You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Saturday, 29 August 2015

THE NIGHTMARE



What’s the worst night’s sleep you’ve ever had? However bad it may have been The Nightmare delves into something worse: the nighttime torment of eight sufferers of sleep paralysis — a condition equally notable for bizarre and terrifying visions. From visitations by shadowy figures — more literally, figures made of shadow — to out-of-body experiences, Rodney Ascher’s documentary relies on firsthand testimony as opposed to scientific evidence: they all seem to the agree that the medical community seems singularly unable to offer remedy for the condition. The film commits to genuinely creepy recreations, taking its cues from classic ‘80s horror — in particular, Phantasm comes to mind1 — augmented by Jonathan Snipes’ suitably unsettling score.2 The use of inter titles lends a certain somber tone to an otherwise free-form exploration. Talk of seeing into parallel universes could evoke cynicism — one sufferer’s experiences are distinctly Roswell — but the shared mythology that builds up around them is certainly absorbing. One of these visitors is shown passing backstage between the bedroom sets, perhaps pulling a sinister double shift. Ascher displays similarly playful sensibilities to Room 237, his cult examination of Kubrick’s The Shining. An anecdote that suggests sleep paralysis may be communicable is alarming3, but these glimpses at the “other side” — and the strange gravitas of many of its victims — may have you perversely curious to experience it for yourself.4

 

The Nightmare gets a 7 out of 10


1
Acknowledging here that this was released in 1979.
2 Scenarios throughout the genre, most recently in Insidious, suggest directors may themselves be familiar with the condition.
3 It seems to be the psychic equivalent of the STDemon from It Follows.
4 EDIT: Heading to bed now and I've already changed my mind. Nope, nope, nope. Do Not Want.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.



The second blockbuster based on a ‘60s spy series to hit this summer, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. provides a stylish jaunt back to the Cold War. 

Following a red-tinted title sequence that provides a potted history of recent U.S-Russia relations, we find ourselves in 1963. Suave CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) extracts scrappy car mechanic Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) from behind the Iron Curtain, only narrowly escaping from the KGB’s Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), a Soviet Superman with a volatile temper. After this antagonistic first encounter – Solo takes a shot at Kuryakin; Kuryakin tears the bumper off Solo’s car – the two find themselves forced into an uneasy alliance. 



There are fascists to be thwarted, like jewellery-bedecked ice queen Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) and her scrap-booking torturer,  facilities to be infiltrated1, and nuclear secrets to be recovered. Solo and Kuryakin’s, AKA Cowboy and (Red) Peril's, strained relationship is consistently amusing – the former enjoys an impromptu picnic dinner, listening to Italian jazz, while the latter is being chased down and shot at – and Hammer and Vikander’s rough-and-tumble chemistry keeps things interesting during the film's middle stretches.2 

Despite Lionel Wigram’s and director Guy Ritchie’s droll script, liberally sprinkled with double entendres, there’s nothing hugely memorable about the action on display: a stop-start car chase through East Berlin, a panoramic dune buggy pursuit – it’s nothing that Mission: Impossible  hasn’t already offered up.3 Cavill charms, Hammer broods, and Hugh Grant pops in for an amiably sardonic turn as future boss Waverly.4  Ritchie brings his usual bag of hyperkinetic tricks – cross-cutting and split-screens abound – with a few nice Spaghetti Western touches.5

"How’s that for entertainment?” Cavill asks coolly during the Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s too-neat denouement. Not bad, Mr. Solo – solid, but hardly likely to shake up Bond.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. gets 3*6


1 Which incorporates a variation on the old “The Russian’s used a pencil” anecdote.
2 Her bedroom dance in  sunglasses and striped pyjamas to Cry To Me is wonderfully kitsch. Thanks to Charlotte Ambrose for confirming the song title.
3 Vikander’s role definitely feels like a throwback given Rebecca Ferguson’s ass kicking.
4 His greying hair and age spots also bespeak an endearing lack of vanity on this occasion.
5 Like the rattlesnake rattle al a Ennio Morricone that warns us when Kuryakin’s about to go ape
6 This is a film that doesn’t even require my perhaps somewhat over-elaborate x out of 10.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

FANTASTIC FOUR (2015)


Thanks to Aileen Flanagan for joining me to see this one. She had a lot of cool things to say, some of which have made my way into this review.


If Bryan Singer’s X-Men uses being a mutant as a metaphor for being gay then Josh Trank’s gritty Fantastic Four reboot would seem analogous to being a hormonal teen.

Its central quarter is certainly a moody bunch: dweeby genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), whose parents don’t understand him; Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), a would-be hard-case from a bad home1; Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan)2, who has daddy issues with Professor Franklin (the usually captivating Reg E. Cathey); and Sue Storm (Kate Mara), who’s good at pattern recognition and likes music3. Oh, and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who’s also a genius and a leather-jacketed bad boy to boot. Not that any of these character traits lead anywhere.

