1. Call Me By Your Name
2. Lady Bird
3. The Post
4. The Shape Of Water
6. A Ghost Story
7. The Meyerowitz Stories
8. Get Out
9. Blade Runner 2049
10. All The Money In The World
Dec 29, 2017
1. Timothee Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
2. Michelle Williams, All The Money In The World
3. Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
4. James Franco, The Disaster Artist
5. Laurie Metcalf, LadyBird
6. Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
7. Barry Keoghan, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
8. Alison Janney, I Tonya
9. Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
10. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Dec 28, 2017
Dec 15, 2017
1. The Shape Of Water — Alexandre Desplat
2. Call Me By Your Name — Sufjan Stevens, Ryuichi Sakamoto
3. Phantom Thread — Johnny Greenwood
4. Wonderstruck — Carter Burwell
5. Blade Runner 2049 — Hans Zimmer
6. Coco – Michael Giachino
7. A Ghost Story — David Lowery
8. Alien Covenant — Jed Kurzel
9. Darkest Hour – Dario Marinelli
10. The Vietnam War — Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
1. Oh Baby — LCD Soundsystem
2. Motion Sickness — Phoebe Bridgers
3. Mystery of Love — Sufjan Stevenes
4. You Never Knew — HAIM
5. Shine On Me — Dan Auerbach
6. Up All Night — the War on Drugs
7. Malibu — Miley Cyrus
8. New York – St Vicnent
9. Appetite— The Staves
10. This Song — Rostam / RACf
1. Stranger in the Alps — Phoebe Bridgers
2. Something To Tell You — Haim
3. async — Ruichi Sakamoto
4. A Deeper Understanding – The War On Drugs
5. American Dream — LCD Soundsystem
6. MASSEDUCTION — St Vincent
7. Waiting On A Song — Dan Auerbach
8. Not Even Happiness — Julie Byrne
9. Loney Dear — Loney Dear
10. Planeterium — Sufjan Stevens
Dec 10, 2017
'The auteur theory is also front and centre in Tom Shone’s monograph on (). For some Tarantino is an example of the auteur as problematic text; a man with an immense facility for image-making and blessed of an unarguable cinephilia set against his hipster misogyny. This book, though, is very much the case for the defence. Shone is simply one of the most eloquent and acute film writers we have, but the retrospective shadow of the Harvey Weinstein allegations now inevitably seep into the margins of his text here given that Tarantino and Weinstein were joined at the hip in their salad days. Then there’s the fact that the more films Tarantino has made the more enamoured the director has become with the sound of his own voice. To his detriment. All that said, this remains a real engagement on Shone’s part with a director who clearly loves cinema. And for those who love him it’s a must. But be warned. It contains a lot of pictures of Quentin. I mean, a lot.' — Teddy Jamieson, The Sunday Herald
Nov 28, 2017
1. Appetite — The Staves
2. Mystery of Love - Sufjan Stevens
3. Say You love Me (Early Version) — Fleetwood Mac
4. You Never Know — Haim
5. Shine On Me — Dan Auerbach
6. Oh Baby — LCD Soundsystem
7. This Song — Rastami / RAC
8. Malibu — Miley Cyrus
9. New York —St Vincent
10. Wild Fire — Semper Femina
From my Sunday Times review:—
'Based on recently discovered footage, thought to be lost, of Goodall as she observed, studied, and befriended the chimps in the wild, the film film is filled with romance: for Goodall’s work, for the chimps, and for Goodall herself, as she watches them, perched in trees in cargo shorts, barefoot, her long ponytail bunched at the back of a swanlike neck. If you ever find someone who looks at you the way Goodall looks at those chimps, marry them. She puts you in mind of one of those home-counties beauties John Benjamin used to fall for, the daughters of doctors from Aldershot, burnished by the sun, swiping at the rhododendruns with their tennis rackets (“lucky the rhododendruns”). Just 26 when anthropologist Richard Leakey picked her for the job, she had been working as his secretary, and had no scientific degree. Her fresh impressions unclouded by received wisdom, driven instead by endless patience and curiosity, she seems to have found some part of herself in the jungle, this “strange white ape” as she puts it, communing with “the great mystery” she finds out there, like all those woman-in-Africa roles that Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver and Kim Basinger have queued up to play.
Miffed to have her solitude disrupted when National Geographic send along a photographer, Hugo van Lawick to capture footage, she notes “it seemed I was as much a subject as the chimpanzees,” a line that drily foreshadows not just her eventual romance with Van Lawick, but the enraptured press coverage that greeted her discoveries (“Comely Miss Spends Her Time Eyeing Apes”) as well as the split focus of this documentary. Uses footage mostly shot by her husband — you can almost feel the point at which he falls in love with her — director Brett Morgen toggles back and forth between Goodall and her animals. When the chimps mate, Van Lawick proposes by telegram (“Will you marry me Stop”). When momma chimp gets pregnant, so does Goodall. Eventually, the chimps turn out to be “unconscionable thieves” capable of violence, war, and heartbreak and that, too, has ripple effects in Goodall’s life. Morgen’s editing can sometimes be a little tricksy, and his use of surround sound effects, simulating every snapped twig, will offend purists, but there’s no denying the sweep of his storytelling, or the beauty of the images which seem to have inspired Phillip Glass to deliver one of his more emotional scores: if Glass’s glittering arpeggios are good for anything it is accompanying a massive herd of wildebeast as they flock across the Serengeti.'
Nov 5, 2017
From my review for the Sunday Times:—
'I suppose that if you’re in the mood for a ruthless allegory about a man forced to choose between slaughtering one member of his family or seeing them all paralyzed and die, then Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits the spot. Like the films of Michael Haneke, Lanthomis delivers cauterising shocks with impeccable numbness designed to wake up all up from our Lethean sleep. On the other hand, life is short, babysitters are expensive and there may be more tempting invitations than “Hey honey, fancy a movie in which paralyzed children crawl across the floor to wake us up from our civilized numbness?” Lanthimos’s film passes every test of cinema, perhaps, except: shall we get a sitter?
