Phantom Thread – Health and Eating

This film is so perfect that I cannot review it.  It’s not possible for me, and like with last year’s Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049 and Call Me by Your Name there’s a sense that’ll I’ll ruin the experience if I review it.  There’s more to the film then just if it’s good or not, if you should go see it or not.  You should definitely go and see it, even if it’s not the usual sort of film you’d go and see.  It’s worth every penny of your cinema ticket, trust me.  Paul Thomas Anderson is a genius auteur, and with Phantom Thread he’s hit it out of the park again.  The film is doing so many things that it’s really hard to comprehend it all.  It’s a dream-like parable, a character study on a creative obsessive, a romance, a ghost story, an abstract comedy and most of all a film about health and eating.

Read Mark Kermode’s review here for some context: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/04/phantom-thread-review-paul-thomas-anderson-daniel-day-lewis

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My own obsession of nutrition and dieting stems from the Joe Rogan Experience.  This terrific podcast, hosted by comedian and UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan, often has health experts on as guests.  They come on to de-bunk myths about food groups, and discuss the better ways to fuel your life.  Rogan himself is a fitness fanatic, who mostly keeps a strict Ketogenic diet and has a constant exercise routine.  The Ketogenic diet is very popular right now, and consists of a low carb high fat intake, which leads the body to naturally burn energy.  Many, including Rogan, proclaim it has improved their life drastically.  They feel less tired, less anxious and sleep better – not to mention being much fitter.  And that’s what a lot of people don’t realise about what they are eating, and how much it affects them.  It may seem silly, but if you’re particularly down, you should try and change your diet for the better because it is massively important.  The changes you make should be the correct ones though, and not the ones cycled out falsely for years.  Sugar is the worst, and saturated fat isn’t all that terrible.  The food pyramid taught in schools has in some way ruined the lives of many people who believe the wrong thing about what’s good to eat.  It’s outstanding the amount of people slowly poisoning themselves by eating loads of bread and pasta – foods our bodies just aren’t built for digesting.  The point is that what we put in our bodies has a huge affect on us, and Phantom Thread features a lot of eating – something that I think is significant in the film…

 

Breakfast

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Some of the film’s most amusing scenes occur around the breakfast table.  Woodcock’s day is ruined if he is unsettled whilst having his breakfast.  This means no confrontation, no loud buttering of toast or any form of interruption as he works.  He requires his mind to be totally on his work, and is uninterested by anything else whilst he does it.  Breakfast being the most important meal of the day is a fallacy really, but for Woodcock it is crucial.  He needs a clear mind, and doesn’t have the time for the worries of the women in his life.  This is because his dressmaking is everything, and to battle his anxiety and grief over his mother he designs constantly. He can’t tackle it any other way.  Eating can be a cure for anxiety, and often if you feel anxious, you probably just have an empty stomach.  Anderson uses breakfast, and Woodcock’s attitude towards it to show how geared he is to always be creating.  It also highlights his distain and boredom for almost anything else.  The scene in the beginning of the film where his current companion is bothering him with an argument shows how no-one comes close to his mother, or his work.  When Alma comes into his life, she too is annoying at breakfast.  Yet there is a bite to Alma, and she’s not going to be dominated by Woodcock.

Eating breakfast is usually an inconvenience for Woodcock, and he gets up to do some work first.  It’s not that he just doesn’t have time for confrontation while he draws, and picks at eggs, he doesn’t have time for the luxury of it.  The intensity in his creativity is ever-present during these scenes, and Anderson uses them as a starting point to build this strange character.  It’s the foundations of his extraordinary nature of a loveless, deeply focused man.  There also comes moments of humour from these scenes, where Alma inadvertently strikes back at Woodcock by being more annoying.  Being irritated by people’s weird little habits is a human thing, and so in a minute way we sympathise with Woodcock.  Only till we realise that all he needs is a bit of time to relax.

 

Indulgence (I love this bit of gorgeous physicality from DDL in this shot…)

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Every now and then Woodcock indulges to a great degree, and for particular reasons.  It comes when the anxiety has gone, and he feels brief moments of contentment.  For example early in the film when he meets Alma, and instantly has a connection with her, he is relaxed.  He’s in the country away from his work and he engages with someone who completely captures his attention.  And so he orders this extremely extravagant breakfast that seems to never end.  It’s interesting because often we indulge when we feel down, or are feeling lazy.  Woodcock indulges when he is on top of the world.  This is because he’s not fighting anything or chasing that desire to re-create the wedding dress he made for his mother.  He’s at ease, and so goes to the extreme when he’s eating.  There’s madness to this, because the meal he orders seems too big for anyone to eat.  Surely he would feel sick after all that food?  This indicates the dream-like nature of the film, and Anderson’s choice to use motifs to tell a story, rather than reality.

Woodcock only indulges on his own terms, and when Alma attempts to spoil him by evacuating the busy house and cooking him dinner – he’s not amused.  His controlling attitude and his need for everything to be precise come out in this part of the film.  It’s the first indicator of Alma losing faith in him and shows a broken dynamic between them.  There’s hopelessness to her admiration for him, and so it churns a cycle of events that lead her to take more drastic actions to get his full attention.

