Friday, July 17, 2015

Words to Follow


Just finished reading David Shafer's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Loved it. The prose just sings.

Sometimes, if you read the right passage in the right book at the right time, it can floor you.

Like this heartfelt declaration of devotion that kind of comes out of nowhere, and yet feels inevitable at the same time:

"I would like to one day live with you in Rome and bathe our child in an iron tub. Actually, any kind of tub, really. With you, I would always try my hardest - God loves a trier, they say. And I wouldn't lie or hide. I want to feed you and fuck you and ask you what's up and walk with you through whatever searing desert, down any choked street, into what joy and trouble might be ours."

Wow, that's Fantastic.

I was probably softened up for that by the reference to T.S. Eliot that just precedes it:

"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business." -- T.S. Eliot, East Coker (1940)

AKA gives this one two thumbs way up. Read it before HBO turns it into a half-hour comedy series.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Midriff

The last day of June. Almost, but not quite, the midpoint of the year. It's currently 24°C in ol' London town, the subterranean sweatbox of the London Underground is already ripe with the pungent fragrance of all manner of commingled body odours, and I've been awake since 4.30am with the sun just commencing its ascent. All around, people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head.

Spent most of June on the down-low, so I'm just breaking cover now with this Proof of Life blogpost. Hello!

So, June...

June meant Father's Day (and homemade cinnamon choc-chip Pac-Man cookies!)...



...and mooching around the second-hand book-stalls on the Riverside front of the BFI Southbank. One find in particular made my day ...


...and Johnnie To was at BAFTA for an on-stage Q&A. (You can find a full transcript here).



It's a great life if you don't weaken. Worth remembering that as we start to dip below the navel of 2015.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

We Dug Coal Together


I think the Justified finale might be my favourite series finale of all time. For many reasons, but there’s one particular scene I want to take a closer look at here.

(We interrupt this bIogpost to insert the necessary SPOILER WARNING. For the most part, I've avoided plot spoilers here but, by necessity, I’m diving into one specific scene in considerable detail. So, consider this your final warning, hombres y mujeres…)


The final episode of Justified was called The Promise, and it delivered on that promise. Since it aired a month ago, my thoughts keep returning to one specific moment over all others, and I think I probably need to write those thoughts out of my head. Not only did the last episode resolve the stories of all of our characters in various bittersweet and satisfying ways, it also served as a fine, fitting farewell to it’s spiritual godfather Elmore Leonard. The episode is littered with Easter eggs tipping a stetson in Leonard’s direction, and my undisputed favourite is the one that pays tribute to one particular sliver of Leonard lore.

It’s the moment when Raylan is clearing out his desk as he prepares to leave the U.S. Marshals office for the last time, as his long-suffering colleague, laconic sharp-shooter Tim Gutterson, looks on.


Raylan picks up a battered old copy of George V. Higgins’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle and riffles through the dog-eared pages fondly.

Tim: “You read that a bunch, or you buy it used?”
Raylan: “If I say I've read it ten times, I’m low.”


The Friends of Eddie Coyle had long been cited by Leonard as the book that inspired him to stop writing westerns and to try his hand at crime fiction. It was a book that changed his life.

In 2000, Leonard wrote: “What I learned from George Higgins was to relax, not be so rigid in trying to make the prose sound like writing, to be more aware of the rhythms of coarse speech and the use of obscenities. Most of all … hook the reader right away.”

Leonard had also said of Higgins: "He saw himself as the Charles Dickens of crime in Boston instead of a crime writer. He just understood the human condition and he understood it most vividly in the language and actions among low lives.”



Raylan closes the book and gives it to Tim. As with so much of Leonard, it’s an understated, almost disposable gesture freighted with unspoken emotion. It’s heartfelt, but neither Raylan or Tim act like it means much of anything at all. It's just a beat-up old paperback, right?

As Raylan walks out of the office forever, in the background, (quite literally behind his back) Tim is approached by office irritant Nelson.

Nelson: You gonna read that book, Tim? 
Tim: No, Nelson, I’m gonna eat it. 
Nelson: I read fast. Have it back to you tomorrow. 
Tim: Keep talking, I’m gonna throw this stapler at you.

The tagline on the movie poster for the Peter Yates adaption of The Friends of Eddie Coyle could equally apply to Justified if you substitute the word "Eddie" for "Raylan": “It’s a grubby, violent, dangerous world. But it’s the only world they know. And they’re the only friends Eddie has.”

