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Sunday, 25 November 2012

THIS WEEK: The Master / Killer Joe / Cosmopolis

Well now, with the Twishite saga finally having reached its vastly overdue finale (Seriously, even splitting the final book in two?  How gullible can an audience be?), with which people are obviously obsessed since swallowing the lie it is good cinema featuring a GOOD ROLE MODEL FOR WOMEN (really?), I am hugely excited about the cinema we have coming up this season; it's almost like they have been holding the quality stuff back so as not be overshadowed by the twinkly vampire monstrosity.  A quick look through forthcoming releases, I find my unashamed film-geek side almost salivating.  But that is for later, right now I'd like to talk about three films I have already seen, and I've cheated a little. Usually I review films I've seen in the week only, but I've only seen one this week, and I realise there are a couple I saw some time back which I never talked about enough, so now that those movies are available to rent or buy, I'm going to take the opportunity to talk about them ...because this is my blog...and I can :)


So this was a recent cinema release, directed by PT Anderson, who is not the most easy film maker, which, due its controversial topic, style, and I think partly due to the aforemention Breaking Dawn, is not being shown for long in many places.  A WW2 veteran returns to America traumatized and with little direction; he finds himself, like many others, sucked into a world that is overseen and seemingly controlled by The Master.

P. T. Anderson's last film 'There Will Be Blood' was a masterpiece; this isn't quite that, but it is almost as impossible to talk about.  David Lynch once explained how the beautiful language of cinema should not be translated back into words once a film is complete, and Anderson's movies seem to illustrate his point.  Since Magnolia he has sat somewhere between Kubrick and Lynch, making films utterly without compromise and completely enthralling; I for one hope he continues to do so.  He always seems intent, like Kubrick, on finding a new language of film; his voice is very unique, and consequently not to everyone's taste.  It is funny how he and Tarantino are very good friends and mutual admirers, since as film makers, you could hardly imagine two directors with approaches more different!

The Master is far more a character study than it is a narrative, and many may find this frustrating.  A look at opportunistic power, religion, the role of belief systems, their pros and cons, and America at this point in history, it is long and heavygoing.  Nevertheless, with another strange and superb Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) soundtrack, stunning cinematograhy, outstanding performances all round, particularly from the ever infallible P S Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix (who looks strangely terrifying as the vulnerable veteran, whose trauma is literally made manifest in his twisted physicality) and Amy Adams (a million miles from The Muppets here), this is a must for cinema fans.  Despite its form, I would say this is certainly an Oscar contender in at least a couple of categories.  I do understand it is a difficult movie, and it may be worth familiarising yourself with Anderson first, but if you want near masterful cinema, when you do get a chance, check this out.


Catch if it you like:  David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood


William Friedkin is rarely one to tread on eggshells; from the visceral power of 'The Exorcist' to the radical characterisation in 'The French Connection' to the uncompromising adaption of Tracy Letts' play 'Bug', he opposes the notion of watering anything down for an audience. In fact, by his own words, he comes from a school where confrontation and challenge were desired, adult storytelilng for people who understand art can engage, enlighten and infuriate as much as it can lightly entertain. Whether times and audiences have changed is debatable, but what certainly isn't is that Friedkin has not, for here he is with a second adaption of a Tracy Letts play, and it may be the most nasty, twisted, scuzzy release this year, one which has the power to drop jaws (literally) and draw genuine gasps and howls from the audience. A rarity. Where 'Bug' clearly dealt with post-9/11 themes of paranoia and fear, and wouldn't have been out of place in David Cronenberg's catalogue, 'Killer Joe' is a more sloppy affair, whose comment on "trailer trash American culture, morality and familial breakdown", if indeed that is at all what it is, is tougher to discern. What remains clear, however, is both Letts' desire, and Friendkin's ability, to shock and appaul an audience.

Emile Hirsch is possibly the weakest link of the cast, as the young drug dealer who ropes his dad and stepmother into a noir plot to off his estranged mother in order to collect her life insurance. Thankfully, the rest of the cast hold their scenes up and carry Hirsch nicely, with Thomas Haden Church in particular bringing a great deal of humour with him. The fact the last thing I saw him in was 'We Bought A Zoo' only makes this cast seem more surreal. The UK's own Juno Temple is perfect as the innocent, simple sister in all this, drawn against her will and in the most underhanded way, into the arrangement.

