Sunday, 5 November 2017

Brian Eno & Kevin Shields - Only Once Away My Son

Very excited to hear this new collaboration. Kevin Shields is playing a live show in Iceland in late December and has announced there will be live shows and a new album by My Bloody Valentine in 2018.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

R.I.P. Tobe Hooper

Very sad to be posting again so soon on the death of a Horror icon. Tobe Hooper has died at the age of 74.

In the era following George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) several groundbreaking Horror films emerged from different regions across the USA and Canada including Last House on the Left (1972), Black Christmas (1974), It's Alive! (1974), Shivers (1975) and Halloween (1978). Key among these films was Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), the film with which he will be forever associated.

The standard narrative on Hooper's career is that after a strong beginning his career trailed off and stalled. This assessment has rarely been altered or challenged but it's a view that I've always rejected. Many have lazily written off Hooper's career, even suggesting that Chain Saw was a fluke. While it's true that few films have come close to matching Chain Saw's assault on the senses, its eccentricity and unorthodox brilliance were very much in evidence throughout his filmography. He rarely enjoyed the same level of freedom or control that he had on his seminal shocker.  While mainstream success often eluded him and he became a more marginal figure his career developed in interesting ways. It was often fraught with battles with producers, distributors, studios and censors.

A lifelong film buff, Hooper saw Texas Chain Saw as a calling card to a Hollywood career. It didn't quite transpire that way but in the decade that followed he delivered what now seems like an extraordinary run of films, starting with the deranged, EC comics-style chiller Eaten Alive (1976). The remarkable TV movie Salem's Lot (1979), about a quiet New England town overrun by vampires was one of his greatest achievements and remains one of the best Stephen King adaptations. The Funhouse (1981) was a sly take on the burgeoning slasher film of the early 1980s. Hooper seemed to achieve the mainstream breakthrough he craved with the 1982 blockbuster Poltergeist. However controversy surrounding the picture remains to this day over authorship of the picture, with some attributing the success of the film to producer and co-writer Steven Spielberg and there were even claims that Spielberg unofficially directed the film.

A 3 picture deal in the mid-1980s with the Cannon Film Group seemed like a promising development but the deal would soon turn sour. The first effort was the extraordinary sci-fi/Horror Lifeforce (1985). Like many Hooper films it would later find its audience on home video and become a cult classic. It was followed by a remake of the 1953 B-movie Invaders from Mars (1986) and the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), a sequel that confounded many with its overt black humour, satire and notably more graphic violence than its predecessor. Working with larger budgets and crews these three pictures showcased some of Hooper's most audacious and imaginative work but sadly the fallout from these pictures would effectively mark the end of his career as a mainstream filmmaker.

To my mind the combination of hostility and indifference that greeted his later films does reveal an underlying conservatism amidst Horror fans. He had an "anything goes" approach to Horror and redefined the genre by subverting its rules or ignoring them completely. The films hinted at brave new horizons for the genre that sadly few chose to pursue. His use of framing, lighting and decor were all part of his strong visual punch that transcended the sometimes schlocky concepts behind his work. For me the film that best exemplifies this is 1990's Spontaneous Combustion which strikes me as one of his finest works, although it was inevitably panned on release. I was pleased to hear it being championed by Japanese Horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who included it as one of his selections for lacinetek.

Television work provided a refuge at several times in Hooper's career. Notable credits include the TV movie I'm Dangerous Tonight, episodes of Tales from the CryptAmazing StoriesNight Visions, Freddy's Nightmares and a segment of the John Carpenter anthology film Body Bags (1993).

After the career low point of Crocodile (2000) the 21st century would see a resurgence for Hooper. He reteamed with Spielberg for the opening episode of the TV show Taken in 2002. The 2003 remake of Chain Saw by Marcus Nispel (a passable slasher film) arguably helped raised his profile after years of neglect (Salem's Lot would be remade in 2004 and Poltergeist in 2015). He was also championed by a younger generation of Horror directors, most prominently Rob Zombie and Eli Roth. Hooper bounced back in 2004 with a remake (in name only) of the 1970s exploitation flick Toolbox Murders, a slasher film with supernatural overtones that had the benefit of a terrific cast including Angela Bettis, Juliet Landau, Marco Rodriguez, Greg Travis & Rance Howard. The atmospheric zombie film Mortuary (2005) followed along with two episodes of 'Masters of Horror' Dance of the Dead and The Damned Thing. He showed himself to be open to new challenges in the later stages of his career, writing the novel Midnight Movie and his final film Djinn (2013) was made in the United Arab Emirates.

