Monday, 30 May 2016
Several distinct sub-categories of the British middle-class seal themselves inside a concrete tower block shaped like a hooked finger, then go feral trying to out-do each other. Refreshingly, there is no wider social issue or calamity at play in High-Rise, the sickness is self-contained and comes in waves, crashing over the building's competing groups. These people have complied, voluntarily narrowing their lives' focus, desperate to establish their own, defensible, position in a culturally imposed, but ultimately unenforced, social pecking order. Jobs become distant, secondary concerns, the cars required to leave this maelstrom are abandoned to fire and rot. Everyone wants to play the game instead.
Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump's adaptation of JG Ballard's novel simulates the fizzy hysteria of confined conflict, tracking the prolonged, petty agitation that transforms your basic sun-lounger skirmish into the kind of teeth and claw barbarity you'd expect from a Stalingrad flat share. Tom Hiddleston plays Robert Laing, a doctor and therefore an appealing neutral presence in this intersectional meltdown. His job allows him to mix at every level, becoming a largely impassive presence prone to light, boarding school cruelty. Pointedly, his job is the only role that the new order has any real use for. Despite his protestations, Laing is consulted on a variety of pressing medical issues, trusted to make decisions and dream up solutions, so long as they're basically the same shape as the ruling class' whimsical diktats. While other citizens of this curling, brutal fist hunker down and secure their territory, Laing drifts. An aimless but personable observer.
Tuesday, 24 May 2016
Monday, 23 May 2016
Sylvester Stallone and his regular fall guy George P Cosmatos join forces with Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan's Cannon Group to deliver Cobra, an 87 minute splatterfest that finds connective tissue between straight-to-video slashers and street-sweeping law enforcement. Stallone plays Marion Cobretti terminally cool, like Arthur Fonzarelli starring in his very own European violence comic. Cobra stands as the LAPD's last resort, a Zombie Squad stick-up man who's happy flashing Giallo blades when he's not steaming around in a battleship grey Mercury Eight, hunting wrongdoers.
In Cobra's world regular cops are ineffectual wimps with limp pistols and even limper politics. Only Cobra has the stones, not to the mention the cavalier regard for due process, to muck in and get the job done. Cobra is Dirty Harry's mutant offspring, an unrestrained avenger driven by simplistic, knee-jerk posturing and supermarket tabloid headlines. Callahan cleaned up San Francisco with a fetishised six shot revolver, Cobretti's task is so great he requires a misshapen Finnish sub-machine gun that fires explosive, car shredding bullets.
Stallone's narrow, insistent focus compliments the more deranged aspects of Cobra's future-shocked premise. Although barely explored, the film's central threat is a wave of hysteria that has penetrated every level of society, compelling construction workers, yuppies and even police officers to meet in concrete pits to bang axes together. Stallone isn't interested in the logistics or thought processes behind this mania, it's just an interesting image he can match to a foreboding percussive beat.
As with Staying Alive and the last two Rocky films Stallone is generating mood and excitement out of abstracted movement, the aesthetic jumble of MTV's emotional editing as a method of pure narrative delivery. Stallone, ever the populist, is using this language to compartmentalise the elements of film that don't interest him - motivations are fixed, pat even. Good is good and evil is just evil. In this universe, Cobretti's fascistic hatred of lawbreakers is positioned as the only sane response to a society that is happy to gnaw its own leg off.
The film is a lark, Stallone and Cosmatos have built themselves a towering, two hour monument to eradication, then hacked it down to the bone to appease ratings boards, greedy distributors and, most importantly, Stallone's own ego. Asked to deliver a sub-90 minute wheeze for the Top Gun crowd, Stallone dialled into that film's sweaty regard for the muscled male as a desirable object. Despite Brigette Nielsen's presence, no-one here is shot more adoringly than Stallone.
