Monday, 17 August 2015

BFI Cult: Blue Sunshine by Jeff Lieberman

In Taxi Driver (1976), the contradictory and unstable Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) - an ill-educated Vietnam veteran and porn-addicted romantic - is a product of the same gutter-level environment that he so despises. Though illiberal and unhinged, in his desire to clean up the streets Bickle is not unlike the idealistic political campaigners with whom he keeps crossing paths - and in the end, while we have seen for ourselves both his psychotic volatility and its bloody consequences, he will be publicly declared a hero. Made just two years later, Jeff Squirm Lieberman's eerie Blue Sunshine plays with similar themes, while inverting Taxi Driver's dynamics.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Theeb - Desert set coming of age story from Jordan

Winner of the best director award at the Venice Film Festival, Theeb (Wolf)  is a powerful story of one Bedouin boy's  journey to manhood, filmed in the stunning area around Wadi Rum and Wadi Arebeh. Part Western / part Lawrence of Arabia and set in 1916, there is a brutal raw honesty to the film, and you can't help but feel that it was made in the 70's. This is the first film from British director Naji Abu Nowar.

Monday, 3 August 2015

BFI Cult: God Told Me To by Larry Cohen

"I grew up at a Catholic Boys' School at the Bronx. Graduated to DeWitt Clinton High School. A year at Fordham University before I joined the force. Where did you go to high school, Harold?" The speaker is Detective Lieutenant Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco), but at this point, at the beginning of Larry Cohen's God Told Me To (aka Demon) all the focus is on his addressee, Harold Gorman (Sammy Williams), who is perched on a building-top water tower and has just shot dead, with eerie accuracy, a number of random New Yorkers in the streets below.

It is only after Harold has calmly explained his outrage with the words "God told me to" and leapt to his death that the film refocuses its attention on Peter - and now that brief introductory bio which Peter had given to Harold, expressly as a measure to humanise himself in the eyes of a killer ("I want you to know me. We don't kill people we know, do we, Harold? Only strangers. That's why I'm coming up, Harold, so you can see my face."), starts to resonate with the film's key themes of faith in crisis. Peter had even told Harold sadly, "We can't bring anybody back to life - nobody can," - suggesting his own conflicted attitude to the central tenets of his Christian upbringing.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Ant-Man by Peyton Reed - Review

Marvel has never been afraid of taking risks, but Ant-Man is the one film that feels like their biggest gamble in a while. This is the first time since Captain America in 2011 that the studio introduces a new character single-handedly carrying a whole film on his shoulders, and one that is not well known from the public at all. And while Marvel has always given the image that they care about their fans, there has been the small matter of original director Edgar Wright walking out of the project due to "creative differences" after years of working on it, which did not go down well at all on the blogosphere.

In Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a small-time burglar, unwittingly finds himself the recipient of a suit that allows him to shrink to the size of an ant while seeing his physical force increased tenfold, making him the perfect weapon. Enrolled by the creator of this technology Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he must pulls the perfect heist to ensure this invention does not fall into the hand of megalomaniac Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

Saturday, 4 July 2015

BFI Cult: Parents by Bob Balaban

The black-and-white still of a boy's face. Carefree kids playing with a skipping rope on the sidewalk of a utopian suburbia (to the brash, brassy tune of a Perez Prado mambo). A pink-lettered title appearing across the fender of a pristine, pale blue Oldsmobile. Bob Balaban's feature debut Parents (1989) opens with a montage devoted to pure nostalgia. The boy's monochrome image suggests a bygone childhood, the make of car conjures days of old(s), and even the title looks back to the previous generation.

The 1950s were a time of (relative) comfort and innocence, coming after the turmoil of the Second World War but before the social upheavals of the Sixties. It is the decade regarded as most emblematic of American growth and prosperity, of heavily codified conservatism and family values - a sit-com cosmos where Dad goes out to win the bread, Mom stays home to make it, and Junior grows up to be just like daddy. Which is also to say that its iconography comes with a great deal of retrospective camp attached, and is ripe for parody and deconstruction - something which David Lynch showed all too well in the faux-Fifties world of his Blue Velvet (1986) and Twin Peaks (1990-1). Disembowel the 1950s, and you are challenging the American dream itself - or at least the version of it wherein white middle-class domesticity, conformity and patriarchy rule the roost.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Terminator Genisys by Alan Taylor - Review

Terminator Genisys is the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the series. Alan Taylor’s summer blockbuster might not have Arnie hiding from judgement day nuclear blasts in a lead-lined fridge, nor is the film plagued by annoyingly cutesy CG prairie dogs and monkeys, but it does have a weary screen icon looking a bit long in the tooth for all this high-octane drama. The question of age and ageing is, like Indy’s maligned fourth outing, made into a subtheme. Schwarzenegger’s monotone reply to the thorny subject – which becomes a comic retort – is: ‘Old but not obsolete.’

Series creator James Cameron might have jumped aboard the promotional bandwagon as head cheerleader for the new film, but it’s abundantly clear from Taylor’s uninspired and occasionally downright goofy direction, that Big Jim should have signed up to get this franchise back on track. The Terminator franchise is in desperate need of a hero to save it from the doldrums.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

BFI Cult: Darkman by Sam Raimi

Darkman is a film about transitions. Mild-mannered scientist Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson, showing early promise of the unlikely action hero he would later become) is trying to develop a synthetic skin to help burn victims, but has not quite achieved the breakthrough that will allow the engineered dermal cells to stay coherent for more than 99 minutes. He is also living half the time with his DA girlfriend Julie Harris (Francis McDormand), who is currently considering his marriage proposal. Driven, dedicated and slightly dull, Peyton is an everyman between states, with a brilliant future just beyond his grasp.