Boasting a bushy salt-and-pepper beard, Colin Farrell plays a heart surgeon named Steven who lives in the suburbs of an unnamed Midwestern American city with his beautiful wife Anna (Kidman) and their two children, 14-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic). Their life is orderly and pristine, and yet from the blast of Schubert’s Stabat Mater that we hear while Steven performs open heart surgery, we surmise that he is guilty of playing God. He’s not the only one. Drone-mounted cameras peer down at the actors as they break acres of silence with absurdist non-sequiteurs in which we are invited to hear the death-rattle of civilized norm and ritual. “Have you seen how hairy my dad is?” “You’re not leaving until you tasted my pie.” Only in Lanthomisland would “Our daughter started menstruating last week” pass for polite cocktail-party chatter. The only one with a pulse is Steven’s peculiar friend, Martin (Barry Keoghan), a youth with an insinuating manner who shows up unannounced at the hospital where Steven works to exchange gifts, or go on long walks in which some submerged power dynamic seems at play. Is he a son from another mother? A lover? Last seen on Mark Rylance’s boat in Dunkirk, Keoghan is easily the best reason to see this film. With his puffy, insolent face, both innocent and cunning, he insinuates himself into Steven’s life like a shadow: the film’s God has met his devil. The film is basically an arthouse version of one off those thrillers like Cape Fear or Fatal Attraction, in which a nuclear family is terrorized by a malign invader — guilty secrets are unearthed, the sins of the father visited on his family, bunnies boiled, and everyone goes home to write their thesis on ‘The Return of the Repressed in the Urban Haute-Bourgeoisie.’
Martin, it turns out, is the son of a former patient. In the cafeteria of the hospital he spells out his vengeful prophecy: Steven must sacrifice one member of his family, or watch as they are first paralysed, then start bleeding from their eyes and die. It says something for Lanthomis’s skills for pushing unthinkable premises to dizzying Bunuelian extremes that you are even less inclined to ask “why doesn’t he just go to the police?” than you would in a traditional thriller. In his 2010 film, Dogtooth, a middle-class couple keep their kids captive with a bizarro-world set of rules and rituals. In 2015’s Oscar-nominated The Lobster, guests at a Fawlty-Towers-like bed-and-breakfast are given 45 days to find love or face being turned into animals — a savage burlesque of societally-endorsed coupledom and hot-or-not dating apps: Brave New World for the age of Tinder. And yet that film, with its tender, original love story, passed the baby-sitter test whereas this one comes up short. I’m not saying I won’t watch a film in which hunting rifles are pointed at paralyzed children; I’m just saying that when we get home our babysitter always asks us whether we’ve enjoyed the film we just seen and I’m not sure “no but it subjected beorgoise norms to convulsive shock treatment” will make her feel like she does a useful job. She may even ask for a bigger tip. Maybe that should be the subject of Lanthimos’s next film. A father is forced to choose between a film praised as “relentless” “ruthless” and “unyielding” by the critics, or the new Pixar movie. The baby-sitter is a fierce film snob with some peculiar power over the man. If he makes the wrong choice, he and his family will be forced to watch the falcon’s death scene in Ken Loach’s Kes on an eternal loop. What should he do? Tick tock. Tick tock.'
Oct 30, 2017
From my Sunday Times review:—
'The film takes place “somewhere in northern Italy,” and one of its more immediate effects is to make you want to track down Guadagnino at a film festival and interrogate him for more exact whereabouts so you can start booking flights. In a beautifully dilapidated stone villa, an American professor of antiquities (Michael Stuhlbarg) lives with his French wife (Amira Casar), and precious 17-year-old son Elio (Timothée Chalamet),, a musical prodigy who spends his time transcribes piano etudes from his walkman, whose peace is disturbed in the summer of 1983 by a visit from Oliver (Armie Hammer), an intern of his father’s who has come to intern at the house. A bluff, chiseled showboat in an open neck shirt and pastel colored shorts, Oliver’s first act, upon arriving, is to collapse onto his bed like a felled tree. “Later,” he says, as if he’s off somewhere. Elio is both irritated and fascinated by this brisk-mannered interloper. “What does one do around here?” asks Oliver, upon awakening. “Wait for summer” replies Elio, but Oliver is not really the waiting type. You’d be hard pressed to say what type he is, exactly. We’re used to a strict division between our aesthetes and our outdoor types — you’re either translating Homer or you’re playing rugby, but never the twain shall meet — but Hammer smelts them into a single bronzed form: a Hail-fellow Epicurian, equally at home on the volleyball field as in the library, playing cards or dancing to the Psychedelic Furs at a disco — not quite as magnificent as sight as Ralph Fiennes Fiennes gyrating in unbuttoned shirt to the Rolling Stones in Guadagnino’s last film A Bigger Splash (2016), but then few things are. Everybody looks short when stood next to the Matterhorn.
Before that sultry island thriller, Guadagnino made the exquisite I Am Love (2009), in which Tilda Swinton fell in love with a dish of ratatouille and a chef, in that order. Guadagnino is, in other words, cinema’s reigning sensualist, the best since Bertolucci, with particular attention paid to food and sex, and the overlap between the one and the other. Adapted from André Aciman by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name at first glance seems like the sort of thing Ivory might have taken a crack at himself in the days of his partnership with Ishmael Merchant: ex pat academics, plates of food, French girls on bicycles, an atmosphere of precious intellectual development and simmering erotic fixation of the kind of thing that gets called “languorous” by critics and moves like melted brie on a hot day. There’s some business with a peach that should do for peaches what Bertolucci’s Last Tango In Paris did for unsalted butter. Here’s the remarkable thing, though: There’s not a trace of torpor to the film. Like the great poets, Guadagnino understands that nothing sharpens our appetite for pleasure more than it’s cessation. He cuts some scenes a lot shorter than you’d expect, often ending them on some off-kilter note — a power cut, a nose bleed, a sudden plop into a pool — and the effect is playful, frisky, with a touch of Elio’s impatient hauteur. Other scenes he lets play long, like the extraordinary one-take scene in a dusty plaza where Elio and Oliver circle one another like buzzards, while the Sufjians Steven’s piano arabesques come and go, like passing clouds, or Elio’s faltering courage. Guadagnino hasn’t adapted Aciman’s novel so much as interrogated its moods, going at it with attack, con brio.
