This is the part when some Star Wars fans are going to get some major butthurt, so if you are one of those people that gets overly sensitive and tetchy about that sort of thing, turn away now. Otherwise, let me wax lyrical and tell you why I feel that Attack Of The Clones is not just the worst film in the Star Wars franchise, but it is also one of the worst films ever made. No amount of self-justification among fans along the lines of “yeah, I don’t like it, but it’s not that bad” is going to convince me otherwise. Now I’ll admit I’ve had occasional gripes about Star Wars over the years, but I’m speaking from the heart as a kid who grew up watching that original trilogy and being blown away by the epic adventures, scale and spectacle. I’d never seen anything like it, and the one thing that could perhaps be said in defence of Attack Of The Clones is that it does have a credible mise-en-scene. However, in every other regard it is the epitome of everything that can go wrong with a Star Wars movie. This is supposed to be the dramatic meat of the prequel trilogy, the one that moves the larger story from that established in The Phantom Menace and into it’s natural conclusion with Revenge Of The Sith. Instead it’s an unholy mess of filler with plots upon subplots that go nowhere, poorly realised characters, horrendous dialogue that does nothing to benefit the actors’ performances; Ben Burtt may have edited the film, but at one hundred and forty-two minutes this thing, the longest film in the franchise, is too damn long. At the centre of this problem is George Lucas himself: at one time a creative visionary (I’m a big fan of THX 1138), Lucas had clearly lost objective self-awareness as regards his art. The best thing that has happened to Star Wars in a long time was getting new blood in with J.J. Abrams, because judging from this overlong, grossly-budgeted, greenscreen-flogging abomination, Lucas was past it with Star Wars.
Sunday, 9 April 2017
The 5th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Films Beyond Definition - The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973) - Victor Erice
On the surface, Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit Of The Beehive is a simple drama following the family life of six-year-old Ana in 1940s rural Spain. However, there is so much more going on in this picture that transcends the typical boundaries and enters into almost fantastical territory. Made at the tail end of the Francoist regime, Erice follows in the tradition of the likes of Luis Bunuel and creates a film richly steeped in symbolism, so much so that, despite subtly criticising the regime, and containing messages and themes that would have been considered inappropriate, it slipped by the censors completely uncut. The first viewing may not reveal this additional content, but the rich, poetic quality of the story will draw you back in time and time again. Mysterious and enigmatic, there’s a child-like sense of wonder as we follow Ana, magnificently played by Ana Torrent, through the course of the film’s events. It’s a gorgeous looking film with a painterly aspect to the visuals, shot by director of photography Luis Cuadrado, who at the time of shooting was going blind. The music in the film by Luis De Pablo, best known for his avant-garde work, combines these aesthetic leanings with elegant orchestrations featuring woodwind, piano and acoustic guitar, imbuing it with the rich tradition of Spanish folk music. At its heart, steering it in this direction is writer-director Erice. Clearly, this is the work of romanticism, a harkening back to a better time before the Spanish civil war. Indeed, many have read into the film’s symbolism as seeing the disintegration of the Spanish nation, its isolation, the lifeless order of society under Francoism, Ana as representative of the innocent young generation of Spain around 1940, while her sister Isabel’s deceit symbolises the Nationalists obsession with money and power; even James Whale’s Frankenstein plays an important part within the film’s narrative and wider symbolism. Erice, who can be seen in many ways as Spain equivalent to Terrence Malick in terms of his sparse output (he has only fourteen credits to his name since 1961, many of which are shorts or segments in collaborative anthology films), in his debut feature, made with this picture one of the great masterpieces of Spanish cinema.