The movie is utterly owned by Matthew McConaughey, though. Fans only familiar with his rom-com King/sex symbol status are in for a nasty/exhilirating shock. His performance as Joe is incredibly powerful; it reminds us that he is actually a great actor (we all recall 'A Time To Kill'?), and that he has a level to which, even in his most heavy roles, we have not seen him go before...and here it is! The less said about where he goes with the character the better, but let's say he has created a screen presence as intense and intimidating as Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Lynch's 'Blue Velvet'. It reached a point fairly quickly where he didn't actually have to be doing anything, and I found myself on edge just because of his presence. If he does not receive a 'Best Actor' nomination, there will be something very wrong.

The movie has its problems, but they are not really worth mentioning. It isn't quite the maserpiece I secretly wanted him to have created, but it is a stunning-looking, extreme, startling vision, which has more moments of important, well-observed subtext than I think can be picked up on in one sitting. Due to its sexual politics and surprising moments of extremity, it caused walkouts, prompted conversations over just how nasty and depraved a film should be allowed to be, and caused young ladies to get all up in a huff over their dreamboat's decision to be part of something so vile.  Don't say you weren't warned.

Certificate 18 for a reason, this is 'Blue Velvet' meets 'Blood Simple' via 'American Psycho' with a dash of Quentin Tarantino. Slightly surreal, very tough to watch, but even harder to look away from. It will make you laugh, gasp, cringe, and leave having to talk about it. You will experience something intense, whether you like it or not, and sometimes, as William "The Exorcist" Friedkin would undoubtedly say, that is what it's all about.  

I saw this a few months back; you can rent or buy this now!


Catch it if you like:  Blue Velvet, Bug


David Cronenberg is a film maker who, for over 30 years, has refused to work anywhere other than at the edge. He is the director known for pioneering body horror, dealing with concepts that push any audience willing to take the ride to consider that which they wouldn't otherwise. Known for his ability to use visual metaphor in the way a novelist or poet might use a literary one, the closest to blockbusting success he has come would be 'The Fly'. At some point he made a transition, not necessarily a conscious effort on his part, but a clear change nevertheless. The common themes of his work remain, the ideas of psychology, identity, transformation, the horror within, etc. but recently we have seen a more subtle approach, with finesse of performance and what is being said taking precedence over purely visceral assault and visual effects. From this "new" Cronenberg we have seen unsung masterpieces ('A History Of Violence'), modest successes ('Eastern Promises'), and he has proven himself to be somebody not afraid of adapting for the screen dangerous material that most wouldn't dare touch ('Crash' and 'A Dangerous Method'). 'Cosmopolis' sees him doing the latter again, and definitely with the greatest sense of experimentation so far. The film falls in the category into which we would put David Lynch's most surreal work, one for cinema that defies description as simply good or bad, and instead invites you to an experience, one whose quality only YOU can decide.

Adapted from the Don Delillo book, which was already pointedly distant, David Cronenberg's latest offering has drawn a fair deal of negative criticism for retaining the detached approach of the novel, and for being, it would seem, deliberately cold and apparently uninterested in its audience. Cold it is, most certainly; indeed if it were any colder it could sink Titanic all over again, but quite honestly this is the only truly valid criticism of the film, and I don't even consider it a criticism so much as an observation. Its coldness is clearly intentional due to the subject matter, and much like an iceberg, what you think you've seen on first inspection turns out to be just a bit of what's actually going on. Indeed for a film set for the most part in a silent (really, completely silent!) limousine, it is one you can delve into surprisingly deeply, and find level after level of meaty ideas to chew on.

Truth of the matter is this movie was never going to receive huge commercial success, it is simply too divisive for obvious reasons:

- A tough, obtuse novel that reads like a discombobulating dream

- A director who adapts it almost directly, creating arguably his most experimental film, and if anything emphasizing all the more the metaphoric devices of the story.

- Casting a teen heartthrob from one of the biggest cinema series of all time in the lead, making it immediately eligible for the mainstream audience, a brave choice on both parts. A fair amount of people walking into this film are "seeing the new R Pattinson film" and have no idea what they are in for.  I am just thankful to see clear signs that the man himself is not impressed with his starting point; I look forward to a lot more grown up, serious work from this guy, as it is clear there is some talent there.  He has already signed up on the next Cronenberg picture alongside Viggo Mortensen, so we shall see what happens.  Let's hope he is serious about wanting to distance himself from it all.