Did I mention that the love affair at its centre is gay? I shouldn’t have to for the greatest love stories at the movies generally are, these days. The tradition of heterosexual romance which peaked with Brief Encounter and received a last hurrah with The English Patient is looking pretty pooped of late, the baton instead passed to films like Brokeback Mountain, Carol and Moonlight, which rend their audiences’s hearts as effectively as the melodramas of old. Hetero romance is too easy — there’s no impediment. But Stuhlbarg has you hanging on every word of his infinitely gentle paternal monologue here about the importance of heartbreak, and how we must resist the attendant temptation to retreat. “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the time we’re thirty,” he says. “But to feel nothing it not to feel anything — what a waste.” The hush with which these words were received by the audience I saw the film with suggested either copious tears or furious notes. Whatdidhejustsay?'
Oct 8, 2017
The Glorious Bullshit of “Reservoir Dogs,” Twenty-Five Years Later:—
Nothing around the film has aged quite as badly though as the original reviews for “Reservoir Dogs.” “The only thing Mr. Tarantino spells out is the violence,” wrote Julia Salmon in the Wall Street Journal. “This movie isn’t really about anything,” said the New York Daily News. “It’s just a flashy, stylistically daring exercise in cinematic mayhem.” These are the two canards that everyone seemed to agree upon, and they were the stances on which the Tarantino-bashing industry would be based. One, that his work was ultraviolent, and, two, that it was about nothing more than its own movieshness, with no connection to the real world. This was a myth partly abetted by the director himself, who often told the story of going to Harvey Keitel’s house to discuss the “Resevoir Dogs” script. “How’d you come to write this script? Did you live in a tough-guy neighborhood growing up? Was anybody in your family connected with tough guys?” Keitel asked. Tarantino said no. “Well, how the hell did you come to write this?” Keitel said. And Tarantino said, “‘I watch movies.’”
Both of these metrics—how violent and how realistic a film is judged to be—are volatile commodities on the film-historical stock exchange. Nothing dates faster than “realism,” and today’s “excessive violence” is tomorrow’s cinematic aperitif. The first thing to strike a contemporary viewer of “Reservoir Dogs,” of course, is how comparatively un-violent it is—we see a couple of shootouts, a carjacking, and a cop being beaten up, but nothing that you wouldn’t see today on an episode of “24.” To those coming to the film from the freewheeling mayhem of the director’s later work, it’s a remarkably disciplined feat of storytelling, featuring just as many departures from chronology as, say, “Pulp Fiction”—it’s structure is a nautilus-like series of boxed flashbacks, telling each character’s story in turn—but the flashbacks never feel like flashbacks. You’re never antsy to get back to the warehouse. Without an ounce of fat, at a trim ninety-nine minutes, the movie pierces like a bullet, leaving a clean hole. The infamous ear-severing, which caused so many walkouts, is discretely elided by a pan to a wall, and throughout there is eerie, feline use made of fade-outs, with an implied tick-tock of an impervious fate. The most powerful is the first: from the sight of the Dogs walking in slow-mo down the car lot, their banter about Madonna and tipping etiquette still ringing in our ears, the curtain comes down. We can hear the whimpering of Mr. Orange (Tim Roth) before we see him, squirming in bloody agony in the backseat of Mr. White (Harvey Keitel)’s car. The perennial theme of the heist movie—“the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley” in the words of Robert Burns—is laid bare in a single cut.
So many great filmmakers have made their débuts with heist films—from Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run” to Michael Mann’s “Thief” to Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” to Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects”—that it’s tempting to see the genre almost as an allegory for the filmmaking process. The model it offers first-time filmmakers is thus as much economic as aesthetic—a reaffirmation of the tenant that Jean-Luc Godard attributed to D. W. Griffith: “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” A man assembles a gang for the implementation of a plan that is months in the rehearsal and whose execution rests on a cunning facsimile of mid-morning reality going undetected. But the plan meets bumpy reality, requiring feats of improvisation and quick thinking if the gang is to make off with its loot—and the filmmaker is to avoid going to movie jail. “An undercover cop has got to be like Marlon Brando,” the detective, Holdoway, tells Mr. Orange:
The things you gotta remember are the details. The details sell your story. This particular story takes place in a men’s room.... You gotta know every detail there is to know about this commode. What you gotta do is take all them details and make ‘em your own. While you’re doing that, remember that this story is about you ... and how you perceived the events that went down. The only way to do that is keep sayin’ it and sayin’ it and sayin’ it.
This is as close to an aesthetic credo as Tarantino ever got, from the intense focus on subjectivity that would turn the structure of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” into Swiss cheese; his fascination with commodes as the ultimate arbiter of gritty reality; but, above all, his deep, disciplined devotion to spoken English—his dialogue “part Robert Towne, part Chester Himes and part Patricia Highsmith,” as the critic Elvis Mitchell put it. Critics who complain about the lack of reality in Tarantino’s films aren’t listening: reality in his films is received, represented, and reproduced through the ear and the mouth, and, in particular, the filthy, propulsive rhythms of black street vernacular soaked up by the filmmaker when he was a teen-ager in Los Angeles’s South Bay area, and to which he would return when he shot “Jackie Brown,” some twenty years later:
BEAUMONT: I’m still scared as a motherfucker, O.D. They talking like they serious as hell giving me time for that machine gun shit.
