Thursday, 30 September 2021
Tuesday, 28 September 2021
The Britain seen in David Lowery's The Green Knight is a blighted place, a rolling crime scene spotted with extant battles and restless ghosts - neither of which seem to register with the country's mouldering monarchy. Civilisation - or perhaps, more accurately, the rigid adherence to the myth of Christ as a pre-packaged answer to the mystery of human redemption - is depicted here as a grandiose fantasy that renders Kings and Queens sickly and sterile. This court of Camelot have sealed themselves up in their high towers; a self-satisfied mob presiding over victories that have long since faded into memory. Sean Harris' King Arthur and Kate Dickie's Queen Guinevere are pale and decrepit, the Pendragon royalty as heirless, intertwined, relics that have far outlived their usefulness to legend. Both rulers are photographed as if moments away from passing, their thinning blood pooling around glassy eyes and filthy mouths as they prod the court's youth towards ruin.
Rather than a storied knight, Dev Patel's Gawain is a listless nephew, the court wannabe who glumly informs a pleading uncle that he has took part in no great adventures and therefore has no stories to tell. Either born too late or held at a discreet distance, this Gawain exists in the space between two aspects of his family. Unfettered by regal decorum or expectation, Gawain is therefore allowed to consort with Alicia Vikander's brothel worker, Essel. On one side sit his Aunt and Uncle - the Queen and King - two mummies hurtling into their dotage. On the other, his mother, Sarita Choudhury's Morgan le Fay, a sorceress attended by children who barely age. Although le Fay only speaks a handful of times, The Green Knight is underpinned by her ambition - her desire - to see her son elevated to a resplendent, Kingly, status. The coming of the supernatural woodsman is her doing, the Green Knight answering a letter written by le Fey during a magical rite. His summoning facilitates the situation by which le Fay hopes Gawain can make some sort of mark on this dynasty.
On Christmas Day the Green Knight barges into Arthur's hall, interrupting the icy festivities to present a holly branch and a challenge to the round table: if anyone can land a blow on his person they will win his axe but, in a year's time, the strike will be returned. Ralph Ineson's Green Knight is massive and monstrous, his body a knot of animated bark and root. When he moves we hear the strain and crack of branches, as if some massive oak is attempting to stand; his voice is a growl, Ineson sinking into the Earth to emit a note of reverberating bass. Musically, this Knight is the deathless land issuing a direct challenge to its temporary rulers, daring them to attempt to make a mark upon it. No Camelot Knight dares to meet his green gaze so the role of participant in this game falls to the eager, untitled, Gawain. Arthur hands his nephew the sword Excalibur and urges the much younger man on. Rather than attack though, Green Knight bares his neck, inviting Gawain to strike. He does so, beheading this invader and, presumably, rendering the foreboding deal null. Before Gawain can bask in his newfound glory though the Green Knight's body stands, snatches up his cackling head, then reminds Gawain of the deal he has struck and the payment that is now expected.
Gawain instantly enters into popular myth, his deeds inflated by drunken, hyperbolic, repetition then transformed into a ghastly puppet show in the Punch and Judy vein. Although peacetime famous, the pact with the Green Knight has done nothing for Gawain's station. He hasn't been knighted; his days and nights are still spent outside the court, feasting and brawling amongst the kingdom's common folk. As winter approaches King Arthur reminds an increasingly anxious Gawain that he must keep his promise to the Green Knight. A pall lingers over this meeting, not just in Gawain's obvious distress but in the insinuation that an unseen entreaty from le Fay has been rebuffed by her brother - it's not enough for the King that Gawain has taken this supernatural creature's head, he must also offer his in return. Neither a knight, nor a prince for that matter, le Fay's son has still not been allowed the status of Arthur's heir. He is to earn his place or die in the effort.
There's a certain cruelty in how this Arthur interacts with Gawain. The King's favour is both fleeting and loaded, a needling sense of expectation heaped upon a person who, quite apparently, hasn't been adequately prepared for these moments. In terms of courtly hierarchy, Gawain seems to be the spare, a person bred purely to compliment a legitimate child who either died before this story commences or was never actually born at all. Typically attributed to the King and Queen of Orkney - Morgause, an estranged half-sister of Arthur's - Patel's Gawain is here the son of a different sister, the enchantress Morgan le Fay. John Boorman's adaptation of the Arthurian legends, Excalibur, made a similar decision regarding the King's sisters, rolling the two characters into one. Helen Mirren's Morgana was another schemer looking to put her child on Camelot's throne. In that film her son, Mordred, is explicitly the offspring of Morgana and Arthur, conceived during the King's years long delirium. In Lowery's film no mention is made of a father. No explicit, stated, link to Arthur save their shared resemblance to Byzantine portrayals of Christ - the drawn face; stern expression; and the long, slender, nose.