Saturday, 8 April 2017
Released in 1956, barely a decade after the end of World War II, Night And Fog was one of the first films to deal with the subject of Nazi concentration camps. Although a short subject, the film had a troubling production and release. Initially, the premise came about from an exhibition by Henri Michel and Olga Wormser (Resistance, Liberation, Deportation), which opened on November 10th, 1954 at Institut Pedagogique National in Paris. On it’s opening day, public notice was given of a proposed film project. Although Michel was under pressure to make a film honoring the French resistance fighters, Wormser argued for a more scholarly, broad approach focusing on the concentration camps, and Michel saw that this would enable wider financing. As such, producers Anatole Dauman, Samy Halfton and Philippe Lifchitz were invited to the exhibit and felt a film should be made. Dauman contacting the initially reluctant Alain Resnais (who felt someone with direct experience should address the subject matter), who would later agree to direct on the basis that poet and novelist Jean Cayrol, himself a concentration camp survivor, be brought in as a collaborator. This is a key example of the collaborative approach Resnais took as a filmmaker, and Cayrol’s scripted dialogue, which became the narration read by actor Michel Bouquet is a crucial part to our intellectual understanding of the barbarisms the film explores. The film’s long tracking shots, by Ghislain Cloquet and Sacha Vierney of the large, open, empty spaces of the camps, capture a terrible, terrible beauty inside these places where unspeakable things occurred. The film is immaculately put together by Jasmine Chasney and Henri Colpi, whose multimodal collection includes the original footage shot in the camps, black-and-white archive stills, excepts from older French, Soviet and Polish newsreels, footage shot by detainees of the Westernbork internment camp, and from the Allies’ ‘clean-up’ operations. The film features contributions from Austrian composer Hanns Eisler, whose chilling score adds to the overall atmosphere of the piece. Indeed, the atmosphere during production created issues for many of the main players. Eisler felt under a lot of pressure to finish his work, Cayrol, feeling sick while scribing to the images, was aided by Chris Marker (an unsung hero on the project) in writing the film, and Resnais suffered nightmares during the preproduction and was upset through the editing process. Upon release, despite initial opposition from both French censores and the German embassy (producer Dauman, though proud to be a part of the film, guaranteed to Resnais that “It will never see a theatrical release,” and most notably, a local association of former deported prisoners insisted the film be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, threatening to occupy the screening room in their camp uniforms), it was widely acclaimed. Jacques Doniol-Valcroze of Cahiers du Cinema compared its power to the works of Franz Kafka and Francisco Goya, and his contemporary, the great writer-direction and critic Francois Truffaut, referred to it as the greatest film ever made. Today, it retains a strong legacy. Sight And Sound magazine named it in a 2014 poll the fourth greatest documentary of all time, it stands as one of the greatest works in the life and career of Alain Resnais, and one of the great testaments of the horrors of war and inhumanity.
To say that Alfred Hitchcock knew how to make thrillers is like saying Mozart knew how to compose; although both are open to personal interpretation, it is general consensus that they are both recognised for the excellence in their given fields. Hitch was a master filmmaker who understood to the fullest degree the power of cinematic storytelling. Through his meticulous preparation, no stone was left unturned. His works exhibit technical prowess well ahead of their time, understanding the psychological implications and effect that this would have upon his audiences. Also, as we can see from The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Shadow Of A Doubt, Notorious, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho, The Birds and many more, this wasn’t just some hack making cheap second-rate penny dreadfuls. Hitchcock, with his superior knowledge, penetrates our intellectual defences and provokes us with his rich tales of tension and suspense.