ORDELL: Aw, come on, man, they just trying to put a fright in your ass.
BEAUMONT: Well, if that’s what they doin’, they done did it.
ORDELL: How old is that machine gun shit?
BEAUMONT: About three years ...
ORDELL: Three years? That’s a old crime, man! They ain’t got enough room for all the niggas running around killing people today, now how are they gonna find room for you?
People tend to think of “Pulp Fiction” as Tarantino’s essential L.A. movie—only at the intersections of Glendale would it be apropos for Butch (Bruce Willis) to run into Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) while stopped at a red light—but his first three movies are all equally rooted in the nondescript environs of downtown Los Angeles: “Jackie Brown” in the depressing sprawl of ticky-tacky tract houses, strip joints, and malls near L.A.X., “Reservoir Dogs” in the coffee shops and diners of Highland Park, and the funeral home in Burbank which doubled as the gang’s rendezvous point. “Reservoir Dogs,” shot in just under five weeks —thirty days—in the summer of 1991, beneath lights so bright that the fake blood dried to the floor, is much more of a ’hood movie than you probably remember. For all its confinement to that warehouse, you never forget the city outside its door. When Mr. Blonde interrupts his torture of the cop to fetch some gasoline from the trunk of his car, he is followed by a Steadicam, and, as the sound of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” retreats on the soundtrack, it is replaced by the soporific sounds of suburban L.A. going about its mid-morning business: birds, children playing. Tarantino said that the sequence was his favorite thing in the entire film.
Carefully rooted in place, the film is a little blurrier when it comes to time—not so much ageless as occupying its own peculiar pocket of cultural space-time. With their natty black suits and skinny ties, Tarantino’s gang members look like gangsters from Jean-Pierre Melville’s thrillers of the late fifties and early sixties, but they argue like coffee-shop philosophes from the nineteen-nineties, while their pop culture intake—Pam Grier movies, the TV shows “Get Christie Love” and “Honey West”—stretches back to Tarantino’s childhood in the nineteen-seventies.
NICE GUY EDDIE: Remember that TV show, “Get Christie Love” ... about the black female cop? She always used to say, “You’re under arrest, sugar!”
MR. PINK: What was the name of the chick who played Christie Love?
MR. WHITE: Pam Grier.
MR. ORANGE: No, it wasn’t Pam Grier. Pam Grier was the other one. Pam Grier did the film. “Christie Love” was like a Pam Grier TV show without Pam Grier.
MR. PINK: So, who was Christie Love?
MR. ORANGE: How the fuck should I know?
MR PINK: Great. Now I’m totally fuckin’ tortured.
The idea of pop-culture-literate characters is now so ubiquitous that when the prison inmates of this summer’s “Logan Lucky” pause in the middle of a riot to discuss “Games of Thrones,” we barely blink. By the late eighties, thanks to the ubiquity of the home-entertainment revolution that had first given employment to Tarantino and his buddies at Video Archives, pop culture had attained such critical mass that it was beginning to show up on its own radar. On “Seinfeld,” by 1990, Jerry and George could be heard debating whether Superman had a sense of humor or not (“I never heard him say anything really funny”). Just a year earlier, in “Die Hard,” Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber taunts John McClane (Bruce Willis), “Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo?” To which McClane replies, “I was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually… yippee ki-yay motherfucker!”—the best line of Tarantino dialogue not actually written by Tarantino.
Tarantino’s influence became so wide that it influences the very notion of influence: what had hitherto been an unconscious borrowing or homage was now flushed out into the open and worn as a badge of one’s pop-cultural savvy—intertextuality hits the multiplex. Never mind that Tarantino’s original intent was straightforward realism. Most movie characters, he thought, talked about the plot too much. “Most of us don’t talk about the plot in our lives,” he noted. “We talk all around things. We talk about bullshit.” The gang members in “Reservoir Dogs” talk about Pam Grier and Silver Surfer comics and Madonna lyrics not because Tarantino wanted movie characters who sounded like him and his friends. His first three films are black comedies that drop movie-ish happenings—a heist, a kidnap, an overdose—into the laps of characters who freak out, panic, squabble, lose their car in the parking lot, or miss out on the action entirely because they are on the john. They ask: What if a thriller or a heist movie or a cop movie happened, but it’s participants were too dozy to notice?
From my piece for The New Yorker
From my review of Blade Runner 2049 for the Sunday Times;—
'Like many sequels, Blade Runner 2049 is a family affair. A dead tree yields a body, a skull, a woman, a replicant who looks like she might have died in childbirth. Might replicants be capable of reproducing? Might K’s memories be real after all? This plot — basically Pinocchio with more eco-pollution — is a clever mirror image of the the first film, which left many wondering if Ford himself was a replicant and just as many with the suspicion that for Scott this would have constituted a happy ending. For Blade Runner was above all a hymn to the synthetic — from its Vangelis score to its fire-belching ziggurats to its rain-slick poetry about “tears in rain” spoken by those beautiful, damned neo-Nietzcheans, the replicants. That tradition is continued here by Jared Leto, wearing a beard, a kimono and scary contact lenses, as the replicants creator, Neander Wallace, delivering megalomaniac-gnomic pensées about angels and kings — “We make angels in the service of civilization” — in a deep amber vault traversed by moving shafts of light, like a Bond villain hide-out designed by Frank Gehry. Villeneuve has a cleaner, more organic eye than Scott’s — think of those egg-shaped alien craft in Arrival, or the gun-metal grey production design of Sicario. He delivers the same hit of urban sublime — his city echoing with the same polyglot babble, and overlooked by massive corporate advertising including touchingly retro nods to the now defunct Atari and PanAm — but he spends more time in the air, not trudging the streets, and roams further outside its limits to find stretches of desiccated desert and third-worldish trash heaps. These are stunningly framed by cinematographer Roger Deakins, but attended by the suspicion that you are watching a series of stunning cinematographic set-pieces strung together on a thin clothes-line of plot. If a grimy pulp blockbuster can be raised to the level of art, have at it. This is the film to launch a thousand screen savers. Weirdly, it plays better in memory that it does in real-time.