 

MAJOR SPOILERS…

 

Poison

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The third act revelation in this film is an interesting one, because it subverts our expectations to some degree.  Woodcock is built as the villain, and the one capable of malice.  Alma’s use of the poisonous mushroom to weaken Woodcock so that he becomes malleable and caring is not a plot twist but advancement in character.  It’s the use of a plot device to have character development instead of a narrative move.  Anderson uses as almost a point of romance, something the film is full of.  The outstanding soundtrack from Jonny Greenwood has lush romantic tones that sweep the film along.  And the relationship between Woodcock and Alma is gentle and loving at times.  The poisoning brings a new level of caring however, and removes the toxicity between them.  Woodcock’s health on the demise shadows thoughts about the care-system in general.  It’s the kind of thing where injured soldiers fall in love with their nurses.  Suddenly Alma is all he needs to survive.

Without our full health we become different people, and unable to fulfil our potential.  Woodcock’s revelation and subsequent submission indicates a massive change in his character.  Suddenly he is content, and changes his life to revolve around Alma, instead of the work.  This is because he has finally finished grieving for his mother and can move on.  He doesn’t have to seek perfection in his dresses, searching for the stitch that will bring the feeling of his mother back.  The right stitch has come in the form of this unbalanced and physically unhealthy relationship with Alma.  It’s a strange connection they have, but no doubt one full of actual love.

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This is a remarkable film.  It could be Anderson’s most accessible at the surface level, but still with a thick subtext.  Daniel Day-Lewis’ Woodcock is assured, though soft and idiosyncratic against Vicky Krieps’ insecure but charismatic Alma.  Their binding together is shown as a to and fro as they eat and live together.  Woodcock’s sister (Lesley Manville) intervenes, appearing to be the master of her own health and not the one bit unstable.  The instability creates the drama and the teetering edge that the film sits on.  At any moment the film could explode with anguish and take you away as the viewer.  In the end consumption and production drive the film, taking plenty of turns as it goes.  When something goes in, a change must occur, and I think Anderson stunningly shows that here.  There’s a mirror to the way the characters engulf and the way they act.  It works on every level, which creates a nuanced and utterly captivating experience.  There are layers, and what I’ve discussed is only one of them.  I cannot wait to see it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Not a Good Film

Few things first – this film is not terrible, it has some great things about it and if you want to read my initial thoughts here’s my review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/01/14/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-film-review/.  I’m not writing this to hate on the film, but rather to try and understand why I didn’t like it and so many others did.  Martin McDonagh is a good director and In Bruges is one of my favourite movies of all time so this is not an attempt to slate him or the cast involved, because they are clearly very talented. The film just didn’t click for me, and here are five reasons why…

 

  1. Comedy Set – Up

This is something I discussed in my short review, because it’s probably the thing that stands out the most.  I saw the film with a big crowd, so when everyone laughed it was loud in the cinema.  There was also the sheep affect where if one person laughs, everyone else does.  From the very beginning the film is set up as a comedy with its staging, writing and character design etc so the audience was instantly laughing.  This meant that when it got to a less funny moment they were still giggling, because the film had settled them in to that kind of movie.  Consequently I stopped caring about everything that was happening, because the situations were comedic rather than dramatic.  I don’t think it’s particularly groundbreaking to make light out of serious situations or make a film that is laugh out loud funny (this film often is) that touches on deeper themes – Mcdonagh did it perfectly with In Bruges.  This film doesn’t work like that, as the situations are too outrageously portrayed.  It is made like a comedy, therefore everything out of that genre didn’t land and overall made the film uninteresting.

 

  1. Sam Rockwell’s Character

Rockwell is one of the most underrated working actors, and has loads of great roles behind him.  He’s great in this film as the twisted cop Dixon, but the character isn’t.  Similar to my first point he’s set up as a joke, to a point where he’s almost a Blazing Saddles character.  In the first half of the movie he’s a complete spoof of a racist, stupid, violent police officer.  So why should I care? He’s not written as a real person, and only becomes intriguing in the second half of the film.

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  1. Pointless Characters

This is the one that I find the most offensive, and it’s not really an offensive film.  It’s that the choices made by McDonagh on some of his characters are really strange.  Why is Willoughby’s (Woody Harrelson – the highlight of the movie) wife 20 years younger than him and Australian?  There seems no explanation to this in the film, and it adds nothing to Harrelson’s character.  Everything in a film has to be there for a reason, but there’s no reason to write her as that?  Maybe it’s a weird artistic choice or maybe it’s because filmmakers have this perverse problem of casting younger women to be wives of their male actors.  Another character that is pointless and just played to poke fun at is Mildred ex-husbands new girlfriend.  She is shown as a complete idiot, who has no function at all other than to say something daft for laughs.  Ha ha ha! Do you get it?  The husbands ran off with a younger better looking girl! But she’s fucking tool! Isn’t that hilarious?  They’ve simply aimed for the lowest common denominator here, and for me made a really ugly decision.  Why does she have to be really dumb?  Is the film not funny enough already?  They could have made her a normal human, the ex-husband character is a horrible person already – him having a girlfriend with no brain cells doesn’t make him any worse.  Just because you have a female lead, doesn’t mean you can disregard every other female character as a puppet.  Also Peter Dinklage is totally unutilised in the film, and references to his height became too frequent and dull.

