The 10th Victim (1965)

Don't worry, Marcello, I'm just as confused as you are.
Don’t worry, Marcello, I’m just as confused as you are.

I found The 10th Victim on Letterboxd. I’m not sure exactly how it emerged in my field of view, but probably some crazy collision of Blade Runner, The Hunger Games, and 8 1/2. Regardless, I ordered the Bluray, then settled in for an evening of messed-up Italian future-noir.

It took me a few runs at it, but I made it through. It’s not the easiest watch. Petri treads the line between noir, drama, and utter camp, and sometimes his editing lets him down as far as pacing goes. That said, his cinematographer does an amazing job to frame a very specifically production-designed future. The little touches like the yellow backlit back door on the Hunt Club, and the transparent phone box, and Marcello’s fantastic clear-topped car — these top off a perfectly-realised future-world more accurately than any leather-clad Jennifer Lawrence.

The influence of this film is clear: from Ursula’s bra-guns that no doubt inspired Austin Powers’ fembots, to the competition itself, which finds echoes in The Hunger Games and Maze Runner. Overall it’s worth a look, if only for Mastroianni’s calm and deliberate persona.

[cross-posted from Letterboxd]

A day of catching up

Not exactly emptying the Netflix queue, or making a dent in the Letterboxd watchlist, but still productive, I think. I also half-watched Mad Max: The Road Warrior and A Year In Champagne, which I’ll try to knock over by the end of the week.

Primer (2004)

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this film. I didn’t quite get it. But I really think that’s exactly the point. The dialogue is so obscure, so layered, so full of scientific jargon, but not at all in a deliberate, dramatic-concealment kind of way. If two dudes stumbled across time travel in a garage, I pretty much think this is how things would turn out. Give or take. I’ll let you know when I watch the film earlier tomorrow.

Seven Days in May (1964)

I expected something of a Cold War countdown, similar to Fail Safe, or its comic attache, Dr Strangelove. Instead I got a tensely-wound political thriller, quite simply detailed despite its tentacle-like story threads. Lancaster and March hold this up — and I say this in spite of the presence of Martin Balsam and Edmond O’Brien in supporting roles.

What struck me most of all today (and you may be sensing a pattern today) is the cinematography. The framing in some of the scenes of this film is phenomenal. Some of the editing, on the other hand (I speak for the sequence where Douglas watches Lancaster’s speech) is akin to proper ’70s paranoia films (I’m looking at you, Parallax View).

But this had me hanging, which is an achievement for films of this ilk. [cross-posted from Letterboxd]

Pandora’s Promise (2013)

Just to top off a day of science and paranoia, I finished up with this rather optimistic view of what nuclear power might offer a world aching for a clean and safe source of energy. I enjoyed this, despite its sometimes feeling a little like a Kickstarter promo video. [cross-posted from Letterboxd]

GI No: The Rise of Nope-ra

A bout with an entirely new illness (to add to my five-week-long tussle with sinusitis) has left me with little desire to do anything productive with my time (to be fair, this illness is partly defined by severe lethargy). Thus I’ve taken time to catch up with a few movies and TV this weekend (including a sizeable chunk of Season 5 of Castle).

I could wax lyrical about the moral cesspool of How To Sell A Banksy. I could reminisce about the very first time I saw GoldenEye (aged about 8: a very eye-opening experience). I could even deconstruct everything that’s a little off about Marcus du Sautoy’s pseudo-mathematic miniseries The Code. Instead, a brief disquisition on the other high art piece I was fortunate enough to catch up on this weekend: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Continue reading “GI No: The Rise of Nope-ra”

The Awakening (2011)

Awakening

I’ve never been a fan of horror cinema. I’m not sure whether that’s down to my experience of people hiring Saw LXII ad nauseum at Video Ezy, or my perhaps misguided decision to subject myself to The Exorcist, 28 Days Later, and Psycho in my formative years.

Quite why I decided, then, to watch The Awakening yesterday is beyond me, despite my undying love for the leading actress. The film is beautifully shot, as you’d expect from the BBC. The casting was just as impeccable, with Rebecca Hall aided by Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, and Bran from Game of Thrones. There were moments, while watching, where I thought I could almost be persuaded to watch more horror. The jump-scares weren’t terribly frequent, and the scripting actually wasn’t too cliched. There was a neat set-up — Hall plays a skeptic in 1920’s England, who is called upon to disprove the existence of a malevolent spirit in a remote boarding school. The context was wonderful, too: the characters have all been affected in some way by the war, and these scars (whether physical or psychological) affect their lives and their characters’ progressions.

The ending, though, left me cold — not chilled, but just cold. I think it’s endemic in a genre so rife with cliche to just take the easy way out. Having established the twist in the narrative (which I’ll leave out in case you’re keen to watch), the rest of the film fizzles, and we’re left with a question that’s pretty much already answered.

Period horror does tend to be the exception to the rule, in that you can explore historical themes and characterisation as well as the psychology of fear. There were just one too many hackneyed techniques in this one for me.

I jumped a shark and I liked it

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I really liked this film, and it’s really hard to articulate why. I’d seen all the criticism, read all the accounts of the demise of storytelling, character development, and good taste: hell, even the blaming of this movie for the single-handed demolition of the popcorn movie.

