Blue is the Warmest Color: Art/Artist, Intention/Controversy

•13/12/2013 • Leave a Comment

Blue is the Warmest Color © Sundance Selects

Being only a relatively casual consumer of foreign-language cinema, within which patronisingly broad umbrella I generally lean towards bizarre and/or macabre Asian thrillers, the first I heard about Blue is the Warmest Color was coverage of the post-production fallout between the film’s director Abdellatif Kechiche and, seemingly, everyone else involved. First and foremost, for reasons of voyeuristic “human interest” was the apparently torturous and deeply uncomfortable conditions created by the extended filming of the film’s extended and fairly-graphic sex scenes between Adèle  (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux); scenes themselves criticised by Julie Maroh, the creator of the comic from which the film is adapted, and various LGBTQ commentators for their arch, unrealistic staging and the unmistakeably male gaze of the camera. What’s stranger is the apparent lack of self-awareness to the similarity of this deeply problematic direction to one of issues in the film; when Emma is attempting to interest an influential art dealer in her work she becomes frustrated with his insistence on framing her art within a narrative of her sexuality and, moreover, her sexual life.

The separation of artistic merit from problematic artist is a feat of deliberate cognitive dissonance that is, unfortunately, so familiar to a semi-engaged audience that it’s practically old-hat, a suspension of gnosis that sits too-comfortably alongside the perennial mental legwork of suspension of disbelief: it’s why we can enjoy a poem by T.S. Eliot without becoming complicit in his more hateful attitudes. Of course, such a distance is possible, in part, because his work doesn’t necessarily or overtly invite or offer a discourse on his anti-semitism whereas the reports of Kechiche’s disregard of his actors’ comfort and emotional well-being in service to a pornographically-influenced hetero-masculine dramatisation of sex between two women is apparent in every lingering shot and overlong take. It’s a frustrating problem for Blue is the Warmest Color because, although it won its leads and director the Palm d’Or at Cannes and the rest of the story, performances and even cinematography are engrossing and expert, there are hints of a less-limited version of the film throughout.

There are moments of less- or non-sexual nudity that work, artistically, where the unabashed across as comfortable intimacy between the two rather than performative displays for a presumptively titillated audience and both Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are excellent, exquisitely powerful and petty and loving and lonely by note-perfect turns, with the former’s literal transition from student to teacher and the accompanying sense of responsibility and assumed presence bridging the temporal jumps in the story that her obvious youth might otherwise belie. Nonetheless Blue is the Warmest Color is a film defined by its indulgences and its omissions: the sex scenes are absurd or uncomfortable and almost always far too long, but certain aspects of the personal and political from the original work, the relationship between Adèle and her parents and how that changes when they realise she’s in a relationship with another, older woman, are excised. Instead this otherwise excellent drama becomes an ostensibly apolitical story about love which has, inadvertently and extra-diegetically, become politicised by the sexual attitudes of its director.