 

  1. Boring Direction

This film has one great piece of direction in it, and that’s about it.  The rest of it is shot very ordinary, and at times is quite disjointed.  For dialogue he just cuts quickly between each character, making every conversation lose weight and not once did I feel McDonagh try to say something with his camera.  As well as this he occasionally makes weird jumps to action that leave you feeling a bit bemused.  There’s a bit with a knife that is so out of character and out of place that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It must have been another joke.

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  1. The Deer

I despise it when a director has a random bit of CGI in to break the drama.  In one scene Frances McDormand talks to a deer (that looks like a cartoon) to tell her everything that she’s feeling.  AGAIN, did we need that? It pulls you completely out of the film, and it is so cringey.  After that I gave up on it all.

 

 

Like I said in my review if you go into this film thinking it as a strange comedy parable, you’ll probably enjoy it.  However the poor choices McDonagh made lead it to be nothing more than that.  It is not a good film.

S/cene [3]: The Crown – Beryl (Episode 4)

S/cene [1]: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/scene-1-the-social-network/

S/cene [2]: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/scene-2-fight-club/

 

The idea of S/cene is to break films down a little more closely and see how nuanced the art of film-making can be.  This time I’ve chosen a short scene from Episode 4 (Beryl) of The Crown.  It’s a stunning TV series that has the production values of a big movie.  I enjoyed the first season (though I did have some problems with it, found here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/defusing-the-tension-in-drama/).  This second season, however, is a real triumph and each episode is made with gorgeous precision.  As soon as I saw this particular scene I knew I could write about it…

 

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Shooting Princess Margaret

To give this moment some context, it occurs around 37 minutes into episode 4.  This episode is where the season diverts from Queen Elizabeth to branch out to the other characters surrounding her.  It focuses on her sister Margaret who is having a torrid time romantically.  She is one of the most interesting characters of the series because of her ability to be more open with the way she acts.  I also think she is played superbly by Vanessa Kirby, who makes her both vulnerable and fearsome.  Recently, at some lavish (though slightly left-field of the monarchy) party, she met photographer Tony Armstrong – Jones, who is played by Matthew Goode.  It’s casting brilliance because Goode fits perfectly into this world, and has a striking look for a striking character.  The pair have an instant, if jagged, chemistry and when Tony offers to take a photo of her she takes it up – desperate for some fresh air.

The scene opens with Margaret pensively coming into Tony’s studio alone.  Outside the door window is a bright natural sunlight, somewhat symbolising the safety Margaret is leaving.  There’s a non-diegetic soundtrack on the go that is ticking, which is increasing the tension like a thriller would.  Tony shouts: “Upstairs” as soon as she opens the door, indicating very quickly just who is in charge here.  She passes a photograph of several men huddling around and staring at a singular woman.  This background image echoes Margaret’s life in the spotlight and the constant criticism she receives.  It then cuts to her sat waiting under the lights for Tony, and the soundtrack fades away.

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Next, Tony strolls in.  Unlike Margaret (who has a dress on), he is dressed casually with a loose tie and light coloured trousers.  His face is extremely thin, drawn out but still pleasant.  It’s this peculiarity in his looks that makes the camera draw to him, and make us follow his every move.  He says nothing as he enters and then retreats away.  Suddenly the light is on her, and off him.  He’s in the dark, adding more to the mystery of his character.  Purposefully he is making noise to unsettle her and it cuts between them.  They light a cigarette at the same time from different rooms, showing their connection and obvious chemistry.  Margaret gets up to look outside – perhaps thinking of an escape.

Eventually Tony returns to the room and removes his shoes, which enumerates more calmness to his nature.  He starts casually taking photos, and Margaret is clearly fond of him as she smiles.  Despite this effort at a bond from her, his dialogue is sharp – making sure he stays on top of this exchange.  Tony brings up her former lover Peter Townsend who she was forced away from, and the conversation becomes passive aggressive.  He’s edging closer; awkwardly pushing his camera forwards as the sexual tension grows.  The ticking soundtrack begins again.  It cuts to the side of them, almost a wide, in one of my favourite shots I’ve seen for a while.  The screen is split in almost two, her on the left out of the light and the camera on the right in the light.  He is invading her life as he moves the camera into the frame – breaking down her insecurities.  Standing over her, you can’t see his face as he moves her, then slightly pulls down her dress.  It’s a move of total power dominance, yet also sensuality as she gasps.  Tony has walked right into her world and taken over it.  The camera then follows him back and he says: “Do you miss him?” and she replies: “Sometimes”.  He takes the picture.

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This scene is excellent because it reveals so much about the characters in a short space of time.  Like the rest of The Crown it’s wonderfully executed – the lighting is warm, the camera moves gently and the acting is captivating.  Director Benjamin Caron really makes the scene engaging with all the subtle choices he makes, and allows this relationship to be fun to watch.  The Crown is so great because of how it’s made, not necessarily because of its content.  It’s the style of the show that makes it standout, and hopefully it’s been a good example of how the techniques of film-making (tv-making) are what creates the enjoyment of watching.

