Netflix & Nolan

During a recent interview with Indie Wire, champion of traditional cinema and auteur of our age Christopher Nolan attacked streaming giant Netflix and its approach towards the traditional theatrical distribution of films. Netflix is meeting opposition from the film establishment, shown by the negative reaction and booing that flagship film Okja received at Cannes.  Nolan’s words could be dismissed as part of this knee-jerk reaction from the cinematic old guard loathsome towards change.

In reality, Nolan is right to call Netflix’s strategy to disrupt traditional cinema absurd’. Nolan may not realise it in his interview, but he touches upon some deeper issues with both Netflix and the film industry today.

Fighting a content war

In Nolan’s own words, Netflix’s extensive investment in original content, along with liberal control afforded to writers and directors;’would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters’. Netflix, successful in revolutionising television, perceives cinema as an extension of that industry, and the company says as much in its quarterly shareholder letter this July . Cinema and television are similar but distinct visual arts that need different approaches to conquer. Netflix won over television so quickly because an episode of an original series is far shorter than a feature length film. People are more willing to gamble twenty to fifty minutes on a show recommended by a friend than sit down and dedicate up to two hours to an unknown film which has few reviews from critics or approvals on Netflix.

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An early rise has become mandatory for my summer job. In the mornings before I tackle the commute I watch the business reports while sipping coffee and pretending to be a grownup. Last week CNBC Europe’s Squawk Box had a heated discussion about booming tech shares. One of the presenters quipped that both Amazon and Netflix are locked in a content bidding war. I nodded along with the other hosts in approval.

Threatened by Amazon, Netflix has turned to cinema to retain existing subscribers and grab new ones from abroad. It is not suprising that after expanding into South East Asia last year, Netflix heavily invested into Okja, a Korean- American film directed by Bong Joon- ho, a South Korean directot with a strong appeal in the West and in the South East.

Unlike Amazon, Netflix sees cinema as a territory to be conquered for spoils, rather than an ally. Cinema and Netflix could certainly prosper together. For far too long cinema has been constrained by the ball and chain of the blockbuster and its inevitable franchise, leading to a torrid cycle of hollow superhero sagas, action flicks and CGI puppet shows of monsters and robots. Netflix is an outsider to the film industry, its independence and cash could have freed up film from some of the commercial demands placed upon it. Amazon Studios, as Nolan points out in his interview has taken a more tactful course, debuting films in cinemas before releasing them to its Amazon Prime subscribers 90 days later. Through this, Amazon Studios loses nothing and gains everything, it keeps cinema and critics happy, while generating revenue from film viewers and subscribers.

Where is Buster’s Mal Heart?

Over the last year there have been more films that I have wanted to see than films I have seen, not due to bad luck or poor time management, but because many of the films I anticipated never appeared. From the Lost City of Z to Song to Song and Buster’s Mal Heart, there have been a slew of films which I have highly anticipated, only for them to have minimal runs at local cinemas or no screenings at all.

Cinema is art and art always needs to be championed. Making cinema or any other form of art more accessible or available does not equate to a larger audience for that art, after all people need to know about a museum before they will ever visit. Netflix has assumed that once it makes its original films available, subscribers will flock to them but the opposite reaction is more probable.  Okja was lavished with media attention and an advertising campaign, but so far I have found the smaller independent films created by Netflix to be far more enjoyable. Okja often felt like the director was trying to spend the leftovers of his enormous budget. Whole scenes in Okja were unnecessary and some of the major actors in the film, especially Giancarlo Esposito of Gustavo Fring fame, had minimal roles which would not have been missed. Opposite to Okja have been Win It All and Shimmer Lake, small independent films with a few substantial stars which shine with fantastic plots and performances. Both of these films have been starved of attention from critics and Netflix alike, but overshadow Okja with their ingenuity and realism.

The current situation with on-demand screening of films is exactly the same as how Nolan depicts the horror in the 1990’s of your film winding up with a direct to video release. Deprived of the fanfare of a theatrical release, a film would be at the mercy of luck to find an audience strong enough to champion that film until it became a success. Direct to video and on-demand release have the veneer of choice and accessibility, but viewers will not choose a film which they have heard nothing about, especially as a non theatrical release remains a sign of poor quality.

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The strongest example of on-demand screening’s shortfalls are independent films like Buster’s Mal Heart. Shining with originality and starring Raimi Malek, Buster’s Mal Heart seemed filled with the soul wrenching eeriness of a Cormac McCarthy novel. I had been anticipating the film for months until I recently checked for screenings and found none. Buster’s Mal Heart received a brief, flickering presence on U.K. cinema screens before disappearing onto the internet. I am hoping to watch the film through You Tube Movies this week and a review will be linked here. While the internet seems to provide salvation to the overlooked and underappreciated films out there, I am someone who loves cinema and will seek out films that interest me. I am an exception amid the general audience. Unless a film is placed on the big screen either at the local art house cinema or multiplex, most people will not look for them. Even my local art house cinema in Manchester has reduced the availability of independent films in favour of commercial blockbusters. Song to Song, a Terence Malick film, only received a week slot before being removed. I do not know why cinemas both big and small, seem to be showing fewer films for less time. Part of me believes its a rationalisation that if the audience misses one film, they can catch it online.

