Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2017 ’ Category

AMERICAN VALHALLA

American Valhalla

This documentary about the making of Iggy’s final album, Post Pop Depression, with collaborator Josh Homme from Queen’s of The Stone Age is a fascinating insight into the working processes behind what became a great album to rival Iggy’s previously best works.
Directed by Andreas Neumann and Homme himself –he obviously understood the momentous scope of the project and wanted to capture every detail on film or in journals and diaries- it is an intimate portrait of an artistic endeavour few outside the inner working circle of record making very rarely glimpse. The fact that not only are Homme and Pop huge influential characters on the music scene but both have immense charisma means that this film has an advantage over other films in its genre. Never once does it lapse into muso ramblings or terrain which might appeal only to the most avid fan.
Instead it compels and draws you into the process from its very first frames wherein we see the band about to perform the album live for the first time with them already onstage playing the upbeat and frenetic intro to the classic ‘Lust for Life’ while Iggy limbers up behind a monitor waiting to explode onto the stage. When he does a huge surge of adrenaline coursed through my body and a huge smile erupted across my face.
Even at this late stage of his life Iggy is still the personification of what rock and roll is really all about!
As for the recording process, most of it took place at the legendary Joshua Tree ‘home’ studio for authenticity; to try to capture a feel suited to the album’s subject matter.
The recording complete segues into the realisation that the results were so good that there was a need to tour the album culminating in the now legendary show at The Royal Albert Hall in London. If I have one criticism of this film it is that there could maybe have been more footage of this kind as it merely whetted my appetite.
Leave them wanting more I guess.
There was also a great sense of rapport, understanding and respect between Homme and Pop as witnessed in the latter interviews of the pair in an empty auditorium. One particularly touching moment is when they are discussing a major interview for the album wherein Iggy has to travel to New York on a morning flight but is awoken in the early hours to be told David Bowie had passed away. At this juncture he wells up-as did I- and you can see he is on the precipice of an emotional collapse but the camera cuts away as a mark of respect.
Apparently this was a one-off screening of this film so I am unsure whether it will make it into the cinemas again but if you can see it in any way at all then please make sure you do. As for the record itself, well it definitely ranks up there with The Idiot and Lust for Life as one of Iggy’s best and most consistent solo offerings and one that no-one expected from the then 69 year old. Then again superseding everyone’s expectations is always what Iggy does best!

THE HANDMAIDEN

The Handmaiden

Taking its central themes and inspirations from the 2002 Sarah Waters novel Fingersmith this erotic thriller directed by Park Chan-wook constantly strives to outguess its audience with each of its three sections exploring the same tale from a different character perspective.
A much more complex and interesting take on the original tale of a pickpocket lifted from poverty to high society in Dickensian London than the BBC drama from 2005 even though both are period dramas the question of location literally sets them worlds apart as by transplanting the action to South Korea –under colonial Japanese rule- there is an exoticism and erotica the earlier interpretation never achieved.
The tale remains basically the same when a pickpocket is used to try and help an unscrupulous conman posing as a Count seduce an heiress out of her fortune when it becomes clear that sexually she is more attracted to women than men thus requiring female complicity as his own masculinity obviously falls short.
What then follows is a web of deceit, intrigue, sexual duplicity and a plot which keeps second guessing its audience and holds their attention rapt.
Beautifully shot amidst outstanding scenery with stunning sets- the palatial residence of the supposedly duped heiress is part Victorian Gothic mansion and part traditional Japanese and as labyrinthine as the action- which combine to make the whole viewing process even more of a visually stimulating experience than it already is.
Although the film clocks in at around two and a half hours long the great central performances alongside plot devices and exotic settings somehow conspire into making the time fly by.