William Friedkin – The Imperfect Director

William Friedkin – The Imperfect Filmmaker

There is a problem with modern cinema, and that’s streaming.  Having things like Netflix, Amazon and Sky (as well as possible downloading) means that there are thousands of films at your fingertips.  Yet what kind of films are we watching on these services?  If you’re like me you research films before watching them – check out how they reviewed.  This has the unfortunate outcome of only ever watching things that other people like.  What about what you like?  I’ve seen enough films to know that a 6.5 on IMDb might be something that I really love.  The problem with having access to every film ever, is the lack of surprise, or risk you take seeing a random film.  There was a magic to catching a film late at night on the TV, then being pulled in by it.  So I would encourage anyone to delve out of their comfort zone, and look for films in the past that were possibly unpopular.  Search for left-field directors, who might have a style you gravitate to.  This is what I’ve been doing by going through William Friedkin’s filmography.  A legend of cinema his films have often been polarising, or just out-right hated, or loved.  He’s a filmmaker who is totally uncompromising and has an incredibly varied back catalogue.  I’ve now seen a fair bit of that catalogue, and why wouldn’t I share my unasked thoughts about them?  This is done in order of when the films came out, and not the order I watched them in.

 

The French Connection (1971)

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This film is like an action video game that has a tutorial soon as it loads up.  The tutorial is tricky, and it’s almost as if it expects you to know everything already.  Take a breath before watching this film and make sure you are in the right mindset.  Get past the 10 minute tutorial, and abstract introduction to the characters, and then sit back.  The rest of the film is Friedkin yanking you along with a big lasso.

This is a classic, and one of those films that fits into the loved category.  It’s been on my list for a while, and I was disappointed when I finally started it.  So much so that I turned it off, and decided to give it a go a different day.  Thankfully it was much better the second time around.  After the first 30 minutes the film really picks up the pace, and never stops moving till the end.  Friedkin is quite level-headed and subdued in his direction here.  It’s early in his career and he’s more of a steady hand then a visionary.  Despite that, it still has the great imperfections that I’m going to try and highlight.  Imperfections such as incongruous pieces of acting, or ridged cuts.  Gene Hackman is playing a disjointed character – saying and doing rash things.  This makes the film entertaining because as the central character he is unpredictable.  These are early signs of Friedkin not conforming to simple movie tropes.  He doesn’t need to take a break between action scenes or have additives to the plot.  That is the main thing I can say about this film, there are no add-ons.  There’s no need for a tacked on love-interest, or twist, or moments of pause.  Friedkin tells the story how it is – a policeman desperate to bust a drug dealer.  He is a visual director, someone who is concerned with cinema and not narrative.  It’s one of the things I love most about him – he does not care in the slightest about something if it doesn’t make the cinema experience greater.  There’s no fat in The French Connection at all.

I’m not sure that it completely holds up, and there’s plenty of stitching marks.  Yet its early signs of those errors, and scratches, and dirt on the lens that make Friedkin the great director that he is.

 

The Exorcist (1973)

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This whole piece is about how imperfections make things stand out and have character.  However this film is perfect in every way.  Perfectly paced, perfectly acted, perfectly shot.  Lightning really struck for Friedkin here.  Each scene is wonderfully crafted to aid the visual pleasure for the viewer, and the building of the plot.  The characters are all 3 dimensional, all relatable, and real.  They are acted with care and Friedkin creates a complex world for them to be in.  For me, it’s not scary, but gets it so right tonally that it is certainly unnerving & intriguing.

Each character is composed with style.  Jason Miller as Damian Karras is the standout, who has subtle inner troubles that makes him likeable.  He’s charismatic but unfathomable. The film took great risks, and Friedkin pushed everything and everyone as far as they could go.  It’s these risks, and leaps of faith (some literal faith) that make it so genius.  The themes of faith are deep-rooted in him as artist and it is a classic of theological storytelling. There is plenty of legend around this film, and whatever Friedkin did on set it certainly worked.  It’s timeless.

 

Sorcerer (1977)

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The beginning to this film is tough to follow, but if you allow yourself to settle in you will be rewarded with a breathtaking second half.  It’s a masculine film with lots of sweat and grunting.  The characters are frustrated, tired, pushed to their limits and its showing.  Natural human nature is emerging and the men at the centre of the film are starting to lose their minds.

Friedkin is excellent at capturing people doing things on screen.  He has this ability to shoot characters problem solving without it being boring.  This is particularly noteworthy in a spectacular scene about half way through the film when they have to blow up a massive felled tree to continue their journey.  It’s the simplicity of his camerawork that makes it compelling, and every second of that scene has weight behind it.  There is a real peril at all times.

Friedkin’s direction is so suspenseful throughout.  This film is thick, and sweaty. The characters are brash and heavy handed.  It’s clear that Friedkin just let the camera roll on them, because so much of the acting is idiosyncratic and personal.  This matches alongside the jarring electronic soundtrack that soon blends with the hearty visuals

The ending to this film is a spiritual experience and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.  It’s profound in its use of music and colours with Roy Schneider at the centre being physically engrossing.  There is a mood to this film that can only be explained once you’ve seen it.  SEE IT.

