Category Archives: The 4th Wall

Nightcrawler: a lack of feeling

Nightcrawler begins oddly. The film’s protagonist, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is introduced to viewers while he steals wire fencing. Apprehended by a security guard, Lou notices the guard’s watch and kills him for it. In most anti-hero stories, the spectator is supposed to connect with the lead character. Typically given some tragic back story, the anti-hero usually begins as a normal enough person who starts committing crimes. The anti-hero’s moral fall also heralds their rise towards success, while the spectator cheers the anti-hero on. Symbolising complete freedom from law and morality, the anti-hero lets the spectator live vicariously in a world absent from consequences and everyday constraints. Yet in Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom nothing can be found resembling the typical anti-hero. Stripped of a backstory and absent of any redeeming qualities Lou Bloom simply arrives into Nightcrawler. Devoid of any moral scruples, no excuses are ever afforded to Lou. Any initial impressions of Lou being an overly desperate man fades as he preys upon others during his rise to the top.

Dispassionate towards its own protagonist, Nightcrawler eschews the traditional anti-hero structure of a flawed character study. Instead Nightcrawler examines the forces which allow Lou Bloom to flourish; capitalism and modern media. What binds the pair together in Nightcrawler’s world is a shared lack of empathy for anything.

Capitalism, characterised by Lou Bloom himself, masquerades behind the language of ambition. Nightcrawler’s opening scene preordains Bloom’s entry into the nightcrawler profession of recording disasters. From a security guard’s watch to ATMs and luxury cars Lou scours L.A for opportunities to exploit until his arrival, by way of a recent car crash, into the nightcrawling trade. From there Lou Bloom commits depravity after depravity to excel in his new career; justifying each new descent with a coldly twisted rationale of business savvy, market demand, and motivational speaking. Lou’s behaviour is naked capitalism in action. He finds a market where he can sell a service and takes any measure to beat his competition. The tragedies that Lou manipulates into fruition is his creation of a product, another part of his nightcrawler service to the ever-needy news networks.

Lou’s ruthlessness is only matched by the media networks purchasing his disaster footage. In green rooms and editing booths, the same news networks projecting concern for local citizens are addicted to the disasters they peddle. Each news bulletin of catastrophe is an overcompensating display of empathy.  In the background the networks tailor each new tragedy into a demographically targeted narrative, which push the boundaries ever further to shock viewers and boost their ratings.

The symbiotic relationship between media and capitalism in Nightcrawler points to a society which has gone numb; hooked on the cathartic sting of fresh tragedy to give it any facsimile of feeling.

By Saul Shimmin

Nightcrawler is available on Netflix for subscribers in the U.K and the film’s trailer is below:

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Get Out: Beneath the skin

Readily admitted by the film’s director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a subversive amalgam of horror films and other movies. Through what it does and does not do, Get Out implants you into the life of African Americans today. From Peele’s point of view, the threat to African Americans of Klansmen and burning crosses is dwarfed by a white suburban culture that fetishizes and fears black identity.

Get Out’s opening scene inverts John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween begins with protagonist Laurie unaware of villain Michael Myers stalking her in broad daylight. Upon release Halloween was perceived as a damning commentary on declining teenage morality with the slasher Michael Myers acting as judge and executioner. On another level Halloween reflects social anxiety among the middle class in 1970’s America towards the decaying and predominantly black inner-city. Myers’ entrance into the Illinois suburbs and the bloodshed he causes is the dreaded violence, crime and drugs of urban areas flooding into the prosperous environs. In stark contrast Get Out begins with a black man warily walking through the suburbs at night.  In Get Out, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and others render the suburbs an alien territory for black people instead of what most audiences originally saw in Michael Myer’s hunting ground, a sanctuary away from the stormy city.

The contrasting narrative of perception and location persists throughout Get Out’s first five minutes. A tracking shot of woodland alongside the score evokes the southern backwaters of Deliverance and Southern Comfort. Yet once protagonist Chris travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family we find ourselves not in the archaic deep south but the pristine woods of upstate New York.

By inverting what we expect from film, Jordan Peele rips the viewer out from the white male vision of most directors and firmly plants the narrative into a black perspective. Take Get Out’s first interaction with a white character besides Rose. Chris is stopped while driving and questioned by a police officer, opening the sadly familiar mix of inferiority and fear which can be projected onto African Americans.