Which is a shame, because otherwise I can’t recommend it strongly enough…

Red Eyes

•09/11/2013 • Leave a Comment

RE - pg 001

Red Eyes

by

Thom Dicomidis

RE - pg 002There‘s a pair of red eyes that peer out from the shed

RE - pg 003That stare balefully up as I lay in my bed

RE - pg 004And the nights are too long to persist in such dread

RE - pg 005So I wish that those eyes were some old toy’s instead

RE - pg 006Of a monster’s that’s clawed its way back from the dead

RE - pg 007With a ravening maw that just screams to be fed

RE - pg 008Filled with nightmarish teeth that would take off my head

RE - pg 009But my family don’t listen to a word that I’ve said

RE - pg 010On the research I’ve done and the books that I’ve read

RE - pg 011So I’m taken by hand, down the garden I’m led

RE - pg 012And on into the dark where the angels won’t tread

RE - pg 013To the roar of this beast basest terrors have bred

RE - pg 014For whose murderous muses its victims have bled

RE - pg 015And then there’s nothing but hot coppery red

THE END

Thor: The Dark World

•06/11/2013 • Leave a Comment

Thor: The Dark World © Marvel

One of the more impressive balancing acts that the previous Thor film managed, with little fanfare, was tempering its golden and gleaming fantasy world with enough earthbound action (though itself fantastic) to ground the primary-coloured mythology at its heart. In contrast The Dark World, in establishing Yggdrasil and the other realms, lacks a similar tether both dramatically and aesthetically. Coming after Game of Thrones‘ grimy fingerprints have been pressed indelibly on the sometimes-arch cinematic representations of more magical worlds, the extra-terrestrial realms in the film are too spare or too sparkling; pristine and plastic sets more than a little reminiscent of Star Wars‘ maligned prequel trilogy. This unhappy association; made entirely impossible to ignore in parts by the reuse of over-familiar sound effects to accompany the flight of Asgard’s flying vehicles and the dark elves’ energy weapons, creates a tension between the otherness of mythical worlds and the limits of suspension of disbelief. We could accept the unfamiliarity of Vanaheim, Alfheim et al., but for our recognition of the stock and standard elements in set and costuming that telegraph their artifice.

It may seem absurd, and probably is, to cry “foul” when an adaptation of Norse mythology as filtered first through the sensibilities of silver age comics’ and then through Marvel’s post-Avengers cinematic vernacular rings false but, although The Dark World recovers its footing when the focus returns to Earth, the sense of relief that that stability brings emphasises the relative precariousness of the preceding status quo. Nonetheless, the film navigates these difficulties with the reliability of its casts’ performances. Although it shares a certain lacking with cinematic stable-mate The Avengers, in the relative paucity of time given over to fleshing out those antagonists who aren’t Loki, where there is even a little more meat to the ensemble of supporting roles they are devoured with relish. Those unfortunate antagonists, Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as his twice-named (neither prominently featured) lieutenant, whose motivations are laid out by Anthony Hopkin’s Odin in narrated prologue and repeated later for the expository benefit, may have better served by being entirely mute; their pre-Yggdrasil/Asgardian existence making their actions incommunicably awful and unnerving to mirror the slightly horrific blank facelessness of their army’s masked soldiers.

The Dark World could certainly stand on the basis of the rest of its cast: with stalwarts like Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Idris Elba’s Heimdall and the all-too-brief but stand-out performances of Jaimie Alexander and Rene Russo as Sif and Frigga respectively masterfully bearing the pathos inherent in the mythic and epic drama against which backdrop they are attempting to live in shades of relative normality. The film is leavened and livened by the more eccentric turns of Kat Dennings as Darcy and, of course Hiddleston’s Loki (if I were so inclined (and had even less shame), I’d already be writing a fan-fiction sitcom about Darcy and a depowered Loki sharing a flat…) who steal and co-opt scenes at every turn, representing two extremes of remove from both the Thor films and the larger Marvel cinematic universe  Darcy, more than any other supporting character from the films, has chosen her level of involvement in the fantastic, more curious about the potential romantic relationship between Jane and Thor than the fundamental shift in the paradigms of her reality. Loki, on the other hand, in whose role and eventual fate there’s an echo of the first Thor; is bound to the larger story in potential detriment to his role within the individual films; playing an intermediary role between the franchise’s architects and their heroes.

What light through yonder window..? The East

•11/09/2013 • Leave a Comment

The East © Fox Searchlight

For the nerd in the know, an honorific I may just have invented but am choosing to apply to myself retroactively, “Brit Marling” is a name that might already have some resonance; a reputation earned from her work as writer and star of the excellent human-drama led SF films Sound of my Voice and Another Earth (or the more prurient but equally nerdy observation that she shared a kiss with Gillian Jacobs’ Britta in an episode of Community). If not, or if you prefer your cinema brutally grounded, then The East seems like a very good place to begin.