Friday, 7 April 2017
The 7th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Documentary Film - Capturing The Friedmans (2003) - Andrew Jarecki
Since the turn of the 21st century, the medium of the documentary film has become with each year more and more widely accepted as a part of the mainstream arts culture. Andrew Jarecki’s 2003 film, Capturing The Friedmans, is one of the greatest examples of contemporary documentary cinema. Jarecki, initially making a short film, Just A Clown, about children’s birthday entertainers in New York, became acquainted with David Friedman, whose father Arnold and brother Jesse had pled guilty to child sexual abuse. The film follows the investigation of the scandal of the 1980s, and the wave of media coverage and hysteria that it caused in the local community. Not only does it cover the facts and evidence presented in the case, but it presents a well-balanced ambiguity. Jarecki refuses to pass judgment upon the guilt or innocence of Arnold and Jesse, instead presenting the full story and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions. This moral murkiness creates a strange relationship between us and the Friedmans: as the drama unfolds, we are no longer mere observers, our position and emotional feelings being complicit with their story. It is accentuated all the more so because we are invited, through the plethora of archived home movies (the Friedmans excessively documented their own lives, and this includes the tribulations of the family through the ongoing trials of Arnold and Jesse) and the frankness of the interviewees. Such a brilliant, multimodal mixture of storytelling techniques makes Capturing The Friedmans, for all of its troubling subject matter, a highly watchable and engrossing picture that displays a remarkable amount of dexterity, ensuring it can be looked at in many different ways. Winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it’s a really remarkable piece of work, and I defy anyone who remains indifferent to it, because I’d say it’s damn near impossible not to become in one or another emotionally invested. I know I did.
This year’s inductee for contribution to producing, Andrew Macdonald, made his name working with director Danny Boyle on several films, including Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine. It is a collaboration that continues to this day, as seen recently with the two bringing together T2: Trainspotting. Notwithstanding his background as an independent producer, Macdonald has also became an executive powerhouse, co-founding with Duncan Kenworthy DNA Films, one of the most successful production companies in the United Kingdom. Works under the DNA banner include The Parole Officer, Notes On A Scandal, The Last King Of Scotland, Never Let Me Go, Dredd, ex_machina and Far From The Madding Crowd. Never forgetting his independent roots and aesthetics, he allows the filmmakers he works with to each express their own individual vision. The sincerity of this approach endears filmmakers to work with him and DNA Films, and I think audiences can feel that through the quality of their artistic output.
Thursday, 6 April 2017
The 8th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Action/Adventure Film - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - James Cameron
Seven years in the making, for James Cameron and co it was going to be pretty hard to follow The Terminator. However, this is James Cameron, and as many of you may know, James Cameron is no ordinary gentleman. Having made two big-budget features (Aliens and The Abyss), he was more than ready to apply these aesthetics to his first and arguably most beloved creation. If one really studies, you can see so many similarities between this and it’s predecessor that you can almost call it a remake of his breakout guerilla feature with more money and explosions, but that would be doing Terminator 2: Judgment Day a disservice. The massive scale of the spectacular action sequences (the stunts and special effects, then in 1991 cutting-edge, stand up to this day) is matched by that of the storytelling. Co-written with William Wisher, Cameron crafts a masterful structured story that reads like a textbook in action-film screenwriting. There is a brilliant, rushing sense of momentum, so much so that even with a long running time, it flies by as you are swept up by what’s going on. The characters are all well-developed and superbly realized, both on the page and onscreen. Linda Hamilton, who got herself into impressive physical condition, reprises her role as Sarah Connor, a far cry from the wide-eyed vulnerable waitress in the first film, now hard-edged determined mother to future resistance leader John Connor, terrifically played by the debuting Edward Furlong. Robert Patrick’s T1000 is a frightening villain that sends chills down your spine, while Joe Morton and Earl Boen round out the main supporting cast well with their strong performances as Miles Dyson and Dr. Peter Silberman respectively. It is also arguably the crowning moment in the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger as an actor. Already a legend in action cinema, Schwarzenegger had begun to further his talents by starring in comedies such as Twins, and here on display is the full extent of his acting palette. He has the look, the physical presence and the cold steel to play the Terminator, but he also draws on his sense of humour and even goes so far as to move us with his incredibly subtle depiction of the reprogrammed T-800, who slowly develops, with a deft character arc over the course of the film, an understanding of human emotions and a connection to the boy he has sworn to protect. The film is an absolute technical marvel, but what makes this last, for all of the brilliance of the action, is the powerful human story that James Cameron has created for us to enjoy.
