Monday 30 October 2023

Coming soon: HITCHOLOGY!

If you've been feeling an aching, empty chasm in your soul for about the last four years, then that's my fault, sorry. Things have been a bit quiet here lately, and if it wasn't for Bond popping up and popping off two years ago, things would have been deafeningly silent.

Anyway I can't promise anything's going to change, but here's the reason for the waffle-vacuum: I've been "writing" a "book", which you - clearly a discerning fan of films, words, and words about films - can own very soon. Not yet, calm down, but soon. And here it is!

Please note: this is not the actual book, it's just a picture of the cover

It's called HITCHOLOGY: A Film-by-Film Guide to the Style and Themes of Alfred Hitchcock, and it is, broadly speaking, a film-by-film guide to the style and themes of Alfred Hitchcock. It is also a kind of fatter, sexier version of this blog post.

At this point I will refer you to the back cover blurb, because that is one of my key marketing tools, and - make no mistake - you are being marketed at right now.


Murder! Mothers! Men on the run! Film fans know these are just a few key ingredients of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. And when Hitchcock fused these elements with his innovative directorial approach, that blend of familiar themes and stylistic ingenuity became known as ‘Hitchcockian’. In a refreshingly original way, HITCHOLOGY considers how Hitchcock used these narrative tropes and formal flourishes to create some of cinema’s most unforgettable experiences.

Alongside unique takes on every film and TV episode Hitchcock directed, HITCHOLOGY also examines his collaborators, his cameos, other films in the Hitchcock cinematic universe, and more. Passionately written with wit and warmth, HITCHOLOGY is an accessible introduction for newcomers to Hitchcock, and an insightful companion for devoted fans.

 

“Incisive, fresh and thunderingly entertaining. A Hitchcock book unlike anything else out there. Neil Alcock is the master of the Master Of Suspense”
- Nick de Semlyen, Empire magazine
“I feel like I've discovered Hitchcock all over again”
- Ali Plumb, BBC Radio 1


Well I don't know about you but that's convinced me to buy a copy. If it's convinced you to at least contemplate the possibility of thinking about maybe asking someone else to buy a copy for you as long as they keep the receipt, and you'd like to be notified when the book's available, then click this big button and I'll get my entire team on the case.

I'll pop back when it's on sale and give it a slightly harder sell, but in the meantime save up your pocket money and prepare your eyeballs for what those in the know are already describing as a book, about Alfred Hitchcock, written by me.

Friday 1 October 2021

No Time To Die: The long goodbye

"COME ONNN!!!" Not my words, ladies and gentlemen, but the words of a man who looks exactly like me, shares my name and, OK fine, is me. I am mildly embarrassed to say that I bellowed these words out at considerable volume as I watched the gunbarrel sequence of No Time To Die dance across a massive screen during the film's world premiere at swanky ponce-palace the Royal Albert Hall. Now the Albo is not traditionally a place in which one should bark loudly and pointlessly at a large sheet of reflective material while two future kings and their royal wifenesses sit a few yards away, but tradition be damned. I had waited nearly six fucking years for this moment, and I had some pent up emotions going on. I daresay the Duchess of Cornwall felt much the same but was prevented from energetically vocalising her passion by centuries of stifling regal protocol.

The relief of finally getting to watch the new James Bond film after an amount of time that was beginning to breach my human rights was overwhelming, but it was just one of an array of emotions that pummelled my limbic system as the film's 163 minutes unfolded. Relief was followed by joy, which became awe, which was superseded by excitement, which allowed confusion to drop in for a quick bite before giving way to mild neck ache (the screen was quite a bit higher than my eye level), then joy and awe came back for a bit, I think some sadness snuck in, and finally something else entirely hit me which I don't think affective science has a name for.