Chris’s reception at Rose’s home is unexpected. He doesn’t receive the anticipated mix of hostility and condescension of which the police officer’s reaction to him was a forewarning. More alarmingly, Chris is lavished with adoration from Rose’s family and friends, praising him with an unfettered frankness for the traits they stereo-typically expect him and African Americans to have.

The appreciation of the older white suburbanites populating Rose’s community for Chris and black identity is skin deep. Their infatuation with the attributes black people supposedly possess is a fetishization of black identity, reducing black identity from an equal to a body of trophies covering sex appeal to just plain coolness. In turn the white man’s obsession with Chris’ uniqueness reverts the black man into a physical object, a band-aid for their own flaws, something to be auctioned off and used. Instead of progressing from the prejudice of segregation and slavery, the racism of white America towards African America has simply inverted; from sub-human to superhuman but not yet a fellow man.

The big reveal of Get Out is that Rose and her family have been luring black people to their home to be auctioned off to their white clientele. Their victims are first brainwashed by Rose’s mother into compliance then Rose’s father transplants the client’s brain into the younger black victim.

The sanitised racism lurking beneath the surface of Get Out is personified in the film’s four black victims including Chris. Each victim of Rose’s family, having been brainwashed into becoming hosts for the minds of the older white clientele, represent a stereotype of African American identity. Georgina the maid is motherliness and domestic servility, Walter the gardener embodies athleticism and Andre King is sex appeal. Chris, the fourth victim, represents artistry. In an ironic foreshadowing Chris talks to Jim Hudson before Jim buys Chris in the auction. Jim, an older blind art collector who never had ‘the vision’ for photography comments that Chris, a professional photographer, truly has ‘the eyes’. Jim’s words, and his later attempt to have his brain transplanted into Chris’ head, have an irony to them. Jim never sees Chris beyond being a pair of eyes, forgetting that it is Chris’ mind, along with his heritage, that adds the colour to his vibrant photos of New York City which make up his work.

Ultimately, I could be wrong about Get Out’s deeper meaning. Yet the film still exemplifies the power of film to take someone like myself, a white middle-class kid from England, and put me in someone else’s shoes.

By Saul Shimmin

Who are the Mystery Men?

Besides the nod to The New York Dolls, this article is really about Mystery Men, the best superhero film you have never heard about.

Super-heroic spoof

Flight and invulnerability, spandex outfits and ludicrous sidekicks. The concepts of superheroes are childhood fantasies which crumble in the adult world. In the goofy bedlam of Mystery Men’s Champion City, reality reveals superheroes to be losers, oddballs and dreamers. Instead of scowling vigilantes, powerful gods and aliens, the ‘Mystery Men’ are ordinary people pretending to be something more, except for the odd possessed bowling bowl and potent flatulence. Therein lies the wonderful magic of Mystery Men, it looks at itself and superheroes and laughs at the joke.

Released in 1999, the immediate target of Mystery Men’s lampooning is the vaudevillian gaudiness of the Batman films under Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Beyond that Mystery Men satirises dystopian films of the 1980s and 1990’s. Champion City’s architecture nods to the mega metropolis of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, while the film’s aesthetic of old and new technologies living aside each other mimics Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The gags come from the inherent silliness of superheroes and super villains which Mystery Men exaggerates with a gleefully deadpan take. The real source of laughter lies in the ‘Mystery Men’ of the film; Mr.Furious (Ben Stiller) who has slightly mild anger issues, the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) a mystic knife thrower haphazardly flinging forks and sometimes spoons and The Shoveler (William.H.Macy) who tackles crime with a shovel.

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The Shoveler is confronted by his wife

The ‘Mystery Men’

Later bolstered by new members, the ‘Mystery Men’ remain endearingly hopeless underdogs stood against villains who break the rules of comic books. In an odd premonition of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, Mystery Men’s director Kinka Usher opens up the vulnerability of his superheroes. This vulnerability is not an Achilles heel but the humanity behind the mask or the shovel. Mystery Men, at its deepest level, concerns men and women dreaming of making it big but struggling against their own ordinariness and doubting whether they can save the day. All of us at some point have shared that fear of being ordinary, of questioning how we are different from everyone else in the crowd.