While he may lack the extensive critical acclaim of some of his contemporaries, I would make the argument any day of the week that Arnold Schwarzenegger deserves to be recognised alongside others in the great pantheon of actors. Born to humble beginnings in the farming village of Thal, Austria, Arnold would conquer the world of bodybuilding before taking on the challenge of establishing himself as a leading man. Breaking through the language barrier and playing to qualities that were uniquely his own, he starred as the lead in films throughout the 1980s and 1990s such as Conan The Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, Predator, Twins, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, True Lie and Junior. At one point the highest paid actor in Hollywood (in 2003, for Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, he received a whopping $29.25 million salary, plus 20% of the film’s profits), Schwarzenegger wowed us, entertained us, frightened us, made us laugh and even made us cry. In the process, he became one of the few truly transcendent and international cultural icons of our time.
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
Sling Blade is a unique film in the annals of American cinema. Released to critical acclaim (and, making $24.4 million off of a $1 million budget, it was highly profitable), it was a runaway success and an Academy Award winner (for Best Adapted Screenplay). All that may sound to some like the making of a run-of-the-mill indie flick cum Oscar-bait, but nothing could be further from the truth. It marks the first directorial feature of Billy Bob Thornton (who also writes and stars), for years a struggling actor and screenwriter. Yet despite his somewhat advanced years as a debutant, it’s obvious that despite his relative inexperience in this capacity, he was a gifted individual just waiting to emerge. Granted a small, but sufficient budget by his producers and complete artistic autonomy, Thornton crafts an immediate masterwork. The dark tale of the developmentally disabled Karl Childers, magnificent played by Thornton, and his attempts to reintegrate into society after being released from a mental hospital he has been incarcerated in after brutally killing his mother and her lover at the age of twelve, is a powerful one steeped in the rich tradition of Southern Gothic. Indeed, it unfolds in a manner not unlike that of the elegiac westerns of Cormac McCarthy. It is not all doom and gloom though, for the film is at turns spirited, humorous and heart-warming. However, we can never forget that underneath it’s inherently human story, there is a lurking darkness under the surface. Thornton’s fundamental understanding of his material (adapted from his previous short film Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade) enables him to bring in a strong team of collaborators. It’s a beautifully shot picture, with Barry Markowitz giving the film an ethereal, almost otherworldly quality. Hughes Winborne’s editing ensures that the film, although having a one-hundred and thirty-five minute running time, never outstays its welcome, managing to create an epic scope within a relatively small story. Musician and producer Daniel Lanois contributes a contemplative, soulful and at times rousing musical score. It also features a spirited ensemble cast playing a memorable collection of great characters, included Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh, John Ritter, Lucas Black, Natalie Canerday, James Hampton, Jim Jarmusch, Vic Chestnutt and Robert Duvall. Making Thornton’s career overnight, he hasn’t stopped working since, and has done many great things, but in the case, the stars and circumstances aligned. There has never been anything like Sling Blade, and there never will be again.
Beginning her film career in 1990, Julianne Moore has been working steadily ever since, making at least one film nearly ever year and notching up over sixty film credits. Indeed, in this year’s line-up of film inductees, she’s a supporting player in both 1998’s The Big Lebowski and 2006’s Children Of Men. Among the reasons that she is acclaimed as one of the most talented actors of her generation is her remarkable range and versatility. With a natural quality and ability to bounce between supporting and leading roles, indie flicks and blockbusters, Moore always gets down to the emotionally raw core of her characters. From The Fugitive to Short Cuts, Safe to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Boogie Nights to Hannibal, Far From Heaven to The Kids Are All Right, I’m Not There to A Single Man, Chloe to Don Jon, Maps To The Stars to her Oscar-winning performance in Still Alice, Moore’s characters always feel like real people. Now in her fifties, she has also broken down barriers by, as an older woman, continuing to work regularly in prominent roles.