 

Cruising (1980)

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The feeling you have watching this film is impossible to explain.  It has a strange intrigue and showcases everything that is great about Friedkin.  My favourite quote from him is: “If I don’t show it, it doesn’t exist,” and with Cruising he shows just enough.  It’s a murder mystery with the late 70’s gay BDSM scene as the backdrop, and Friedkin feels no need to make it anything else.  There are no political statements, just visual storytelling.  The film moves weirdly, and is mostly soulless yet it is fully engaging.  All the performances are convincing, with of course Al Pacino guiding the film.  Each small player is thought of carefully and has a reality to them.  Karen Allen’s character Nancy adds a lovely femininity to the film.  There is clarity during her scenes, and Friedkin doesn’t feel the need to push anything during them.  She’s involved in the final moments of the film, final moments that are hard to get your head around.  Is Friedkin trying to say something at last?

A lot of this film feels like the surface level of something much deeper.  Famously there is 40 minutes of lost footage that Friedkin had to cut to stop it from being X-rated.  It was basically pornographic material and in 2013 James Franco made a Documentary/fiction film about the lost footage called Interior Leather Bar.  That film delves into the ideas on what should be shown on screen, and how actors feel about shooting stuff like that.  It’s a weird one but tackles the question that I had whilst watching Cruising: “Where’s the rest of it?” There appears to be something missing from this film, something that would fit into audience expectations.  Never once does the Al Pacino character question his sexuality, and the gay scene is never criticised or praised.  It’s the reason I love the film, and Friedkin so much.  He leaves that out, making the film raw visual entertainment instead.  It doesn’t get bloated with ideas or dilemmas – it just tells the story. Most of all it has that magic quality and a bit of edge that makes it timeless.  What is that quality? Who the fuck knows the film just works for me.

 

To Live and Die in L.A (1985)

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There’s this odd memory about 18 rated films I have as a child.  It’s like I was scared of them – scared of that thick red logo.  Whenever I caught one in my grandfather’s collection I would be fascinated by it.  What makes that film an 18?  I wanted a bite of that forbidden apple.  To Live and Die in L.A is one of those 18’s I was scared of.  A violent thriller about corrupt policeman, and a villain with no boundaries.  There are explicit sex scenes, gore and moments of exploitation cinema.  It’s a brilliant, fun ride that does not hold back in the slightest.  Willem Dafoe is terrifying in this movie, playing a greedy sociopath.  His relationship with the people around him is distant but kinetic.  He’s an artist but a killer.  A business man but a maniac.  William Pietersen stars opposite and I adore him in this and Manhunter.  For my own personal film catalogue he is iconic to 80’s film.  In this movie he’s a conflicted, often unlikable cop, who is totally compelling.  His sex-fuelled relationship with Darlanne Fluegel is dripping with style and these smaller scenes are the highlight of the run-time.

80’s cinema can go three ways: popcorn joy, intense thrills or utter rubbish.  This is the second one and again Friedkin is working the visual art form to the extreme.  The film jumps from scene to scene, only allowing the audience in on some of the secrets.  Moral or ethical values are seldom, and Friedkin excites with his direction.  There are parts where this film is shocking, or uncomfortable to watch.  More than anything it’s brutally entertaining.

 

Bug (2006)

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Its 2000’s Billy Friedkin.  He’s known as a classic auteur but has had 20 years of pretty much flops.  Slowly he’s slipping into that aged director category, where his modern films are self servicing.  Bug throws all of that out of the water.  It’s not an easy watch but it’s a really strong (and strange) play adaptation.  Also it’s best going in not knowing much about it.

The film is dirty, and works like a horror.  Ashley Judd is magnificent as this spitting, bold, and clearly lost woman.  She has no direction and a past that is clinging onto her.  Suddenly Michael Shannon appears in her life as a complete enigma.  The film drudges along and they begin to unravel.  Shannon becomes manic and screen-grabbing in powerful spurts of monologue.  The colours and mise-en-scene are stark, and unnerving. The lines between imagination and reality are blurred, and it’s hard to grasp the meaning of it all.  The film moves with fragility until a total explosion in the climax.  This climax is true visceral cinema and worth the wait until then.

It’s definitely not one of my favourite Friedkin films as it has quite a dull plotline.  Though it is undoubtedly brave and left-field like the rest of his films.  And like the rest of his films it is worth watching.  That’s probably the best compliment I can give all of Friedkins work – worth watching.

 

Killer Joe (2011)

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After the first 10 minutes of this film, I thought what has Friedkin become?  What is this television looking, leering mess?  Then I quickly realised how grounded the film was, how great it was acted, and how Friedkin cuts all the fat away.  He leaves behind any sense of flair to give a bare bones story.  It’s crude and harsh.  Each character an archetype but also deeply complex.  There’s juxtaposition of beauty and real filth.  Hopelessness is constant, and a sense of danger imminent.  Friedkin is almost lazy with his camerawork but on the nose with his control of the narrative.