There’s a lot of time spent in the lab to not much effect; a couple of shots at humor, most of which you’ll have seen in the trailer4; and an ill-advised journey to another dimension5. We’re halfway into the film before the subject of “powers” even arises and then it’s less about taking flight and more The Fly-style body horror. Reed becomes a human Stretch Armstrong (complete with freaky muscle definition); Ben finds himself claustrophobically trapped in a pile of rocks6; Sue starts fading in and out like she's got bad reception; and then there's Johnny, the Human Tire Fire. It’s all delivered so stoically and self-seriously it verges on deadpan, even skipping over the team coming to terms with their powers (the best part of Trank’s previous venture into the superhero genre, Chronicle).7
 


Fantastic Four treats these abilities, which are on the face of it ludicrous, as serious conditions to be grappled with8. The first half of the film feels like it’s building for something that never comes, then speeds towards an unearned climax involving Doom who — complete lack of motivation aside — wants to destroy the world9 and resembles a man who’s had an accident with a microwave, some tinfoil, and a pack of green LEDs.10 Usually a one-star rating feels punitive (“Hey, look at this piece of sh*t”), but here it’s cautionary, even a little sad.11

The script has a of interesting thoughts in it — like the idea that we make celebrities of astronauts but not the people who builds their ships — but somehow the joy and adventure has all been leeched away. Instead of bright blue spandex the film offers us black containment suits and haptic gloves. Even the fan service feels like work. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography brings polish to the grey-hued colour palette but the film’s score, by the renowned composers Marco Beltrani and Phillip Glass, is Hans Zimmer lite. There’s an air of compromise to the whole thing, which might make you wonder if there’s a better version of this film out there in the ether.12

Fantastic Four is the sort of teenager that eats his greens, does his homework, then forgets to go out and play, and what sort of fun is that?

Fantastic Four AKA Fant4stic13 gets a 3.5 out of 10


1 Ben gets his iconic catchphrase, “It’s clobberin’ time!”, from his abusive older brother. Seriously. “Grimm” is about right.
2 Johnny’s black and a mechanical engineer so the film introduces him drag racing, of course.
3 Any music. After the incident Mara gets to wear an awful wig, though, which is something, I guess.
4 Like Reed’s inability to return a fist bump or Johnny’s ill-timed use of a chair pedal.
5 Like going into space only cheaper, one presumes.
6 Twist: he is the rocks. Jamie Bell’s voice, meanwhile, is so digitally altered in order to make it sound gravelly that it might as well not be him.
7 The closest we get is Reed crawling through an air duct a la Eugene Victor Tooms in The X-Files before an inexplicable "One Year Later" time jump.
8 Or else exploited by the presumably evil military industrial complex in the form of a gum-smacking Tim Blake Nelson.
9 Nu-Doom's preferred method of eliminating obstacles is blowing up heads. Because.
10 And where the f*ck did he get that cape?
11 Hence all the footnotes.
12 Like Trank himself has recently suggested. Teller’s wooden expositing in the final confrontation would certainly seem to be indicative of reshoots.
13 Yep, that’s apparently a thing.

Friday, 7 August 2015

THE MOTHER LODE

Here's an alphabetic list of all my articles that are currently available at at The Metropolist (www.themetropolist.com). There are... a few.

In any case, it gives a pretty good overview of my opinion on the last couple of years of film with the occasional retrospective or TV bit thrown in for good measure.


REVIEWS

FILM (BY STAR RATING)

1*

2*

3*

4*

5*
Whiplash


TV (BY STAR RATING)

1*

2*

3*

4*

5*
Wolf Hall pilot



EDITORIALS

Spirited Away (retrospective)


There are a few noticeable absences, like Birdman, which were covered by someone else. Also, the TV selections, you may have noticed, are a bit arbitrary. 

I've done the occasional revision of star ratings along the way (as far as conscience permits), but it's all pretty representative of my original opinions.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION


Another Mission: Impossible film, another meaningless subtitle. As the season of the super-spy commences – Man from UNCLE promises slick self-referential silliness, SPECTRE seems likely to continue the trend of Bond as dark, ambitious psychological thriller – Tom Cruise returns to the role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt, by now probably the most disavowed person in cinema history.

On the hunt for the Syndicate, a “rogue nation” – I think they mean "organisation" – running its own black ops, Hunt is also on the run from the CIA, embodied in the form of humourless director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin, the original Jack Ryan himself). From its well-publicised opening set piece, which brings new meaning to the term “cruising altitude”, we follow Hunt around the globe, from Paris to Morocco to London, on land – via car and motorbike – and underwater: the film’s most thrilling sequence is similar to the now famous wire one from the first Mission: Impossible only this time the server is submerged and the audience isn’t the only one holding their breath.