Put this all together and you have a small, experimental film that you have to be completely prepared for, one that is purposefully aloof and probably disappointing to at least half the audience who weren't to know any better. On the other hand, you have a master of his craft making cinema from an un-cinematic source that is essentially metaphor piled upon metaphor, drawing a compelling performance from a lead who I never thought I'd like, and creating something which, despite all that has been said about its impenetrability, actually managed to pull me in to a point where I wanted to know where it was all leading.

So where does it all lead? An inevitable showdown with an acting veteran, a 20 minute scene, driven by some stunning dialogue. It is a scene I think Stanley Kubrick would have been proud to put his name to; as he once said, "It might be real, but it's not interesting." Well I think 'Cosmopolis' proves his point nicely; it may not be "real" but there is definitely something exciting happening that I didn't want to walk away from. If you are still on board by the end, it will knock your socks off and bring the film to a close in a way that makes some strange, demented sense, and even carve out some empathy, though who you feel it for may be unclear.

I completely appreciate this is a niche film, and many either won't understand it, or won't work to engage with it at all. Certainly most people going for the star are going to leave confused. If, however, you are a Cronenberg fan and you want to see him treading some genuinely new cinematic ground, or you simply have patience and an understanding that cinema does not necessarily have to make full sense to be exciting, try this out. Certainly due to be the strangest film this year, but one I can't stop replaying in my head and wanting to watch again for reasons I can't even explain. Pattinson's character Eric says, "Show me something I don't know." This echoes nicely the attitude with which you need to approach this film to even stand a chance of getting into it, but if you can you might just be surprised.  My rating reflects a general audience potential view of the film balanced with my own feelings on it...I kiss Cronenberg's ass more than most reading might, so I'm trying to be fair :)

You can rent or buy this now.

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  David Cronenberg, or the idea of Robert Pattinson actually performing



Sunday, 18 November 2012


Remember when Korn were gracing the covers of Metal Hammer all the time, when Blind was the biggest song on rock radio and they were heralded as pioneers?  The truth is they were merely holding the door open for bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Disturbed, Staind, Taproot and Linkin Park to wander through (and promptly shit all over the floor); Deftones were the band who, with debut record Adrenaline, kicked that door open in the first place!  They were the true Kings of Nu Metal, and as if to reaffirm that status, they followed it up with an album many rock fans may recall as being quite good, Around The Fur, featuring a little ditty called My Own Summer (Shove It).  Then, in 2000, something happened nobody foresaw; while many of those other bands were sinking with the nu metal ship, recycling the same old boring ideas and sounds, moaning relentlessly about how awful it is to be buggered by your father and beaten by your mother (even when they hadn’t experienced such horrors), Deftones were swimming away from the!  White Pony was their difficult third album, the one by which most artists can tend to be judged more harshly; you’re not allowed to recycle the same thing a second time, but you mustn’t disappoint your fan-base either; it is easy to see why it is a tough record to make, and why a lot of bands tend to drop off the map with it.  White Pony did indeed disappoint those who wanted more of the same, but for the rest of us it was a breath of fresh air, with a new approach, a maturity and a confidence, it was a near perfect record that quickly had them being referred to as the Radiohead of metal due to its daring freshness and new sound (as opposed to nu sound).  Still very much Deftones, but to some degree a shift in gear for a band who had matured and allowed more non-metal influences on their music to shine more obviously.
As a big fan of Deftones it was not easy for me to acknowledge my disappointment with what followed.  The lack of title for their fourth outing was indicative of its laziness, and the rather average and somewhat disjointed Saturday Night Wrist was a bit of a non-event.  Then they became one of those bands that were “hit and miss when playing live”, and I came to terms with the idea that they had dropped the ball permanently.  This feeling of loss of such a musical force was only cemented by the tragic accident that put bassist Chi Cheng into a coma.  Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when they came back a couple of years ago with friend Sergio Vega on the low end and an impressive record in Diamond Eyes!  A little burdened by some ‘filler’, it is nevertheless a far weightier and satisfying affair than its couple of predecessors, and importantly, it was an indication that there was life in the beast yet. 

