A word of appreciation for Absolute Beginners

Back in 1986 the director Julien Temple directed the film adaptation of Absolute Beginners; originally a book about life in London one summer in 1958.  It helped bankrupt one British studio, Goldcrest, and was instantly declared such a bomb that it’s rarely spoken about apart from ‘5 worst films ever’ type clickbait articles online., however the theme song by David Bowie is the only thing to really survive.

Part of the hate the film produced was the decision to turn the book into a musical, not to mention the charisma-free relationship between the two miscast leads (Patsy Kensit and Eddie O’Connell) and the fact the book was toned down. The film also has little sense of pace & the tone flits from weird British comedy to intense racial politics on a penny, plus those musical numbers stop the film dead even if some (like the Ray Davis one) are actually superb.

In short it deserves the reputation for being a mess and in places it is pretty awful, but, there’s one of the best opening shots you’ll see in a film as Temple guides the camera in one shot giving us a guided tour of the recreation of 50’s Soho.  There’s the production design which stands up as being part faithful, part idealised and of course some of the musical numbers are great. When the film clicks, I get what the filmmakers were trying to do and sure, the sometimes clunking acting, or the black hole of the central relationship comes back to punch you in the face in regards the bad side but something comes along shortly after to make you pine as to what it could have been, especially at the end during the Notting Hill race riots.

As a film it doesn’t deserve the hate its built up as there’s clearly far, far worse out there, but certain films become punching bags and Absolute Beginners is one of them. The film’s one big positive legacy though remains the theme song which is one of the greatest themes a film could have, which seeing as it came at a time in the 80’s when David Bowie wasn’t exactly at the top of his game (to say the least) for him to pull out a song which seriously gets better every time it’s heard is nothing short of genius.

When I saw Bowie perform the song at Glastonbury in 2000, it was nothing short of perfect. Standing there in a crowd of people transfixed hearing and seeing people moved by a song from a film that’s a third shit, a third weird genius and third all over the place and is now mainly forgotten is not an experience ever to be forgot.

So give the film another chance, or if you’ve never seen it watch it for what it is which is an ambitious, weird oddity with a brilliant opening, some great moments and one of the best songs of all time.

Have a look…

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What I thought of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

A day ago Netflix announced a new Black Mirror film called Bandersnatch with zero previous publicity. A Bandersnatch comes from the works of Lewis Carroll and that knowledge should provide a clue as to what this new bit of Black Mirror is all about, and if you’ve played a ‘choose your own adventure’ type game back in the day either with a book or work like The Hobbit for the ZX Spectrum.

See this is a story set in the mid 80’s and as a period piece is almost perfect. I especially liked the old shit-brown livery of the W.H Smith branch Stefan (the main character) goes into at one point, as well as a perfect reconstruction of the stock it had in it. Stefan is a programmer working on adapting a ‘choose your own adventure’ book, Bandersnatch, into a computer game.So far this is prime Charlie Brooker, and the scenes in the game company office seem ripped from his days as a games journalist.

The thing is the version of Bandersnatch I watched will be different to the version you watch as it too is a ‘choose your own adventure’ story but the difference here is that Stefan as well as Colin, his idol in the games world, are aware they live in a story but have no control over their own destinies. but in thinking you as a viewer have power, you suddenly realise you’re being manipulated by the programme makers in making certain choices. Essentially this is a giant work of meta-fiction influenced by the likes of Philip K. Dick, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock and especially Grant Morrison’s work on Animal Man. Issue five’s The Coyote Gospel especially with it sort of being referenced into the film itself.

Does it work? On the whole yes but at times it does fall into itself as it shows off how clever it’s being, with one ending (there’s five main endings and loads of other lead-ins) that references Netflix itself and the technical prowess needed to make such a film, which to be honest, is just distracting wankery.  The story is what’s important and although well acted and directed (the vastly underrated David Slade directs) it suffers from being stilted at times, plus if you opt out of the end the first time, you lose the sense of being trapped in a never-ending hell.

As an experiment and episode of Black Mirror, it works fine. The performances are good, the script is fine and the direction is excellent and while all the meta-textual stuff is good, there’s always this feeling with Brooker that he’s sharing an in-joke but that this time the viewer is the object of that joke which is of course, the entire point. We’re the victims of modern technology and we’re not in control of it.

Avengers: Endgame is the blandest title ever!

After months of building up tension and excitement the new Avengers film has a trailer and title, and behold the name is AVENGERS! er, Endgame?!

Really?

