Wednesday, 4 December 2019

25 Bits Of Bond 25:
It's the No Time To Die trailer breakdown!

For those of us beginning to wonder if the promise of another Bond film was nothing more than a vicious rumour, the first trailer for Cary Fukunaga's No Time To Die dropped today, proving at the very least that 156 seconds of this movie definitely exist. So what can we learn from this exciting blast of Bondery? Let's find out!

Our first look at the brand new Bond film for the brand new decade sees him being chased through picturesque Italy in an Aston Martin. We haven't seen that kind of thing since three Bond films ago!

I fucking love Angry Bond. Bond looks very angry throughout most of this trailer. Maybe he just got out of a screening of Spectre.

When sitting in the passenger seat of an Aston Martin being driven by James Bond, being chased through winding, hazardous streets, maybe pop a seatbelt on? Just a thought.

Bond diving off a ridic high bridge? We haven't seen that kind of thing since two Bond films ago!

Is it just me or does M appear, in the common parlance, to have become something of a chonky boi?

Absolutely wonderful to see Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter back after a TWELVE-YEAR absence. Here he is hanging around in a seedy bar waiting for Bond to turn up. We haven't seen that kind of thing since three Bond films ago!

Here's Bond getting a dusty old Aston Martin out of a backstreet lockup. We haven't seen that kind of thing since two Bond films ago! Actually the return of the Aston Martin Vantage from The Living Daylights is a very welcome one. With any luck Timothy Dalton's still in it.

Cary Fukunaga is really pushing the orange and teal colour palette with this one. It's lovely, but it is a bit every-movie-poster-between-2008-and-2016.

Oh mate, a visitor's pass? Embarrassing.

This joke is excellent and has Phoebe Waller-Bridge's fingerprints all over it. More please.

Q's flat! A new sweater! But will we see his two cats? Nice glass in those doors by the way, I'll keep that in mind in case it becomes relevant later in the trailer.

Blofeld is serving time at HM Prison Wakefield, leading to the very real possibility of Bond visiting West Yorkshire for the first time.

He's still angry. Let it go man, what kind of loser stays cross about a film that came out four years ago, Jesus.

Christoph Waltz here, still claiming he's not playing Blofeld.

Here's Rami Malek's villain Safin, trudging around in Roger Moore's skiwear from the pre-title sequence of A View To A Kill. Will Daniel Craig finally get some winter sports action? We can only hope.

Yes we've all seen your watch, just cash the cheque from Omega and get on with it.

Who's this? And more importantly, what's he or she doing in Q's flat? I swear to God if they've laid a finger on his cats or sweaters I will be very cross indeed.

Trapped under a frozen lake? We haven't seen that kind of thing since two Bond films ago!

Disability campaigners: The evil of movie bad guys being represented by facial disfigurement needs to stop!
Bond films: Absolutely. There's not one evil guy with a facial disfigurement in this one. There are two! 

Rami Malek has much to prove here. As Bond himself says: "History isn't kind to men who play rock gods".

They'll be fine as long as they're wearing seatbelts.

I was as thrilled as you to discover that 'Ana de Armas' is an anagram of 'armed assassin'! [note to self: check before publishing]
  
I don't know what's going on in this villain's lair, it looks like some kind of awful performance art. Come on guys, this isn't the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, shove a monorail in there or something.
  
Still time to change the title lads.

This shot had better be worked into the gunbarrel sequence or so help me I will mutter under my breath about it for several years.


Are you excited? I'm excited. Please be good, new Bond film, I can't deal with another Spectre.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Kubism, Epilogue:
Stanley Kubranked

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You probably thought you'd seen the last of my Stanley Kubewaffle, what with Eyes Wide Shut being his last film and all. Well, I didn't come all this way just to make phenomenally incisive and original observations into each of his thirteen features and three shorts, you know: this is a film blog, so I am bound by convention to rank each of those films in order of my irrelevant preference. So here we go, and if you want to start at the start, head this way!