A film before its time

Created before the Marvel-Disney conveyor belt of melodramatic superhero films was even conceived, Mystery Men’s teasing of the genre has made it a refreshing tonic for the staple of today’s box office. Even if you are oblivious to the litany of D.C and Marvel films, Mystery Men’s is objectively funny. Neil Cuthbert alongside Bob Burden, creator of The Flaming Carrot Comics which inspired Mystery Men, crafted a script brimming with hilarious sound bytes. A personal favourite is the Shoveler’s statement to his wife that;

‘God gave me a gift…I shovel well, I shovel very well.’

It is shame that Mystery Men, given its inexhaustible quotability, came out before the YouTube age ushered in highlight reels of comedy films which propelled Anchorman to universal popularity. Alongside the excellent writing are cast whose calibre is something to behold. The initial trio of Ben Stiller, William.H.Macy and Hank Azaria as Mr.Furious, The Shoveler and the Blue Raja are a powerhouse boosted by the later additions of Paul Reubens as The Spleen and Jaeneane Garofalo as Baby Bowler. The list of actors goes on but most importantly Tom Waits plays mad scientist Dr.Heller who cooks up non-lethal weapons in an abandoned circus full of mannequins and chickens. Somehow I think Tom Waits had no difficulty in playing his role. Plus if you want more Tom Waits the DVD copy of Mystery Men has a wonderful deleted scene of Dr.Heller flirting with retirees. Bonus appearances are Eddie Izzard as leader of a disco gang Toni P and Cee Lo Green as a minor gang member.

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Tony P (Eddie Izzard)

Being his only feature film to date, director Kinka Usher brings the attentive detail of creating commercials to Mystery Men.  The result is a trove of gags in the film’s environment; from a retirement home’s bar being stocked with prescription medication to the Shoveler’s trophy cabinet for his weapon of choice. Mystery Men just gets better the more often you watch and the harder you look.

Sadly, Mystery Men followed its titular heroes and shuffled into obscurity after a release met with poor box office sales and poor critical responses. The story does sag in the middle but the reason for Mystery Men’s failure was it took superheroes, a thing Americans hold so earnestly as a reflection of themselves, and thumbed its nose at them.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

Escape From New York

Synopsis: Escape From New York depicts a dystopian 1997 where New York City has become a prison. War hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is offered clemency if he enters New York and saves the U.S President (Donald Pleasence) who is stranded in the Big Apple.

Written by director John Carpenter in the wake of Watergate and America’s loss of faith in itself post-Vietnam,  Escape From New York belongs to Cold War science fiction. Carpenter’s vision of the 1990’s reflects fears in the 1970’s of societal collapse, nuclear war and state control. In Escape From New York America is a police state while the Cold War has turned hot. America’s militarised police, clad in black and obscured by riot visors, are an unsettling mix of Vietnam and Nixon’s faceless G-Men as they descend from huey helicopters. New York’s transformation into a prison represents a sentiment which Carpenter touches upon in Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13; the fear of urban violence, drugs and crime spreading beyond the cities.

Late night television introduced me to John Carpenter’s films, in particular Halloween. At age 14 I bought a DVD of  Escape From New York and devoured the film. Re-watching  Escape From New York years later on the big screen has changed my perception of the story. When I was younger Escape From New York was a strange and alluring thriller. Now I see how modern society has returned to the film’s dark trajectory. In an age of global terror, mass surveillance, mass shootings and rising extremism, we are affronted again by state interference and social instability. Entering into the chaos is anti-heroic gunslinger Snake Plissken. Plissken’s adherence to a tattered moral compass in a grim future represents a begrudging sense of hope, much like Mad Max, that humanity can persist no matter the bleakness. Unlike the original Mad Max films, Escape From New York strikes a lighter tone through Nick Castle’s work on the script. In Nick Castle’s hands, the film gains an awareness of its wackiness; from its gnarled criminal gangs of New York clad in the ruins of the city to the roster of oddball characters.

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Snakes forges a plan

Crafted from a small budget of $5 million, Carpenter’s ingenuity with practical effects makes Escape From New York visually striking. Filmed in the burned out centre of St.Louis, Missouri, the city’s state gave Carpenter carte-blanche for his gnarled interpretation of New York. Atop the filming location are the models, costumes, painted backdrops and other effects which permeate the film. Time has marked the look of Escape From New York but these are just wrinkles defining a growing maturity. The film’s ability to still draw in the viewer opposes modern films whose proclivity for CGI often rushes disbelief back in. Carpenter’s score much like Halloween infuses Escape From New York with a soul of nervous energy and brooding fear as disco and funk are sifted through a synthesizer.