Set firmly in the present, where individuals toil under and suffer at the hands of corporate interests whose moral centres are so diluted and diffused as to be ineffectual, the film follows Brit Marling as Sarah; an undercover operative for a private security firm that protects said corporations’ interests as she attempts to infiltrate the anarchic anti-corporation activists The East. Like the two previous collaborations between Marling and co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij the plot of The East and its antagonists are inextricably bound, the Realpolitik of greed only responding to the force offered up by zealots. Ideological opposition is, as can be seen in capitalist democracies, of limited impact in forcing change upon ruling bodies and monopolies that don’t have ideologies beyond their own right to power, and so The East’s members have to be as concerned with the politics of force as their opponents.

Alexander Skarsgård’s Benji, the group’s de facto leader, has possessed the power that wealth conveys and rejected it, Ellen Page’s Izzy has a more Oedipal rage towards the mechanisms of control and Toby Kebbell’s Doc was the victim of a legally-acceptable malfeasance that cost him his family and career: backstories variously, and necessarily, traumatic enough to force them off the grid and towards direct action. Sarah’s story is perhaps predictable; the prevalent but impersonal folie à beaucoup by which falsehoods a society hangs together is subverted by the adversarial but familial folie à minorité, a sense of belong which fills a need for her and piques her worries about the uncompassionate power exerted by her masters and the organisations that they themselves serve, but it’s the execution of the story that matters.

The East is beautifully written and acted, the interactions between the members of The East painfully and humanly fragile whilst meetings at the private security firm have a polished, plastic professionalism under the glare of fluorescent lights. There is a more definite moral to the film than can be drawn from Sound of my Voice and Another Earth but the anarchists are not so blamelessly heroic as to be bland paragons and those they attack not such caricatures of villainy as to seem inhuman. Both sides are flawed: the remove at which the CEOs and board members of corporations exist from the harm of their work letting them be wilfully blind to any damage, the disconnect from society at-large making The East poor arbiters of its virtues, but in a film this much about its characters, about the choices they make and what motivates them, it would almost be crass to draw anything as firm as a final conclusion.

A HYPER-REALIST & ADROIT DISSECTION OF MODERN LIFE (AND A GLOBAL ECONOMY)

•08/09/2013 • Leave a Comment

I believe in job satisfaction

Brightworld

•05/09/2013 • Leave a Comment

Brightworld

I know how – and where – the story ends, and what happens to me at that end. But later for all that. The prologue, my prologue, is me digging at the frozen dirt with a pick and a shovel. There’s a gun pointed at the back of my head, for motivation’s sake, and a justifiably murderous woman holding it there.  Which, at the time, I could explain the particulars: less so now. I remember guilt, that I’d done something that made a shallow grave and a bullet scrambling my brain harsh but ultimately fair recompense for my sins. I’ve scratched out a hollow, barely a scar in the dirt, when I sense the outstretched arm falter from the gun’s weight. Self-preservation is stronger than guilt, in that moment, so I pivot, swinging the shovel to – I tell myself – disarm.

The next is noise and light, muzzle flash and the rude pop of a bullet loosed. I’m half-blind and three-quarters deaf for no time at all before the shot hits me under the eye. I feel my skull fracture and break, the synaesthesia of connections in my brain made by the bullet and severed in its wake, the crunch of the shovel hitting its mark far too late. And then I’m gone, somewhere black and seemingly endless, an appreciable absence of “self” in the presence of time. I’m not sure how long, exactly, but eventually there was an “I” again, similar but different and wracked with pain. The winter saved me, I suppose, more so than my failed escape: my grave was too shallow to suffocate in and the cold froze my blood into icy scabs that stopped the bleeding.