Happy trails, Justified. I raise my shot glass of fine Kentucky bourbon in your direction. Take it easy.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Way of Der Samurai


On April 9th, Peccadillo Pictures and The Duke Mitchell Film Club hosted the DVD launch of FrightFest hit Der Samurai with an evening of dance moves and decapitations at London’s Prince Charles Cinema with director Till Kleinert in attendance.

(Here’s the pitch for Der Samurai: A transvestite with a samurai sword carves a bloody swathe through a provincial German town, and the only person who can stop him is Jakob, a young police officer struggling to get to grips with his sexuality.)

The Duke’s own Evrim Ersoy introduced Kleinert, who cued up his film with a selection of clips that weren't so much inspirations as they were touchstones along the path that brought him to Der Samurai.

First up was an excerpt from the balletic, ballistic roaring rampage of revenge John Wick. Specifically, the moment early on when Russian mob boss Michael Nyqvist is explaining to his reckless son exactly why he fucked up by crossing "that fucking nobody" just before all manner of bloody retribution is unleashed..."They call him Baba Yaga"...


Kleinert pointed out why this scene, intended to show exactly why John Wick is so dangerous, doesn’t play so well in certain parts of the world, where Baba Yaga conjures up a very different, unintended set of memories and associations. I confess that I was unaware of these connotations, until I saw this:


Afterwards, I decided to cure my ignorance with a bit of judicious Googling. From the Wikipedia page for Baba Yaga - "In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being (or one of a trio of sisters of the same name) who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs (or sometimes a single chicken leg)."

Crucially, in relation to Der Samurai, there is a tradition that Baba Yaga is occasionally played by a man in drag….

Next up: the incongruous trailer mash-up of the visuals from The Sword and the Dragon cut to the audio track of 300: Rise of an Empire. The first Soviet movie filmed in CinemaScope (and also known in it’s UK cut as The Epic Hero and the Beast), Kleinert showed the trailer to give a flavour of the film’s visuals, as the mash-up stripped away the tone and made it sound like something completely different...


Kleinert then introduced the trailer for his first cinema disappointment - the film he went to see that, for the first time ever, made him think “No...that’s not good enough” - Super Mario Bros.


The significance of Super Mario Bros. to Kleinert was two-fold. Firstly, his dissatisfaction with the film marked the development of his nascent critical faculties. On top of that, he regards the film as an early example of a trend that has now become all-too commonplace - the grim ‘n’ gritty "Nolanisation" of children's characters.

I was fortunate (if that’s the right word) to see a 35mm print of Super Mario Bros. at the Prince Charles as part of their Good Bad Movie Club strand in 2013, and at the time I wrote the following capsule review:

At one point in Super Mario Bros., Dennis Hopper says: "Do you know what I love about mud? It's clean and it's dirty at the same time". Which serves as quite a neat metaphor for the dichotomy at the heart of the film. It looks like a lot of money was spent on it...and yet it looks dirt-cheap, bargain basement and slapdash at the same time. It's fantastically ill-conceived on almost every level, but you can still see little flashes of the idiosyncratic worldview that Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel brought to their creation Max Headroom. And on an objective basis, this is a terrible movie, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find it terrifically entertaining.


(If you are remotely interested in the deeply troubled gestation and birth of Super Mario Bros., you should definitely take a look at Karina Longworth’s article at Grantland on “unearthing a major disaster to learn the lessons held within”.)

From a disappointment to a success - the trailer for John Woo’s Face/Off:


The great thing about the trailer is that the first minute is footage shot specifically for it. The great thing about Face/Off (and the thing that takes us back to Der Samurai) is that it takes an absurd premise and plays it straight - and it works. Kleinert maintains that it is still one of his favourite action movies. (Interestingly - there’s another unspoken resonance here with Der Samurai, in the mirroring of the two leads).

One of Kleinert’s favourite things in movies is dancing. Specifically, people dancing alone. Dancing as self-expression, that moment when a character sloughs off self-conscious awkwardness and let’s it all go. This was illustrated by two clips featuring Denis Lavant. The first one has Lavant dancing to David Bowie's Modern Love in Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang


The other one features Lavant dancing to Corona's Rhythm of the Night at the very end of Claire Denis' Beau Travail:



It’s worth noting that there was a distinct lack of horror in the influences presented. Warning: I can remedy that, but this next bit constitutes a pretty big SPOILER for the end of the movie. If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading…..now!


