Angry Robot

Free Fire

I tried to describe this film to a friend. “It’s set in the 70s, about a arms deal gone wrong. A bunch of crooks are in a shootout in a big warehouse for basically the entire movie. Hey, I’m making it sound pretty great.” It’s the latest film from director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise). It’s a decent film best understood as a black comedy in the Tarantino vein, and it does manage some deliciously dark laughs, but it falls short of the significance of most Tony Scott films, let alone QT. (Tony Scott directing a reboot of The Hateful Eight might be the closest analogue.)

The film’s biggest flaw is that it moves into action mode a good 15 minutes too early, not having had enough time to fill out any of the largish number of characters, which wastes a capable cast (Brie Larson, Cilian Murphy, Armie Hammer). One finds oneself not caring which ones lived or died, which one could describe as suboptimal from a dramatic perspective. It’s definitely watchable with some great, funny moments, but life’s too short.

Story titles, invented by neural network

I’m going through the Lewis and Quark archives because this shit makes me cry with laughter. Here’s a good one, that had me fantasizing about making trailers for:

This Is Spinal Tap’s $400 Million Lawsuit

They’re not the first to go after Hollywood accounting, but they could be the loudest.

‘Fargo’: A Guide to the Show’s Coen Brothers’ References

From White Russian drink specials to “Friendo” namedropping – a complete guide (so far) to ‘Fargo’ TV series’ Coen brother movie references.

How the Story of “Moana” and Maui Holds Up Against Cultural Truths


Rogue One’s best visual effects happened while the camera was rolling

Some really interesting techniques here

Shudder

Streaming service for horror films, curated by Colin Geddes, who used to do Midnight Madness at TIFF. $5/mo; not sure how much of the archive is available outside of the US, but the collection looks really great. I mean, they have Manborg. Gonna give it a shot at some point.

Ridley Scott Is Planning 6 More Alien Movies

An Alien in New York, Chestburster: The Musical, Alien vs. My Little Pony, Gladialien… go ahead, run with those, Ridley

Strange and probably polarizing short film.

“There is an Incentivized Path to Mediocrity”

Re: problems with the Canadian film industry

These movies will help you through the Donald Trump years | Toronto Star

Definitely Children of Men. I would add Killing Them Softly and Hell or High Water

Logan review: not just the bloodiest X-Men movie, but also the saddest

The weight of graphic, grotesque violence hangs over the entire movie. But the daring emotional violence lingers longer, well after the lights go down on the final shot.

Sounds fun!

The future of Studio Ghibli in a post-Miyazaki world

Oscar nominations: La La Land leads with record-tying 14 nods

Sundance Film Review: Kuso

Aaaand here’s a review. “Nauseating” comes up a lot, but… in a good way?

FlyLo’s feature dropped at Sundance and it looks very Tim & Ericky. Tim is in it, as are George Clinton and Hannibal Buress.

Is Children of Men 2016’s Most Relevant Film?

“Look, I’m absolutely pessimistic about the present,” Cuarón says. “But I’m very optimistic about the future.”

The Dirties

The Dirties Poster

My post today is an endorsement of The Dirties, the first film by Matt Johnson, the dude from the interview I posted yesterday. I liked what I read, and I respect the opinion of Radheyan Simonpillai, so the missus and I checked it out last night. It’s the best Canadian film I’ve seen in a while (since Incendies maybe? Room and Brooklyn don’t count), one of the best found-footage movies I’ve seen, and the most refreshing directorial debut I’ve seen since Primer. It approaches a tough topic (school shootings) with a unique tone. It’s on iTunes and YouTube. Here’s the trailer.

Lynch Fest: Blue Velvet

If Elephant Man is about spectacle, Blue Velvet is about mystery. It’s essentially a film noir narrative, deviating from the norm by putting a young college student in the detective role, allowing a coming-of-age story to shine through now and then. Needless to say, as the opening foreshadows, the world our youth discovers beneath the surface is a dark one.

I’ve seen this film so many times already there’s very little for me to say about it, but what I noticed this time was how good the dialogue is. There’s a part where McLaughlan and Dern are having their first conversation, McLaughlan looks at a house they’re passing and says, “I used to know a kid who lived there, he had the biggest tongue in the world.”

The film is not without its spectacle, of course. The images in the opening alone would overpower a weaker film, to say nothing of the severed ear in a field, the frequent song breaks, using a lamp for a microphone. But it’s all hung over this mystery plot, which is eventually brought together in a somewhat conventional way. (Not that it makes a ton of sense; I can’t figure out why Frank is dressed as “The Well Dressed Man”.) If there is an epic battle throughout Lynch’s career between spectacle and narrative, narrative won this one – but will eventually lose the war.

Incidentally, Lynch says the ending came to him in a dream. “The dream gave me the police radio; the dream gave me Frank’s disguise; the dream gave me the gun in the yellow man’s jacket; the dream gave me the scene where Jeffrey was in the back of Dorothy’s apartment, sending the wrong message, knowing Frank would hear it. I don’t know how it happened, but I just had to plug and change a few things to bring it all together.” (pulled from here, originally from the interview book Lynch on Lynch)

Also from that page is the Pauline Kael quote: “This is American darkness – darkness in color, darkness with a happy ending. Lynch might turn out to be the first populist surrealist – a Frank Capra of dream logic.” But American darkness was going to get a whole lot darker.

Lynch Fest: Elephant Man

This was fascinating for various reasons. It’s a classical narrative, but it still features a few dream-logic sections. It was nominated for eight Oscars, rare for Lynch films, and you can see why, as it features an outsider hero who gains a place in society. At the same time, it is about spectacle. Lynch compares two modes of spectacular presentation, with Merrick put on display in both the freak show and scientific contexts. Later, he is put on display to society, and while he is given a voice in this context, the question of exploitation still lingers. Viewers of the film are, of course, implicated in this exploitation.

There are three major surrealist passages in the film, at the beginning, climax and end (excluding the Fellini-esque return to the freak show in the second act). The beginning expresses Merrick’s birth trauma through slow dissolves of slow motion elephants and closeups of his mother screaming, with expressive and disturbing sound design of course. The climax occurs when Merrick watches a play: his ultimate triumph in the film is to assume the position of spectator rather than spectacle. Rather than show the staging of the play in detail, Lynch again shifts to slow dissolves, semi-abstract closeups of stage action details, and slips in a shot of Merrick’s “owner” in a cage. It’s a beautiful idea; Merrick’s victory over the antagonist is purely imaginary, through the art of spectacle. The final passage is right at the end of the film and represents Merrick’s death, which visually mirrors his birth as it returns to the closeup image of his mother. Instead of elephants, we have the night sky and a long dissolve to white.

So in the most intense moments, Lynch turns to surrealism, but leaves the rest of the plot to a more conventional telling.

Personal Lynch Fest

Because it’s been a while for me, and because my lady still hadn’t seen some of my favourite living director’s films, I decided to curate a personal David Lynch film festival for us. We’re watching at least one film a week. Here’s what’s on the list so far:

A few of these are available on Netflix in Canada: Elephant Man, Dune, The Straight Story, and the entire run of Twin Peaks(!). There are Blu-Ray releases of some, but nowhere near enough: Dune, Blue Velvet, and a German box set that has Mulholland, Lost Highway and Inland Empire.

I will try and write up most of these films as we go. We’ve gotten through a few films already, and my writeups are lagging, so I wanted to post this part first.