Cobra pores over its subject, not so much as the kind of efficient, muscled machinery that drives the rival Schwarzenegger films but as a cool, aspirational personality. The film lingers on Stallone. Every gesture, every discursive bit of waffle the actor employs to wrestle the audience's attention back to him is up there on the screen. Stallone warps the basic mechanics of police procedurals, rendering every building block but himself brief, if not elliptical.
This narcissism doesn't actually harm Cobra though. If anything it elevates it, transforming a landfill policer into a brisk, energetic horror show. Cobra iterates on Nighthawks, solving a lot of that film's problems in the process - LA-LA Land is a more conducive environment for Stallone's ego trip, while Brian Thompson's performance as The Night Slasher never overwhelms Stallone they way Rutger Hauer did. Cobra signals a sea change for Stallone, he's no longer retreating from the larger-than-life status that Rocky and Rambo have conferred, he's embracing it, seeing if he can apply himself to a different formula.
Tuesday, 17 May 2016
Thrown together by strange, transgressive violence, Green Room's central characters are, essentially, children being fed into a well-oiled machine. Patrick Stewart's neo-Nazi club owner is obviously no stranger to hosing down the walls of his black-lit dungeon. He has a checklist for just these kind of situations, a mental Rolodex brimming with attack dog handlers and mean little punks desperate to make their bones. There's an element of routine in his actions, a light boredom that translates into low-level frustration rather than seething, atomic anger. He doesn't doubt his victory, he's already constructed a credible scenario for the slaughter of these teenagers, it's just a matter of assembling the parts.
As with his previous film Blue Ruin, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier is fascinated by the logistics of confrontation. When Saulnier's players converge they don't slot together like puzzle pieces in some cosmic drama, Saulnier instead focuses on the fumbles, the anxious, sweaty attempts to make the most of fleeting opportunity. Green Room is action as a series of dramatic beats explicitly founded in character moments. There is no concert, the film's players are two desperate teams of individuals trying to achieve co-operation. Green Room's brilliance then lies in how these attempts are communicated. Saulnier weaves in false-starts and mistakes, temporary allies try to help each other, but just as often they end up massaging a situation just enough that their team-mates start to think they have it in hand. Such arrogance is, of course, punished ruthlessly.
Friday, 13 May 2016
Sunday, 8 May 2016
Saturday, 7 May 2016
Monday, 2 May 2016
Captain America: Civil War excels at portraying movement, each and every one of the Marvel characters has their own individual style of motion, matched to both their abilities and their personalities. It's a necessity in a film teeming with every conceivable variation of superhuman, but the implementation here goes beyond mere colour-coding or a succession of quick, featured spots. Anthony and Joe Russo use a thriller frame to inch the brand towards implosion before the next Avengers showcase, dressing the bones with a string of action sequences designed to provoke elation.
A heavily trailed airport clash is the exact opposite of the sluggish mediums we were promised, folding in Paul Rudd's Ant-Man and new kid Tom Holland as Spider-Man to achieve the kind of fluent, frenetic energy you'd expect from one of Joaquim Dos Santos' Justice League Unlimited episodes. Civil War's approach to computer generated filmmaking has more in common with animation than the usual Summer money shots. The effects don't demand awe, they communicate an impossible series of manoeuvres. We track individual elements as they scream in and away from each other. It's delightful. Antagonism rendered as gleefully inventive collisions.
Away from the server farms, Scarlett Johansson and her regular stunt double Heidi Moneymaker demand praise for their chimeric performance as Black Widow, the duo's efforts combining into the most credible physical presence in the entire film. Since Widow's powers barely stray into the fantastical, the action built around her is grounded in not just a believability but something recognisable, immediate and, most importantly, dangerous. Widow doesn't invincibly breeze through danger like the boys, she mantles it, her movements betraying both calculation and expertise. Her moments are fleeting, bracketed by extravagance, but the image of a red-headed missile weaving through a market in Nigeria lingers just as long as Civil War's franchise rehabilitating special effects.