Gawain's quest is rambling and episodic, the inexperienced man consistently made to contend with his own physical and mental limits. He begins his journey affecting the behaviour of a ranging, romantic, adventurer. This Gawain is quickly bamboozled by an even younger man, Barry Keoghan's Scavenger, who disarms the loaded traveller by appealing to a rank that Gawain does not hold. Like Robin Hood, this Scavenger preys on the rich and conceited, attacking travellers as they journey through thick woodland, liberating their possessions for redistribution. Bound and gagged, Gawain receives a vision of himself as a sunken collection of bones, a horror that spurs him to action, hurling his bound body along the forest floor in search of a blade to sever his constraints. As he delves deeper into the Britain's wilds, Gawain encounters the ghost of a murdered Welsh Saint and a Lord with a face elsewhere rendered in tapestry. While Arthur and his Kingdom venerate a Palestinian prophet martyred by the Romans, Gawain - after greedily gobbling up some wild mushrooms - consorts with deities that have sprung from this isle: forest spirits that speak with the voice of his mother, a tribe of roaming giants and, finally, the Green Knight himself.
Eventually making his way to the Green Chapel, Gawain encounters the slumbering Green Knight. Once awake, the creaking woodsman - portrayed in this setting as a curious mix of Father Christmas and the Devil - hurries, as agreed, to deprive his visitor of his head. Reluctant to give his life up so easily, Gawain attempts to flee. It's here that Lowery's film lifts a conceit from Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ (not to mention Martin Scorsese's filmed adaptation), allowing the sacrificial lamb to experience the life he believes he might go on to live. Whereas Scorsese's film depicts a certain amount of human contentment before the rot sets in, Gawain's yuletide present is a lifetime lived in minutes; experiences and events overlapping into one long, thundering, march of despair. Gawain sees his future as a sleepwalker King, finally knighted moments before Arthur himself passes away. Entrusted a kingdom, Gawain allows the hesitancy and indecision that marked his final encounter with the Green Knight to define his reign. Gawain's second vision lingers on images of his mother, quietly aghast at her child's repeated failures. Her disappointment is compounded by decisions rooted in Gawain's inflexible idea of monarchy - isolation and brutal attempts at propriety track, neatly, into a bone-deep despondency.
Monday, 20 September 2021
Friday, 17 September 2021
In one sense director James Wan tips his hand early in Malignant, scoring and shooting a series of routine domestic disturbances with a electronic throb that seems to work against the film's creeping, supernatural, tensions. Wan weaves in the lessons he learned on technologically fluent blockbusters like Fast & Furious 7 and Aquaman to arrive at a low budget, sequel friendly, horror idea that presents with a sense of scale far beyond its comparatively meagre budget. Written by Akela Cooper - based on a story conceived by Cooper, Wan and actress-screenwriter Ingrid Bisu - Malignant draws from umpteen horror sources, blending them together into a film that, mechanically, ranges from lightly directionless scenes that stutter along with a flat, soap opera, affect to body-popping mania.
Beginning with a spot of surgical splatter that prickles memories of Eric Red's Body Parts or Chris Walas' The Fly II, Malignant rapidly changes shape, briefly taking on the rhythms of a windswept gothic haunting before lurching off into franchise murder mystery then martial arts mayhem. Without giving too much away, Malignant is concerned with an anatomical disparity that it expresses through constant tonal shifts and stylistic upheaval. Safari Riot's pompous electronic rearrangement of Pixies' Where is My Mind is Wan's battering ram, arriving like an anvil to signal these scalp-scratching transitions. Annabelle Wallis' Madison Lake-Mitchell, styled here as a put upon wife trapped in a mouldering relationship, shares a psychic link with a homicidal tumour battering its way through the doctors and psychiatrists who cut him out of his host decades earlier. This sentient melanoma - named Gabriel - now has control of a zipped-up, androgynous, body that he puppeteers far beyond its limits. Limbs twist and bend at ungodly angles; the bone-cracking actions directed by an uncaring pilot.
Monday, 13 September 2021
Saturday, 11 September 2021
Wednesday, 8 September 2021
A rinky-dink conclusion to the classic Apes saga that does (charitably) deliver, to its viewers, a World War IV fought with primitive weaponry - a post-nuclear exchange proposal famously attributed to Albert Einstein. Battle for the Planet of the Apes sees the return of Roddy McDowall's Caesar, by now the uneasy monarch of a mixed populace of scrappy apes and their beleaguered human slaves. An apocalyptic conflict has happened offscreen, leaving man's cities shattered. All that remains now is treacly rubble riddled with outposts that house sick and dying mutants. These scabby humans, zapped with fatal radiation doses, dwell in subterranean sewers, their holdings photographed with the same canted conspiracy as the criminal lairs seen in ABC's Batman television series.