Marvel have been good in using the comics for titles, which apparently has been nice for ageing creators who’ve ended up with a nice cheque and indeed, the name Annihilation was being thrown around and it’s a good, final, dramatic name.

But nah, we get Endgame, which sounds so bland it should be the name of a cheap margarine rather than a film which will make billions of squillions because it’s following Infinity War and is the end of the first decade of Marvel’s rise from risk taker (and in 2018 it is forgotten how much 2008’s Iron Man was a massive risk) to being a money-making colossus that’s helped rewrite popular culture across the world.

So we get a name probably dreamed up by marketing men playing things safe, but it is now a thing and we have to live with this thing.

And all this is about a trailer that’s gloriously bleak and downbeat. Enjoy…

RIP Nicolas Roeg

Nicolas Roeg, probably the best director the UK produced post WW2, has passed away and with him goes a type of film-maker that we’ll never see today. Roeg’s films were too arty and audiences today are too dumb or impatient and frankly, someone like Roeg would never be allowed to develop as he did.

Roeg made some of my favourite films, from the still bizarre Performance featuring a clearly fucked up Mick Jagger, through to the amazing Walkabout (and yes, Jenny Agutter is imprinted on my brain) and the weird, dreamy documentary Glastonbury Fayre, the story of the 1971 festival.

If he’d just made those thee films alone he’d be still a director of importance, but he then went on to direct Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, the criminally underrated Bad Timing as well as Insignificance, and The Witches.All of these films are astonishing but The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don’t Look Now  are works of sheer genius.

On top of that how many directors have a pop song about them? J.J Abrams eat your heart out!

With Roeg’s passing an era is over. His work remains and as a body of work it is remarkable but there’s going to be nothing else to add to it and that’s the tragedy when we lose unique creative people like Roeg. He’ll be missed greatly.

What I thought of ‘Outlaw King’

The first thing to get over in David MacKenzie’s Outlaw King is that it’s a de facto Braveheart sequel. It’ll never admit to being so officially and while director and cast alike do refer to Mel Gibson’s film there’s nothing official to say it is, except for the fact that you need to have the knowledge of the story of William Wallace before entering this film.

What the film does do is tell the story of Robert the Bruce who fought the invading English army in the First War of Scottish Independence and in particular the story of the Bruce. Indeed for the first half hour or so it strives for historical accuracy as much as possible, barring a obviously telegraphed Chekov’s gun (well, more of a swordfight) in the first reel that pays off in the end. The first half hour is also tediously slow and dull with some of the only fun being when Chris Pine’s accent (which on the whole is fine) slips into his own, or some hybrid accent with a tough of William Shatner thrown in.

Then about half an hour in, Outlaw King kicks into gear, forgets about being a historical drama and decides to become a gore-soaked exploitation film as Pine’s Bruce starts his bloody war against the English, who also become less nuanced and more like the slaughtering, raping baddies the story needs them to be because we don’t want nuance, just leering baddies who we cheer being sliced graphically in half by a sword. In fact the best way Outlaw King works are the scenes where Robert’s forces are fighting superior numbers and winning because the film isn’t about history, but telling the myth.

Outlaw King also looks astonishing on a reasonably big telly, so it’ll look even better on a cinema screen. It uses the landscape of Scotland so well that it becomes it’s own character as it supports Robert on his struggle which ends here not at Bannockburn as those aware of their history may expect, but at the battle of Louden Hill (I assume just in case there’s enough demand for a sequel) is presented here as a muddy, bloody swamp of death and the aforementioned Chekov’s Sword is brought into play.

Overall Outlaw King isn’t the film it couldn’t have been. It tries hard not to do a Braveheart, but dips liberally from that film, and when it tries to be political (at several times it’s quite clearly speaking to the audience in a 21st century post 2014 context) it doesn’t have that clarity of vision Gibson’s film did which may have been simplistic, but was also effective. What the legacy of Outlaw King may be I don’t know as it’s too early, but as an effective action/adventure/exploitation film flying the Netflix banner it’s a flawed, sometimes dreary bit of entertainment that doesn’t fly til it shrugs loose it’s chains and then it repays your faith in the film in steel and blood.

You all have to experience ‘Interface’

Ever since YouTube arrived over a decade ago there’s been a rise of sometimes astonishing creativity and in the case of Interface, there’s  so much creativity on display that it can be a bit overwhelming.

Interface is the product of the mind of Unami, whomever that may well be, and it’s set in Canada, and it draws from things as diverse as David Cronenberg, Twin Peaks, Philip K Dick and William Burroughs. It has a wonderfully dreamy/nightmareish tone that flips on a penny and is best experienced late at night.

