Sunday 21 April 2024

Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver

Rather than a full-blooded sequel, Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver is the previously unseen, feature-length third act for its predecessor, Rebel Moon - Part One: A Child of Fire. The films are two pieces of the same Games Workshop-does-Star Wars whole and, unfortunately, the hard split separating the twins invites strange, structural imbalances in the individual fragments rather than allow for the wriggle room required to stage two successive, complimentary conclusions. Experienced apart on release day(s) - rather than streamed later, when both parts can be viewed back-to-back - the disinclination to twist and reassess the pieces on the board between instalments is disappointing but understandable. Scargiver is not a sequel, in the traditional sense. Instead it is the other half of a science fiction saga focused on crawling movement and noisy portraiture. Ed Skrein's fascistic Admiral Noble is a case in point: bloodily vanquished in the previous chapter, he returns here in the exact same human body he died in, despite the glowing, biomechanical juices that had to be pumped into his chopped-up corpse to revive it. 

Writer-director-cinematographer Zack Snyder (co-writing with Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten) then deliberately foregoes his own grimdark approximation of Darth Vader to anchor this finale, preferring instead to shoot and frame the emaciated, Buccal drained Admiral as sacrilegious iconography: the diseased Christ that adorns the Isenheim Altarpiece returned, unnaturally, to life. As before, the subsistence stakes that powered Seven Samurai make very little sense when the aggressive party is an advancing, galaxy-spanning empire rather than a gang of starving noblemen who have turned to banditry. Although the assailed farmers pack their crop around key buildings, daring their invaders to incinerate their prize, Noble and his bovver boys are, as it happens, more than happy to detonate the grain. Once this idea of a battle between two armies running on empty stomachs is voided, all that remains is palace intrigue (both Noble and Sofia Boutella's Kora have been lieutenants in the orbit of Fra Fee's higher power) being played out, inconclusively, at the expense of Space Scandinavians. Wheat does remain important to Snyder though, specifically as an adored, photographic subject. The director's eye - which could, in short, be described as that of a muscle obsessed Malick - luxuriates in the slow motion wave of this grass and the straining, human hardship required to harvest it. 

Hannah Frances - Husk

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Civil War

In one sense writer-director Alex Garland's Civil War does to the landscape and visual shorthand of the United States of America that which Hollywood has, gleefully, done to umpteen second and third-world countries over the last half century: it turns a fractured nation into a backdrop for fantastically choreographed terror. Civil Wars runs counter to any stirring notion of American exceptionalism or other birthright specialness that might demand that great pains be taken when massaging this future shocked scenario for the screen, grounding the unfolding implosion in the political or ideological turmoil of today. Although, in fairness to anyone expecting just that, Nick Offerman's cowering, fascistic Commander in Chief is deliberately and obviously reminiscent of President Donald Trump, that should-be jailbird gearing up for a second-term push with threats that he intends to make the position into a lifelong one. 

Regardless, Washington DC and its faux Grecian pillars are cast as Berlin circa 1945, the bullet-riddled prize soon to be claimed by the advancing armies of either Texas or California, a pair of secessionist states enjoying a marriage of convenience under a two star flag. This decision to cast states with diametrically opposed political identities as unified belligerents (or saviours, come to think of it) speaks to the overall flatness Englishman Garland ascribes to his scenario. This American Civil War isn't beholden to anything other than the prolonged description of detonation. The conflict harrowing ranch land with limed pits isn't presented as an opportunity to chide or congratulate the audience based on their own, personal leanings. It is, instead, free licence for military-aged men to do the most appalling things to each other. To wield the instant power associated with the firearms and 5.56 ammunition they have stockpiled over the preceding years. 

Aggressors, we see, are often motivated by little more than the idea that somebody else is manning an opposing, situational location. Kirsten Dunst's grizzled war photographer Lee and Cailee Spaeny's analog understudy stumble onto a number of these pop-up stand-offs as they close in on the capital. Although every act in Garland's film is framed by the strange, nihilistic amorality of people who translate human horror into beatific, black and white snaps for sunken newspapers, it is clear that, over and over again, these shoot-outs betray zero strategic value. It is simply the case that sightlines exist and both parties have the bullets to burn. Civil War then functioning as a response to the zombie genre that Garland helped resurrect with 28 Days Later: it removes the abstraction of living death to sit with the notion that a great many people genuinely aspire to shoot their neighbours. To hang their bleeding, pulverised bodies off the nearest awning for all to see. And, if none of that sounds particularly appealing, there's an embedded, IMAX assault on hallowed, Pennsylvania Avenue turf that is just as exiting as the one featured in the first video game to call itself Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Suicide - Dream Baby Dream