16
Catatonically boring corporate video for life on the ocean waves, shot entirely on dry land. It's literally ridiculous that you have to include this in the films of Stanley Kubrick, yet here we are. Completists gonna complete. Review

15
A dull and amateurish doc about a priest with a plane that struggles to wring interest out of its dry subject matter. Little wonder that this wasn't the film that would help Stanley Kubrick's career... (*puts on sunglasses, leans into mic*) take offReview

14
There's a clear eye for the dramatic and an experimental approach to temporality in this short documentary, but Kubrick's first foray into filmmaking reveals more about his past as a photographer than his future as as a cinematic genius. Review

13
Stan's first feature is an admirable failure: saddled with ponderous, preposterous dialogue, Fear And Desire examines the absurdity of war through a filter of pretentious pseudo-intellectualism. Primordial elements of Kubrick's future are there to be discovered, but my goodness you have to shovel a lot of shit out of the way first. Review

12
Kubo finds himself accidentally in charge of somebody else's film, and the results are predictably unhappy. Kirk Douglas looks great in his spray tan and weird underpants, but after three and a quarter hours you wish the film had concentrated on its real MVPs: Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton. Review

11
The Kube's Cold War-era-defining satire is admirable and often brilliant, but its uneven comedic tone and one-note characters make it a tough sell. I'm virtually alone in this viewpoint but give it a few more decades and history will doubtlessly catch up with me. Review

10
A second-rate film noir with a standout visual aesthetic, Killer's Kiss shows Stanley Kubrick very much learning on the job. It looks fantastic, but in a genre where most films do, that's not enough. Review

9
A film of two halves, the first of which is top-notch, balls-out, classic Kubrickian eye-and-ear-candy that's arguably the last truly great thing he made. The second, sadly, is a bog-standard war flick which, in the shadow of Part One, could only ever disappoint. Review

8
Slow, boring and totally lacking in incident are just three of the wrongest opinions about Stan's artfully realised, 18th century take on toxic masculinity. A lavish treat for the eyeballs, Barry Lyndon contrasts visual beauty with mannered beastliness in minute, subtle detail. Review

7
A decent budget and a savvy producer helped Kubo make his first great film: a taut, experimental heist movie laced with the themes of hubris and absurdity that would distinguish much of his career. Characters sleaze off the screen and you could crack the dialogue with the back of a spoon. Review

6
Kubrick ponders free will, state control and the effects of violence on screen in the cinematic equivalent of a ferocious kick in the yarbles. Absolutely unique in concept and execution, A Clockwork Orange is the work of a fearless filmmaker that really make u think. Review

5
Stan signed off with his most mature, and arguably most misunderstood, work of art. Far from the A-list fuckfest its (mis)marketing suggested, Kubrick's meditation on marriage, fidelity, temptation, jealousy and sex people in daft masks took him in a new direction but stayed true to his lifelong preoccupations. Review

4
Stanley Kubrick makes you pity a paedophile in this indefinable oddity. Controversial, sure, but more importantly funny as fuck, with fully-drawn characters that blow The Kube's false rep as a cold, dispassionate director out of the water. Review

3
The Kube's first masterpiece is a devastating, furious assault on the injustices committed in wartime in the name of patriotism. Staggering in all the best and worst ways, with Kirk Douglas magnetic as one of Stan's few heroes. Review

2
Aided by a holy trinity of flawlessly OTT performances, Kubrick crafts the purest expression of psychological horror in all of cinema. The setup might have become cliché but the execution is timeless: after forty years every scene still oozes dread, every shot still spawns unease. Review

1
It's impossible to overstate the mesmerising fear and wonder 2OO1 elicits on every viewing: Stanley Kubrick's greatest achievement is a beautiful, terrifying mindfuck that asks all the biggest questions and answers precisely none (except how to do a poo in zero gravity). When highly evolved mankind looks back at its own primitive daubings, this will be the only clue that we belong to the same species. Review

*

OK, that really is it for Kubism. Thanks for your indifferent tolerance!

Title cards stolen from Christian Annyas

Friday, 15 November 2019

Kubism, Part 13:
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick might not have released any films between 1987 and 1999, but it wasn't for the want of trying. Holocaust movie The Aryan Papers, a long-gestating project (is there any other kind with Kubrick?), was abandoned partly because it was depressing the shit out of him and partly because Steven Spielberg beat him to it, knocking out Schindler's List in roughly the time it took Kubrick to make a sandwich. After a frustrating experience with unsatisfying screenplay drafts and crap special effects tests, Kubo also gave up on the futuristic robo-Pinocchio fairytale that would become A.I. Artificial Intelligence, handing it over to Spielberg in order to stop him pinching any more of his ideas.