Cruise is his usual lean, mean, reliably charming self, Simon Pegg – in the closest the series has ever had to a duel lead – remains endearingly gawky as techie-turned-field-agent Benjie, Jeremy Renner AKA Hollywood’s secondary leading man – well, tertiary here – is mostly side-lined but gets a good line in bureaucratic denial, and Ving Rhames is, well, Ving Rhames1. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation does break the mold somewhat in the addition of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, star of BBC drama The White Queen), a mysterious female operative who's Ethan’s equal on every level, and Solomon Lane, leader of the Syndicate (played by Sean Harris as a strangely chilling cross between an evil Yurtle the Turtle and one of the nihilists from The Big Lebowski)2.

Chris McQuarrie's direction is stylish but not over-stylised — unlike, say, John Woo's second instalment, though there’s a nice Hitchcockian flourish involving an assassination at the opera and some sheet music3. Like with Brad Bird and Ghost Protocol McQuarrie seems a natural fit for what’s become the epitome of the non-superhero blockbuster franchise. Whatever nice things I may have said about the most recent installment, Fast & Furious wishes it was this slick.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation gets a 7 out of 10


1 This is basically all he does now, right?
2 Thanks to Glenn Mortimer for pointing out that — SPOILER! — the film’s final act is pretty much the season one finale of Sherlock with Cruise as Sherlock, Benjie as Watson, and Lane as Moriarty.
3 Also, Tom Cruise fights a big guy who, actually, given the height difference, is probably about 5’8”.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

INSIDE OUT


Say what you want about the superhero genre, over the past twenty years Pixar has turned our childhoods into a cottage history. From the animated playthings of Toy Story to the night terrors of Monsters, Inc., with the occasional sequel and prequel thrown in, no studio has displayed such consistent inventiveness and insight into the processes of growing up.

Inside Out, the most recent brainchild of Up director Pete Docter, takes us inside the head of Riley, a precocious eleven year-old girl. From the moment the infant Riley stirred into consciousness there is Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), a vivacious yellow sprite charged with Riley’s happiness. She’s quickly joined by dumpy blue Sadness (Phyllis Smith), volcanic red Anger (Lewis Black), sassy green Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and cringing purple Fear (Bill Hader).

Squabbling for their place on the control panel of Riley’s mind, they dictate her reactions to everything that happens, banking the memories that form and watching over the Coney Island-style floating masses that make up her personality. Joy holds sway in day to day life, keeping the others in line and Sadness sidelined.

However, when Riley’s parents (Diane Lane and Kyle McLachlan) take her from the winter wonderland of Minnesota to San Francisco — affectionately portrayed as a bit of a dump — Riley’s emotions are thrown totally out of whack.  Joy suddenly finds herself ejected from headquarters at the worst possible time and, with Sadness almost literally in tow, must make her way across the perilous landscape of Riley’s mind to get home.


Inside Out is possessed of enormous creativity, both visually and conceptually, from the Bubble Shooter stacks that make up Riley’s longterm memory to Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s disregarded imaginary friend, whose part elephant, part cotton candy. While the emotions themselves are, by their nature — Anger erupts, Fear cowers, Disgust tuts — the film derives its complexity from how these interpersonal dynamics impact Riley’s life.

As a result, Riley, played by sixteen-year-old newcomer Kaityln Dias, might be the most fully-realized character in all Pixar history in how well we understand her; all the more impressive in that she’s essentially shaded with primary colors.  An expressive, blue-eyed tomboy, and fundamentally happy kid, due to Joy’s influence, Riley’s whole personality is put at risk as the things that make up who she is begin to crumble into the purple chasm of the Memory Dump.

The film’s biggest achievement is in translating this complex, metaphorical environment into a fun psychological journey — inspired by the work of psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman, it’s the closest a "kid's film" is ever likely to get to Inception.  Luckily Inside Out is not only deeply moving but laugh out loud funny; it’s sheer originality is a constant source of joy (lower case). It’s also arguably the most ambitious film about how we become who are are since Boyhood.

Having first conceived of the idea in 2009 after observing his own daughter, it’s clearly a passion project for Docter and every detail — mum’s gold-hinted memory/fantasy about a Brazilian helicopter pilot or the exact of curve of dad’s ineffectual moustache — feels expertly shaped, including Michael Giaccino’s evocative score. Which isn’t to say there’s not also a healthy dose of outright silliness, like in the jellybean guards who keep patching a catchy chewing gum jingle through to HQ, guaranteed to send Anger apoplectic.

Regardless of its precursors, like the Cranium Command ride at Epcot that Docter worked as animator on, or the old Numbskulls comic strip in the Beano, Inside Out makes a first-rate addition to the Pixar canon. Creative and emotive in equal measure, when even the short that precedes it is a minor gem*, it’s hard to argue with nostalgia when it gives us films like this.


Inside Out gets an 8.5 out of 10


*Lava, featuring a lonely volcano singing about his unfound love a la Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole. It has a lot of puns (well, one, but they use it a lot).