The cast of Escape From New York flesh out life inside the prison. Isaac Hayes as the Duke, New York’s kingpin, swaggers around with bravado like a cowboy villain followed by his posse in rag tag automobiles. Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and veteran of Hollywood’s golden age Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie exude the strangeness and toughness required to survive within the walls of New York. Best of all is Kurt Russell as Snake, whose grit is matched by defiance as he sarcastically thumbs his nose at authority figures. In the end it is Snake who provides the sole honest voice in Escape From New York, revealing the U.S president and his men to be just as corrupt as those living within New York. In today’s political climate, I think we could learn something from Snake.

Thanks to Home Manchester for screening such a great film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

The Night of the Hunter

Rating: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Director: Charles Laughton

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, James Gleason, Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce.

Synopsis: Directed by venerable actor Charles Laughton, murderous preacher Harry Powell comes calling to a small West Virginian town, seeking the stolen money a bank robber hid with his children.

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Robert Mitchum as preacher Harry Powell

I first watched The Night of the Hunter when I was ten years old after my dad, persuaded by the film’s degrading from an X to a 12A rating, bought a DVD copy.  Ninety minutes later one October evening and I was absolutely terrified. I remember being unable to go to bed after watching the film, afraid to venture into the darkened upstairs and find the maniacal preacher waiting there. Re-watching The Night of the Hunter fourteen years later on the big screen, the film may not scare but still resonates with an unnerving portent.

Malevolence and innocence

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A child stumbles across a victim of Harry Powell

The Night of the Hunter is about innocence caught in the snares of malevolence. Preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) and stalwart youngster John Harper (Billy Chapin) are these opposing forces, beginning in the film’s title screen as the preacher’s blaring score roars and fades into children singing. Even before promising to hide his father’s stolen bank money, the camera places John and sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) into a dark adult world. The Night of the Hunter debuts with the camera descending from the sky onto a quiet neighbourhood. Approaching down towards the ground, a group of adults turn into a group of boys who in their play find another widow killed by Harry Powell. The body’s discovery is an omen that only children, specifically John, see Harry Powell for what he is. To the adults of the small West Virginian town he encounters, Powell is a saviour. All the adults John and Pearl know are in someways flawed, even Uncle Birdie who is wary of the preacher has a drinking problem. Besides old Uncle Birdie, Powell becomes an answer to the adults’ flaws, be it the Spoons’ desire for normalcy or Willa Harper’s yearning for absolution after her husband’s crimes.

Sex and death

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The burlesque show Harry Powell attends

The Night of the Hunter was simply perturbing as a child, but watching it again with an adult’s eyes is to appreciate a different, far more complex film. It would be deemed mild if released today, but by the chaffing standards of the 1950’s, The Night of the Hunter is overtly sexual. The switchblade Harry Powell wields with his ‘hate’ inscribed left hand is a phallic symbol of his sexual impotence towards women, erupting from his pocket as he grimly attends a burlesque show. Powell is compelled towards murder by women but strangely women fall into Powell’s mesmerising orbit. Half of the town where the Harpers live are equally obsessed with sex, talking about it with a winking subtlety like Mrs. Spoon’s recollection of ‘laying on my back and thinking about my canning’. Willa Harper’s desire for Powell warps into a hysterical zealotry when they marry and her advances are scorned, while one of Rachel Cooper’s (Lillian Gish) adopted children has been doing more than courting on a Thursday night. The only adult who sees Powell clearly is the least sexual woman in the film, the kind Rachel Cooper.

The devil is in town 

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Harry Powell arrives to town

The audience is privy to the depth of Harry Powell’s evil as he candidly talks to God about murdering widows during his introduction. There is no further depravity Powell can fall to; he just becomes more powerful, morphing from a serial killer into a demonic malevolence. Powell’s arrival is ominously heralded by a benighted steam train screaming across West Virginia and then like a vampire, Powell lingers outside the Harper house, his shadow casting over John. Powell’s power only abounds as he charms his way into the town, hiding his hideous self behind his right hand of ‘Love’. By the conclusion of The Night of the Hunter Powell loses the mask of humanity, becoming an inexorable evil hell-bent on taking John and Pearl.