His career trajectory, going from a notorious breakthrough work to Hollywood exile, earned comparisons with Orson Welles and there are some striking parallels between the two. Like Welles there are neglected works that have been rediscovered (thanks to some terrific special edition DVDs/Blu-Rays from labels such as Arrow and Shout Factory) and previously unavailable offerings such as his early short film The Heisters (1963) and feature debut Eggshells (1969) have been restored and made available to new audiences.

Hooper's films have meant a great deal to me at different times of my life. As a young Horror fan I had a poster of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on my bedroom wall. Having been a proud advocate of that film for many years it's been nice to see its reputation has steadily grown over time. I would frequently trawl through the video stalls at Leeds Market in the 1990s looking for VHS copies of Hooper's rarer work - an early 1980s precert copy of The Funhouse was a much cherished find, as well as two films he made with Robert Englund - Night Terrors and The Mangler. At the start of the 21st century when the DVD format revolutionised home entertainment one of the first discs I purchased was Lifeforce - the version featured was a longer cut than the one that had been previously available. In 2004 I made a special trip to London to see Toolbox Murders at the Prince Charles Cinema as part of Frightfest. As I've grown more accustomed to streaming films it was with great delight last year that I was at last able to see his final feature Djinn online more than three years after it was first screened.

Although he was often mentioned alongside fellow North American genre masters such as George A. Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter I feel he was in some ways closer to European directors such as Jacques Tourneur, Mario Bava, Roman Polanski and Dario Argento with his macabre humour, surreal flourishes and brilliant control of atmospherics. Hooper understood that Horror was as much about shadows, mist, broken mirrors and old dark houses as it was about monsters. He was a frequently maligned and misunderstood filmmaker whose reputation rested on a small quantity of his output but for me his entire oeuvre has been a source of endless fascination and rewards.

R.I.P. Tobe Hooper (1943-2017)

Monday, 17 July 2017

R.I.P. George A. Romero

Heard the sad news this morning. The legendary director George A. Romero has died at the age of 77. One of the great icons of Horror and American Independent cinema, I've been a huge fan of his work since my teenage years. He made many great films starting with his extraordinary debut, the classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its various sequels.

Subsequent features include the suburban witchcraft tale Season of the Witch (1972), paranoia/contagion chiller The Crazies (1973), the remarkable modern vampire tale Martin (1978 - my own personal favourite), cult oddity Knightriders (1981) - which he regarded as his most personal film, the EC comic-style anthology Creepshow (1982) on which he collaborated with fellow Horror legend Stephen King, suspense tale Monkey Shines (1988) and the revenge thriller Bruiser (2000).

His career had many setbacks. He had a fraught relationship with Hollywood studios over unrealised projects - including a Poe adaptation with Isabella Rossellini and rejected scripts for new versions of The Mummy and Resident Evil that would be eventually made by other hands. There was a long period of inactivity during the 1990s where he spent most of the decade in development Hell and would only make one feature (1993's The Dark Half) which created a frustrating gap in his filmography. Despite his fondness for the genre and his cult following he was never able to escape his being typecast as a 'Horror director', to his occasional frustration. His last 3 films (Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009)) were all returns to the zombie series that made his reputation. They allowed him the free-reign and creative control that he fought hard to maintain throughout his career.

I got a chance to see Romero in London at the UK premiere of Land of the Dead in 2005 and it was a huge thrill. I still feel that film has never got its due recognition and was ahead of its time with its focus on growing inequality and social divides in the 21st century. He brought humour, satire, thought provoking social commentary and a sharp and distinctive eye for human frailties to his films. Discovering his output in the early years of my cinephilia was a huge deal for me and more than any other filmmaker made me aware of the vast possibilities of Horror cinema. I really felt like I'd found a kindred spirit through his work.

A fearless maverick, an undisputed icon and a true inspiration. Thank you George Romero for the incredible body of work and the indelible impression it has left on me and countless other filmgoers.

R.I.P. George A. Romero (1940-2017)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century

The New York Times published this list recently although I'm still uncertain what the justification was, besides being roughly 1/6 of the way through the current century. Needless to say it drew quite a response. A recent critics poll by the BBC also came under a lot of scrutiny. At least with that list I considered the top 2 films (Mulholland Drive and In the Mood for Love) to be sound choices.