Art needs to be championed, it needs to be given attention and granted the venue where it can best appreciated. Cinemas are and will continue to be the exhibition halls of film. While online streaming  has a place in film, it would rob the art of its vibrancy if it supplanted cinemas outright.

By Saul Shimmin

 

The Beguiled

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrel, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning.

A dark Southern Gothic tale set in the American Civil War, The Beguiled oozes with sexual tension through suggestion and dry humour. Sofia Coppola delights in stripping away the propriety of the women and young girls at Farnsworth School like a chafing corset once wounded Union soldier Corporal James McBurney (Colin Farrel) arrives. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of this subtle work that lingers on your brain long after viewing.

The Beguiled is a remake of the 1971 original that starred Clint Eastwood. Speaking on BBC 4’s Front Row, Sofia Coppola stated she was initially reluctant to remake the film, but after watching the original, she was motivated to re-adapt the novel of the same name.

Sofia Coppola has created a remake from the women’s perspective but The Beguiled is not bridled by a burning feminist agenda. Instead, the film speaks about desperate people trapped in a world that is ending around them. Farnsworth School, created to train young girls into Southern Belles, is now faced by the American Civil War, a conflict destroying the way of life the school upholds. The signs of collapse are everywhere; the garden quietly rots away while cannon fire roars from the battlefield, marching ever closer towards the school’s garden walls. The school’s interior has the air of a cold mortuary devoid of light or vibrancy, the indoor scenes are swathed in sombre colours and what little light there is splutters in from the windows.

Corporal James McBurney and the women see each other as their own escape from this desperate situation. To the women, James McBurney is the outside world they long for while for McBurney, the women, and the school are a sanctuary from the war he deserted.  Each side realise that the other is not the escape they hoped for making them all the more desperate and unpredictable.

At its heart, The Beguiled is a dark inverted version of the Adam and Eve story. The arrival of a man to the struggling community of women draws out their desires and passions. Snippets of conversations reference the Adam and Eve story,  while visually particular shots framed through the wrought iron entrance divide the garden from the outside world. Ultimately, it is those passions that McBurney stirs in the women that cause events to unfold and McBurney to be cast out of the garden.

There is not a weak performance from the cast. Nicole Kidman adds a subdued hysteria to her role as headmistress, Miss Martha Farnsworth, often projecting a wide eyed stare reminiscent of an irate Margaret Thatcher. Miss Farnsworth is similar to Kidman’s earlier role as Evelyn Stoker in Stoker, but Kidman excels regardless. The best performance is a tie between Kirsten Dunst as teacher, Edwina Morrow, and the young actresses playing the other students.  Edwina truly seems like an innocent women who falls for McBurney, perceiving him as an escape from the grip of Miss Farnsworth and her school.  The young actresses playing Jane, Emily, Amy, and Marie bring both comedy and tragedy to The Beguiled as they fail to hide their affection for McBurney before their innocence is crushed by what unfolds.

Visually, Sofia uses the environment alone to convey the meaning of the film. The empty halls and bare rooms add the sense of decay and abandonment, while the young children indirectly act as narrators, closing each act by scanning the horizon for troop movements in the dusk. Sofia Coppola’s spartan direction proves that she is at the peak of her powers. Other reviews have criticised The Beguiled as meandering and half formed but it is a film that expects and rewards attentive viewers.

For a story that unfolds in Virginia, The Beguiled‘s filming location of Georgia betrays it immediately in the opening scenes. The tropical foliage of the Georgia climes are the polar opposite of the milder Virginia landscape and will tear down the suspension of disbelief for some viewers who know the South.

Dunkirk is a revelatory experience of both history and cinema, but The Beguiled is a masterful story full of great performances and sparse up close visuals which draws from Stoker. In my opinion, both Dunkirk and The Beguiled are the films to watch this summer, despite what other critics say about both.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below.

 

Atomic Blonde

Movie Score3 out of 5 (Good)

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, & Bill Skarsgård

Director: David Leitch

Synopsis: Atomic Blonde tells a story of espionage and carnage during the final weeks of the Cold War. Set in Berlin 10 days before the fall of the wall, MI6 and the CIA have recently lost a list naming all of their undercover agents within the U.S.S.R. Both Western and Eastern spy services are scrambling to recover the list, which they believe is in the hands of a mercenary who is willing to sell it to the highest bidder. MI6 and the CIA are also looking for a double agent, known only as Satchel. MI6 sends their best agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), to recover the list and eliminate the traitor, Satchel. Once she arrives in Berlin, she must work with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone “native” during his time undercover in Germany. Soon the Russians show up and thrilling action ensues up till the credits roll.