 The pain tapered off into numbness, and a multitude of voices told me the stories – past and future – that would intertwine with mine. Then they told me my own, and what I had to do, and then my heart started with a jolt…

Hannibal: Death and the Dinner Bell

•02/09/2013 • Leave a Comment

Hannibal © Dino de Laurentiis CompanyI never really understood the admiration which Silence of the Lambs has always seemed to attract. Structurally it holds together, more or less, but the performances are at best uneven, Foster being the zenith in counterpoint to Anthony Hopkins’ nadir. I realise that in some circles this is opinion as heretical as pointing out that Inception’s plot has more holes than a child’s explanation of just how that vase got knocked off the mantelpiece, but as a cannibal serial killer he’s so unsubtle, over the top and, frankly, camp that the intended malice and menace fall somewhat by the wayside. But I still liked the idea of the character, because monsters and the monstrous are an area of interest, so a whole Hannibal series (handily available in the form of a box set) seemed like a chance to indulge my more macabre… tastes…

It begins falteringly: Will Graham having been reinterpreted from his William Petersen and Edward Norton incarnations as an almost preternaturally talented profiler into Hugh Dancy’s wrong-side-of-the-borderline personality disorder with elements of Asperger’s, a mixed bag of unspecified empathic disorders and a handily cinematic ability to psychically reconstruct and relive murders from the killers’ point-of-view. It seemed, at first, a shame to reduce the premise of the series to another variation on the already-tired conceit of a crime-fighter with a single albeit singular talent by which they skeleton-key locked mysteries of any stripe, and the almost gee-shucks way in which the haute cuisine cannibalism Mads Mikkelen’s Hannibal revels receives its nods and winks felt gratingly twee.

Nonetheless as the latter quickly becomes an in-joke about quite how glibly Hannibal serves his victims up on beautifully designed plates for investigators, profilers and fellow psychologists the central arc, beyond the more narrative-driving hunt for Hannibal’s secret persona as the Chesapeake Ripper, becomes an exploration of the psychological make-up of the two morally and ideologically opposed leads: Hannibal’s acute surfeit of empathy and remorse in opposition to Will Graham’s overwhelming surplus and moral-terror. In service to this Lecter becomes a far more nuanced character, excellently performed as a brilliantly manipulative and Machiavellian fiend, whilst an alternate psychopath (Eddie Izzard) marries the visual presence of Brian Cox’s Manhunter Hannibal with Hopkins’ mannerisms for a stark point of comparison.

Hannibal, refreshingly, doesn’t disappoint in the rest of its casting, either dramatically or morally: the head of the behavioural unit, Jack Crawford, formerly played by white actors, is now portrayed by Lawrence Fishburne alongside Gina Torres, his on- and off-screen wife. Freddie Lounds, a tabloid journalist who was briefly Philip Seymour Hoffman in Red Dragon has been gender-swapped, now an acerbic and barbed-tongued Lara Jean Chorostecki. The rest of the supporting cast is well-rounded with similarly strong female characters played by Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park and Kacey Rohl with Gillian Anderson turning up later in the series as well. It is, to be honest, embarrassing that these things merit notice, but given how hegemonically white and male TV series trend towards being, it’s reassuring that something with a more diverse cast, if not a wholly diverse cast, can still make it to air.

Stylistically Hannibal reflects its grim subject matter, where technology, mainly forensic and communications but sometimes culinary, is hyper-modern, jarring with the aesthetics in sets and costuming which demarcate Will Graham’s rustic existence from Hannibal Lecter’s regal and baroque opulence and Jack Crawford’s traditionally brusque masculinity, themselves set apart from the stark utilitarianism of the series’ grey-green laboratories and federal offices. The words “VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED” were plastered all over the broadcasts of the programme, understandable given the sheer amount and unflinching presentation of murder and mutilation on show all nauseating frank and made more so by Brian Reitzell’s unnerving score of dissonant strings scraped over long heavy bass notes, the brief splashes of classical music used to contrast and highlight the ugliness of what’s generally occurring on-screen in tortured hallucinations and dreams or in worse realities.

 
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