The supernatural strength of Harry Powell partly stems from actor Robert Mitchum’s performance. He lends to Powell his natural charm, but like Joseph Cotton in Shadow of A Doubt Mitchum channels a darkness that only Michael Shannon seems to grasp among today’s actors. Charles Laughton’s use of light and dark, accentuated by the black and white film, propels Powell’s otherworldly stature. At key parts of the film, Powell’s figure is projected as a shadow doggedly following the children or Powell himself is illuminated in contrast to the dark surroundings, giving him a ghoulish air.

A web of intricacies 

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A failure upon release in 1955, Charles Laughton swore to never direct again after The Night of the Hunter. Yet what Laughton created was a story of economic design that has preserved The Night of the Hunter through the decades. Loaded with symbolism, every part of The Night of the Hunter connects both forwards and backwards. The film’s design and imagery imbues a circular logic, with Rachel Cooper’s warning of false prophets becoming realised in her standoff against Powell, as the hymn Powell habitually sings fails to match Cooper’s version. Compared to the grand scale of other post war films which have stood to the present, The Night of the Hunter is distinguished by the minute details. From Powell’s tattooed knuckles acting both as his facade and his tell, to the frame of Willa Harper’s bedroom evoking a church roof, every frame contains a meaning. What this creates is a film that can be reinterpreted repeatedly, keeping The Night of Hunter fresh to this day.

Thanks to Home Manchester for screening The Night of the Hunter. 

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Tears in Rain: A World Repeating

* Spoilers below for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049*

Saying goodbye to Blade Runner 2049

I felt compelled to watch Blade Runner 2049 one more time. When the eye opens to behold a fractal of solar farms repeating across Californian fields, Blade Runner 2049 ascended from mere story into an experience, one to be savoured in the cinema before it disappears.

In revisiting Blade Runner 2049 last week, a line from the original Blade Runner circled my mind.

‘All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain’

A nihilistic statement about human impermanence spoken by dying replicant leader Roy Batty; after a fraught cat and mouse game between him and blade runner Deckard through a crumbling L.A. apartment block. Having won the fight and Deckard bound to fall to his death from the rain soaked rooftop, Roy saves Deckard. Reflecting on what he has witnessed as his four year lifespan reaches its end, Roy’s soliloquy reframes his struggle for a longer life into the most human desire, to have enough time leave a mark on the world.

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Deckard saved by Roy

Staring at the ensuing erosive tide of eternity, we distance our mortality through legacy like a raft amid darkened storms. The physical shell dissolves into a husk but a part of what we were remains on this plane, even if just for a moment longer. Accepting death, Roy saves Deckard in a last bid to remain in this world through the memories of another.

A World Repeating

Surveying Blade Runner 2049, Roy’s words have been proven wrong. The world of 2049 is seared by the actions of Blade Runner in 2019. After the murder of the replicants’ creator Tyrrel by Roy’s hand, the Tyrrel pyramid once the apex of the L.A. skyline lies dark and dormant. Replicants now have embedded memories just like Rachael, an experimental Nexus-7 replicant. Assumedly, the Blade Runners have been eventually replaced with replicants due to Deckard’s flight from L.A.

Observing Tyrrel’s dead pyramid for a second time in Blade Runner 2049, the perspective is changed. Looking from the ground up,  the palace has become the cornerstone for the headquarters of Tyrrel’s successor, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). Layering the new atop the old, Blade Runner 2049 is the reincarnate of the world and the people from 2019.

The marks of  Blade Runner’s 2019 still linger in the physical space of 2049. Tyrrel’s pyramid is silent and the L.A.P.D. remains, anchoring the two worlds together by the thread of action and consequence. Yet in the characters of Blade Runner 2049 do the echoes from 2019 meld together. Created by Wallace to be his assistant, Luv embodies the polar extremes of replicants in Blade Runner. Luv is both Rachael and Roy, caring and cruel, childlike yet ruthless. She can be devotedly attentive, caring for the crazed industrialist Wallace even when he disembowels a newborn replicant. For those who cross her, Luv is a sadistic monster, shedding tears as she kills and cruelly toying with victims before death.