The biggest let down of the movie was that I felt it was trying to emulate John Wick. It is easy compare the two films: both have beautifully choreographed fights, neon cinematography, and badass protagonists who have a penchant for double-tap head shots. Also, Atomic‘s director, David Leitch, produced John Wick and was the executive producer for John Wick 2.

Atomic Blonde‘s action, while very impressive, especially one sequence that was 7-8 minutes in length and shot in one take, could not match either of the Wick‘s bloody and often humorous fights.  The hand-to-hand combat of Atomic Blonde was entertaining, but the movie relied too heavily on it. The realistic and breathless fighting style that Atomic Blonde relies was forged by Bourne Identityhoned in Casino Royale, and taken to its peak by John Wick 2It is getting tougher and tougher for directors and choreographers to one-up previous movies. Notice how with each of these movies the fights have grown in length with fewer cuts which adds to more impressive battles. Atomic succeeds with the sequence I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph in increasing fight length while having no cuts. Yet in other sequences, Atomic Blonde lacked the umph of its predecessors. Also, there is a ceiling for how much awe a fight scene can inspire. I think, sadly, Atomic Blonde has hit that limit.

One thing I must note that I admired about Atomic‘s fights is that they showed the toll such extreme fighting takes on characters. During each sequence, we see the characters get winded and move slower as their injuries accumulate. This was a fresh idea in the genre and it made some of Lorraine’s moves more potent to viewers as she knocks out enemies while sporting visible bruises. However, I still prefer the tireless fighting that Bond or Wick exudes.

Overall, Atomic Blonde’s fight scenes were superb and fun to watch. Leitch also employed something similar to what Edgar Wright used in Baby Driver: sequencing action on the screen to music. He did not execute this to the extreme that Wright did, but there were well-timed shifts in the tone of songs or cutting off of music. My favorite happened with a flick of a lighter.

Atomic‘s soundtrack was another jewel of the film. Most of it was German or Eastern European sounding club music that complemented the pink-neon washed club scenes and gritty, lime street scenes.

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The beautiful neon scenes from Atomic Blonde

One of the movie’s premises was the search for the identity of the double-agent, Satchel. While this guessing game was fun for me during the movie, it quickly became a side note in the plot. The chief of MI6 (Toby Jones) hates Satchel. He orders Lorraine to bring back Satchel dead or alive in order to bring justice to this traitor. However, the movie never tells or shows the audience what Satchel did beyond being a double agent. Did he or she give up fellow agents to the KGB? Provide the Russians with enriched uranium? Help terrorists escape the clutches of MI6? Without any real development of this hidden enemy, the revelation of Satchel’s identity bears little impact. Leitch or his writer, Kurt Johnstad, should have increased Satchel’s villainy or good deeds (suffering to win valuable information for God and Country) to increase audience buy in.

Atomic Blonde is a fun, (fairly) mindless action flick whose lead (Theron) smolders in her smokey eye makeup and tears up the screen with her fighting skills. McAvoy’s Percival was a lot of fun to watch as he bumbles and connives his way around West and East Berlin. The acting in this movie was spot on. Kudos to these women and men.

Target Audience: Older teens and young adult males.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Dunkirk- Review

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Cast: Fion Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, & Cillian Murhpy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: In May and June of 1941, the Nazis had surrounded the Allied forces and were pushing them into the sea near the French city of Dunkirk. The only escape for the Allied troops was for the British to shuttle them with a combination of Naval and civilian vessels across the English Channel. However, Nazi Stukas and Messerschmitts thwarted their escape, bombing and gunning down British and French soldiers on the beach and harrying the vessels ferrying them to safety. The movie follows three timelines: 1. The Mole, 2. The Sea, 3. The Air. The segments interweave throughout the movie and provide different perspectives on the Allied retreat. The Mole follows the British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk who are trying to survive the Nazi air attacks long enough to board a ship for home. The Sea tells the story of a father (Mark Rylance), his son, and his son’s friend who take their boat to help rescue the stranded soldiers. The Air runs faster than the previous two segments because its length is one hour, as opposed to 1 week for the Mole and 1 day for the Sea. The Air follows three Spitfire pilots, the main character being Farrier (Tom Hardy) whose mission it is is to protect the Allied troops from the Nazi air attacks.

While I must admit that Dunkirk failed to move me to the extreme it did Saul, I did enjoy Christopher Nolan’s tenth full-length film. With Dunkirk, Nolan, once again, impressively turned conventional storytelling on its head as he did with Memento and The Prestige. Instead of opting to show the film in a linear fashion, Nolan broke the movie into three segments that follow three different groups of characters that all span varying time lengths. One lasted a week, another one day, and, the final one, one hour. Most writers and directors would have dropped the ball trying to work such a convoluted plot into a meaningful and intense story. Yet Nolan does so seamlessly, tying all the groups together into several rewarding climaxes.