Monday, 3 April 2017
The 9th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Thriller Film - Shadow Of A Doubt (1943) - Alfred Hitchcock
When I was younger, my favorite Pink Floyd album was The Wall, Roger Waters’ rebelliously spirited and operatic passion project. As I have got older, I lean more towards the more moody, meditative and melancholy Wish You Were Here. That same shift in opinion can be applied to Alfred Hitchcock. As anyone interested in self-educating themselves in cinema can attest, Hitchcock’s most notable film as regards it’s cultural legacy is 1960’s Psycho. Now, while I still adore that film and recognize that he made several masterpieces, it is his 1943 picture, Shadow Of A Doubt, that has since claimed the top spot as my favorite Hitchcock. I think part of the appeal that comes with Shadow Of A Doubt is that although it retains Hitchcock’s trademark dash of the macabre, there is something awful familiar about the characters and the world that they inhabit. Coming from a story conceived by Gordon McDonell (Uncle Charlie), the screenwriting team of Alma Reville, Sally Benson and Thorton Wilder ground the film in a small-town American setting. Furthermore, the main characters are a far cry from the stereotypical damsels-in-distress and maniacal villains that even in 1943 were old hat in this genre. ‘Young’ Charlie, played with great intelligence by Teresa Wright, is a precocious teenager, a trope in itself, but one who displays real smarts amidst her warm, idealistic qualities, and has a legitimate developmental arc over the course of the film. Joseph Cotten, in a magnificent performance that takes his everyman charm into sinister territory, creates in ‘Uncle’ Charlie, who may or may not be the Merry Widow Murderer, someone that is calm, measured, controlled and yet possessing a dark edge that is more unnerving than just about any other actor descending into wailing histrionics. Featuring a superb score from Dimitri Tiomkin, tight editing by Milton Carruth and majestically imaginative cinematography from Joseph A. Valentine, this is Hitchcock, with his painstaking preparations and immaculate attention to detail on display, at the peak of his craft. Many others seem to think so too. Unanimously praised upon release, David Mamet named it Hitchcock’s finest film, and the Master Of Suspense himself on several occasions asserted and reiterated that it was his personal favourite of his own works. A deft infiltration of very real, frightening events upon peaceful American suburbia and those who inhabit it.
Although he’s perhaps most well-known as an actor (and to a lesser extent as a musician), the multi-talented Billy Bob Thornton, for many years a struggling artist, literally wrote his own success. Writing and starring in 1992’s One False Move brought him to the attention of many, it was the long gestation and development of his passion project, 1996’s Sling Blade (which he also starring in and directed) which made Thornton, then in his early-forties, one of the hottest new talents in Hollywood. Sling Blade, though an at times challenging film, is a quintessential example of classical storytelling in the poetic vein of Southern Gothic literature. Since then, he has primarily worked in front of the camera, but has an intermittent continuing presence as a writer. Admittedly, there have been mixed results, but nothing can take away from the brilliance of Sling Blade, and I feel that if the stars would align, circumstances coming together, he could do something of equal power. A unique and gifted talent.
Sunday, 2 April 2017
The 9th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Horror Film - The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - Tobe Hooper
Upon it’s initial 1974 release, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was met with a mixture of responses, varying from “despicable” (Linda Gross, Los Angeles Times), to being hailed as the most important horror film since George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead (Patrick Taggart, Austin-American Statesman). Among the most notable aspects of the release is that Hooper was originally seeking the MPAA to give the film, complete and uncut, a PG rating. Not surprisingly, it was originally rated X, before a resubmitted cut version received an R rating. Now, from a technical standpoint the film, with its minimal degree of onscreen gore could pass for a lower certificate, but it is completely understandable in this case that it would be rated higher. In a testament to the film’s lasting power, it remains one of the most outright terrifying films ever made. Overcoming budgetary limitations and all manner of things involved in the tough shoot (namely working sixteen-hour days, seven days a week in humid, hot temperatures over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit/forty degree Centigrade), Hooper and co created what in many ways is a textbook example of guerrilla filmmaking. Daniel Pearl’s darkly lit camerawork highlights the grotty, grubby grunginess of the film’s overall production design (by art director Robert A. Burns), and mixed together with the frenetic editing of Larry Carroll and Sallye Richardson create a visual assault on the senses. Even the sound design and score by Hooper and Wayne Bell, which mixes together distorted found sound recordings, narration/monologues and all manner of clattering instruments that sound like pots and pans being bashed together, aurally sounds like something emanating from the seven circles of hell. With it’s deft deconstruction of contemporary America on several fronts through the Sawyer family (including the iconic Leatherface) and their victims, it is a work, that in the words of Stephen King, he “would happily testify to its redeeming social merit in any court in the country.” But we can never forget it’s cerebral barrage; King also called a work of “cataclysmic terror;” the late Wes Craven wondered “what kind of Mansonite crazoid” could have created such a thing; banned or censored in over a dozen countries at different points, including the United Kingdom and Ireland, critic Rex Reed called it the most terrifying film he had ever seen.