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Luv attacks

The parallels between industrialist Niander Wallace and Blade Runner‘s Eldon Tyrrel are clear. Industrialists who save humanity from crisis through invention. Tyrrel’s replicants propel humanity to the stars and Wallace’s synthetic farms keep Earth’s civilisation alive following environmental collapse. Fathers to the replicants, the pair are gods flawed by vision. Tyrell is a god of wisdom distracted by hubris. His eyes, bulging in their thick glasses, have the appearance of seeing but his pyramid is an ivory tower, obscuring Tyrrel’s understanding of what the replicants are. Wallace is a crazed oracle, accepting that replicants are the slaves to build a new human civilisation, he is literally blinded by his prophecy of spreading mankind far beyond the solar system. Tyrrel and Wallace may or may not see the replicants for what they are, but both are in the rut of complacency of the master, to believe that the slave will never rise up.

Not Heroes: Deckard and K

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Madam forewarns the breaking of the wall and the world

Writing this piece was partially inspired by a Washington Post article about Blade Runner 2049 by Alyssa Rosenberg. The article is an interesting read but what sparked my attention was the title;

Blade Runner 2049 is about learning that you are not the main character in your own story.’

Speaking after finding Rachael Tyrell, L.A police chief Madam confides in K, saying

‘The world is built on a wall that separates a kind, tell either side there is no wall, you’re brought a war.’

The world of Blade Runner is the wall, the barricade between replicant and man. Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are one conflict, each side pushing at the boundary entrapping the other, be it a life longer than four years or the gift of children. Deckard and K, pawns from the beginning dragged unwillingly into a larger fight. Deckard is forced from retirement during Blade Runner to draw out Roy and the other rogue Nexus-6 models. K is commanded to destroy all traces of Tyrrel’s secret of replicant reproduction. Deckard is almost a villain in Blade Runner as he coldly tracks down the escaped Nexus-6 models. After every killing, the replicants become more human and childlike. In Blade Runner 2049, Deckard is not the wise man who can answer K, but an old outlaw hiding in the bones of a dead city, pursued for what he knows rather than for any threat he poses.

Against the foreground of Blade Runner’s events, Deckard and K are the heroes of their own stories. They are two characters from different sides walking towards the wall. Finding the wall absent, each discover their humanity. Both begin their long walk towards the wall assured of the structure of the world and their place within it. Deckard firmly believes he is human and that replicants are simple machines, until meeting Rachel and almost being killed by Roy. In finding love with Rachel, Deckard questions his assumptions about replicants and whether he is indeed human. Deckard’s crisis about his own existence is clearer in Phillip. K. Dick’s ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep?’, but it is still present in Blade Runner. Rachael is the catalyst for Deckard’s doubt about himself, remaining silent when Rachael asks if he has ever performed the Voight Kampff test on himself. By Blade Runner 2049, Deckard no longer distinguishes between human and replicant. When asked by K whether his dog is synthetic Deckard replies;

‘Ask him what he thinks.’

Deckard’s response repeats the understanding  he briefly flashes in a slow blink as Roy quietly dies at Blade Runner’s end. For Deckard, he finds his humanity through love, through empathy, in connecting with the replicants he has hunted so very well for so long.

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K gets to hold the hand of someone he loves, Joi

The mirrored reflection of Deckard, K walks from the opposite side towards the wall. If Deckard finds his humanity through discovery, K finds his humanity through loss. Deckard finds connection to the rest of the world, while K wants to be connected. A Nexus-9 designated to hunt the outlawed Nexus-8’s, K initially accepts he is a machine, telling Morton Sapper when asked if he likes ‘scraping shit’ that;

‘We new models don’t run.’

In K’s world, life is one where ‘Joi’ is an illusion and ‘Luv’ is a monster. The baseline K is routinely subjected to tests whether he has begun to see himself as human. The faults the test searches for are the desires we take for granted: ‘to be interlinked’; to hold the hand of a loved one, to be part of a family. Each question asked in the baseline are desires K hides even to himself. Desire make replicants human. For Roy it was legacy, for K it is love, to feel connected to the world. Believing himself to be Rachael’s child, K desperately searches for Deckard, asking him about the mother he never had and why Deckard left.