Nolan is undeniably an untouchable master of cinema, but I believe the real hero of Dunkirk to be Hans Zimmer. His score kept me on edge throughout the film, even while soldiers just waited for boats to ferry them across the English Channel. Through long pulls on stringed instruments, Zimmer constantly reminded the audience that death lurked just outside the frame, and that Time, constantly present with the ever-ticking clock sound in the background, was scarce as the enemy slowly but continuously tightened the noose around the Allied soldiers. I did not expect Dunkirk‘s score to be one of my favorite parts of the film, yet it was.

Another surprise was Harry Styles. The former One Direction singer played Alex, who despite limited screen time proved to be one of my favorite characters. This surprised me because he shared time with some of my favorite actors: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance and more than held his own. The scene that comes to mind is when a group of British soldiers are trapped in a beached fishing boat that the Nazis are using for target practice. As the tide starts to come in, the ship begins to take on water through the bullet holes in its hull. Believing that they needed to lose weight, Alex accuses the quiet solider, played by Damien Bonnard, of being a German spy. I thought this accusation to be true due to man’s failure to talk up to the point in the film.  Alex verbally attacks the man with the scary conviction of a cornered beast.

It was perilous moments like this, heightened by Zimmer’s score, where I thought the movie shone. Nolan made Dunkirk two things: a war film and a survival film. Its war aspect was what I came for (besides the fact that it is a Nolan film with excellent actors), but it was the survival element that made Dunkirk excellent. All the horrors that befell the Allied troops were believable as were their reactions to death and its ever-impending peril. Whether it was Alex threatening to throw the quiet solider overboard to the Nazis or Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked violent outburst at the prospect of returning to Dunkirk, these actors’ talent combined with Nolan’s camera work and Zimmer’s score made me share these characters’ fear.

Please go see this in IMAX. The sound quality alone is worth the extra five bucks. I felt that the Nazis were bombing my theater.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Dunkirk

Leaving the cinema after watching Dunkirk, I was compelled to write this piece; to write about the importance of what Christopher Nolan has created.

To know Europe, you must understand The Second World War. My parents grew up in the 1960’s playing in bombsites: open wounds across Liverpool even 20 years on. Joy Division and New Order took their names from Nazi projects. My father sometimes recalls neighbours who were veterans of the World Wars, men who left legs behind on a beach during D-Day and others whose minds cracked like china under the strain of trench warfare in France and Belgium. Travelling across Europe for the first time at 19, the Nazis haunted every nation I visited, from Anne Frank’s safe-house in Amsterdam to the crumbling ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The First World War razed the old Europe, but the pain of the Second World War forged the new.

Since the Ancient Greeks first told myths, the past has been the anchor which moors identity in a sea of clashing collectives. Across Europe, our anchor is weakening as the Second World War ebbs away from living memory onto the shores of textbooks and academia. The train from Birmingham back home stops at a particular station.  Built into the station wall is a memorial to the men from the Railway line who fought and died in both World Wars. The names of the dead stack up to the ceiling, but no one stops to read them.

Dunkirk is a gift to the future, a grain of bottled time giving meaning back to the marble names that dwell in railway stations, parks, monuments, and statues across Europe. When watching Dunkirk we can live in that unfiltered speck of memory. We can experience a time of survival where there is no good or evil, only the enemy who is everywhere yet nowhere, toying with the British as they scrabble for their lives while bombs fall, snipers fire, and submarines sink hospital boats. When death comes, there is no quiet reflection or glory, it is quick and uncaring. Pilots simply disappear and soldiers, flung into the air by Stukha bombers, with their Jericho horns deafening all,  never return to ground. The characters utter little dialogue as few words are needed: the story speaks through Hans Zimmer’s score and Nolan’s vision.  The tale of Dunkirk told in words of sight and sound, is hope in the face of horror. It is the ringing notes of stoicism, the images of heroism, of ships silently sailing to shore and pilots sacrificing themselves which kindled hope for the men trapped ashore, caught between the ocean and the German tide. Hope saved our men, hope saved us.

When the civilian boats quietly prevail and reach Dunkirk’s shores, Zimmer’s rendition of Elgar blares as red sails flutter in the cold Atlantic wind. I was moved. I felt proud  of my country. In a present where Britain seems lost inside itself, we needed the pride Dunkirk brings to remind ourselves of a moment when we stood alone, and vowed to return to our European brothers once more.

Hopefully we will return to Europe again one day.

Hagood’s review of the Dunkirk will be available soon.

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.