What I was unconsciously dealing with was the total exorcism of everything 2015's Spectre had left me with: disappointment, ennui, betrayal, inconsolable rage. A cocktail of negative spirits, neither shaken nor stirred, just left to fester in the liver of my soul and rot my enthusiasm for Bond from within. Well that enthusiasm has returned with a zip and a zing, much like Daniel Craig has for this film, only with luck my enthusiasm will stick around a bit longer. Yes lads, No Time To Die is a belter: not perfect by any stretch, but exactly what I needed, and quite possibly what cinema itself needs right now.
The film starts as it means to go on, which is to say, at length. The pre-title sequence is the longest yet: a renowned Bond statistician (hi) has proved you could fit around 22% of Quantum Of Solace in it. And it's in two distinct parts, the first of which expands on the story Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) told Bond in Spectre about why she hates guns, and the second of which sees the pair enjoying a sexy Italian city break which turns sour when some bad bastards pop up and try to put more holes in his DB5 than there are in the plot of Skyfall.

If you wondered what director Cary Joji Fukunaga's approach to a Bond film was going to be, the answers are all in this sequence alone: it's going to dovetail neatly into the rest of the Craig era in a way Spectre entirely failed to do, it's going to be unapologetically romantic, then it's going to turn round, fuck you up and force you over the edge. And it's also going to take a very long time to do it. Fukunaga's pacing is refreshing: scenes play out at a more realistic tempo than we're used to in Bond. Everything is allowed to breathe. But that's not the only reason the film's so long (that running time again: one hundred and sixty-three minutes, or approximately one and a half Goldfingers). It's essentially two films in one - a spy thriller and a love story, and while more thought has gone into the writing of the latter, the former is still comfortingly balls-out Bondian fun.

Once Billie Eilish's inoffensively forgettable theme song is out of the way we're into the guts of the story, a load of amusingly daft nonsense about a kidnapped Russian scientist and his DNA-mangling nanobots (yes, really) which somehow implicates Ralph Fiennes' increasingly portly M in shady dealings and, even more troublingly, finds space for Hugh Dennis. But Hugh Dennis is not the lead character in No Time To Die: that would be James Bond. There's a reason it's not referred to as the new Hugh Dennis film. Anyway James Bond has retired from MI6, buggered off to Jamaica to go fishing in a crop top and, presumably, finish that guide book about native West Indies bird life he's been working on. 

Then up pops Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright, still effortlessly cool), who drags Bond into the plot and kick starts a series of increasingly loud set-pieces, dramatic revelations, unexpected developments and glorious fan service. (Echoes of Dr. No, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes OnlyThe Living Daylights and Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice novel are sprinkled respectfully throughout No Time To Die in the exact opposite way to Die Another Day, which battered you round the head with a Q-branch full of bafflingly curated props from previous films.) En route we meet new double-0 Nomi (Lashana Lynch, taking precisely none of your shit), enthusiastic ass-kicker Paloma (Ana de Armas) and somewhat under-developed villain Safin (Rami Malek). Safin is one of the film's three facially disfigured villains, which I'm going to say is Not Cool guys. Not all Fleming tropes need to be kept alive.
But No Time To Die is barely about these people (the story wouldn't miss Paloma if she never existed, for example, and like Spectre it struggles to find meaningful things for Moneypenny and Tanner to do). It's not even really about Safin's confusingly underwritten Thanos-esque plot, which eerily echoes the real-world events that caused the film's many delays ("Infect enough people, and the people become the weapon"). It's about Bond and Madeleine, and Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux sell that for all they're worth. If the Craig films have an arc, it's not some fag-packet bollocks about Blofeld being the author of all Bond's pain; it's about how one woman set him on a certain path and another tried to course-correct him. Vesper Lynd and Madeleine Swann are the bookends holding up these stories, and their mirrored episodes of devotion and betrayal are almost enough to convince you the whole thing was planned that way.