The now infamous scene with Matthew McConaughey and the chicken leg is disturbing, but I think gels with the rest of the film.  It’s repulsive but didn’t feel out of place.  The ugliness of this film is its outstanding feature and I was surprised with how engaging it was.  There’s no abstract emotional connection, or moments of clarity like his earlier films but the Friedkin-esque style shines through.

Synonymous with Friedkin’s work the film has a powerful ending that allows the viewer to ask their own questions.  I am hoping this isn’t Friedkin’s ending, as this is his last major feature.  He’s well into his 80’s now, but there must be another splash of mucky paint left in him.

 

William Friedkin

Billy Friedkin is a brave director, a risk taker – someone willing to go all the way.  He gets the best out of his actors and isn’t afraid to put them under some intense pressure.  Listening to him is like being in the presence of a thespian making his way through a Shakespeare sonnet.  His memory is outstanding and the stories he tells are mesmerising.  He has thoughts on films that are romantic and compelling but he’s not afraid of change – he welcomes it – he starts it.

These are just a small selection of Friedkin’s films as he has a fair few more.  Arguably the ones I’ve chosen are the only ones you need to see from him.  He has others that are heavily criticised, and a couple that are liked, as well as a plethora of documentaries.  He is imperfect because of all those failures, but when he gets it right it is an EXPERIENCE.

 

Thank god ‘The Snowman’ is rubbish

Imagine a world of film where there aren’t scenes of Val Kilmer grunting in the snow?  That world would be extremely dull.  The Snowman is properly rubbish; to a point where it’s hard to comprehend just how rubbish it is.  After about the first minute it was evident that something went badly wrong during the production of this film.  Another 30 minutes passes and I’m now thinking is it all a massive joke?  Are the film-makers pulling one over us?  Otherwise it could be the worst film I have ever seen in the cinema.  And I’m quite relieved about this because quite frankly there is too much good stuff out there.  It’s really hard to make a good film, yet there have been plenty of them this year.  So thank god for The Snowman and its ability to make me laugh at its flaws.

To dissect the comedy of the film we’ll start with plot.  There is kind of a lot going on and then at the same time nothing that matters?  It is never clear what the main plotline is or what the point is.  The narrative bounces around with little connections between.  To be honest the plot of the film is the least funny part of it because it makes absolute no sense.  By the end of the film the thread of the weak murder mystery is pulled together but without any pay off.  The killer comes out of the blue (though I guessed him half way through) to give a final ten minutes that is completely baffling.  Up to this point the film had been a series of edits rather than scenes, with some characters having no ties to the main story.  There are other weird detectives other than Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) who are present in a different city because why?  I honestly couldn’t tell you.  There is a side-plot of a sexually abusive business mogul that has no relevance to anything, that comes with an added on J.K Simmons role.  Most of all the film is one big long continuation of exposition and ex machina’s.  Every piece of information is thrown in your face and made obvious by either a weird cut or music queue.  The plot devices are numerous – including a square portable computer that the detectives have to use.  Why?  Are we in a different universe to our own? Do phones, computers, iPad’s not exist?  Nope just so we can get one shot of the bad guy deleting some files.  Preposterous.

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There is a screaming in your face problem in this film that is clear from the very start.  The editing.  It’s interesting to note that this film has two editing credits, and I assume they’re both children.  It’s edited like about thirty different people have had a go at it.  Within the first minute there must have been fifty different cuts.  It was like they shot the whole movie then realised the record button wasn’t on at the end of filming, and consequently had to cut every three seconds to make a cohesive runtime.  The film would cut to close-up and I would laugh, then suddenly it would cut to somewhere completely different and I was simply bewildered by it.  Timing in editing is massive, and this felt really off – to where dramatic moments would become comedic ones.  I cannot tell you how funny the actual snowmen in the film were, and when it cut to them I could not hold the laughter in.  The director must have been distant during this part of production as there was certainly no vision in this aspect of the process.  There are actual scenes (not really scenes) in this film where all the action is skipped through via the edit and if you manage to make it to the end you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K Simmons and Toby Jones are all in this film.  These are four massive and talented performers.  Fassbender is so absent throughout and combine this with his paper thin character you get a leading role that’s impossible to care about.  Ferguson has the only slightly intriguing role but never given enough chance to be engaging.  J.K Simmons is miscast and a pointless distraction.  And Toby Jones is wasted for one scene of exposition.  However none of them have anything on the totally unfathomable Val Kilmer appearance.  I have run out of words to describe his disjointed, mumbling uncomfortable attempt at whatever he is attempting.  His scenes are separate from the rest of the narrative, and I can’t for the life of me work out why he was cast.  He is clearly insane.  Which is a shame because Val Kilmer was once a great actor, and has a great Twitter – where he comes across as quite normal.  In The Snowman though he is a struggle to watch, like a cat slowly dying after it has been hit by a car.