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Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Looper: The endless circle

For his trickery, the Greek Gods condemned Sisyphus to the underworld. For his punishment, Sisyphus was tasked to push a rock uphill. No matter Sisyphus’ efforts, the rock would roll back down the hill before Sisyphus reached the summit, leaving him no choice but to start the task anew.

In The Terminator, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehl) and The Termintator (Anrold Schwarzenegger) are sent back to the past from a future where robots have risen up against mankind. The presence of both Kyle and The Terminator create the future apocalypse for different reasons. Kyle’s romance with Sarah Connor, whom he has been sent from the past to protect, leads to Sarah bearing their child, who becomes the future resistance leader, John Connor. The Terminator’s remains, following its destruction, are obtained by the U.S. government, leading to the creation of Skynet, the computer system behind the robotic uprising.

Time travel stories are a realisation of fate. Characters travel backwards in time, hopeful that they can change their path, only to find that like Sisyphus’ rock rolling back down the hill, their actions in the past perpetuate their future, binding them to an infinite struggle to reach the summit, their infinite loop.

At its heart, Looper is about a man’s inability to escape his destiny of becoming a monster.

The world of Looper

Set in a quietly dystopian vision of Kansas City in 2044, Looper exists in world where time travel is invented in the 2070s and exploited by criminal syndicates who send their victims back 30 years, where assassins, called Loopers, dispatch them.

Looper‘s main character, Joe (Joeseph Gordon-Levitt), is a Looper, and like all other Loopers, will one day be forced to kill his future self from the 2070s. This act, called ‘closing your loop’, was created by the crime syndicates for fear of the unforeseen consequences if a Looper, later in life, interacted with his victims from the 2070s thereby endangering causality. Nor do the Loopers know when they are about to kill their older self, as their victims arrive from the future with their faces covered by sacks.

The plot begins with the Loopers around Joe closing their loops with increasing frequency, on the command of a mysterious new figure in the 2070s who has taken over all five crime syndicates, known simply as The Rainmaker.  Old Joe quickly arrives and escapes, hell bent on killing The Rainmaker; who in 2044, is a child living in Kansas City. Joe attempts to hunt down and kill Old Joe or face a gruesome death at the hands of the crime syndicates.

‘I could see how you turned bad’: What Joe becomes

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(Old Joe becomes what he is meant to be)

Before Old Joe arrives, local crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) reveals what Joe would have been if he had not become a Looper. Speaking with fatherly affection, Abe recalls recruiting Joe as the youngest Looper ever, after he caught Joe robbing one of his fronts.

‘This kid, like an animal…. you looked at me and I could see it…the bad version of your life… I could see how you turned bad. So I changed it, I cleaned you up and put a gun in your hand…I gave you something that was yours.

Abe’s prophecy sadly rings true after Old Joe’s arrival. We witness the timeline Old Joe comes from, where Joe kills his older self and embarks on his retirement. Joe heads to Shanghai and falls into the bad path of his life which Abe foresaw. Squandering his retirement fund in 7 years, Joe becomes a psychopathic assassin and gang leader, spreading violence and spilling blood across Shanghai.

Old Joe appears reformed when he meets up with Joe in their favourite diner, condemning Young Joe as ‘A killer…a junkie. A fucking child mentality…what’s mine, my life…you’re so self-absorbed’. Yet Old Joe has only worsened, willing to kill children he suspects might be the Rainmaker so that he can still meet his wife and never lose her.

The inevitable bad path

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(The Eiffel Tower behind the needle, a sign of what could have been and what will always happen)

Joe’s work as a Looper and his wife are both a temporary leash restraining the monster he is. Once back in the past, Old Joe completes his transformation when faced by Abe’s gang, butchering them while he takes on the air of a demonic figure, bloodied and silent staring back at Abe’s security camera before killing him as well.

Before his death, Abe recognises that Old Joe was destined to descend into the bad version of his life, shouting out to Old Joe that

‘I guess I put the gun in that kid’s hand, huh? I guess everything comes back around.’

Sisyphus can push the rock each day, straining to reach the summit, but every day will begin anew, with Sisyphus still struggling uphill. Joe, like a figure found in Greek myth, is predestined to follow ‘the bad path’.

When we witness Old Joe’s timeline unfold, a model Eiffel Tower is briefly glimpsed in the background as Joe spirals further into addiction. The tower evokes an alternative life for Joe, where he would have gone to his original retirement choice of France instead of China. A needle lays before the tower dominating the shot, symbolising that Joe’s choices throughout life have no weight. The needle would have still been there even if he had moved to France, leading Joe down the bad path Abe foresaw. It is inevitable because of one moment which shaped Joe forever, the loss of his mother as a child.

‘What’s mine’ and ‘What’s yours’

Joe perceives himself in Cid, Sara’s troubled young son and revealed to be the future Rainmaker. When asked about his mother by Cid, Joe reveals that she sold him for drugs. Joe escaped and in his words,

‘I saw myself over and over again, killing those men that bought me and got my mom on what she was on, until I met a man in the city (Abe) who put a gun in my hand, gave me something that was mine’.