Well now we have Koi No Yokan, an 11 track mammoth record, which confirms the re-birth of the most important band in the nu metal movement as now one of the most innovative alt rock bands working today!  Twenty years on, to still expect any Adrenaline Pt 2 is ridiculous (just go and listen to that record, dude), but that said, the album is not without its nods to previous work.  Kicking off with the strident Swerve City, we are immediately smiling at the promise this might be as good as anything offered up on White Pony; the energy and groove are top-notch, and the hook is a dangerously addictive one.  It is not the last time that album seems to be referenced either;  Gauze is jagged, deceptively heavy and nicely textured in a way that brings Korea to mind, a sort of controlled chaos at points that houses some great bass work from Sergio, while Romantic Dreams is evidence that Frank Delgado is now officially a necessary member of this team, who pulls in the same direction as the rest and broadens their canvas, as first truly seen on White Pony, rather than a gimmicky fifth member just added after the fact.  All over this record his keys and samples can be heard to be doing so much more than anything DJ Lethal offers Limp Bizkit.  On Entombed, for example, a song that might not sound out of place on a new A Perfect Circle record, he adds a hypnotic layer, and on Tempest, one of the tracks they previewed prior to the album’s release and one which took a little time to grow on me, his work pulls you in and makes the track all the more compelling, complementing the song’s dark grooves and beautiful dynamics.  Another grower is Graphic Nature, which has a certain Adrenaline vibe going on, and sounds like it should have been the best song on Saturday Night Wrist, its guitar work at times bringing the likes of punk legends Fugazi to mind, and Abe really shining with some nifty, very precise hi-hat grooving.  It may take time, but this could end up being a fan favourite.

Another song they previewed, Leathers, nods its head to Around The Fur, with grooves full of swagger and huge guitars.  It is another example of the band’s desire to step away from the standard format of their peers, playing in 11/8 time.  It is not the only time they let this progressive tendency show either; Poltergeist, featuring sexy guitar effects and continuing the progression they made with Diamond Eyes, shows Chino’s penchant for a ‘hip-hop’ type of delivery in the verses, with a 7/4 time signature, completely atypical of the genre these guys are supposed to be part of.  If further evidence were needed that they do not see themselves in the same bracket as a lot of their peers anymore, look no further than Rosemary, a slow build to a slow BPM, putting on show an affection for the ‘post rock’ influence without going overboard,  it is heavy and seductive.  A huge Djent riff leads into a gentle outro that cleanses the palette ready for Goon Squad, which grows out of it expertly. 

Chino sounds like he cares more than ever about his performance on this; he is writing what seem to be his most positive and evocative lyrics, delivering gorgeous hooks with his unmistakable approach.  He is singing in that seductive way only he really can, and screaming very little, but it is exactly what is required for where they are as a band.   Any doubt that Sergio or Delgado may not fit is eradicated, Steph again shows off his ability to keep what he does simple yet hugely effective, with often molten heavy, groove-laden riffs.  Abe Cunningham is as solid and unpredictable a drummer as ever, straddling the line between punk and progressive perfectly.

Their reinvigoration may be down to working with Rush and Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has helped them inject a boldness to their sound that has been lacking for some time.  Maybe it is certain members of the band cleaning up their act on a personal level and getting back to doing what they do best.  Perhaps it is the love for Chi Cheng and the hope he will return to play the music they enjoy making once again.  The latter is most apparent on uplifting album closer What Happened To You? which I am sure was written in Chi’s honour.  It may be all of the above, but one thing is for sure, Koi No Yokan is all the good things we know Deftones for rolled into one record with equal measure and perfect balance.  Dark and beautiful, textured and varied, heavy and emotional, it is their most creative work since White Pony, and unlike the last few records, it is in perfect playing order and has not one moment that you feel the urge to skip; in fact you feel almost rude for even considering skipping a song, and I struggle to pick highlights, it is that good!  This is an album you enjoy most when listening from front to back, in its entirety.  If there is any complaint, it is only that there isn't enough of it. This record is a tremendous gift if you're already a Deftones fan, and for anyone who is not, it's a perfect introduction.  There may be some who say it is their best album to date; it is a statement I would not try to argue with.