If that all sounds a bit weird for a Bond film, well, I guess it is. No Time To Die often doesn't feel like a Bond film: the lone-wolf hero of the past is almost constantly part of a team here, and without getting into spoilers, there are things Bond does in this film we've never seen him do before. But I've always preferred the Bond films that go rogue and ignore the tired Goldfinger formula, and No Time To Die is firmly in that camp. Maybe a little too firmly at times, but you're never that far from a gadget-laden Aston Martin or an over-engineered villain's base if you're feeling homesick. 

But its place in the canon is assured; you're never going to confuse No Time To Die with another Bond film. Fukunaga and the writing and production team have made sure of that. Maybe it's too long - there's a clear front-runner for Action Sequence That Could Have Been Cut, but that sequence is also hella fun, so it's effectively just an extra bit of Bond, and only an idiot would complain about that in these Bond-starved times.
Technically, No Time To Die follows the trail blazed by Skyfall's director/cinematographer superteam of Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins in terms of beautifully shot action. This film's DoP Linus Sandgren goes his own way, just as Hoyte Van Hoytema did with Spectre, and the splashes of colour, lens flares and unexpected camera angles are gorgeously deployed. Keep an eye out too for a two-minute single-take shot late in the film that recalls Spectre's impressive opening 'oner', except this one's handheld and packed with brutal action. I can still see the joins though guys, I've watched Hitchcock's Rope enough times to spot a hidden cut when I see one. Hans Zimmer's score, meanwhile, is a bit of a let-down: its most recognisable elements are respectfully cribbed from past Bond scores (but not in the egregious way in which Thomas Newman's Spectre music lazily copied his work on Skyfall), and if it has any standout moments they're drowned out by explosions, gunshots and car crashes.

But this is very much Daniel Craig's film. After a lacklustre turn in Spectre where he looked like he'd rather be anywhere else, here he's clearly having a ball, which lifts and lightens the film enormously. Craig also makes Bond a more believable human being than ever before, and whether that's your cup of tea (stirred, not shaken) or not, the franchise will miss him terribly. What he's done for the character is phenomenal, and it's hard to know how that can possibly be followed - but not knowing what's coming next is all part of the excitement of Bond. For now, all I can do is quote M's words (although somewhat less tersely than he delivers them): "You've done your bit, and we thank you for your service".

Monday 23 December 2019

The Incredible Suit's Top 10 Films Of 2019

It's the end of the year, what did you expect?

JOKER
Todd Phillips' revisionist take on one of pop culture's most iconic villains surprised the shit out of me: not because I thought the idea of a Joker origin film was an inherently bad one (although I did, tbf), but because it was a good Todd Phillips film. The argument over whether it was right to transform Gotham's cackling symbol of chaos into an actual human being with a backstory still rages, and we wouldn't be having that argument if the film had been a flat out failure so it must have done something right. That something was essentially casting Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, an avatar for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the disadvantaged of both the film’s 1981 setting and the present day. The Scorsese tributes were delicious and appropriate, the boundaries of taste were shoved around a bit and the whole experiment was as disturbing and thought-provoking as its subject deserved.

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER
As with The Last Jedi, the essence of Star Wars carried Episode IX through its disappointments. I could have done without an hour of interminable MacGuffin-chasing, and the shameless lifts from Return Of The Jedi were much harder to forgive than The Force Awakens' echoes of A New Hope, but if you're going to wrap up these characters' stories this way (and it's hard to imagine how else to have done it) at least JJ Abrams pulled it off in true Star Warsy style. The fan service was off the scale here but it was done with genuine love; nothing felt forced (sorry) and the most affecting moments felt like they'd been put there just for me. I'll get over the quibbles in time (the biggest being Abrams wilfully ignoring much of Rian Johnson's most intriguing setups), but it's probably a good idea to put the brakes on this franchise for the time being.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
The funniest (and most fun) member of the MCU returned to provide the sticky toffee pudding after the carb-heavy meatfest of Endgame, proving once and for all that we're currently living in a golden age of movie Spider-Men. Tom Holland is the comic genius Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield wish they were, and Far From Home showed he didn't need Robert Downey Jr to hold his hand through the best bits. It might have been lacking a little in the way of actual Spider-Man action, but the character work between Peter Parker, MJ, Ned and the gang is just as welcome. And all hail the return of the King Of Fake News (not Mysterio; the other guy. You know. The one at the end).

