Saturday, 11 November 2017

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters | Paul Schrader, 1985

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Limey | Steven Soderbergh, 1999

“She had a feeling about this last job, how long I’d get banged up for. Said she wouldn’t be around this time when I got out... and she wasn’t.”

Wilson, an Englishman just out of prison following a long stretch inside for armed robbery, flies to Los Angeles to investigate the mysterious death of his daughter, believing that she was murdered. He missed much of his daughter’s life because of his time in prison, never meeting her as an adult, and throughout his investigation, he's struck by memories of her. Echoes of their brief history as father and daughter flash into the present again and again but vanish as soon as they appear. A courtroom, a beach, a phone call, “daddy the friendly ghost”. Wilson is forced to re-live these moments of life as he confronts her death, the past bleeding into the present because there’s no way to change any of it now. He’ll never know his daughter as anything beyond these flickers, beyond photographs, beyond stories heard second or third hand. She’s all he had, and her absence leaves a void, a pain, a ghost to be avenged. His memories of her swirl together with his fantasies of killing the man he deems responsible, again and again, with slight variation. He walks through a crowded party, imagining himself pulling a gun on his daughter’s murderer: a shot to the chest replays as a shot to the elbow, and again as a shot to the head, blood spattering violently onto the wall behind his victim. Yet, now that he has the chance to do it, and however much he wants to, none of these fantasies are played out beyond his own mind. Is it the practicality of escaping a crowded room after shooting a man, or is he having second thoughts? An interior revenge story enriched by perspective and offering an insight into a grief-stricken psyche. Editing as emotion. Editing as empathy.

Monday, 16 October 2017

LFF 2017 | #2

“I’ve seen ages come and go.” In Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal, men live forever and grudges do too. Children avenge their parents. Brothers avenge their sisters. And men take revenge on the grandchildren of those who wronged their grandparents. An unending cycle of violence that reverberates through generations. Rin, a young girl whose parents are killed by a marauding clan of violent swordsmen, searches for a supposedly immortal warrior, Manji, to help her in her quest to avenge them. Eternal life is a curse. He can only dwell on his endless history: the murder of his sister and the hundred men he killed to avenge her. He’s the past, the present, and the future; an undying symbol of a stagnant age of eye-for-an-eye violence, the damage of which can only be viewed in retrospect and is doomed to ceaselessly repeat itself. And so it does. These swordsmen, attempting to overwrite all traditional values in Japan with their modern philosophies and destroy anyone who stands in their way, believe in fighting one on one, presenting a succession of tiring and tiresome enemies for Manji to overcome, his immortality rendering them all meaningless. There are no consequences for him. There’s no mortality. No winning, no losing. Just the gruelling and endless trudge of battle as a vessel for a young girl’s revenge, and a longing for a death that can never come. And when an opportunity for revenge arises, she’s not the only one seeking it — so then what? Ages come and go. Nothing changes. The only conclusion for a society governed by a code of vengeance is total annihilation. A pile of bodies. A river of blood.

In Robin Campillo’s 120 Beats Per Minute, the Seine is blood-red and flows endlessly through Paris. The AIDS epidemic is at its peak, and activist group ACT UP are fighting for greater societal, political and medical understanding and investment in the disease, its causes, and the urgent need for treatment. Campillo, a self-proclaimed “ACT UP militant” in the 1990s, takes us to the heart of the organisation, showing us everything. The weekly meetings held in a nondescript lecture hall, in which any orders of business relating to the group, be it the media reaction to past acts, the planning of future ones, developing slogans to best communicate their messages, or testimonials to members who have died, are discussed, heard, debated and analysed in detail. The actions themselves, like storming the offices of a pharmaceutical company to cover the walls in fake blood, performing at pride festivals, and handing out condoms and safe-sex leaflets in schools. And people’s lives: living, loving, being in love, and the devastating impact of this disease on these lives and on all the lives we don’t see. People are dying from this epidemic and nobody with the power to do anything about it seems to care. “Our friends are dying. We don’t want to die too.” An urgent and vital fight for life. It’s too late for some but they fight anyway. Life is worth fighting for. “Parade my body through the streets.” A man dies and his ashes are wielded as a political weapon. Make them notice. Make them care. Be visible. Fight for life and the river will run blue again. We’re dancing. We’re alive.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