De La Soul - Say No Go

Godzilla Minus One by Kaitlyn McCulley

Monday 15 April 2024

Speak No Evil

Speak No Evil is an excruciating experience, a film that comes on like an increasingly sour comedy of manners before, in its dying minutes, lurching into a state of pulverising nightmare. A Danish family meets their Dutch counterpart on a Tuscan holiday. Their connection is brief but vivid, the mousier Danes flattered by the attention heaped upon them by a garrulous doctor, his glamorous wife and their sullen, non-verbal child. So when an invite appears weeks later, beckoning the Danes to Holland for a short break, they happily accept. In constructing this relentless horror show, writer-director Christian Tafrdrup has built a film without any pressure release valves. There is no levity in Speak No Evil. No opportunity to reassess or dismiss the path we appear to be on. The viewer is never given any information or allowed to glimpse any situation that would assuage their most paranoid suspicions about these overfamiliar hosts. Quite the opposite in fact. Although Morten Burian's Bjørn is ill-equipped to do anything but smile passively through a sequence of events that are slipping further and further out of his control, we are acutely aware that the people escalating these trespasses cannot be sated. They, in actual fact, delight in their guest's twisting discomfort. Tension and anxiety are allowed free reign then, growing and swelling far beyond a point where you believe any real person would be wiling to suffer for the sake of appearances. Weakest in its backend, where a contrivance or two in terms of interfamily communication (or lack thereof) stretches credulity beyond breaking point, Speak No Evil still feels indelible simply in terms of how much venom it is able to summon up for characters who are themselves the victims of the most appalling outrages. It's not that Bjørn and Sidsel Siem Koch's Louise are bad people deserving of some transgressive comeuppance, it's that they are so weak-willed, so completely unable to do their job as parents, that inspires genuine loathing. 

Conan le Cimmerien by Florent Desanthèmes

Weyes Blood - Andromeda

Olivia Newton-John - Take Me Home, Country Roads

Wednesday 10 April 2024

Whisper of the Heart

Rather than the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-style whimsy promised by a theatrical release poster that depicts our teenage heroine ascending into the sky, a dandified feline on her arm, Whisper of the Heart is instead locked, with its feet firmly on the ground. Although dreamy landscapes untroubled by gravity do (briefly) appear in Yoshifumi Kondo's film, for the most part Whisper exists in packed and cluttered urban spaces. These environments do slowly take on a picturesque quality though, partially thanks to the beautifully painted medium presenting them but also the ups and downs experienced by the lovebird protagonists. Nostalgic in terms of depicting a bygone emotional bandwidth for an older viewer rather than any specific kind of toy. Whisper then deals in contrasts: the physical restraint of living in a box room, trapped under piles of books, or the freedom felt when traversing the vaulting greenery of a nearby hill, tamed by winding, concrete embellishments. 

Whisper does tell its story with the odd fairy tale flourish - bookworm Shizuku Tsukishima follows a haughty cat through the back alleys surrounding an educational campus, pressing deeper into dark, unclaimed scrubland - but these journeys only ever take her from her own, cramped working class neighbourhood to a staggered, upper middle class conclave. The jewel of this gated community is an antique shop that hardly ever seems to be open. Peering though the window, Tsukishima spies all sorts of treasures and claimed curios that immediately fire her idling imagination. Written by Hayao Miyazaki and based on a manga written and illustrated by Aoi Hiiragi, Whisper is a patient, empathetic look at the listlessness experienced by children fast approaching adulthood and not really having any idea what they want to do with themselves. It's not that Tsukishima is a dull person either, she's fit to bursting with ideas inherited from a childhood spent checking out books from her local library. 

Tsukishima feels a responsibility to do something with the incredible creative faculty that she has cultivated, one that isn't always compatible with more immediate concerns, such as the high school entrance exams that are creeping ever closer. As well as exploring and legitimising her own aspirations through sustained hard work, there's also a hint of penance in the punishing schedule that Tsukishima sets for herself when writing her own fantasy story. This contrition apparently some sort of atonement for thinking so little of a boy, Seiji Amasawa, who was (at first) a confounding presence in her life before he, very casually, revealed some deeply romantic hidden depths. Tsukishima seems to note some deficit in herself when considering her prospective boyfriend; some way in which he has raced ahead of her with his own dreams. Come the finale, when Amasawa attempts to gallantly bike the pair up a steep incline, Tsukishima dismounts and begins pushing, stating that she will not be a burden to any man. 

vintageverb - Metallic

VIQ & Altered Sigh - Afraid

Star Wars by Dan Goozee

Thursday 28 March 2024

King Kong Lives

Lethargic and prone to comedic, bug-eyed reaction shots whenever Lamborghinis or similar are being crushed underfoot, King Kong Lives does at least take some massive conceptual swings in its early passages. A decade has passed since Jessica Lange's hirsute suitor was blasted full of holes, by hovering Bell helicopters, before falling off a skyscraper onto the concrete pavement below. Rather than turn the giant ape's bones to powder, this plunge instead landed the Eighth Wonder of the World in a long-term but apparently stable coma. Tended by Linda Hamilton's Dr. Amy Franklin in a mid-80s present day, the sleeping Kong is suddenly found to be in desperate need of both a blood transfusion and a brand new, mechanical heart. Luckily for Kong, Brian Kerwin's earthy adventurer stumbles across another enlarged primate in Borneo. This gorilla, dubbed Lady Kong, is rather shy and retiring, especially when compared to her male namesake. The female of this species, apparently, preferring to brood and sulk rather than thrash about in an impassioned rage. Although farcical in terms of how John Guillermin's sequel accounts for its time skip, there's a certain kind of fun in how the film portrays the scaled-up, day-to-day processes of looking after a pair of enormous apes. Heavy trucks, driven by weekend warriors, bus around rotting fruit while fleets of bulldozers are employed to corral the more placid Ninth Wonder. The real highlight though is an open heart surgery sequence in which Hamilton's doc cracks Kong's ribs with a gleaming, sterilised circular saw before plunging a pacemaker the size of a small van into the titan's chest. It's a shame that the rest of the film has, comparatively, flatlined.