With all the innovations that cinema has undergone in recent times and the rules changing about what constitutes a "film" I'm often disappointed by the conservatism of large parts of the critical establishment and movie going public. While I like quite a few of the titles that the New York Times chose (Spirited Away, White Material, The Gleaners & I, A Touch of Sin) much of the selection seems to have been made based on a rather rigid view of what constitutes great cinema.

As a response I put together a list of my 25 selections. For the sake of variety I only allowed one title per director as some of my favourite filmmakers (Michael Mann, Johnnie To, Terrence Malick, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) have produced several outstanding works in recent times that when combined could easily take up more than half the list.

1. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
2. Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)
3. The New World (2005, Terrence Malick)
4. The Wind Rises (2013, Hayao Miyazaki)
5. Sparrow (2008, Johnnie To)
6. Tomorrow We Move (2004, Chantal Akerman)
7. Battle Royale (2000, Kinji Fukasaku)
8. Lights in the Dusk (2006, Aki Kaurismaki)
9. Paprika (2006, Satoshi Kon)
10. Lourdes (2009, Jessica Hausner)
11. Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang)
12. Thirst (2009, Park Chan-wook)
13. Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)
14. Arrietty (2010, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
15. The Duchess of Langeais (2007, Jacques Rivette)
16. 20 30 40 (2004, Sylvia Chang)
17. Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)
18. Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)
19. 4:44 Last Day on Earth (2011, Abel Ferrara)
20. Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)
21. Things to Come (2016, Mia Hansen-Love)
22. Confessions (2010, Tetsuya Nakashima)
23. TRON: Legacy (2010, Joseph Kosinski) - have to have at least one controversial choice in here.
24. Barbara (2012, Christian Petzold)
25. The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black)

Monday, 29 May 2017

52 Films by Women - 2017

I heard about this campaign in 2016 and it seemed like a great idea. One of my film viewer resolutions this year is to see at least 52 films by 52 female directors. For whatever reasons, films directed by women still seem to be in the minority of general releases and perhaps more than any other other major position in the film industry it seems directing is the one role above all others that remains disproportionately low for women. Hopefully we're at a point where the contribution of female directors to cinema as an artform and entertainment is being more acknowledged and appreciated. Each year I find that many of the most exciting talents in film today are female directors and I hope the number of women behind the camera will grow in years to come. This viewing mission should allow me to discover more names and titles that I'd previously been unaware of as well as seeing lesser known works from established directors. I'll update this list throughout the year.

3/1/17: La chambre (1972, Chantal Akerman)
8/1/17: Madchen in Uniform (1931, Leontine Sagan & Carl Froelich)
20/1/17: The Last Mistress (2007, Catherine Breillat)

9/2/17: Love Crimes (1992, Lizzie Borden)
12/2/17: Men (1997, Zoe Clarke-Williams)
25/2/17: Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt)
26/2/17: Slitch (2003, Dianne Bellino), Mutations (1972, Lillian Schwartz)

21/3/17: The Apple (1998, Samira Makhmalbaf)
22/3/17: Glimpse of the Garden (1957, Marie Menken)
30/3/17: Faust and Mephistopheles (1903, Alice Guy)
31/3/17: At Land (1944, Maya Deren)

12/4/17: 20 30 40 (2004, Sylvia Chang)
17/4/17: Father of My Children (2009, Mia Hansen-Love)
25/4/17: Lourdes (2009, Jessica Hausner)

5/5/17: Bringing Up Bobby (2011, Famke Janssen)
10/5/17: The Life of Death (2012, Marsha Onderstijn)
The Falling (2014, Carol Morley)
29/5/17: The Black Dog (1987, Alison De Vere)
30/5/17: Lore (2012, Cate Shortland)

5/6/17: Gas Food Lodging (1992, Allison Anders)
8/6/17: Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, Agnes Varda)
14/6/17: Orlando (1992, Sally Potter)
18/6/17: Bridges-Go-Round (1958, Shirley Clarke)
Immer Zu (1997, Janie Geiser)
19/6/17: The Green Ray (2001, Tacita Dean)
21/6/17: Dark Touch (2013, Marina de Van)
24/6/17: Under the Skin (1997, Carine Adler)
25/6/17: A Simple Life (2011, Ann Hui)
28/6/17: Saving Face (2004, Alice Wu)

14/7/17: Jesus' Son (1999, Alison Maclean)
25/7/17: The Beguiled (2017, Sofia Coppola)