LFF 2017 | #1

Us against the world. In Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time, two white guys, Connie and his brother Nick, dress up as black men to rob a bank. Connie is in charge while Nick, who is mentally handicapped and reliant on his brother, is there for support. “Do you think I could have done that without you next to me, being strong?” For better and worse, Connie is the single loving presence in Nick’s life. But he makes mistakes. He asserts dominance without ever having control of a situation. If he covers nine angles, he’s missed the tenth. A bank worker leaves the room to fill a bag with cash, as instructed, during which time Connie loses sight of her and has no idea what she’s doing. He takes the money without question and his world falls apart. Connie has to raise $10,000 to bail his vulnerable brother out of Rikers Island — “he could get killed in there”. There’s no time to think. All he can do is act: desperately, cunningly, sickeningly; and out of love. An elderly black woman caring for her ill husband and 16 year old granddaughter, his fragile girlfriend with access to her mother’s credit cards, a guy on parole with a hidden stash of LSD that’ll pay the bail if they can find it and sell it, a black security guard working nights at an amusement park. All of whom he manipulates, be it emotionally or physically, into helping him. He traps them and forces them to become part of his scheme, before abandoning them when they’ve served their purpose. Collateral damage, no regrets. Victims of a system rigged against them from the start, and a system Connie never has to think about. A damned man, he has the luxury of being able to act without consequence. He’s the king of an ugly world, if only for a moment, and everyone beneath him is expected to fall in line without question.

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Season in France views a similarly ugly system from the other side, as Abbas, an ex-schoolteacher from the war-torn Central African Republic, seeks asylum in France with both his brother Etienne and his two young children. Abbas sells fruit and veg at a market stall while Etienne, a philosophy lecturer at home, works as a minimarket doorman and lives in a shack under a bridge. Left in limbo by the bureaucracy of the asylum process and unable to make use of their skills, their lives are in a constant state of flux, left to wait for some kind of permanence that that never seems to come. As Abbas and a large crowd gather to learn if their asylum applications have been granted, a white Government official strides through the waiting room to place two sheets of paper on a noticeboard before leaving through a back door. Guards control the desperate crowd, only letting a few people in at a time to learn whether they’ll be forced to leave the country or not. It’s a brutally impersonal way of delivering life changing information necessitated by the sheer volume of people to deal with. But by focusing solely on one family, Haroun makes it personal. This is one of a million stories, and these are all human lives. There’s no end to this. There’s no solution. There’s only endurance and that’s not enough. Not even death is permanent. A cemetery filled with temporary graves, housing the dead for up to five years. Unless a new grave is found, these bodies will be dug up and cremated to make room for new bodies. “We don’t burn the dead at home”. A final insult from a country that doesn’t want them. Us against the world.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Crocodile | Tobe Hooper, 2000

Guns, knives, boats, cars, trucks and buildings. Human invention is no match for a furious Nile Crocodile. This lake is not yours to reign, so just be human. Know your place. Trust your instincts. Lay a trap. Arm yourself with branches and wait in the bushes for your chance. Accept the laws of nature and maybe you'll make it out alive.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Tobe Hooper will always be one of the great filmmakers. Films like Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion have had an extraordinary impact on me, and his work is on my mind in some capacity pretty much all of the time. I should do more to communicate why I think his films are so vital, and I will, but in the meantime, however belatedly it seems now, I'm re-publishing a brief Letterboxd write-up of Eaten Alive, written minutes after I saw the film for the first time earlier this year. I'm sure this will be the first of many appearances that Hooper's work will make here.

Eaten Alive | Tobe Hooper, 1976

A hotel on the outskirts of a twilit ghost town bathed in an artificial red haze, filled with a succession of rugs instead of carpet and illuminated by dozens of lamps instead of central lighting. This hotel is a failure of homeliness, a misuse of familiar elements (wardrobes in bathrooms, single beds in double rooms) that render it as inhospitable as its owner, a lonely, disturbed man who clearly wants to be among people but can't get close to anyone, reacting with brutal violence to any signs of the humanity he's been conditioned to reject — he's a man outside of nature, a wardrobe in a bathroom, an African crocodile in a tiny pond in Texas. He shouldn't exist in this loveless, monstrous form, but he does. And it's all just desperately sad.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Ghost Story | David Lowery, 2017

