Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Thursday, 21 April 2011
After a Twitter conversation with a fellow film lover on the subject of writer/director Paul Schrader, I was inspired to seek out and revisit his 1978 directorial debut Blue Collar, which he co-wrote with his brother Leonard. Schrader, whose subsequent writer/director credits include Hardcore (1979), American Gigolo (1980), Affliction (1997) and Auto Focus (2002), is best known for providing the screenplays for Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Blue Collar, starring Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto as a trio of rust belt factory workers at a Detroit car production plant, conforms to Schrader's career long fascination with troubled males as well as taking a savage swipe at racial tensions and Union practices in the States, a hot topic at the time. This gripping snapshot of the American 'working class' features Richard Pryor's strongest onscreen performance, a fitting blues rock soundtrack, a provocative narrative taking in corruption, murder and betrayal and, as to be expected from the pen of Schrader, a sharp,punchy script.
Pryor's Zeke and Keitel's Jerry, overworked, underpaid family men struggling to make ends meet, and Kotto's party loving ex-con Smokey, all sick of the innefectual and tight knit Union bosses, seek to end their financial woes by robbing a safe in the Union's offices. Against the resolutely unglamourous, industrialised landscape, peopled by low paid, tough talking Average Joes, Blue Collar flies off into darker, more subversive territory after the casual, lightly comic set up leading up to the robbery. Finding a paltry amount of cash, but a damning notebook containing a detailed record of illegal loans possibly involving the mob, the three friends find themselves knee deep in suspicion, paranoia and deceit after trying to blackmail the Union bosses with the threat of national exposure. The Schrader brothers pull no punches in slamming corrupt Union practices, going so far as to include a death (shrugged off by the bosses as an accident but strongly implied as a murder) as sinister as it is memorably unique. Rather than being anti-Union, Blue Collar is anti-corruption and pro-the 'little guy' but spares none of its leads the savage consequences of both their and their bosses dubious actions and underhand practices. It is in the fallout after the robbery and the magnitude of the situation the co-workers find themselves in where the narrative makes its mark. Driven initially by a common bond, Zeke, Jerry and Smokey's friendship is torn apart by individual circumstance, Union and FBI machinations and the threat of prison.
Rough around the edges, overtly subjective and uneven in tone it may at times be, but Blue Collar is as hard hitting today as it was on its release, and its pointed commentary, shown through one fictional incident, resonates with the ongoing struggles of the 'working man', corruption in high places and the deep seated inequalities seen across the globe in all areas of society to this day.
Monday, 18 April 2011
Roy Andersson, described by The Village Voice as 'a slapstick Ingmar Bergman', who has directed only four features in forty years, first went behind the camera in 1970 with A Swedish Love Story. Whilst Andersson's recent films, Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007), have been experimental pieces, largely based around visually poetic vignettes, absurdist comedy and surreal non-narrative sketches peopled by Felliniesque grotesques, A Swedish Love Story is in comparison a much more linear and traditional romantic coming of age story. The shadow of Bergman is evident, and glimpses of Andersson's later stylistic pre-occupations are also present, but Andersson's subtly probing excavation of love,loneliness, marriage and regret is by no means a derivative or minor piece.
At the film's centre is the fledgling romance between teenagers Par (Rolf Sohlman) and Annika (Ann-Sofie Kylin) that blossoms as the adults around them struggle to reconcile themselves to unhappy marriages, thwarted ambitions and the pressures of social status. Andersson and his two young leads beautifully capture the awkwardness, overwhelming emotions, naivety and tenderness of an emerging first love. Peer pressure, tribal cliques, adult interference and differing social backgounds all come into play as the mutual affection and emotional bond grows between the pair. The supporting cast of characters, including Annika's bickering parents, their unfulfilled friends and Par's more stable but socially conservative family are the gloomy, but blackly comic, counterpoint to the physical, and symbolic, hopes and youthful promise of the leads.
Beginning and ending with extended family and friends gatherings, where, conversely, the Bergmanesque themes of isolation, loneliness and death are brought to the fore, A Swedish Love Story is a film in which the travails and pressures of living in a changing society are subtly addressed within an ostensibly light, romantic narrative framework. Anyone familiar with Andersson's extraordinary eye for visual composition and poetic imagery that mirrors the often absurd nature of everyday life will find those attributes clearly on show. The drawn out (anti) climax, featuring a fog bound search for Annika's drunk, depressed and spiritually lost father (a physical representation of contemporary society) is rich in symbolic weight, with the party guests desperately trying to locate the wayward parent and bring him back into the safety of a traditional, loving family home.Recently released on DVD, A Swedish Love Story is certainly of its time in relation to the fashions on display and the folkish country rock soundtrack, but its themes and emotional resonance are as relevant today as they were on its release.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
There's no doubt that we are living through a Golden Age for the documentary film, and for investigative, awareness raising film-makers in particular. Ever since arch prankster/careerist Michael Moore took the Palme D'or at Cannes for Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) an explosion of citizen journalists, activists, campaigners and agitators have graced the big screen. The exposes of Governmental subterfuge, industrial farming, animal cruelty, war and oppression have come thick and fast as production,equipment and editing costs have fallen. Add to that the rise of social networking, alternative platforms for the spreading of information and an air of Global disaffection and the time is ripe for the documentary film.