The loss of Joe’s mother forges his looping destiny of ‘the bad path’. Fending for himself, Joe becomes like the gang members and drugs who forced his mother to abandon him, adopting their mentality of ‘what’s mine’, even praising these men to Cid as ‘the only kind of man there is’. Thrust into a life with no one to guide him, Joe walks through life fending for himself at the cost of anyone who crosses him, be it his friend Seth, his victims from the future, or the children he believes to be The Rainmaker.

Joe learns to change

Joe appears just as selfish as Old Joe, displaying no remorse for betraying his friend Seth and hunting Old Joe in order to save himself from Abe. Joe begins to change once he meets Cid, seeing himself in the troubled boy as they share their traumas with each other. Despite discovering that Cid is the future Rainmaker, Joe spares Cid, realising that unlike himself, Cid still has his real mother Sara, offering Cid the chance of being nurtured and guided away from his destiny of becoming the Rainmaker.

By sparing Cid, Joe rejects his ‘what’s mine’ attitude, recognizing in his final meeting with Old Joe that his selfishness will cause him to become the monstrous Old Joe. When faced with the opportunity from Old Joe to walk away from Cid and Sara and live your life’ Joe rejects the offer, screaming ‘Your life, my life, becoming you!’.

The rock rolls back

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(A constant loop)

Realising that Old Joe’s actions in the past will perpetuate Cid becoming the Rainmaker, Joe kills himself to prevent an endless loop of Old Joe and Cid both trying to kill the other to save their loved one.

Yet without Old Joe’s presence in the past, none of the events leading up to Joe’s death can happen. Once in the past, Old Joe irrevocably changes future events, not only creating the Rainmaker, but causing Joe to sacrifice himself for Sara and Cid. Joe may remove Old Joe from existing in the past, but the events in Looper are permanently changed by Old Joe’s presence. Old Joe’s sudden absence in the past causes a paradox in the past, resetting the timeline.

A loop can be a single circle, or two circles conjoined at the hip. Old Joe’s hunt for the Rainmaker causes one circle as Joe foresaw, with Sara’s death and Cid becoming the Rainmaker. Joe’s sacrifice causes a second circle. His death leads to a paradox, resetting the timeline we witness in Looper . The two circles feed into one another like a loop, with Old Joe returning after living his life, desperate to save his wife,  while Joe realises what he will become and resets the timeline. If the timeline resets, Old Joe does not change the timeline. Thus Joe will still lead the life that Old Joe had lead, becoming the monster we witness in Looper. 

 

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(Old Joe’s loop, gagged and dead)

Over and over again, Joe has lived the bad path, returning as Old Joe, creating the Rainmaker as he constantly fails to save his wife, while the Rainmaker searches for Old Joe. Looper concludes with Joe making the only choice he can, to reset the timeline and to refuse his task of pushing the rock back uphill in an infinite loop. Looper concludes with Cid still bearing a scarred jaw like the Rainmaker, a hint that Cid is still destined to become a monster, despite Joe’s efforts and that ultimately, Joe and Cid are two men both walking the bad path towards each other.

Joe may change as a person and sacrifice himself but his actions change nothing, just merely reset the loop like Sisyphus’ rock rolling back down.

By Saul Shimmin

Looper is available now on Netflix in the U.K. It has been available for a while, so watch it before it goes!

Rian Johnson’s next film, a little piece called Star Wars: The Last Jedi is quickly approaching its Christmas release date. Read Hagood’s thoughts about the recent behind the scenes video from Disney here.

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.

Spider-Man Homecoming

Movie Score4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Laura Harrier, & Tony Revolori

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: The mutated spider has already bit Peter Parker and transformed him into Spider-Man. The movie commences a few months after Spidey disarmed Captain America. While technically part of the Avengers, Peter has to remain in Queens, fighting petty criminals because Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) commanded him to lay low and be “a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  Frustrated with such limitations, Peter sets off to fight “serious crime” in order to prove his worth as an Avenger to Tony and his assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). On this quest, Peter discovers Adrian Toomes/The Vulture/Birdman (Michael Keaton), a former construction contractor, who is now scavenging and selling alien weaponry from The Avengers invasion on the black market. After seeing the destruction such weapons are capable of, Peter sets out to defeat The Vulture whilst balancing a normal high school life. A great movie ensues.

Heading into the movie, I felt disappointed. A week early, I had read a review that stated Spider-Man Homecoming was purely a franchise building machine with only small moments of humor and few redeeming qualities. Ladies and gentlemen, friends, families, and readers, let me be the first and hopefully not the last to tell you the aforementioned review was wrong.

