Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Hunger Games

The biggest surprise of The Hunger Games is how violent it seems. Shot for a PG-13 rating in America, and shorn of seven bleed-out seconds to get a similar UK rating, The Hunger Games doesn't dwell on the detail of death. Instead, lives are extinguished in rapid blurs and quick-cut glimpses. Teenagers are on top of each other in seconds, slashing and stabbing. Opponents square up and just terminate each other.

The mystical kung-fu neck break is a favourite - that short sharp twist perfected by the muscle lugs of the 1980s. Bruce Lee killing Jackie Chan in Enter the Dragon on fast-forward, minus all the strain and clasping intimacy. It's a person's off switch, cinematic shorthand for finality. It is routinely employed here by an all-American jock clique that roam together, laughing and joking about their enemy's death rattles. 

I'm not completely certain, but I think the Schwarzenegger neck-twist happens silently in this film. There's none of the usual crackling cavitation that you'd hear in the latest martial-arts wheeze. We are spared the sound of bones stressing and shattering, as if the visual cue is markedly less alarming. I'm not sure it is. It creates a dissonance in this viewer. The murderer's lack of effort is more alarming. Seeing someone fall dead after a brief 12A friendly shake is a shock. There isn't adequate cause for the effect. It's hilarious - by trimming all the exertion out of brutality to appease ratings boards, teen movie mangling hasn't become palatable, it has instead become something slightly startling.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Genesis - The Brazilian

I've spent the evening reading Steven E de Souza and Frank Darabont's unproduced Commando II script - this is the track they advise you to crank up to get a sense of John Matrix's world. Obviously the script is completely amazing and features scene after scene of Schwarzenegger saying blunt things and frowning. Zinger wise, the highlight has to be Arnold's aside after brutalising the door staff of an exclusive members only club: "I don't know why they call them bouncers. They don't bounce." Elsewhere, our hero escapes a high-tech death corridor by creating an anti-laser umbrella out of Janitorial supplies and a few rest-room mirrors. Take that technology! For his big finish, Schwarzenegger gains entry to the big bad's evil Contra compound by disguising himself as a blushing bride. Real shame it never got made.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


Hustle plays like the angry, exhausted conclusion to a long-running police serial beamed in from the misery dimension. The staging is flat and workmanlike, the pace glacial. Violence is punchy, but bloodless. Mouths form vulgarity, but only substitute words spill out. The real nasty is in the way characters interact. They scrape and collide with each other, their interactions stripped of anything but disgust and chronic impatience. The atmosphere tips all the way into poisonous when the central thesis emerges - citizens, and their offspring, as little more than commodities to be used up and shit out by the ruling class. Hustle's regency doesn't even have the common decency to hide their dirt, instead they proudly boast over liquid lunches with law enforcement. Burt Reynolds stews as Lieutenant Phil Gaines, a boozy, brawling, balling cop who labours with a faint shred of human decency. His block head and Frankenstein's Monster frame recalls Ralph Meeker's pure thug Mike Hammer from Aldrich's other private dick flick Kiss Me Deadly. Like Hammer, Gaines is similarly inclined to shack up with hookers, and beat his love into them.

Brown Eyes - I Adore You

Sunday, 4 March 2012

NEON - The 100 Films You Must See Before You Die

When I was 15 I used to walk home from school. It gave me an opportunity to have great big long chats with my friends who lived along the route home, and, perhaps crucially, was significantly safer than getting the bus home. In my experience, typical bus rides along secondary school routes in the mid-90s tended to involve at least basic criminality. Fights, drug-taking, even mild torture were common. It wasn't unusual for bus drivers to simply drive past the stops closest to my school; neither was it particularly exceptional for a bus ride to terminate five minutes after departure at the local police station. As you might expect, there was a drive to avoid all that. Walking home instead, even though it took around 45 minutes and you were almost guaranteed to be spat at by the animals that had sought public transport, was seen as the best solution.

It was on these marches that I first came across Neon, a new film magazine. The first issue I bought was the fifth, dated May 1997. The cover was a reproduction of a 70s Jaws poster, accompanied by the text 100 FILMS YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE. How could you not love that? Not 'Humdrum Magazine Presents 100 Pleasant Films', or 'Servile Ad Mag's 100 Bestest Films'. No, Neon instead issued an imperative. 100 films so ace that if you hadn't seen them all by the time you were on your death bed, well, you'd fucked up. I think one of my best friends, Gary already had this issue, and couldn't recommend it highly enough. So I dipped in - likely with saved up dinner money - and ended up warping my film tastes forever. Neon represents a ground zero for me, the point were I started to really think about films not as violent time-wasters, but as something fascinating and worthy of intense teenage scrutiny. A thought that lingers to this day.

My new favourite blog Neon Magazine Scans '97 - '99 has issue 5 scanned and catalogued in its entirety. Embedded above is the countdown that kick started my mutation. How many have you seen? I'm on about 87.

Turtle Power, Son by Jim Mahfood

Ralph McQuarrie