The latest eye catching expose comes in the form of Josh Fox's Gasland, which utilises all of the recognisable traits of both the traditional and contemporary documentary forms - to-camera monologues, voiceover narration, onscreen titles and graphics, archived and present day footage,interviews and an intervensionist, subjective director - to shed light on the practice of Hydrolic fracturing, or 'Fracking'. The process, essential in releasing the enormous quantities of natural gas hidden underneath vast stretches of the US, involves wells being drilled thousands of feet deep into the earth before water, sand and chemicals are injected into the shale to crack it open and let the gas escape, a huge profit making concern for powerful energy companies. After being offered around $100,000 to allow a company acces to his land to drill a hole, the concerned Fox investigated the process and discovered a mind boggling array of deceit, potentially fatal incidents, extreme health risks and environmental damage. By finding households and sometimes whole towns with poisoned water supplies, which are in no doubt related to the fracking process despite the protests of the energy companies and their lobbying groups, Fox accidentally stumbled on a shocking example of the 'little guy' suffering at the hands of big business. Needless to say he kissed the money goodbye.
The amiable, thoughtful and wryly humourous Fox guides us through an increasingly murky moral and ethical minefield in a film that bares all the hallmarks of a conspiracy thriller that reaches the highest echelons of American officialdom. The familiar and depressingly predictable figure of Dick Cheney and his assorted cronies raise their heads amidst a dizzying melange of statistics, counter-arguments, corporate and political negligence and rapacious profiteering that is foolish at best and downright criminal at worst. The almost total refusal of any of the energy companies and politicians to grant Fox an interview for the film simply adds to the weight of the damning evidence laid out. Any potential dis-engagement for audiences outside of the US is brought into stark relief by the revelation that Europe is the next potentially huge market for natural gas extraction before other parts of the world are drawn into this hugely controversial practice. Gasland and many other similar documentaries run the risk of preaching to the converted ecologially aware and anti-capitalist masses, but that in no way diminishes the need for these films to be circulated, debated and acted upon. Recommended.
Well, as Franklin J. Schaffner's original Planet of the Apes remains one of my favourite movies I approach this latest take on the series with some trepidation. After all, who can forget Tim Burton's lacklustre remake? Also, with the contemporary popularity of all things CGI we could be on the verge of another I Am Legend - stylish set up, impressive realisation of an abandoned city and then...oh, they're cartoon creatures.
Having said that, this first official trailer for Rupert Wyatt's prequel to the original looks promising. With James Franco, Brian Cox, Freida Pinto and the marvellous Andy Serkis doing his monkey business fingers are definitely crossed that this movie will deliver the goods.
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
Filmed in Israel, Poland and Norway, Essential Killing may point to Gallo's character being a Taliban Jihadist, and the orange jumpsuits and black hoods witnessed in the torture sequences certainly conjure up the spectre of Guantanamo Bay, but Skolimowski largely eschews overt political themes to concentrate on a more ambiguous narrative where base instincts and the primitive urge to survive hold sway. Gallo's wordless role, and natural resemblance to a number of ethnic groups, helps to strip away any politicised agenda and leave a stark and at times existential portrait of the limits of human endurance. Reminiscent of both Joseph Losey's underrated, dystopian survival tale Figures in a Landscape (1970) and Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones (1958) Essential Killing dispenses with the philosophising of the former and the racial politics of the latter as Gallo's disoriented, terrified and weakening character battles his pursuers, the beautiful but cruel landscape and his own deteriorating physical and mental state.
As is often the case in Skolimowski's films, the use of sound juxtaposed with moments of silence is integral to the narrative - deafening rock music, tortuous cries, barking dogs, the angry buzz of chainsaws and the opressive whirr of helicopter rotors have a dizzying, nauseous effect on both escapee and audience, leavened in brief moments of respite before resuming their attack on the senses. A deftly handled hallucinogenic sequence, obtuse flashbacks, increasingly bizarre situations and inconclusive climax make Essential Killing a defiantly arthouse, non-commercial and experiential film that mainstream audiences may find alienating and frustratingly esoteric. For me, Skolimowski's latest film is an artistically driven, beautifully constructed and thought provoking piece that is a fine addition to its director's body of work.
Monday, 11 April 2011
This is a solid, if derivitive, piece, flawed in terms of plausibility, predictability and its relegation of the female characters to subservient roles certainly, but The Town is strong mainstream film-making nonetheless. As Gone Baby Gone suffered from an implausible ending, The Town also similarly suffers a weak resolution, this time by being all too predicatable, albeit a handsomely staged and impressively executed one.Affleck is definitely at home behind the camera, confident in his direction, with an expansive eye for location shooting, and assured in his handling of both actors and adapted material. It doesn't break any new ground genre wise, but I've seen many inferior crime films to this one. Affleck is certainly looking like an accomplished director who with fresher, more challenging material could go on to forge an impressive behind the camera career that may well outshine his patchy onscreen one. With full blown action sequences, reminiscent of Michael Mann's Heat (1995), The Town is a largely satisfying Saturday night slice of Hollywood entertainment.
Whilst it's certainly stronger than much of De Niro's contemporary output it's lack of strong character development or real dramatic incident leave it as an unspectacular, by the book tale with the chance to see two of America's leading actor's sharing screentime together as it's main draw. Stone wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything special and I can't really see it being anything other than a minor footnote in both Norton and De Niro's careers.
Sunday, 10 April 2011
Aja attemtps to cover up the lack of spark and wit on show by filling as many frames as possible with naked female flesh, mainly Kelly Brook's. I guess that's what it comes down to in the end, as a horny eyed adolescent with a penchant for mass slaughter with my t&a this would have been brilliant, as a seen it all before cynic it was just really tiresome. Damn me for thinking it would be a B-movie to cherish and damn them for going for the lowest common denominator - the hormonal,less discerning and free spending male teen market.