2/8/17: Top of the Lake: China Girl (2017, Jane Campion & Ariel Kleiman)
Sleeping Beauty (2011, Julia Leigh)
3/8/17: In a Heartbeat (2017, Beth David & Esteban Bravo)
9/8/17: Slums of Beverly Hills (1998, Tamara Jenkins)
15/8/17: Me and Me Dad (2012, Katrine Boorman)
16/8/17: The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig)
19/8/17: The Night Porter (1974, Liliana Cavani)
26/8/17: Detroit (2017, Kathryn Bigelow)
28/8/17: My Life Without Me (2003, Isabel Coixet)

19/9/17: Peppermint Soda (1977, Diane Kurys)
22/9/17: Suzanne (2013, Katell Quillevere)
25/9/17: A Girl at My Door (2014, July Jung)
28/9/17: Take Care of My Cat (2001, Jeong Jae-eun)

23/10/17: The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975, Volker Schlondorff & Margarethe von Trotta)

5/11/17: The Breadwinner (2017, Nora Twomey)
6/11/17: Dark River (2017, Clio Barnard)
10/11/17: Oh Lucy! (2017, Atsuko Hirayanagi)
16/11/17: You Were Never Really Here (2017, Lynne Ramsay)

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Cannes 2017 watchlist

As the Cannes film festival draws to a close I thought I'd do a list for future reference of titles that have been screened at the festival that I hope to see over the coming months. If past trends are anything to go by it may take a while for some of these to reach UK screens.

Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Okja (Bong Joon-ho)
In the UK we're still waiting for a release of Bong's 2013 feature Snowpiercer. There were rumours that this would only be available via streaming on Netflix.
Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis)
Based on a True Story (Roman Polanski)

Special Mention:
Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
I've already seen the first 4 episodes of the new series and it has certainly confounded expectations. It's great to have Lynch back working on a major new project after seemingly abandoning feature films following Inland Empire in 2006. There's a lot I'm looking forward to in 2017, as you can tell from this list, but this could very well be the film/TV event of the year.

Promising Titles:
Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike)
This is apparently Miike's 100th film. I knew he was prolific but I wasn't fully aware until now of how much catching up I have to do with his filmography.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Lanthimos's transition to English language features (2015's The Lobster) managed to retain the dry, surreal, deadpan humour and satire of his Greek films so I'm eager to see what he does next.
The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
Claire's Camera (Hong Sang-soo)
Visages, Villages (Agnes Varda & JR)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
In the Fade (Fatih Akin)
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)
Alive in France (Abel Ferrara)
Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont)

Happy End (Michael Haneke)
Haneke has been a Cannes favourite for some time now having previously won major awards for The Piano Teacher and Hidden and the Palme D'Or for The White Ribbon and Amour. After an extraordinary run of films in the early 2000s I've cooled a little on Haneke. His US remake of Funny Games was ill judged and the reserved and clinical Amour wasn't the revelation that I'd been led to expect. Like Kubrick his formal brilliance became too mannered. With his knack for challenging subjects (in this case the refugee crisis in Europe) Happy End will hopefully see the director regaining the edge and urgency of his best work.
Top of the Lake (Jane Campion)
I wasn't overly keen on the first series of this New Zealand set mystery drama. I'd much rather see a new feature film from Campion but I'll happily watch any new effort from her.

Ismael's Ghosts (Arnaud Desplechin)
The opening film of the festival was lambasted by critics but this film has a dream cast (Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the hostile response actually piqued my interest.
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
I may have been overly harsh on Lynne Ramsay. Her first two features (Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar) announced an outstanding new talent in British cinema. Since then it's been a frustrating waiting game and after a 9 year gap her third feature (2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin) was a crushing disappointment. It seems she's now settled on making features in the US.
Barbara (Mathieu Amalric)
The Merciless (Byun Sung-hyun)
The Villainess (Jung Byung-gil)
Good Time (Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie)
Radiance (Naomi Kawase)
A Gentle Creature (Sergei Loznitsa)
The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
I'm not sure what this new version of Don Siegel's 1971 classic can do to improve on its predecessor but the talent involved could potentially produce something interesting.
L'amant double (Francois Ozon)
Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Napalm (Claude Lanzmann)
How to Talk to Girls as Parties (John Cameron Mitchell)
Filmworker (Tony Zierra)
The Rider (Chloe Zhao)
Golden Years (Andre Techine)
Walking Past the Future (Li Ruijun)