The same might be said of Blade Runner itself, a film at times too becalmed by its own beauty, but you felt a moral grime nipping at its manhunt plot — in the form of all those noir trimmings, Ford’s whisky-spur voiceover-over, and the grimy urgency of M. Emmet Walsh as Deckard’s police captain. Villeneuve has his mind on higher matters. “This breaks the world,” barks K’s superior, LAPD Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) of a case that comes bedecked with Biblical trimmings — talk of miracles, God and even an allusion to Pale Fire, Nabokov’s great false-bottomed masterpiece about obsession, literary theft and megalomania. I’m normal agnostic on this kind of name-drop — when Iron Man 2 referenced James Joyce's Ulysses, you could only laugh at it’s balls — but here it gives you a genuine clue as to what Villeneuve’s up to: he’s made a sequel as much to the memory and myth of Blade Runner — how the film has bloomed in all our heads in the past three decades — as to the actual film itself. Therein lies both his film’s magnificence and occasional longeurs.Ryan’s Goslings hunt for a soul, stretching to some 2 hours and 45 minutes, doesn't quite hold centre stage in the same way that the hunt for a 6’1” Rutger Hauer did, and when Harrison Ford finally shows up, at around the 2 hour mark, you think, somewhat treacherously: okay, now we’re talking. Bone-weary, haggard, slugging back whiskey amid holograms of Elvis and Monroe, Ford seems to register twinkly bemusement at all these thirty-year-old sci-fi franchises that suddenly seem to be knocking on his door. Who ever imagined that the sci-fi films of yesteryear would turn out to haunt us so? A gorgeous confession of soullessness whose sweet, synthetic ache may represent the best that Hollywood has to offer right now, Blade Runner 2049 is this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road. A masterpiece? It’s a pretty good replicant of one.
Oct 3, 2017
Oct 2, 2017
From Clive James' website:—
'Written by Tom Shone, a British critic resident in New York, These Violent Delights is an excellent site about the movies and related matters. Born and raised in Britain, where he emerged as the most disciplined among the writers who contributed to the Modern Review in the early 1990s, Tom Shone now operates out of New York, though naturally his web activities go everywhere. Shone is a clever film columnist who can also write a wise book: two attributes that don't often go together. His book Blockbuster is essential reading about an important epoch in modern Hollywood, when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas changed the scale of ambition, so that such creations as the Indiana Jonesand the Star Wars franchises became standard operational projects. The story of big ideas that worked, Blockbuster can usefully be read beside the late Stephen Bach's Final Cut, the story of one big project that didn't. Shone's big coffee-table book Scorsese is also well done, though it demonstrates the limitation imposed by getting that much cooperation from a biographical subject: it gets harder to hail a specific movie with indifference. With Shone's equally lavish book Woody Allen there is no such problem, because Shone genuinely finds the less successful movies as interesting as the successful ones. Reading his text in amongst the plethora of illustrations, I had to think again about every Allen second-tier movie except Match Point, which in my view becomes more confirmed as a clunker the more closely it is examined. But with Allen's work the game of preference and disapproval is inevitable. Shone is properly grateful for Allen's abundance, and so should we all be. The movie business, as a field in which to try being prolific, is no more hospitable than nocturnal crocodile wrestling. To be a movie critic, you must first of all be able to admire the bold, and Shone can. To start enjoying the way he thinks, click here.'
Sep 20, 2017
Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”, which is being re-released by the British Film Institute this week, is different, if only because eyes are so integral to the plot: it tells the story of how it would one day be watched. A flop on its release in 1982, taking only $14.8m, “Blade Runner” then disappeared from screens, only to see its designs show up everywhere from Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” to the stage sets for the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels tour. When laser discs appeared on the market in 1989, the film became a best-seller, and didn’t budge. Here was a movie you went back to, a maze to get lost in, much like “Star Wars”, whose layer-cake of details seemed to cry out for replay. But where “Star Wars” had demanded the big screen—it is, like the Millennium Falcon, fast junk—something in “Blade Runner” seemed happiest at home, in the privacy of the video den and man-cave, where fans could pore over it at their leisure. A film of a million tiny details, it is possible to watch “Blade Runner” pointillistically too.
The film seems to know this. “If you could only see what I’ve seen with your eyes,” says the head “replicant” Roy Batty, a genetically engineered bio-robot played by Rutger Hauer as Nietzsche in cycling shorts. He is much given to tragic-ironic pensées on the mortal pangs of being a superman, while his irises twinkle gold in the night, just like the owls of his creator, Eldon Tyrell. That is how the cops, or blade runners, tell replicants apart from humans, with the Voight-Kampff test, designed to measure minute “fluctuation of the pupil, involuntary dilation of the iris”. Scott here seems to be offering up a twist on the old private-eye pics of yore: a world in which no eyes are private, but are mass-produced, corporate-owned, bearing their own copyright, the means not just to take in this world, but The blade runner hired to track down these runaways, Deckard (Harrison Ford), has his own way of looking: a voice-operated photo-enhancer that allows its user to get inside any photograph and nose around it, seemingly in 3D. Scott goes into a trance of excitement over the device, lingering over it in a way that has little to do with Deckard’s detective work, and everything to do with the narcotic pleasure of watching this nocturnal solitary figure exercising minute control over a set of images. At a guess, I would say Scott is evoking his art-school roots: the image recalls that of a graphic designer at his board, late at night, and it recurs in his films, from Ash at his computer console in “Alien” to Clarice Starling at her light board in “Hannibal”. No wonder Deckard pours himself a Scotch: this is Scott’s version of freebasing, or pornography, and something about the solitariness of the image, its undercurrent of fussy perfection, hints at why the movies were never really his medium, not in the way they were Hitchcock’s, or Spielberg’s.