Kleinert’s original ending for Der Samurai had the Samurai gunned down by police, but he felt that it was unsatisfying and didn't quite work. He solved the problem by borrowing from Eric Red and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, in which the resolution comes down to a final confrontation between just the two leads: Jakob faces the Samurai alone. Killing him means that, on some level, they both attain their goals and reach a final, mutual understanding. (An ending that also put me in mind of Jeremy Lovering’s In Fear).

I found all of this preamble and background fascinating and it only served to enhance the experience of watching the film itself, which turned out to be a stylish, smart, distinctive, gore-flecked blast. Two blood-encrusted thumbs up!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Fantastic

It was a Saturday evening ten years ago today. I plopped my six-month old daughter in my lap in front of the television, all because once upon a time there used to be this thing that I loved. I loved it a lot. And it was there throughout my childhood until one day it wasn't any more. As I grew older, I forgot about it a little bit. Until I forgot about it a lot.

I heard the odd rumbling every now and then that it was coming back. To be honest, I wasn't even that excited. It had tried to come back before.

Yet there I was, sitting there, my gurgling, squirming progeny cradled in the crook of my arms. I leaned in towards my daughter’s ear and I said: “This is Doctor Who. You’re gonna love it.”


The music started. That music. That strange, ethereal, swooping music. And that little blue box from years gone by was suddenly back - swirling and hurtling into a cascading blue vortex. In so many ways, it all came rushing back.

"I'm the Doctor, by the way, what's your name?"
"Rose."
"Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life!"

People sometimes like to say that the hairs stand up on the back of their neck, but they don’t mean it most of the time. Not really. It’s just evocative shorthand.

You know what? The hairs did stand up on the back of my neck.

From a dispassionate, purely objective, critical point of view, it wasn't perfect. It was slightly clunky and ramshackle in the endearing way that it always had been. Thing is: I’m not a dispassionate person. To me, it was perfection.

I was right, by the way, she did grow up to love it. Keep running, Doctor.


UPDATE: When I wrote the above, I hadn't yet read the below. Great minds and all that...


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dear Mr. Vernon...


"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."

Thirty-one years since those eight hours and fifty-four minutes of detention within the concrete walls of Shermer High School. Thirty-one years since the Glorious Ruckus of The Breakfast Club.

Things I know now that I didn't back then, looking down the barrel of the last thirty-one years:

When you grow up, your heart doesn't die. Quite the opposite, in fact. Although there'll be plenty of days when you wish otherwise.

In so many ways, on every precarious level of the scaffolding on which we construct our lives, screws do fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.

I still don't know what the naked lady with a poodle under her arm says to the bartender. Because...the world is an imperfect place.

Being bad does feel pretty good.

I used to wear a fingerless leather glove, just like John Bender. I didn't buy it. I found it on the platform at Bayswater station on a boozy teenage Friday night and kept it. Until an ex-girlfriend threw it away years later. I feel more like Bender now than I did then. I've got a real problem with authority figures…

Unlike Bender, I've never worn an earring.

Does that answer your question?
Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Listomania! A Decade-by-Decade Spectacular!

It all started on Tuesday morning when I noticed the #90sTen hashtag on Twitter. So I chimed in. A couple of hours later I spotted #30sTen. Then last night around midnight I thought I’d fill in the gaps to appease my thirst for symmetry.

I don’t sleep much.

So here are those Lists of Movies I Love in their entirety. The usual don’t-argue-with-me caveats apply: lists are subjective / personal / meaningless / idiosyncratic / a bit silly / subject to change at any moment. And they aren't ranked - it’s just ten per decade (with a Bonus Round of five for Our Decade In Progress) - don’t read anything into the order I've placed them in. Here we go...