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

I Am Not Your Negro

This Oscar nominated documentary by Raoul Peck focuses on author and civil rights activist James Baldwin and his personalised recounting of the struggles and assassinations of three of his close friends, allies and fellow civil rights campaigners and/or activists: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Unfortunately he died several months after embarking on this project in 1979 so we will never know what conclusions he eventually reached regarding some of the changes that took place in his lifetime.
It is a stunning and utterly captivating piece of work which highlights the struggles of the African-American in 1960’s culture when it seemed anything was possible and change was not only inevitable but necessary. It was going to be long, hard fight however.
Baldwin’s fictional work at this stage was beautifully written prose and his stand out works- Go Tell it on the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room and Another Country- tackled taboo subjects, both racially and sexually motivated, in a fashion that furthered his beliefs without ever being didactic. His message was always very clear however and that message was one of injustice and that survival meant a change in both moral and racial codes.
Baldwin also published poetry and short stories to further that message even further and also appeared on the TV and lecture circuit where he called out the racist standards inherent in American culture at this time. An interesting excerpt on the Dick Cavett show in 1969- Cavett looks as nervous as he did five years later when confronted with a drug addled David Bowie in his most outlandish and talked about interview- sees him pitted a right-wing conservative ‘expert’ and subsequently demolish him most eloquently and elegantly; making a point without having to force it.
His interesting analogy that black Americans were brought up being force-fed white heroes such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper and rooting for them in the movies as they obliterated the Native tribes was an eye opener for Baldwin when he realised that the native tribes were in fact him and his culture and that he was already being conditioned to oppose them.
The fact that he was also homosexual was a double whammy but that is only looked at briefly in this documentary as it is not the central theme of the work.
The most interesting and poignant thing about this documentary is how far things actually did change. At one point there is talk of a black President in the next forty years and the idea is thoroughly ridiculed. If in fact the two decades leading up to the Obama years were neglected and history moved sharply into the Trump administration it would be easy to say that little change had been effected at all as the racial divisions which drove the civil rights campaign fifty years ago are as wide as they ever were. Or perhaps they are just as apparently obvious again.
This documentary although it looks at a particular time in history is just as relevant as ever. In fact as much can be learnt today from the viewpoints it contains and similarly they can also be acted upon and things can hopefully move forward yet again.

Free Fire

Free Fire

This latest addition to the impressive Ben Wheatley canon draws together a strong cast- Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hamner, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley and Sam Riley- and assembles them in a deserted warehouse in 1970’s Boston. There an arms deal between two Irishmen, Chris and Frank-respectively Murphy and Smiley- and a dandy South African Vernon (Shopley) set up by the fixer Justine (Larson) is about to go down.
And go down it certainly does!
Pretty soon an argument breaks out between a couple of the hired help over a transgression the previous night and the whole scenario descends into a shoot out of epic proportions. Comparisons are inevitable with the shoot out in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs even down to the incongruous anodyne musical choices at moments of tension; here Annie’s Song by John Denver replaces Stealers Wheel’ s Stuck in the Middle with You for comic relief.
What follows for the next hour is a hail of bullets, a barrage of witty dialogue inside a collapsing building and surroundings which ultimately do more harm than the bullet storm; maiming and fatally wounding each participant until it becomes clear that no-one is going to leave that warehouse unscathed even if they do manage to stay alive.
If fast paced action shoot-outs are your type of thing then I have no hesitation in recommending this film as it is definitely a prime example of this particular genre. However I must admit I felt my attention wandering about twenty-five minutes into the carnage and felt that an opportunity had been wasted with such a stellar cast and greater use could have been made of their actual acting abilities- as opposed to rolling around in broken glass, rubble and eventually agonising pain- and there could have been either more build up or comedown before and after the action theme took over with more dialogue and deeper character analysis.
However the premise of this film never was to explain the underlying nature of the characters or to engender any interest in their back story and even the deal at the centre of the whole film is sketchy and vague about who is actually involved or even why.
As an action movie Free Fire delivers admirably on every level and of course Wheatley manages to create an overall look and feel which never disappoints. Add an attractive strong cast and Free Fire is a visually arresting feature which takes no prisoners.