A friend delivers a pie to a grieving woman, who is not home. When she returns, she cuts a portion of the pie and eats it, then another, and another. But she's only eating the middle, hollowing it out to leave the crusts to encircle a nothingness, a space where a rich taste used to be. Eating in this way is to miss the experience. There's nothing to balance the sweetness, and it becomes harder and harder to swallow. You need it all, crusts and filling, to make it edible. To make it endurable. The blank ghost of her husband looms large, watching on from the background. And we only see fragments of life, before and after: a song, a party, an iPod. Times pass. People change. Spaces die. Then it starts all over again and the crusts bring clarity. A ghost watches a ghost and the daughter of a colonialist hums a melody that hasn't been written yet. The future is the past. History isn't what it used to be.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Solaris | Steven Soderbergh, 2002

There are two shared images in Steven Soderbergh's Solaris. The first is a calling card, a recorded message from Dr. Gibarian, an old friend on a space station, delivered directly to camera, calling on Dr. Kelvin to join him in investigating a mysterious planet known as Solaris. This message is brought by two high-ranking officers to Dr. Kelvin and played in its entirety on a screen in his home in front of all of them. It's hard to say no to the face of a friend. Once it's over, the image stutters and pixelates. It's not real anymore. It's a message embalmed by technology. The past revived in the present.

The second shared image is on the space station: the "facsimile" of Kelvin's dead wife, a product of his memory rendered in flesh by the strange planet. She appears in a locked room on the bed next to him, caressing the back of his head as she used to. She has memories of their life but can't place herself within them. He can't help but fall in love with her again. And why wouldn't he? He can see her, feel her, hear her; and so can everyone else on board. She's as real as Gibarian's message, and they're both a proof of life. Kelvin knows she's fake — but he loves her anyway. "All I see is you." Irrational love. Pixels on a screen. The past is the present.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Heat | Michael Mann, 1995

A master criminal and his girlfriend are home free, driving away from the city of lights to a new life in another town. Suddenly, they're engulfed by the light of an illuminated tunnel and, for a brief moment, their lives couldn't be more beautiful. They're together. Everything is ahead of them. But tunnels end, and the darkness quickly returns. The lights shrink into the rear-view. They drive on into the night.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Okja | Bong Joon-ho, 2017

A sole member of a new species of “superpig” is purportedly discovered in the Chilean jungle and shipped to New York City by the historically anti-human Mirando Corporation, where a PR campaign to provide a sustainable food source to the world is presented to an adoring public in the factory where the company manufactured Napalm during the Vietnam War. But that was the old Mirando. The new Mirando has reared this animal and, through “non-forced, natural mating”, 26 new superpigs have been bred from one, ready for distribution to farmers around the world as part of a global competition. It’s a biologically dubious yarn to say the least, but one accepted without question by a fawning public — who’s going to argue with feeding the world?

Ten years pass. “Superpig” is now a global brand, and the titular Okja, recently crowned the world’s best superpig, is an international celebrity, taken from the South Korean countryside to New York City for her grand unveiling to the masses. Mija, her Last Guardian-style companion, just wants to take her back home, and so she embarks upon a globe-trotting, girl-versus-the-world rescue mission to save her friend — one which takes on new significance when, assisted by the Animal Liberation Front, iPhone footage of an overwhelmed Okja escaping captivity and running amok in downtown Seoul goes viral, and these images are coopted by both Mirando and the ALF to further their own political agendas.

And so Bong’s film becomes one of competing narratives, image versus image, perception versus perception, propaganda versus propaganda. Mija and Okja are part of something bigger than themselves: a war of public opinion that has been won and lost already — “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it”. But all Mija cares about is Okja. She just wants to bring her home. It’s a simple story viewed through a political prism, refracted and distorted, and pieced back together again as if nothing has changed. And it hasn’t changed — it was never going to. People still buy superpig meat. Bong’s film isn’t so much anti-corporation as it is opposed to a world in which corporations are allowed to flourish without accountability. If it’s cheap, they’ll eat it, wherever it comes from. It’s easier for people to remain passive and not ask questions, so there can be no meaningful opposition. Even the supposed anarchists are useless, apologising for the pain they inflict and reassuring the world that they never harm anyone, human or nonhuman. As long as businesses make money they can do what they want — and human decency isn’t a currency. The only way to save Okja is transactional. “Pleasure doing business with you.”