The afterlife of “Blade Runner” on home video points to a central weakness: Scott never did get enough detective work into his film, which moves with the stateliness of one of the advertising blimps that trawl the avenues of Los Angeles, blotting out the sky. The attention he paid his proscenium, as opposed to the humans running through it, resulted in a film, too, which plays perfectly well in the background, almost a piece of ambient cinema whose wall-to-wall gorgeousness represents a triumph of production design over direction, from its opening shot of fire-breathing ziggurats—as great a flame-grille opening for a film as that adorning the front end of “Apocalypse Now”—to its last, of elevator doors closing on Deckard as he wrestles with the possibility that he may be a replicant himself. The more you watch “Blade Runner”, or any other Scott movie for that matter, the more convinced you are that this is his idea of a happy ending.
So why has the BFI put the film back into theatres? If “Blade Runner” demands to be seen on the big screen today it is as much for its evocation of film’s past as its future. Its achievement is firmly analogue. Here is the vanished world of sets and miniatures, lovingly crafted and photographed through anamorphic lenses which sculpt the space, using all those smog and rain effects, into a series of distinct planes, each with their own depth cues and none of that over-crammed, slightly flat feeling that the digital paintbox brings. Scott’s city is dense but deep, his sense of space as airy and vaulted as Milton’s. If “Blade Runner” has a sense of humanity, or any warmth, it is here—in its evocation of the urban sublime. His Los Angeles is to die for. Released just two years after Michael Cimino’s “Heaven's Gate”, and four years after Terence Malick’s “Days of Heaven”—two titles destined for an afterlife if ever there was one—“Blade Runner” belongs as firmly with them as it does with “The Matrix” or “Se7en”, or any other dark, rain-drenched dystopia to come. Like the Malick and Cimino films, it tells of an Eden spoiled, paradise lost, just as something very similar was happening to the movies themselves.
Aug 24, 2017
From Intelligent Life (2008):—
John Cheever was most unhappy to be picked up for vagrancy by the cops. “My name is John Cheever !” he bellowed. “Are you out of your mind?” Found sharing some hooch with the down-and-outs in downtown Boston, he was promptly admitted to Smithers Alcoholism Treatment Centre on Manhattan’s East 93rd Street, where he shared a room with a failed male ballet dancer, a delicatessen owner and a smelly ex-sailor. “The ballerina is up to his neck in bubble bath reading a biography of Edith Piaf,” he noted in his journal. He spent most of his time in group therapy correcting his counsellor’s grammar. “Displaying much grandiosity and pride,” they wrote in their notes. “Very impressed with self.” Eventually he fell silent. Four weeks later he emerged, shaky, fragile and subdued. “Listen, Truman,” he told Truman Capote. “It’s the most terrible, glum place you can conceivably imagine. It’s really really, really grim. But I did come out of there sober.”
He was the first American author of his rank to do so. Much ink has been spilled on the question of why so many writers are alcoholics. Of America’s seven Nobel laureates, five were lushes—to whom we can add an equally drunk-and-disorderly line of Brits: Dylan Thomas, Malcolm Lowry, Brendan Behan, Patrick Hamilton, Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, all doing the conga to (in most cases) an early grave. According to Donald Goodwin in his book “Alcohol and the Writer ”:
Writing involves fantasy; alcohol promotes fantasy. Writing requires self-confidence; alcohol bolsters confidence. Writing is lonely work; alcohol assuages loneliness. Writing demands intense concentration; alcohol relaxes.
There is good reason to be suspicious of this: one could as easily come up with a similar list for firefighters, or nannies, the only real difference being that writers are more vocal about it—their denial more pithily expressed. As Philip Amis said of his father’s bottle-of-whisky-a-day habit: “He was Kingsley Amis and he could drink whenever he wanted because he bought it with his money, because he was Kingsley Amis and he was so famous.”
In America William Faulkner  and Scott Fitzgerald  were the Paris  and Britney of their day, caught in the funhouse mirror of fame, their careers a vivid tabloid mash-up of hospitalisations and electroshock therapies. “When I read Faulkner I can tell when he gets tired and does it on corn just as I used to be able to tell when Scott would hit it beginning with ‘Tender is the Night’,” said Hemingway, playing the Amy Winehouse role of denier-in-chief. He kept gloating track of his friends’ decline, all the while nervously checking out books on liver damage from the library; by the end, said George Plimpton, Hemingway’s liver protruded from his belly “like a long fat leech”.
In fact none of these authors would write much that was any good beyond the age of 40, Faulkner’s prose seizing up with sclerosis, Hemingway sinking into unbudgeable mawkishness. When Fitzgerald went public about his creative decline in Esquire, in a piece entitled “The Crack Up ”—a prototype for all the misery memoirs we have today—Hemingway was disgusted, inviting him to cast his “balls into the sea—if you have any balls left”. Today, of course, “The Crack Up” would be shooting up the besteller lists, and Fitzgerald would be sat perched on Oprah’s couch talking about his struggle and his co-dependent relationship with Ernest, proudly wearing his 90-day sobriety chip, but in the 1930s, the recovery industry, then in its infancy, was regarded by most with the enthusiasm of a cat approaching a bathtub.