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Go and see this film if you get the chance because it is definitely an experience.  I have so many questions for the people that made it, and I can’t even imagine the atmosphere at the premiere.  It is something I have not quite witnessed before – A film based on a popular series of books, with a famous cast and skilled director that fails on every level.  Usually bad films have one or two things wrong with them, and sometimes these bad films become more appreciated as time goes on.  The Snowman gets it wrong on pretty much every film-making basis and cannot be appreciated in any way.  Thankfully so, because the world is way more colourful when these horrid outliers occur.

 

(The actual editors of the film were not children; in fact one of them is Thelma Schoonmaker who is probably the greatest working editor.  Something dark happened to the people who made this film.)

(Also, I’m aware Val Kilmer has throat cancer, which could explain his peculiarity, but why cast him?)

 

Woody Allen is my hero and it’s horrible

Woody Allen isn’t actually my hero and that headline is a little misleading.  I’m not making money of this though, so it’s fine.  I’m not buzz feed just yet.  He is however a kind of a film-making hero of mine.  And I say that with trepidation, because well he is probably a horrific child abuser.  Emphasis on the probably considering those accusations have never made their way to completion.  This doesn’t mean they’re not true of course, and the overwhelming consensus is that Mr Allen is a huge creep.  A huge creep, who in my opinion, has created some of the best films of the last fifty years.  Not only that but films that have influenced the entire movie business, and myself – how I act and see the world.  Does this mean that I’m a bad person? Does this mean that artistry requires torment?  These are two questions that I am almost certainly not going to answer but the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal has put a distaste of Hollywood in my mouth.  It is definitely a systematic regime of abuse from all corners, and the major question is: is it worth it all?  Is Pulp Fiction worth Weinstein’s disgusting nature traumatising young actresses?  Is The Usual Suspects worth Bryan Singer’s unhealthy relationship with young men?  Is my favourite film of all time Annie Hall worth Woody Allen’s possible paedophilia?

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To attempt to make this more about films, and less about the vile male gender, I’m going to talk about why I’m a fan of Allen’s work.  This will hopefully create distance between the sickness of the man and the greatness of the art…

Play it again, Sam (1972):  Essentially Allen’s first signs of his own neurotic style.  It’s a classic laugh a minute kind of comedy with a weird romantic edge.  Allen himself is great in it – doing his typical paranoid character.  It’s based on his own Broadway play, and this means small concept, which works.  We also get a Diane Keaton in a more subdued role than usual, because Allen really is at the centre.  The simple joys in the comedy and the timing are what make this a great.  Interesting to note that Allen didn’t direct this film, Herbert Ross did, so there is little in terms of the picturesque that you get with Allen usually and it’s the writing where his nature comes out.

Manhattan (1979):  In terms of impact on the film world, this is right up there alongside Annie Hall.  It’s an aloof film, which is full of ideas.  The black and white leads to some really gorgeous cinematography from legendary DP Gordon Willis and gives the film a really obscure quality.  At its core it’s Allen poking fun at himself, being very self referential about his previous films and life.  The fact that it is a film about falling for a 17 year old of course begs a lot of questions but Allen’s other relationships in the film are more interesting to me.  Every time I watch it I find something new in there, and it is a literal cinema classic.

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Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989):  This is an odd film that over time has developed to be extremely appreciated.  It’s odd because Allen’s appearance in the film is incongruous to the rest of the narrative.  There’s a sense that two films have been glued together in a way.  Despite this, I feel like the clash works and the main plot is a tough conflicted look on guilt and I guess murder.  The conclusion to the film makes the strange dramatic ride worth it, and it stands out different in Allen’s filmography.

Match Point (2005):  The first film in this little list where Allen doesn’t feature, I think this an underrated film.  When I watched it I was mesmerised by the way Allen presents the story of love and infidelity.  It’s an incredibly tense thriller really, that is full of these juicy back and forth (like tennis) between the characters.  There’s deceit and fear and I think a wonderful central performance from Jonathan Rhys Meyers that is supported well by Scarlett Johansson.  Them together are totally screen grabbing and Allen’s screenplay design is punchier than it has ever been.

Midnight in Paris (2011):  A return to the typical form of Allen, this film encapsulates everything that is great about his films.  The scenery that is shot with beauty in mind, a thoughtful screenplay, and a sympathetic central character.  It is one of Allen’s more ambitious films of recent times and has a story that surprises but ultimately reflects himself once again.  Owen Wilson does a good job doing his best Woody Allen and following him in this film is properly lovely.  It’s a sign that Allen still has ideas that are intriguing and worth paying the ticket price to go and see.

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There are plenty of other films that I could have mentioned that I also love, such as: Hannah and her Sisters, Radio Days, Mighty Aphrodite and Café Society.  I chose not to write about Annie Hall because I love it so much.  Those five films should start to explain why Allen’s films are special to me and why a world without them would be extremely dull.  There is a magic to his films and whatever he may be as a man, his legacy on artistic level shouldn’t be tarnished.  He has, in the last 20 years, had more rubbish films than good ones and there is a sense of existential crisis in his work.  Perhaps it is time for him to die, perhaps his sins as a father, and an abuser should catch up to him.  He still has talent, 2016’s Café Society proves that, but for me he has given enough to cinema.  If he was to fade away then maybe some of that gross Hollywood masculinity will fade away with him.  Thankfully the future is hopeful because the dinosaurs are dying.  And to answer the ‘is it worth it?’ question I would say that without pain there is no brilliance, and without films like Annie Hall I’m not sure what kind of person I would be.  I’m in awe of artists like Allen, just as I am repulsed by them.