Somehow, though, five minutes in, I forgot all that. I didn’t find the story hard to follow. I didn’t find it particularly dumb (and certainly not intellectual). I enjoyed all the characters, including Ultron. The Romanov/Banner subplot was oddly sweet. Thor was, well, adorable. Hulk was hulkey. And yep, it still hit all the touchstones (pardon the pun) for the next few movies and, yep, I’ll probably go see them too.

Of course it’s not believable. Of course it’s not pristine storytelling. It’s got lots of stupid action in it for no real reason. There’s no time for real character development.

Reason? It’s a comic book movie. Go in with sub-zero expectations, like I did, and you’ll have a ball.

P.S. Fun fact: beyond this blog post, I have no desire whatsoever to write about Age of Ultron, certainly not from any academic perspective. Heh, maybe that’s why I liked it.

Speed and politics

Need for Speed (d. Scott Waugh, 2015).
Need for Speed (d. Scott Waugh, 2015).

Cinema is movement. Movement is change. Change is politics — politics regulates change.

Movement in the frame is thus political.

The addition of speed amplifies the political impetus of cinema. Movement is cinema.

* * *

[It’s okay, I haven’t lost it. These are perfunctory scribblings for upcoming research, that I thought were strangely poetic. Rough thoughts on the disappointingly not-that-disappointing Need for Speed here.]

My weekend, in film

As you will have gathered on Friday, I put together a rather formidable schedule of film viewing. This was partly due to the need to do a bit of catch-up, but also because after watching Snowpiercer and Drive the previous week, I was just in the mood to get some serious movie-watching done.

I was – well – well, look, I didn’t make it through all seven films. Lastnight, after half an hour or so of Christophe Honoré’s La Belle Personne, I hit critical mass and needed to switch off. This is no reflection on poor M. Honoré: his film looks stunning, and I’ll certainly return to it in the coming days.

Of those I did watch, I enjoyed The American most of all. Rather than re-hash my thoughts all over again, though, here they are, re-posted from my Letterboxd profile. Continue reading “My weekend, in film”

On Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer is a funny one. In a lot of ways it’s a mere shadow of films like The Road or I Am Legend, in the sense that humanity’s last remnants must struggle to survive after some great global calamity. However, it’s also about the Arab Spring. Maybe. Or about the Occupy movement. But, again, it’s not. Because the film was based on an obscure French graphic novel released some thirty years ago.

The parallel most easily drawn, I think, is with Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. In terms of setting, mood, tone, colour palette, the two films work quite well in this politico-apocalyptic mode. The fact that Snowpiercer (and its originator, Le Transperceneige) take place on a train, is often secondary to the class struggles that occur within. I’ve not read the comic, but I watched the French-language adaptation documentary on the bluray, and it seems that director Bong Joon Ho was determined to adapt the story rather than just translate it directly to the screen. This works, for me, in the film’s favour. The characters are mostly changed, from what I can tell; rather the setting, mood, and overall arcs are what remain from the comic.

As a few friends have noted, the pacing is odd, and I tend to agree. Rather than build and build right to the climax, the film seems to peak and trough with no rhythm. There are some stunning sequences, including the long-distance gunfight between carriages on a long bend: possibly my favourite from the entire film. These great set-pieces, though, are disconnected, and don’t fall into any sequential logic.

Snowpiercer fits alongside the other texts I’ve mentioned as ‘political’ cinema, albeit speculative. However, more than that, it fits into a cultural movement that transcends culture: what scientists and social commentators are calling the Anthropocene. McKenzie Wark has written and spoken eloquently on the cinema of the Anthropocene, in terms of a broad definition. He suggests it is now worth exploring cinema not in terms of character, but more in terms of setting. Further, he writes that maybe we should ‘ask about cinema as both a practice and a representation of energy-using systems.’

Snowpiercer is ‘Anthropocentric’ on all counts. The setting is crucial, despite its seeming obliviousness to the narrative. All characters are aware of the cold, and know they are secondary to it. The environment, thus, is the true tyrant. The train’s engine, ‘sacred’ as it is called by all the front passengers, is a representation of mankind’s reliance on technology, but also reflects this need to present energy and its considerations on screen. The cinema of the Anthropocene is contradictory in that human characters are both central to it, and yet entirely external. Rather, it is humanity’s irrevocable ruin of the landscape, inscribed as it is now geologically and atmospherically, that truly takes a starring role.

My theory of cinema

Thanks guys. #pilgrimage #lyon #institutlumiere
Institut Lumiere, Lyon, France. Photo by me.

I’m in the midst of writing a paper for inclusion in a semiotics journal that will eventually, I suppose, become my theory of cinema. The thing is, I could probably just cobble something together from Deleuze and wrap it around a conception of mobility and collaborative cultures. The more I think about it, though, the more intrigued I’m getting about just what my conception of cinema is. ‘Cinema’ doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did fifty years ago. Nor twenty, or even ten years ago. It’s coming to mean the original ‘niche’ understanding of the broad swathe of films that aren’t made, necessarily, for commercial gain. In this sense, ‘cinema’ means a body of filmed work that speaks to something larger than the typical art/commerce spectrum. The definition of what that larger something is, thus, becomes the crux of this paper I’m working on. My issue, though, is that I don’t think movies-for-the-masses should necessarily be excluded from the category of ‘cinema’. I guess I’ll have to work in some social angle, and I guess the mobility and consumer-creation stuff is the bridge there. Anyway – expect more disjointed rantings on the subject as I work through this.