The ape society depicted here is a cross between a Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer culture and a hippy commune, not much more expansive than a couple of treehouses and a well-stocked armoury. Like Caesar - the offspring of two time-travelling apes from the future that Charlton Heston's Taylor stumbled upon - all of the film's gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees can now talk and reason to the extent that they now preside over a human caste system. Although a few notable humans retain the faculties to speak as semi-equals, the majority of mankind's survivors seem to be slowly regressing into the mute underclass seen in the original Planet of the Apes. There's very little explanation for any of these evolutionary developments either - other than a desire to cater to the closed temporal loop proposed by earlier entries. Notably, Caesar's people conduct themselves with a smug self-satisfaction, perhaps a reasonable position to adopt when dealing with the few remaining examples of the race that set the world on fire.
Although his position as top dog is in jeopardy, thanks to a charismatic gorilla named Aldo, Caesar willingly takes himself off to visit the corpse of the city he overthrew in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, searching its sunken vaults for some fragment of his murdered parents. This trespass is discovered by the squatting troglodytes who remain in the ruins; a sick and dying people, obsessed with endless military prep. Caesar and his companions are followed back to their settlement by these irradiated humans; a force of desiccated sappers who have piled into jeeps and a repurposed school bus. As this wave of (comparative) technology crashes in the apes' hastily assembled barricade, there's a brief hint of the Nazi Blitzkrieg rolling into Soviet Ukraine (on a television pilot budget) before Caesar's apes quickly turn the tables. As a finale for the Apes movies, Battle is keen to avoid the pessimistic conclusions that made the film series' name, opting instead for a bittersweet wraparound in which John Huston's made-up Lawgiver bleats on to an audience of squabbling ape and human children.
Tuesday, 7 September 2021
Friday, 3 September 2021
Yves Boisset's Le Prix du Danger is wonderful, a French language adaptation of Robert Sheckley's short story The Prize of Peril that does a far better job of simulating the sweaty, urban, desperation felt in Stephen King's 1982 novel The Running Man than Paul Michael Glaser's brawny blockbuster. Where Glaser's pass dialled into the hugely entertaining proposition of Arnold Schwarzenegger battling through Gridiron fullbacks and pro wrestlers to clear his name, Boisset forces his hero into direct opposition with society itself. Once he's passed an ultra cynical casting call and a life-or-death test of his daredevil acumen, Gérard Lanvin's Jacquemard is delivered to a distant high rise then given four hours to make his way back to the television studio hosting the show. If he makes it back he'll win a sizable cash prize, a necessity since this future-shocked France is clearly churning its way through a prolonged economic depression.
Jacquemard is pursued every step of the way by a team of bloodthirsty hunters, also recruited from the general public. Jacquemard, the idealised everyman, is prized by the show's slimy producers for his rugged good looks, an arrogant demeanour that sees him stomp off mid-audition, and his whiteness. The onscreen murder of a black contestant would be bad publicity for the television channel, we are told. Marie-France Pisier's up-and-coming producer Ballard believes Jacquemard, an ex-solider with an otherwise uneventful background, has the star power required to drive up her ratings. Conversely, the pistol packing chasers are a collection of creeps and bullies - a taxidermist, a motorway toll collector, as well as an off-the-boil mad man who boasts about trying to force confrontations in the dead of night just so he can shoot someone. The sole woman in the squad - apparently a first for show - is an embittered fantasist who openly talks about instantly taking against Jacquemard simply because he's handsome. She just knows that he has used his lifelong hold over women to hurt and reject them.
This reactionary contingent extends out into the city Jacquemard must now traverse. Although most residents of this near future Paris - rendered with an Iron Curtain chic thanks to a Serbian location shoot - cheer the runner on, there are those that go out of their way to ruin this suicidal attempt at solvency. Jacquemard is first accosted by a gang of drooling punks who block his path then rough him up, all while the jet black Mini Coopers that the hunters drive draw near. Not long after escaping these aggro teens and a hail of bullets, Jacquemard make his way onto a building site where the night watchmen corner then set their dogs on the injured contestant, forcing him into a caged lift. Unlike the Samaritan characters who stand to win white goods or similarly mechanical prizes for helping Jacquemard, a clear incentive is never detailed for the people who wilfully make themselves obstacles. Presumably they are, essentially, nascent examples of the misanthropes and sociopaths who volunteer their services to a televised game show, on the off chance that they then get to flay a drowning man with a length of chain.