The movie’s teenage characters were my favorite part (besides the villain Toomes). Tom Holland phenomenally portrayed Peter Parker. I’m so glad he did not try to emulate Toby Maguire’s sniveling, wimpy version of Peter. Instead, Holland imbues Peter with humorous and nerdy, yet subtly cool, qualities. Together with Jacob Batalon’s hilarious character, Ned, the two form a wonderful duo who made me laugh a lot more than I expected. Normally, six screenwriters on one film signals trouble, but in this one the writers created and gave Ned and Peter some fantastic quips. However, they didn’t hoard all the best lines for the main characters. Zendaya’s hipster Michelle several great lines. I wish they had also decided to make Michelle a more prominent character since she stole all her scenes.

Like Zendaya, Keaton, of course, killed all his scenes. However, what made me love his character and the movie was not just his quality acting. It was also his character and his motives. Toomes began the movie as just an honest construction worker trying to take advantage of a good business opportunity: governmental contracts to help rebuild a destroyed New York City after the Chitauri army wrecks it in The Avengers. However, after losing the contract when the government discovers the power of the Chitauri weapons and asserts control over the reconstruction. This move leaves Toomes in a precarious position as he took out large loans to gather the men and equipment needed to take on such a job. Therefore, in order to support his family and his men’s families, he starts finding, fixing, and selling the alien weaponry on the black market.

I enjoyed Toomes because he was not a master villain trying to take over the world à la Loki. Instead, he was just a man doing whatever it takes to make ends meet and live the American dream. In an interesting conversation with Peter, Toomes asks him, what’s the difference between what he does and Tony Stark selling arms to the armies of the world. Such a question enters a fantastic grey area that Marvel likes to venture into and have successfully done so far like in The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  The question stumps Peter and it stumped me.

Target Audience: Teenagers, Marvel/DC/Disney lovers, and middle age adults. I’m counting out people over 50 based on my dad’s groans when he saw the trailer and children because the Vulture can, at times, be fearsome.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Ridley Scott and the value of life part two: Life, replicated

 

This article is part of a mini-series exploring the themes and ideas in Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi films; for the first part click the link here.

*Spoilers ahead for Alien and Blade Runner*

Blade Runner, based on the seminal novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? is a futuristic world sculpted by the Cold War. By 2019, the Tyrell corporation has created humanoid androids. The androids, called replicants, look like humans and surpass us in intelligence, speed, and strength. Despite their similarities to us, replicants are treated like tools, exploited as slave labour across the solar system and forbidden from coming to Earth.  Blade Runner begins after a group of escaped replicants arrive on Earth, which prompts retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford), to return to his old profession and hunt down the replicants.

Alien challenges our position in the universe and our assumptions about intelligent life. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott turns his gaze from the stars to earth, providing a condemning account of human society from the bottom-up. The replicants of Blade Runner are humanity in the neo-liberal age, dehumanised and robbed of an identity. They are the low-wage worker of today, an expendable commodity sacrificed for the benefit of the elite. The only difference is that replicants do not get a zero-hours contract but only four years to live.

Beyond our present day, the replicants represent ‘the other’ in society. They are the oppressed elements within every nation and culture branded as lesser and promptly exploited. The plight of the replicant parallels the medieval serf, the slave trade and the colonial subject. Despite its futuristic setting Blade Runner biopsies how society quietly exploits those at the bottom while we individuals, just like Deckard, look away.

Replicants: Machine or human?

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(Tyrell in all his glory)

Tyrell (Joe Turkel), wearing an imperial purple suit and thick glasses, is the god who underpins Blade Runner‘s society through his knowledge and technological prowess. The escaped replicants’ leader Roy (Rutger Hauer) even address Tyrrel as ‘The god of bio-mechanics’. Tyrrel’s apartment, guarded by an owl, symbol of the wise goddess Athena, is an Olympian temple supported by classical pillars, swathed in golden light from the sinking sun atop the pyramid superstructure witnessed in Blade Runner‘s introduction.

Deckard indulges Tyrell’s request to use the Voigt-Kampff test on Rachel (Sean Young), a supposed human. Deckard confronts Tyrrel after the test stating that Rachel is a replicant and asking, ‘how does she (Rachel) not know what she is?‘. Tyrell’s response is ‘commerce’. To Tyrell, replicants are a faulty product, becoming increasingly unstable as they develop memories and emotions. Rachel is ‘an experiment’ embedded with memories to believe that she is human, making her a more stable product.

Rachel reveals to Deckard that replicants are not just machines, but are parallel to regular humans through her morality and emotions. Ironically, it is Rachel, not any human, who questions Deckard about the moral and philosophical dilemmas of his work, asking him whether he ‘ has ever retired any humans by mistake?‘.

During Deckard’s attempts to chase and kill his replicant targets he begins to see them as increasingly human. At each encounter with an escaped replicant, the story shifts to their point of view, rendering Deckard and the human world around them to be cold, machine-like killers.