Rooftop Revelation

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K and Joi one more time

It is K’s A.I. girlfriend Joi that makes him believe he is unique, encouraging the search for Deckard and renaming K ‘Joe’. After losing Joi, K discovers he is the decoy, the replicant implanted with the fabled child’s memories. Rescued and tasked with eliminating Deckard by the replicant resistance, K encounters a gigantic sexualised version of Joi on a rooftop.

For Deckard and K, clarity comes atop the summit. Deckard is raised up from death by Roy, now Christlike with a nail driven through his palm, while K gets to see Joi one more time while staring at the city from a rooftop.  By calling him ‘Joe’ again, Joi’s programming makes K realise that he does not need uniqueness to be a person, to be connected. Raising Deckard’s pistol, K chooses his own path. K saves Deckard and the two men wash up from the water, arriving together at the wall which divides the world, cutting L.A. from the oceans beyond.

By sacrificing himself, K just like Roy connects himself to something greater, love and legacy. For many of us, our only legacy will be loved ones, the family that remain after we fade like tears in rain.

By Saul Shimmin

I have written more about Blade Runner here. If you have yet to see Blade Runner 2049, hopefully our review can persuade you.

For the Love of Cinemas

As  Saul discussed in his “Netflix & Nolan” piece, Netflix is attempting to usurp Cinema with its original films that it releases directly to its website instead of opening them in theaters as Amazon has chosen to do with its slate of releases. I vehemently oppose Netflix’s actions, not because I dislike the films it produces and releases, but for several other, possibly harmful reasons for Cinema.

The first is what Saul discussed in “Netflix & Nolan.” Giving small, indie flicks screen time at the cinema gives them the spotlight they need to ensure their survival. Hushing them in the carousel of options listed under “Movies,” “Dramas,” or “Because you watched [fill in the blank]” will give Netflix a poor return on their investments in these films, and it will likewise discourage directors, actors, and screenwriters from partnering with Netflix because they might feel the company does not support their art.

My second reason for opposing Netflix’s attack on Cinema is based on my love for actual theaters. When I was completing my undergraduate degree at Davidson College, the theater was my weekend escape. Almost every Saturday, I trekked to the nearest cinema in Huntersville, NC to catch the latest releases. During my four years at Davidson, I saw many of my favorite films at this theater including FuryNightcrawlerGone GirlGuardians of the GalaxyRoom, and Deadpool. I loved going to the theater because the journey provided (and still provides me) with a separation from the stresses of the real world and Davidson, whether it was an impending paper deadline, an upcoming midterm, or three unread books. If I had tried to pirate one of the aforementioned films as many of my peers chose to do, or selected a film on Netflix, I would not have enjoyed it to the extent that I did seeing it in the theater. The theater, with its flashing marquee and overpriced concessions, helped ensure my suspension of disbelief as gateway between my troubles and the happy times I spent inside its interior.

regal birkdale

While I love a well made blockbuster (not you DC comics or most monster movies), I also enjoy watching more heady, smaller budget films like HerEx-Machina, and Prisoners in theaters. This past year I missed The Lost City of Z, almost ignored Paterson, and never even heard of The Handmaiden till Saul reviewed it here. I love to strike a balance between the bombast of blockbusters and the small glances that move mountains in indie and arthouse films. For my sake, I hope Amazon continues its plan of continuing to release its films in theaters.

Finally, I love the cinema for watching movies with others. Never does this aspect of the theater play a bigger role in my life than when Disney releases another Star Wars entry. Seeing these stories unfold and secrets unravel with people who care for the characters just as much as I do is hair-raising magic. It is an experience that neither Netflix nor I could recreate in my dorm room at school or living room at home. Being around devoted fans transports me further into a galaxy far, far away.

Please let us know your feelings below. We welcome a dialogue on this subject.

By Hagood Grantham

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

 

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 is here.

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

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 a world where time travel is invented in the 2070s and is exploited by crime syndicates to 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 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.  Young 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 Abe 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 who is 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’. Joe even praises 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 him. Joe realises that unlike himself, Cid still has his real mother Sara which offers Cid the chance of being nurtured and guided away from 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 a monster. 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 ends with Cid still bearing a scarred jaw like the Rainmaker, a hint that Cid remains destined to become a monster, despite Joe’s efforts.  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, he just merely resets 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.