Blade Runner 2049: I don’t want to die

“What’s your biggest fear?” – Should have a qualifier to it.  It should be: “What’s your biggest fear, apart from dying?”.  Everyone’s biggest fear is death, and it has been since the start of time.  Religion was founded upon that fear and then moulded by psychedelic drug use.  Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is all about that inevitable clock waiting to grasp us all.  Sure it’s a fantastic Sci-Fi thriller but most of all it’s a story about a desperate attempt to stay alive.  Our villainous replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) says: “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain” to round off a classic story and film.  Yet Blade Runner lives on, some 35 years later to fall in to the depths of mortality once again.

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Denis Villeneuve is the greatest director on the planet.  He has a run of form that would compete with a 70’s Coppola or a whole career of Scorsese.  His directorial style can be drab yes, but also pristine.  Each one of his scenes are crafted to perfection – there are no holes of error.  Like the modern greats (Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson) he moulds the narrative in his own way and builds his films with multiple layers.  Luckily for our eyes he is a frequent collaborator with the greatest cinematographer on the planet – Roger Deakins.  The Deak has shot some of the best looking films of the last 20 years and in recent history he has been at the top of his game.  We’re talking Hail Cesar, Sicario, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, A Serious Man and No Country for Old Men – all stunning mainstream movies.  With Villeneuve he has made the most gorgeous 163 minutes I have ever witnessed.  Blade Runner 2049 is a marvel of visual cinema.  The lighting is balanced so well between the dreariness of the sunken future world and the brightness of a hollow landscape.  It is equally colourful as it is solemn and more than anything the actors are placed accordingly.  There are moments during this film where I could not believe what I was seeing.  How did they shoot that? I was gasping and I was enthralled.  If cinema is a visual art-form then this could be one of the great works of art.  The 1982 film has this quality also, though I do not think it is quite as awe-inspiring.  Just a simple shot of Mackenzie Davis walking through a crowded street blew my mind.  For this the film gets a glowing recommendation to anyone, however this of course does not mean it’s a perfect film.

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The film is slow, gracefully slow, but still slow.  It’s paced much like a character or a mood piece rather than a Sci-Fi romp.  There is very little ‘blade-running’ going on and only a couple of real action scenes to speak about.  As a fan of a slow burn I was fine with this, and the more time spent with scenes the better.  Villeneuve and the writers were in no rush to portray a plot or elements of a narrative; rather were happy to let moments unfold in an immersive world they had built.  The engine for the film comes from the mystery of it all, and a constant questioning of our own interpretations of the Blade Runner tale.  It’s fuelled by some lovely performances by side characters; particularly Ana De Armas as Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend Joi.  She is both sexy and innocent – being the intrigue of the first half of the film.  Her chemistry with Gosling is naturally disjointed and their relationship is built upon a synthetic desire.  There scenes together really are highlights of the film, and dealt with excellently within the context of the whole narrative.  Gosling does well as blade runner Kay – being likeable in a tricky role that is almost sidelined by the enormity of situations as the film progresses.  Through his character Villeneuve and Deakins present a left-field version of Blade Runner with a runtime of sublime and gripping pieces of film-making.  They throw plot out the window and tackle themes instead; themes of humanity and sacrifice.  Death is at the heart of the film again, but there is more beauty than sorrows this time around.

[Spoilers ahead – watch both films]

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There were three times in this film where the film emotionally got me.  Now on several occasions I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head because of how unbelievably beautiful it looked, but it was on three occasions where a little tear may have trickled out.  Firstly when Joi died I was heartbroken as the bond she had with Kay felt genuine.  Ana De Armas was fantastic in the role and the character was completely loveable.  It shows that being human is about connections with others and her death was tearing a connection apart.  What the film does well is sub verse your expectations and when Kay comes across an advert for a model of Joi this happens.  Suddenly he is empty of grief and this spurs him on to realise his destiny and save Deckard (Harrison Ford).  So maybe all this robot love is phoney?  I believe that being human is about that unpredictability and phoney love feels real at the time.  The second time I was emotionally jarred was when Kay died.  His elegant collapse on the snow steps is dazzling and represents a sacrifice.  Kay, to feel human, is doing something that is the most human of all – dying.  This is where the beauty of death comes in, because he is dying for a cause; dying for a hope.  Death was empty and hopeless in the 1982 film and in 2049 it is heroic and peaceful.  Kay gives his life so that the real Blade Runner centrepiece Deckard can meet his daughter.  This meeting was the third time I was emotion struck.  It was a denouement I wasn’t expecting; an ending to a weird and complex story.  There are still questions to be answered but the notions of death and humanity were identified well by Villeneuve.  I don’t want to die because I’m enjoying myself too much.  I’m enjoying these great films too much.  In time Blade Runner 2049 may be tore apart by critics or seen as a masterpiece like the original.  All I want to do is write about it and right now I am engorging on its existence.