Challenging our assumptions

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(Our first encounter with Leon)

Leon is the audience’s first introduction to replicants when he is questioned by Dave Holden, another blade runner.  Leon is unstable from the beginning, his rage and confusion building until he abruptly shoots Holden in his stomach. Leon’s actions panders to the widespread view of replicants, repeated by Tyrell himself, as a tool that becomes a menace if they run amok. Later on in Blade Runner, Leon toys with Deckard after capturing him, stating to Deckard ‘painful living in fear isn’t it?’.  Deckard’s torture by Leon is Leon’s attempt to make another understand his suffering and pain.

Leon creates and later destroys the audience’s perception of replicants though his character arc. Leon transitions from a pyschopathic machine to a slave resisting his masters through the language they taught him, which was violence. Blade Runner uses Leon to challenge our own assumptions about ‘the other’ within society, by underlining how our opinions, just like Deckard’s can be unwittingly formed by convention. When given the chance to speak, the replicants, and ‘the other’ within our own society are exactly like us.

Violent recognition

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(Tyrrel’s death)

Both the audience and Deckard slowly begin to recognise the replicants as equal to humans. Then why does Tyrell, god of Blade Runner and father of the replicants still perceive them as below human?

The answer is found in Hegel’s philosophy.

According to Hegel, self-consciousness is not only the recognition of the self, but the recognition of that self by another self-conscious being. In human society, there exists a dominant and subservient consciousness with each recognising the other. This is what Hegel calls the master-slave dialectic.  Over time, the slave, having laboured for the master for so long, recognises his position as the inferior and demands the level of superiority enjoyed by the master.

Yet In Hegel’s words ‘Each (consciousness) wants to be securely recognised- has its certainty, but yet not truth.’ 

The master and the slave both want their identity to be recognised as superior. The master perceives his superiority due to his independence and power over the slave. The slave gains their own sense of superiority through the skill and hardship of their labour. Neither side will compromise and recognise the other as equal, causing as Michel Foucault states, a continual ebb and flow of power between one group and another within society as different identities emerge and conflict.

Tyrrel is the master and the replicants are the slaves.  He cannot recognise his own creations as more than human for fear of losing his own position. Tyrrel’s very identity and status in Blade Runner is literally built off the replicants and like the ancient Pharaohs he mimics, Tyrrel cannot be a god without an army of slaves beneath him. Roy’s quest to meet his maker Tyrrel is a struggle for identity, to climb the pyramid and be recognised by the master. Roy finally meets Tyrell, who continues to treat him and the other replicants as objects, calling Roy ‘a prize‘. Roy, disastisfied by Tyrell’s rejection, gauges Tyrrel’s eyes out.

At Blade Runner’s beginning, a superimposed eye blinks and dilates, reflecting the hellish cityscape of 2019 Los Angeles before it. The eyes in Blade Runner represent our own individual struggle with self-consciousness and recognition. The Voight-Kampff test, used to sniff out replicants, revolves around pupil dialation while the sodium orange flare of certain characters’ pupils teases who may be a replicant. After all, it is through our eyes alone that we perceive and recognise world, just like the eye gazing at 2019 Los Angeles. Roy’s gauging of Tyrrel’s eyes is the literal destruction of a worldview that rejects the replicants. Leon, in revenge for Zhora’s death, tries to do the same to Deckard before Rachel intervenes.

What about J.F.Sebastian?

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(J.F. being manipulated by Pris)

Perhaps the most unfortunate character in Blade Runner, J.F.Sebastian (J.F.), played by William Sanderson. He is a brilliant genetic designer who helped create the nexus 6 model of replicants. Befriended by replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah), J.F. is manipulated and later killed by Roy as part of his plot to meet Tyrrel. Afflicted by a genetic disorder accelerating his ageing, J.F. is denied ascension to the heavens and life among the solar system. Instead, J.F. dwells alone in a hellish derelict apartment block slowly succumbing to flood water.

J.F. blurs the artificial boundary between replicant and human. Deemed a faulty product, J.F. is valued for his productive capability like the replicants, while his desires are ignored and he is reduced to living alone. J.F’s plight is each our own tragedy, although the humans of Blade Runner are supposed to be superior, J.F. has been exiled and ignored by his fellow man. Strip back the scapegoat of today; be it the banks, the immigrants, or the replicants and we are only valued by society for our economic output while we each in turn dismiss the hardship of others. In a way, we are all replicants without realising it.

Writing about J.F. has made me excited for Blade Runner 2049 From the glimpses given in the reveal trailer, Blade Runner 2049 will witness the crumbling of the artificial line between replicant and human which J.F. straddles. Whatever happensI am more excited about Blader Runner 2049 now than when I reviewed the trailer.

By Saul Shimmin

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.