But languishing at the back of the Kubemind since the late '60s was an idea for an adaptation of 1926 Austrian novella Traumnovelle: a weird and mildly horny parable about jealousy, faithfulness and - to quote Alan Partridge's PA Lynn Benfield - "sex festivals". With half an eye on the success of films like Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, Kubrick decided it was time for his own take on the erotic thriller, so he grabbed the sexiest Hollywood couple he could get his hands on, hid all their clothes and made them stand around in the nip for over a year. The result, surprisingly, was his most mature film, and one which - were it not for the matter of his subsequent and really quite irritating death - should have heralded the beginning of Kubrick's late period.
Eyes Wide Shut begins with a full length shot of Nicole Kidman getting her bum out, and fap-happy cinemagoers the world over must have been overjoyed - and possibly a little daunted - at the thought of 165 more minutes of this kind of thing. But the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was luring you into a film with the promise of nearly three hours of uninterrupted clunge-plunging betwixt Kidman and her then-husband Tom Cruise, only to deliver a long and almost comically slow study of marital stamina and the nature of temptation. This is almost certainly the reason for Eyes Wide Shut's general reputation as a weird, unsexy disappointment, but the film benefits enormously from the recalibrated expectations of repeat viewings. I've only seen it three times, but it's a much more satisfying experience now than when I first saw it twenty years ago. Being married probably helps, but being older is the key.

Cruise and Kidman play the wealthy, beautiful and crushingly dull Bill and Alice Harford, a couple sleepwalking towards the end of their first decade of marriage. Bill is a doctor, and they're off to a Christmas party thrown by one of his obscenely super-rich patients, Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack). Separated during the course of the party, an increasingly tipsy Alice is the amused recipient of a silky smooth come-on from a Hungarian lothario, while Bill receives the flirty attentions of two models who seem entirely undeterred by his cringingly awful small talk, his insistence at laughing at his own shit lines ("That is the kind of hero I can be sometimes") and his freaky central upper incisor. It's our first hint that there are exterior forces threatening the Harfords' marriage, but while Alice declines to discover exactly how well Hungarian her admirer is, Bill seems quite happy to see how far his own morals will let him go.
He never finds out though, because the adulterous Ziegler needs help with Mandy, the nearly-dead, stark-naked prostitute he's been thrusting his ugly old self into in his bathroom while she - quite understandably - ingests massive amounts of narcotics. Ziegler and Mandy's affair, and her surprisingly matter-of-fact nudity, are early indicators of a secret, permissive society that exists outside Bill and Alice's (and, in the majority, the audience's) contained, rule-driven world. While Bill appears to take it in his professional stride, Pandora's box has been opened and his interest piqued. Kubrick's gallery of flawed male protagonists has acquired its final exhibit.

The following evening, Bill and Alice argue over the relative potential of husbands and wives to cheat on their spouses, which leads to Alice's confession that the previous year she came super close to leaving her husband and daughter for some random bloke in a sailor suit. Bill's pride is shattered, but before he can process what he's just heard the phone rings, precipitating the film's centrepiece: a nocturnal odyssey that sees him haul his wounded ego around New York (or at least a Pinewood-based, woozily unreal version of it), half-heartedly planning extramarital revenge on Alice for daring to think about another man.
This sequence takes in a bewildering array of events and emotions, shifting effortlessly from awkwardness in the presence of death, through uncomfortable will-he-or-won't-he with a prostitute, to outright farce as Bill attempts to stealthily procure an outfit from a costume shop while the proprietor catches his teenage daughter in flagrante delicto with two old Japanese transvestites. Its culmination, though - the centrepiece of the centrepiece - is the masked ball into which a curious Bill inveigles his way, and which sees Eyes Wide Shut taking a turn for the (literally) balls-out bonkers. Lynn: these are sex people.

Kubrick stages the orgy and its rituals with his maestro's ability to push absurdity to the very point just before it tips over into comedy. It helps that everybody in Eyes Wide Shut talks and moves at a glacial pace, as if they're wading through treacle, because if anybody got a shift on we'd be in Benny Hill territory by now. But Jocelyn Pook's ominous, backward-chanting score and Kubrick's stately command of the Steadicam imbue proceedings with deadly seriousness; it's probably why the sight of dozens of naked bodies (mostly women, it should be pointed out) and assorted organ-grinding feel about as sexy as a cup of cold tea. But it does feel dangerous, exciting and tempting, because we're in Bill's boots, not to mention his robe and mask. We've finally gained access to that secret world where anything goes, guilt doesn't exist, and the line between fantasy and reality is a murky, sexy blur. Kubrick taps into our basest, most dangerous desires, offering everything on a plate, and reels us in, helpless; he is truly a master baiter.
The orgy is so heightened and dreamlike that it could almost be a figment of Bill's imagination; a metaphor for temptation. It's certainly no coincidence that the password for entry is FIDELIO, Latin for 'fidelity' (although look closely when Bill's pianist pal writes the password on a napkin: Kubrick's penchant for multiple takes is evident in at least three different napkins intended to be the same one - the third of which actually says FEDILIO). But things come crashing back down to Earth when Bill is literally unmasked as an intruder and embarrassingly ejected, on the condition that a female guest takes his punishment. Bill seems uncharitably relaxed about this turn of events, but then that is the kind of hero he can be sometimes.

