider-man: Homecoming’. I could have gone for Peter’s gleeful recapping of his battle in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ at the start, or even his spider-sneaking into his room only to find he has been watched, but it’s this car ride that truly achieves something sinister and shows why Michael Keaton probably signed up for this.

The coastline of 'The Red Turtle'.

The warmth of the performances of André Holland (‘Moonlight’),
Michael Stuhlbarg (‘Call me By Your Name’) and Annette Benning (‘20th Century Women’) and Willem Defoe ('The Florida Project').

The wonderful density of performances by Anne Hathaway (‘Colossal’), Josh O’Connor (‘God’s Own Country’), Nicki Michaeux (‘Lowlife’), 

Tom Holland’s exuberance as Peter Parker; James Franco as Tommy Wisseau; the women of ‘In Between’; the comedy collective of ‘The Death of Stalin’.

The most calming backdrop and overall feel: ‘The Red Turtle’ and ‘Call Me by Your Name’. 

A mention for the  rope bridge scene in ‘Sorcerer’: it was an old film I saw at the cinema but this was truly jaw-dropping in an old-school way.