“AA can only help weak people because their ego is strengthened by the group,” said Fitzgerald. “I was never a joiner.” Certainly, if what you’re used to is rolling champagne bottles down Fifth Avenue beneath the light of a wanton moon or getting into the kind of barfights that make a man feel alive, truly alive, the basic facts of recovered life—the endless meetings, the rote ingestion of the sort of clichés the writer has spent his entire life avoiding—are below prosaic. Richard Yates professed to find AA meetings impossibly maudlin: “Is just functioning living at all?” he moped, claiming he could not write a single sentence sober. His fall was even more vertiginous, and emblematic of the 1950s; like Kerouac, he was to write one masterpiece (“Revolutionary Road "), then nothing.
Only the advent of rehab, in the 1960s, interrupted this fall—enforced incarceration flattering the writer’s sense of drama, the Kafkaesque me-versus-the-system fable playing out in his head. John Berryman sat in rehab looking like a “dishevelled Moses”, his shins black and blue, his liver palpitating, reciting Japanese and Greek poets and quoting Immanuel Kant. When he found out the doctors around him were serious he buckled under, declaring himself “a new man in 50 ways!” and affecting an ostentatious “religious conversion” which he proceeded to pour into a series of poems to his Higher Power (“Under new governance your majesty”). Ten days after leaving he found he needed a quick stiff one to get the creative juices flowing again and downed a quart of whisky. “Christ,” was all he could say the next morning.
Second time around he got himself a sponsor named Ken, and tried prose, writing a novel about his recovery, called “Recovery ”, which goes some way to explaining why the recent spate of bestsellers on the subject have been non-fiction. Pretentious and opaque, including “a bloody philosophy of both history and Existens, almost as heavy as Tolstoy”, Berryman’s book remains an object lesson in how not to recover, as Donald Newlove has pointed out:
First you hang on to all your old romances about your illness, then you suck your old grandiosity for every drop that’s still in it, you vigorously emphasise your uniqueness among the clods who might be recovering with you, and then you defend to the death your right to self-destruction…Starting afresh meant that a massive part of his work so far was self-pity and breast-beating. That was the last mask he couldn’t rip off. It was like tearing the beard from his cheeks.
The book remained unfinished; within weeks of leaving Berryman threw himself from Minneapolis’s Washington Avenue bridge, his body splitting like a melon upon impact with the ground.
It may seem a little impertinent to gauge the literary merits of sobriety—you cannot write books of any discernible quality if you are dead—but clearly, sobering up is one of the more devastating acts of literary criticism an author can face. John Cheever’s alcohol counsellors noted: “He dislikes seeing self negatively and seems to have internalised many rather imperious upper-class Boston attitudes which he ridicules and embraces at the same time”—which must rank among the sternest reviews he ever got.
Cheever emerged from rehab a different man, 20 pounds lighter, feeling 20 years younger. “I am changed violently,” he said, and so too was his work. After years of squeezing toothpaste out of an ever tighter tube, he powered his way through a new novel, finishing it within a year. “It is as if our Chekhov had tucked into a telephone booth and reappeared wearing a cape and leotard of Dostoyevsky’s ‘Underground Man’,” wrote the New York Times  of the resulting book, “Falconer ”, a “dark radiant fable” about a man’s escape from prison, whose frank depictions of homosexuality and addiction shocked the Book of the Month crowd expecting Cheever’s usual martini-hour melancholy. It was a work of liberation in every sense.
We don’t know how this would have played out, over time—Cheever was to die of kidney cancer within a few years—but for the effects of long-term sobriety we can turn to Raymond Carver, who, after the usual pile-up of emergency rooms, courtrooms, detox centres and drying-out clinics, got sober in 1977. For a year he wrote nothing (“I can’t convince myself it’s worth doing”), just played bingo and got fat on doughnuts, but then he remarried, and he went on to write some of his best work—he was nominated for a Pulitzer prize for his story collection, “Cathedral ”, illuminating the downtrodden blue-collar lives he had written about before with unexpected moments of revelation and connection. He addressed this “new opening up” in his work in a poem entitled “Gravy”:
No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
The radiance of late Carver is so marked as to make you wonder how much the imperturbable gloom of late Faulkner, or the unyielding nihilism of late Becket—like the cramped black canvases  with which Rothko ended his career—were dictated by their creators’ vision, and how much they were simply symptoms of late-stage alcoholism. This suspicion is open to the counter-charge: this contentment and bliss is all very well, but readers may simply prefer the earlier, messed-up work. Charles Bukowski teased himself along similar lines when the old whore-monger found himself writing poems about his cats and “little Bluebird in my heart”:
stay down, do you want to mess
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
Certainly, for those who trade a little too heavily on darkness, the Ozzy Osbournes of the literary world, the transition can be a rocky one. Stephen King says he cannot remember writing “Cujo”, he was so loaded; but after his family staged an intervention in 1987, emptying the contents of his garbage onto his living-room floor—cocaine, beer cans, Xanax, NyQuil, Valium, marijuana—he quit, and the result was a marked slackening of tension in his work. One of the things that made “The Shining” such a great novel about falling off the wagon was that King didn’t know that was what it was about—it was written from inside the belly of an obsession. Once he worked out what the real monster in the closet was, his work took on a therapeutic air, more concerned with the exorcising of internal demons than supernatural ones; it became baggier too, as if the elimination of one indulgence had forced a sideways move into another: the writing became drinking by other means.
From which we can conclude that the writer who can be most grateful he never has to get sober is Salman Rushdie . Minimalists tend to do better than maximalists. Flinty and workmanlike seem to win the day. (Elmore Leonard said that attending AA meetings had made him a “better listener”.) It is the self-proclaimed geniuses who suffer. Writers of long sentences seem to do worse than the writers of short ones—Faulkner’s and Hemingway’s endless clauses being the epitome of the drunken style. Comparing yourself to Tolstoy is a bad sign. (If it has to be a Russian, Chekhov is a much better bet.) Americans do much better than Brits (a recent biography of Kingsley Amis  lists drinking under “Activities and Interests”). Americans from the north seem to do better than Americans from the South. Prose-writers fare better than poets. If you are an American poet from the South, you might as well walk into a bar right now. And don’t, whatever you do, write a novel about recovery.