The first episode is below, the rest are here. I implore you to try it out.

Five films for Halloween you may not have seen in other clickbait lists!

It’s nearly Halloween so this means clickbait lists of horror films that have the same films all the time. This isn’t to say the likes of Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Nightmare of Elm Street are crap films; they aren’t but they’re always on these sort of lists apart from this one.

So to dive right in…

5/ Deathwatch.

Horror films set during the two great wars of the 20th century are rare, mainly because the real horrors of warfare surpassed what people can imagine, but 2002’s Deathwatch, written and directed by Michael J. Bassett, tries in what is a gory, grim horror film set in the trenches of WW1.Jamie Bell turns in a great performance in the central role, while Andy Serkis eats up everything he can in a Cage-esque performance but the star of the film is how it looks and how it makes you feel as a viewer as various characters are broken down, in all senses.

This is firmly an exploitation film that relies on atmosphere as well as the jump scares and gore, plus it really is like no other horror film of the modern age thanks mainly to the setting.

4/ Creep

 

The 2000’s were a good time for British horror films thanks to works from Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Descent) and Danny Boyle ( 28 Days Later) helping kick the genre up the arse but films were lost, including writer/director Christopher Smith’s 2004 film, Creep.

Like the splendid Deathline, Creep is mainly set on the London Underground and like that film, uses the winding labyrinth of the network to scary advantage.It’s a film that plays up the oddness of being several stories underground in places, and being in an alien world of darkness and tunnels which in this case are inhabited by a creature that is more than it first seems.

Creep is a splendid, and of course, creepy film not to mention very violent, and very gory. After the July 2005 bombings in London the film seemed to vanish from the collective memory by the very real horrors of that July day and sadly it’s been lost somewhat but search it out as it is a wonderfully effective film.

3/Wolfen.

In 1981 the werewolf film was back with An American Werewolf in London and The Howling leading the way, and you’d think looking at the UK poster above that Wolfen was a total fucking bloodbath, but it isn’t. What it is, is in fact a film that mixes social commentary (this is probably the first film I saw which deals with the issue of gentrification) with a side-order of tense horror and a wee bit of quite wonderfully done gore.

Adapted from Whitley Strieber’s book and written and directed by Michael Wadleigh (who directed Woodstock) this is an eco-horror film mixed with a cop thriller that bends genres and oh, it isn’t actually a werewolf film even if the marketing of the film strongly suggested it was. What it does do is use the decaying New York of the early 80’s to tell the story on the surface of the investigation of the murder of a Donald Trump-esque character who was redeveloping parts of the rotting city. Wadleigh uses New York amazingly well as a backdrop, while Albert Finney turns in a great performance as the jaded New York cop in whose lap this mess lands.

It’s a flawed film for sure, and at times it does get a tad too preachy, but it’s got an odd feeling of unease running through the film, and when it scares, it does it right.Search it out.

2/ The Last Broadcast

The found footage film is everywhere these days, as is the mockumentary but back in 1998 it was still experimental as more portable video equipment and digital technology became available. Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler‘s The Last Broadcast predates The Blair Witch Project,  and is easily its equal, if not often the better film. Both share the concept of footage being found and reconstructed to find out what happened to the people in that footage, but both come at this premise from different angles as the Blair Witch Project is a pure found footage film, while The Last Broadcast mixes elements of found footage with mockumentary.

What I love about The Last Broadcast is the slow burn and the general atmosphere of something dreadful coming. In 2018 you may well be familiar with the tricks used in the film, but remember this was one of the first in a genre while more importantly it works as a horror film exceptionally well. Go watch it now!

1/ Lake Mungo

First time I saw Lake Mungo it was sometime in the late 2000’s on the recommendation of a mate down the pub. I went home that night, a tad pished, downloaded the film, thought ‘ach, this is going to be rubbish‘ after a few minutes watching thinking I’d be drifting off to sleep soon with a cold kebab to wake up to. Instead I spent 90 minutes or so being gripped and scared in equal amounts as writer/director Joel Anderson spins an incredible story of some sadly, all too real horror but something else creeps in from nearly the start.

The terror is almost Lovecraftian as Anderson plays with our fears brilliantly to the point where after I’d watched it and gotten over the end, I couldn’t sleep til the first shards of light poked into my living room. I’m not going to tell you what it’s about as the less you know going in the better because this needs as few preconceptions as possible.

So there you go, five films for Halloween night you probably won’t see on most clickbaity lists. Go try them out, and remember, watch with the lights off…