Beginning his long career as a DP in 1966, Adam Greenberg (born Adam Grinberg in Krakow, Poland, raised in Tel Aviv) from the mid-sixties and throughout the seventies worked in Israel, most notably the Golan and Globus-produced Lemon Popsicle. After working with Sam Fuller on The Big Red One in 1980, he began working in North America on all manner of genre films throughout the 1980s, most notably The Terminator, Near Dark, Three Men And A Baby and Turner & Hooch, before his greatest success in the early-nineties. Following on from 1990’s smash-hit romance Ghost, he shot James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Greenberg’s work on this film, expertly capturing all of the action, drama and visual effects and unifying them into a single cohesive visual aesthetic, earned him an Academy Award nomination. He would continue to work throughout the nineties and early-2000s, several times again with Arnold Schwarzenegger, but has gradually reduced his work-rate, his last major feature being 2006’s Snakes On A Plane and most recently 2013’s documentary Footsteps In Jerusalem.
Saturday, 1 April 2017
The 8th Hall Of Fame Inductee Representing Science-Fiction/Fantasy Film - Children Of Men (2006) - Alfonso Cuarón
Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 adaptation of P.D. James’ novel, The Children Of Men, has a particularly unique place in my own personal history as an enthusiast of cinema. It is, so far, the only film which has caused me to have a complete shift in opinion. When I first saw it, I was relatively nonplussed. I didn’t get or understand what it was about, felt that the film was all craft and no substance. However, every couple of years, I would end up watching it, and every single time I felt it was a better film, to the point that I have now for some time considered it to be a masterpiece. As I alluded to, there is a tremendous amount of skill in the craft behind the technical achievements in this film. Emmanuel Lubezki’s mastery of the long take is on full display here, which mixed together with the sound quality and the sharp editing from Cuaron and Alex Rodriguez give this a powerful and contemporary feel. Even though it is set in a dystopian future London, this is an urbane landscape that feels eerily familiar, the almost-newsreel style presentation of the piece bringing to mind docudramas like Peter Watkins’ The War Game. But it’s not just a technically sound film, because at the heart of it is a strong, powerful story. Clive Owen, in his greatest screen performance, as Theo, is a sympathetic and relatable reluctant protagonist in his attempts to protect the pregnant Kee, who after two decades of infertility may be humanity’s one glimmer of hope. The sociopolitical implications of their travels across England to provide safe sanctuary for the illegal immigrant against the oppressive government forces are all very prevalent today with the recent demonization of the ‘other’ in the eyes of Western civilization. It is a remarkable and thought-provoking tale.
Known for his work for Universal from 1929 to 1966, Milton Carruth was one of the regular go-to guys as far as editing on their lot. Aside from the an oddly prolific couple of years in the mid-1930s as a director (seven films between 1936-37), he racked up over a hundred credits in his thirty-seven year tenure in a wide range of genres. Although plying his craft to just about everything (most notably he cut the silent version of All Quiet On The Western Front in his early days), he became most well known for his work in the horror genre, in particular as the film editor for several of the classic Universal Horror features, including Dracula, The Mummy, Murders In The Rue Morgue, Werewolf Of London, among others. He also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Shadow Of A Doubt, and while that film has prowess in just about every department, the contribution of Carruth cannot be denied.