Bill's actions the following day are those of a man who doesn't seem to grasp how lucky he is to be alive (even though it's spelled out to him in a blaring headline on page one of the New York Times), but like all Kubrick's men, his notion that he's somehow in control of events is short-lived. Further attempts to get his end away are pathetic failures, death stalks him at every turn (a little over-dramatically, with that hammering piano following him around) and his old pal Victor reminds him exactly of his place, which is - as he's known all along - by his wife's side. The doors to Pandora's box are firmly shut in Bill's face and the poor bastard has to make do with his ludicrously fit missus offering to fuck him in Hamley's.
Stanley Kubrick died just a few days after finishing Eyes Wide Shut, thereby avoiding having to see it spectacularly misunderstood by audiences gagging for a glimpse of Cruisepeen and Kidmuff. True to form, every mystery his final film threw up remains resolutely unanswered at its climax, but the messages are clear and as perfect an epitaph to Kubrick's canon of visual essays on humanity as you could hope for. Never underestimate your own cosmic insignificance, never assume you're in control and never forget that man's eternal fate is self-destruction through hubris. But, in the words of Sydney Pollack's faux-wise old man: "Life goes on. It always does... until it doesn't. But you know that, don't you?"

Friday, 25 October 2019

Kubism, Part 12:
Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Having exhausted all the major movie genres except westerns, pornography and Bond films (omg just imagine), Stanley Kubrick returned to his old stomping ground - the war movie - for what would be his penultimate feature. He'd bungled the genre in Fear And Desire, nailed it in Paths Of Glory, bathed and oiled it in Spartacus and pulled its pants down to make it look silly in Dr. Strangelove, but in the two decades that followed, war had changed. Vietnam had been and never really gone, still hanging over baby boomers like a cloud of Agent Orange, its toxic effects never truly dissipating. Stan wasn't that interested in making a film about the Vietnam War itself, but saw the conflict as a chance to examine the nature of war and what it does to young men. If flawed masculinity was one of Kubrick's favourite supervillains, here was an opportunity to tell one of its many possible origin stories.
Full Metal Jacket wastes no time in making its point, opening with a production line of docile, floppy-haired kids barely old enough to drink, getting their heads shaved in a ritualistic stripping of identity and individuality. Only two of them show any sign of emotion: one (Matthew Modine) looks pretty hacked off about losing his luxurious locks, while another (Vincent D'Onofrio) sports the kind of dopey smile that suggests he has literally no idea what he's getting himself into. A cringingly unironic, pro-war, country and western song plays over the scene: the first in a playlist of unmistakable Americana that never lets you forget which country did all this to its own children.

A quick shot of discarded hair lying on a barbershop floor, like the corpses of youth and innocence, brings the none-too-subtle prologue to an end and gives way to Part One of Full Metal Jacket: forty-five minutes of flawless Kubrickian absurdity as horrible as it is hilarious. R Lee Ermey's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is an unforgettable creation, unleashing what Kubrickologist Thomas Allen Nelson gloriously describes as "a cascade of vituperation" upon his Marine recruits at the Parris Island boot camp in an attempt to toughen them up. Smooth, deliberate camera moves and single-point-perspective shots frame Hartman's merciless deconstruction of humanity with mechanical detachment, as if each scene is part of an automated process designed to turn the raw meat of the recruits into identical sausages of death.
One sausage, however, is a little fatter than the rest: D'Onofrio's Leonard Lawrence, aka Private Pyle. (Hartman's assignation of nicknames is another in his arsenal of weapons designed to eliminate identity.) The tension between Hartman and Pyle is undoubtedly the film's most impactful achievement; its legacy is splashed all over Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, and I refuse to believe the writers of Grange Hill didn't watch Full Metal Jacket several times before turning Mr Bronson loose on Danny Kendall. Pyle's treatment is horrendous to watch, but Kubrick needles you with the idea that it's an entirely necessary and justifiable way of creating remorseless killing machines. What he may not have intended is that in the context of his own filmography, it's hard not to see Kubrick himself in Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, psychologically torturing Shelley Duvall on the set of The Shining in order to shape the perfect performance. What this says about Stan is best left to the shrinks, but if it's a legitimate reading then the final confrontation between Hartman and Pyle translates as what qualified psychoanalysts would call 'some fucked-up shit'.