PERSONAL SHOPPER

Personal Shopper

Kriten Stewart gives an outstanding performance in this understated film directed by Oliver Assaya. That is not to say that the film is not flawed in certain respects- in fact the central premise of s supernatural ghost story is unconvincing and the potentially the film’s weakest link- but Stewart’s all engrossing habitation of her character Maureen is never anything less than compelling.
Maureen works as a personal shopper for a celebrity named Kyra- it is never clear exactly what she is famous for- and harbours frustration and resentment at her role as she feels it is unsatisfactory; although it pays well it prevents her from doing what she really wants. A major reason for her staying in this job however is the fact it is based in Paris which is where her twin brother recently died and she believes that by staying there he will try and contact her from the afterlife in a pact they made before his death.
This all becomes secondary however when her life takes an unexpected turn when she becomes a central figure in her boss’s brutal murder and when she becomes embroiled in text message game of cat and mouse with what initially seems like an insignificant character.
The film maintains an underground art-house feel to it although it is similar to this year’s Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’ in that at its conclusion it raises more questions than it answers and this is a relief as the tired formula of a conclusive ending- as demanded by most mainstream films- was always something I found frustrating and a little predictable. By not providing any finite answers Assaya allows the characters and their situations to linger in your mind and imagination some time after the film’s credits have rolled.
As stated before this film is really a tour de force for Stewart and her performance but it is still an intriguing work which captures the uncertainty and stifling nature of its central character’s life. If the ghost story part is unconvincing it is probably just that ghost stories in general are.

T2 TRAINSPOTTING

T2 Trainspotting
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Admittedly I was initially nonplussed by the original Trainspotting feature due to being more impressed by the novel and preferring subsequent stage productions- particularly those at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last two years- but time has mellowed my original weary scepticism and I now wholly appreciate that it is a landmark film of its time; those are the very qualities which clouded my first impressions incidentally.
Anyway who could resist a film which boosted the careers of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed bringing them to the attention and subsequent prominence to a whole new generation?
This sequel, re-introducing the original characters from Irvine Welsh’s book, therefore has a lot to live up to and this is it does to some extent although it offers nothing new nor any clear insights into what returning to your past actually means.
Re-assembling the original cast of Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan Bremner and Robert Carlyle as well as the superfluous addition of Kelly Mac Donald – whose scene is so incongruous it feels as if it is there simply for the sake of giving her a scene. Helmed once again by Danny Boyle this gives the film some additional kudos and a sense of the past merging with the present. However I felt now, as I did with the original production, that Ewan Mc Gregor is all out to sea with his performance and once again is the film’s weakest link.
However both Ewen Bremner as Spud and Robert Carlyle as Begbie are excellent in their roles and Jonny Lee Miller always has his charisma to help him through but the real star of the film is Edinburgh itself.
Never has the city looked so appealing on-screen and even in the more desperate scenes when the city’s underside is used to show its deprivation. It also helps having local characters such as Bradley Welsh in the role of a sauna owner cum gangster type and Garry Fraser as second unit director as well as a host of Edinburgh faces as extras giving the whole thing a local flavour. Even the much maligned trams make what must be their film debut.
The plot, for what it matters, revolves around Mark Renton’s ( Mc Gregor) return to Edinburgh and the people he ripped off for thousands twenty years before. The following action revolves around him setting up another scam and being pursued by an unforgiving Begbie who let’s say hasn’t let twenty years mellow his anger or his thirst for vengeance.
To anyone nostalgic for the thrills the original film provided at a time when ‘Cool Brittania’ ruled our pop culture and Trainspotting flew the Scottish flag high and proud then I would wholeheartedly recommend this film as it will awaken the lost youth of those days. On its own merits though T2 Trainspotting can hold its head high although the remix of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life at the films dénouement is unnecessary; some things should be left as they are and need neither remixed nor a sequel!
One thing that irked me however was if the film is set twenty years on from the original film which was set in the mid eighties why was there such a proliferation of smart phones which were nowhere near as ubiquitous around 2005-2006 as they are in this film. Just a minor detail but a detail nonetheless!