Jul 22, 2017
'I threw myself into reading a lot of first hand accounts by people who've been there, a lot had been compiled by the imperial war museum. Joshua Levine had compiled a book called Forgotten Voices of Dunkirk, he came on as a historical advisor. I spent a lot of time talking with him, reading materials that he was able to find me. Then we were able to have the great honor and privilege of actually going and speaking to people who had been there. Obviously at this point, veterans of Dunkirk are very old and there are not that many left, but some of them very graciously gave us their time, and we were able to actually talk to them about what it was like to be there. One of the stories that stuck in my head and worked it's way into the film was a veteran telling me about watching people just walk into the sea, just as if they're going to swim. I asked him were they literally trying to swim back to England or swim out to the boat, were they killing themselves? He didn't know. He knew they were gonna die. It's a chilling thing to hear.
My pitch to Warner Brothers was, we're going to put the audience into the cockpit of a Spitfire and have them dogfight against the German Messerschmitts. We're going to put them on the beach, feeling the sand getting everywhere, confronting the waves. We're going to put them on small civilian boat bouncing around the waves on this huge journey heading into this terrifying water. It’s virtual reality without the goggles. I knew that I didn't want to make a film that could be dismissed as old-fashioned, something that wasn't relevant to today's audiences. What that ruled out for me immediately was getting bogged down in the politics of the situation. Seeing the generals in room. Seeing Churchill. We don't have Generals in rooms pushing things around on maps. We don't name the enemy. We barely glimpse the enemy. It's really about a survival story. I wanted to go through the experience with those characters. We were very, very clear that rather than using CG recreations of British destroyers, we were trying to find ship and birds that matched closely as possible rather than computer generate them. We would find the planes, the real planes, and fly them in real dogfights against each other and actually get the camera, get the actor up in the plane. We were going to do this for real as far as possible.
You have to go to the experts. We got a chap called Dan Freeman who owns like six spit fires and is a fantastic flier himself. We got them involved in the stage to talk about the real characteristics of the planes, how they flew, how they can fly, what G-forces the pilot can really sustain. When people do these dogfights using these computer generated planes, they inevitably violate the real laws of physics. We want to teach the audience how difficult this would be. How you bank chasing a plane and try to shoot it you have to get your gun sight ahead of it and anticipate how far it can move, what wind is going to do to the bullets and the tracer fire. Nothing crashed that wasn't supposed to. There was a rumor many months ago that I bought an antique plane and crashed it. We didn't do that. We built replicas.I think that for me the marine stuff was the most challenging. Even though this was by far the most complicated set of aerial scenes I've done, I'd done aerial work before on films like Dark Rises; I knew the pilots, I knew the cameraman, I knew how I would approach it, I knew how to split that work up. And I've done a lot of land-based action — not with a ton of extras, this was the biggest I've done — but I sort of worked my way up to it through the Dark Knight films and so forth. Boats, that was an entirely new thing for me. And very, very challenging.
I spoke to various filmmakers who'd shot in water before — spoke to Spielberg, spoke to Ron Howard about it, got some great advice. Both Steve and Ron very clearly felt that the best camera mode for shooting on a boat is handheld — even though we were shooting IMAX, because the camera man could steady themselves against the movement of the boat. That really proved to be the case. That's the way you get it done. It was very important for me to talk to actors before they read the script, which was very short — 75 pages, 76 pages, the shortest script I've ever written. Half a normal script. Very little dialogue, no back story. Just hints. So for example, when I went to talk to Mark Rylance about it, it was very important for him to understand the boat and to feel the tiller. He needed to feel the boat, to find how the physics of the situation could inform our understanding of the humanity of the character. The younger actors got very excited by that idea. It was vital for them, being there on the beach, being there out in the water. They're just really being in the elements and experiencing it and moving through it as people would have at the time.
We knew the water was going to be a huge component of what the actors were going to have to go through. They were gonna have to be in the water, out in the open, in the Channel — not for individual shots, but for the whole shoot — so it was very important that they be trained to deal with that safely. Our stunt guys put together a team of instructors. They did a lot of intense physical training for weeks where they would run in the waves, swim in the waves, get used to being in rough hazardous conditions. I think it was a shock to some of them, what was going to be required. The first shooting day was in some of the worst weather — very few film crews would gave carried on shooting. But for us, it looked marvelous with all this amazing foam washing up the beach. I’m known in the film business for having good luck with the weather. That's actually inaccurate. I often have terrible luck with the weather, but my philosophy is to shoot no matter what the weather is until the safety officer shuts us down. We tried to be opportunistic with how we shot. Grab the bad weather scenes when the weather's really bad, but always shooting, just keeping going, keeping going, no matter what the conditions are, as long as it's safe.
My cameraman Hoyte van Hoytema and myself put wetsuits or drysuits on; he had housings made for the cameras so they could go out in the waves; when it came to open water work, the camera could actually float out on the water — half in, half out. We're in there, swimming with them. I firmly believe in leading from the front. The fact that we were able to be out there with them and a part of the same physical elements they were dealing with, to some extent, experiencing what they're experiencing, was very much the spirit of those scenes. Being in it together and not sitting in a tent looking at video, I think it's vital for this kind of film. By the end of the film the idea behind Dunkirk that we're trying to get across to the audience is, it's not about individual heroics. It's about communal heroism. It's about the tremendous sense of community that was vital to the success of the operation. That's what makes the unique story and that's why I think it's always served as something of a rallying point for British people. I also think it's a very Universal story. It's really about the individual drive for survival. And the very universal concept of a desperation to get home.' — Telegraph