Pyle's transformation into the ultimate weapon is slower than that of his fellow recruits, most of whom signal their early willingness to become monsters when they administer the soap-in-a-sock "blanket party" treatment that's some distance from most people's idea of the kind of party you can have under a blanket. But it's here that we see Modine's James Davis, aka Private Joker, as the only recruit harbouring any vestiges of humanity; his visible guilt over his own actions shows that he's actually the one furthest from Hartman's ideal Marine. It's going to take a lot more for Joker to realise the stone cold killer within himself.
Kubrick wraps up Part One so formidably and conclusively that you can't imagine where the story could possibly go next, and before long you get the impression that Stan himself isn't entirely sure either. Where the Hartman / Pyle dynamic created a self-contained, laser-focused, brutally unforgiving but riotously entertaining descent into madness, Part Two is a messier affair. As we follow Joker into Vietnam and actual combat, Kubo occasionally lets the film get away from him, and it suffers from the gear change. Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket gets left behind, spattered up the wall of a Parris Island latrine, and what remains is a perfectly serviceable but dramatically inferior Vietnam flick that, if you squint, could just as easily be Platoon, or Apocalypse Now, or Casualties Of War.

That's not to say there's nothing of value in Part Two: there is, it's just surrounded by a lot of repetitive scenes of Marines being the pricks they were trained to be, which gets a little wearing after a while. The idea that war is absurd and everyone involved in it is at varying stages of insanity is pretty clear, from the likes of 'Animal Mother' (a spiritual brother in arms to Aliens' Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks) and the kill-crazy door gunner, to the Colonel who seems to honestly believe that "inside every gook there is an American trying to get out". Kubrick even goes on to have Joker spell out his ideas about "the duality of man, the Jungian thing," as if his peace sign badge was too subtle a pointer to the madness of war. But what this is all leading to is the film's driving theme, and another of Kubrick's favourites: the conflicts within us, and what it takes for men to unleash the monsters within themselves.
Full Metal Jacket's final half-hour is devoted to a single scene in which Joker witnesses enough horror to finally awaken the sleeping killer inside him. At its climax, Kubrick stays on a close up of Joker for a full seventy seconds while we watch all his posturing and blustering denial drain away from his face. In slow motion we see him become the thing he was taught to be, the thing he's resisted all along; finally succumbing to Hartman's training, Joker claims his first kill. And just like Private Pyle's, it's accompanied by a kind of suicide, as Joker completes the process that began in a Parris Island barber's and destroys any remaining traces of his former self.

The theme of duality is also served by the scenes paralleled across the film's two parts: Joker being given responsibility for a fellow Marine (Pyle in Part One, Rafterman in Part Two); Pyle proving himself as a talented marksman in Part One, Part Two's Vietnamese sniper providing a mirror image; the body horror of Part One's blanket party echoed and magnified in the slo-mo bullet hits of Part Two's sniper attack. And what is Full Metal Jacket but the story of two men who take different paths to the same destination, neither of whom were born to kill (despite Joker's helmet graffiti claiming otherwise) but trained to go to war in the name of peace?

Obviously there's some terrific filmmaking going on here: the modified Steadicam, embedded in the platoon as they approach the sniper, drags us along for the ride, and the transformation of Beckton Gasworks into the rubble of Vietnam's Huế by bunging in a few palm trees and wafting a bit of smoke around is representative of Kubrick's signature ingenuity, even if - whisper it - he never quite gets the light right. But the biggest problem is the contrast between the film's primary protagonists. Despite this being Matthew Modine's eighth film but only Vincent D'Onofrio's first, the former is left standing in the latter's dust. Much of the dramatic weight of the climax is lost simply because Modine's blankness, while no doubt intentional, can't compete with the thunderous madness of D'Onofrio's batshit stare.
In an eerie epilogue, the Marines trudge back to base singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song in an uncanny last shot that sees a platoon that had been whittled down to a handful of troops suddenly number thirty-odd. The burning buildings against which they're silhouetted invite you to see them as ghosts, trapped in infernal torment forever, desperate to recapture their lost youth. You wish the film could have recovered the energy of its earlier vigour too, but it wasn't to be. Still, never mind: Stanley Kubrick's not even sixty yet, I bet he's got years of great filmmaking and loads of better movies ahead of him!

Join me again soon in a secret location for an orgy of... well, orgies, in Eyes Wide Shut! Careful where you park your bike.