The 1930s


The Edge of the World (1937 - Michael Powell)
It Happened One Night (1934 - Frank Capra)
M (1931 - Fritz Lang)
Ninotchka (1939 - Ernst Lubitsch)
Nothing Sacred (1937 - William A. Wellman)
Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933 - Fritz Lang)
The Thin Man (1934 - W.S. Van Dyke)
Topper (1937 - Norman Z. McLeod)
Vampyr (1932 - Carl Theodor Dreyer)
The Wizard of Oz (1939 - Victor Fleming)

The 1940s


Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948 - Charles Barton)
L'assassin habite au 21 (1942 - Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Ladri di biciclette (1948 - Vittorio De Sica)
The Big Sleep (1946 - Howard Hawks)
It Happened Tomorrow (1944 - René Clair)
The Lady from Shanghai (1947 - Orson Welles)
A Matter of Life and Death (1946 - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
Out of the Past (1947 - Jacques Tourneur)
The Red Shoes (1948 - Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)
The Set-Up (1949 - Robert Wise)

The 1950s


Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1958 - Louis Malle)
Les Diaboliques (1955 - Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 - Don Siegel)
The Killing (1956 - Stanley Kubrick)
Rififi (1955 - Jules Dassin)
Rio Bravo (1959 - Howard Hawks)
Le Salaire de la peur (1953 - Henri-Georges Clouzot)
Some Like It Hot (1959 - Billy Wilder)
Tokyo Story (1953 - Yasujirô Ozu)
Touch of Evil (1958 - Orson Welles)

Additional Reading Material - that’s the second appearance of Orson Welles so far, which seems like the perfect opportunity to share once more one of my favourite pieces of Welles frippery - the cantankerous majesty of his Findus Frozen Peas recording session outtakes.

The 1960s


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 - Stanley Kubrick)
Branded to Kill (1967 - Seijun Suzuki)
Cool Hand Luke (1967 - Stuart Rosenberg)
In the Heat of the Night (1967 - Norman Jewison)
Night of the Living Dead (1968 - George A. Romero)
Once Upon A Time in the West (1968 - Sergio Leone)
Psycho (1960 - Alfred Hitchcock)
Le Samouraï (1967 - Jean-Pierre Melville)
The Wild Bunch (1969 - Sam Peckinpah)
and Leone's Dollars Trilogy (yeah, that’s right, I’m totally cheating)

Additional Reading Material - My 4,000 word piece on Seijun Suzuki’s hazy hitman masterwork Branded to Kill.

The 1970s


Alien (1979 - Ridley Scott)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976 - John Carpenter)
Chinatown (1974 - Roman Polanski)
Dirty Harry (1971 - Don Siegel)
Enter the Dragon (1973 - Robert Clouse)
The Exorcist (1973 - William Friedkin)
Saturday Night Fever (1977 - John Badham)
Shaft (1971 - Gordon Parks)
Superman (1978 - Richard Donner)
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971 - Mel Stuart)

The 1980s


48 Hrs. (1982 - Walter Hill)
Back to the Future (1985 - Robert Zemeckis)
Blood Simple (1984 - Joel and Ethan Coen)
The Blues Brothers (1980 - John Landis)
Body Double (1984 - Brian De Palma)
Die Hard (1988 - John McTiernan)
Down By Law (1986 - Jim Jarmusch)
Midnight Run (1988 - Martin Brest)
The Thing (1982 - John Carpenter)
Trading Places (1983 - John Landis)

Additional Reading Material - The highlights of a John Landis Q&A session at the BFI Southbank back in 2010.

The 1990s


Boogie Nights (1997 - Paul Thomas Anderson)
Cop Land (1997 - James Mangold)
Galaxy Quest (1999 - Dean Parisot)
Groundhog Day (1993 - Harold Ramis)
Hard Boiled (1992 - John Woo)
Léon (1994 - Luc Besson)
Miami Blues (1990 - George Armitage)
The Mission (1999 - Johnnie To)
Pulp Fiction (1994 - Quentin Tarantino)
Toy Story (1995 - John Lasseter)

The 2000s


28 Days Later (2002 - Danny Boyle)
Battle Royale (2000 - Kinji Fukasaku)
Black Snake Moan (2006 - Craig Brewer)
Exiled (2006 - Johnnie To)
Ichi the Killer (2001 - Takashi Miike)
Infernal Affairs (2002 - Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak)
The School of Rock (2003 - Richard Linklater)
Shaun of the Dead (2004 - Edgar Wright)
Monsters, Inc. (2001 - Pete Docter)
WALL-E (2008 - Andrew Stanton)

Additional Reading Material - From the same publication as my piece on Branded to Kill, here is my article on Battle Royale. This one is super lucky!

2010 to 2015 


Killer Joe (2011 - William Friedkin)
The Lone Ranger (2013 - Gore Verbinski)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010 - Edgar Wright)
Under the Skin (2013 - Jonathan Glazer)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012 - Rich Moore)

Additional Reading Material - William Friedkin visited London’s BFI Southbank for an on-stage Q&A to coincide with the release of Killer Joe - you can read the highlights here. And I really, really love The Lone Ranger - if you want to know why, click here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bills, Thrills and Skills

I’m a big fan of Should I Work For Free? - my personal three-tier approach to anything I write is a little more basic. The following works for me, but I guess it can be applied to any creative endeavour.

If it doesn't pay much (if anything), that’s OK...as long as you are having fun.


If it doesn't pay and you aren't enjoying it, then that’s OK too...as long as you are trying something out, teaching yourself how to do something, testing yourself or experimenting in some way.


If it doesn't pay, isn't fun and you aren't learning anything...then you really have to seriously question why the hell you’re bothering with it at all.


All of which can be distilled down to my overriding mantra:

"If you don't take money, they can't tell you what to do." -- Bill Cunningham

Bonus Dictum:

“Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off.” -- Joseph Conrad

Friday, February 20, 2015

Relax - This Won’t Hurt


“The world is still a weird place, despite my efforts to make clear and perfect sense of it.”

The Doctor is Still Out. Hunter Stockton Thompson - ten years gone today. I still remember when I discovered that he’d checked out. Hell, I even wrote about it here.

Ten years on and, if anything, the myth and legend of the Good Doctor has calcified even more to further obscure the Man as Writer. The unseemly deification of his Gonzo persona and storied antics gets in the way of the work after a while, and that’s what I've always really loved about Hunter S. Thompson - the sheer, glorious quality of that prose. I don’t give a shit about drugs, but I get a rush from the catalogue of excess in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. And I definitely give no fucks at all about sport of any kind and I've still read everything he wrote for ESPN. Good writers can make anything interesting.
 
I thought I’d read it all, and then a couple of weeks ago I tripped over a copy of Ancient Gonzo Wisdom (a collection of transcribed interviews with Thompson) in a remaindered bookstore. I’m still savouring the book in small measured sips rather than a blowout Word Orgy. But I did want to capture just a few excerpts to mark a decade riven with more fear and loathing than ever, but with no Hunter to take aim at it. Selah.

Jerry Williams: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Were you in your right mind when you wrote most of that book?

HST:(laughs) Really, it’s a very disciplined book. It had about four rewrites. It’s a writer’s book. It’s probably one of the most disciplined things I’ve ever written, much more so than the political writing.

(on WBZ 1030 AM Radio (Boston, Massachusetts) - August 8, 1972)


“Whatever you’re doing, even if it’s crazy, if you get paid for it, well that can’t be insane. There’s insane that’s functional, and there’s insane that’s dysfunctional.”


“The disease is fatal.  There is no known cure.  The most we can do for the poor devil, it seems to me, is to name his disease in his honor. From this moment on, let all those who feel that Americans can be as easily led to beauty as to ugliness, to truth as to public relations, to joy as to bitterness, be said to be suffering from Hunter Thompson's disease.” 

-- Kurt Vonnegut Jr. on HST, from "A Political Disease" (1974), a review of Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Schema


I have many nodes on this internetwork we all share, and it’s about damn time that I reminded everyone of all the other places round these here parts that I can be found. Avanti!

Tumblr - A virtual shoebox for me to fill with the pop culture detritus I find whilst carving a swathe through the thick undergrowth of the web. A hearty repast of my current preoccupations and obsessions, leavened with the serendipitous fruits of Google Image Searches Gone Wrong.

Flickr - Sometimes I remember to upload pictures of stuff I've snapped with the glass rectangle I carry in my pocket. This is where they eventually end up.

Twitter - an endless scroll through the scum scraped off the top layer of my brain, served up in easy-to-stomach 140-character portions.

Letterboxd - which allows me to surrender to my incipient Obsessive Compulsions and where I log every film that I watch, occasionally accompanied by capsule reviews (which basically means “idle observations that have just occurred to me”).

Last.fm - what I'm listening to, as I listen to it.

This Is My Jam - A way for me to exorcise ear worms as and when they infect my supratemporal lobe. If it’s going to be stuck in my head, you can be damn sure that I’m going to try and get it stuck in your head too.

Pinboard - On the "About" page on the Pinboard website, it says: "Pinboard is a bookmarking website for introverted people in a hurry." That sounds about right.

I'm also on Google+ and Ello but, honestly, who gives a shit?

Happy Clicking!