BAIT
Nothing this year provided as big a breath of fresh, salty sea air as this admittedly slight but intensely hypnotic tale of the loss of community and identity in rural Britain. Gentrification and the shifting sands of industry are the bad guys, personified by prosecco-wielding, Waitrose-dwelling, "prancing Lycra cunts" with zero appreciation for how their middle class meals end up on their middle class plates. Director Mark Jenkin's editing proved the real star here, pushing an already hallucinatory aesthetic (4:3, monochrome, hand-processed 16mm film) into the kind of expressionist fantasy world that small coastal villages generally evoke to urban, landlocked visitors. The message is clear from the start and maybe a little overcooked (the line "winner stays on" is repeated for good reason), but the atmosphere is everything. We need more films like this.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD
Showcasing the clever, fun and sweet side of limb-lopping horror, this barkingly meta romp - the Inception of zom-coms; a Russian doll of rug-pulls - knowingly ran the entire spectrum of genre ideas, from the most yawningly clichéd to the most gobsmackingly original. Low-budget filmmaking has rarely been celebrated this ingeniously, where art butts heads with necessity and teamwork triumphs over adversity. You really did need to stick with it despite what you might have thought of the first half hour, because the true awesome nature of its creative genius was only fully revealed in the last act - and then topped under the credits. A carnival of setups and payoffs that loved its characters as much as its own mind-boggling formal virtuosity, One Cut Of The Dead proved there's life in the rotting corpse of horror comedy yet.

IN FABRIC
Peter Strickland would struggle to do wrong in this dusty corner of the internet, so while his fourth feature certainly isn't perfect - it's overlong and awkwardly structured - it's still among the most surprising, original and exciting things to spurt across a cinema screen this year. A horror-comedy of sorts (although it's neither especially scary nor funny), In Fabric was a truly unique and bewildering experience: an ASMR-inspired dreamcoat of wild imagery and engulfing sound design that reinforces Strickland's position as one of Britain’s most vital, fascinating directors.

MIDSOMMAR
I was quite aware going in to Midsommar that it wasn't going to be a barrel of laughs; what I didn't expect was extreme levels of soul-gnawing anxiety that left me with a knot in my stomach for the best part of a week. Surprisingly sun-drenched and beautiful for a dread-laden study of grief, Midsommar distracted me with bright colours and pretty things while it burrowed into the self-destructive nature of toxic relationships with surgical precision and skill. Incredibly powerful filmmaking, but fuck me I never want to see a frame of it again.

THE IRISHMAN
It took two viewings (i.e. SEVEN HOURS) to convince me, but Martin Scorsese doesn't make disposable, single-use movies. This long and deep dive into late twentieth century American organised crime is a film to get lost in; like a great museum, you can sit and soak up the details for literally hours. At its heart is a void where an actual heart should be, but Robert De Niro's Frank Sheeran gets by fine without it - or at least he thinks he does. His empty legacy is The Irishman's devastating kicker, but the film itself only enriches the canon of work Scorsese has gifted the world. It carries all the weight of a final masterpiece; we can only hope that's not what it is.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME
My relationship with the MCU over the last ten years has essentially been a steady wearing-down of my indifference, from the couldn't-give-a-shit of Iron Man in 2008 to the must-get-opening-day-tickets of Endgame. And while I liked this year's super-orgy well enough first time, I crumpled under the weight of its wonder with repeated viewings. Everything about it screams "epic" in bold, massive-font capitals, from the weighty mood of its early scenes to the final, celebratory half-hour, which contains more air-punching, tear-jerking, spine-prickling moments of brilliance than the rest of the franchise combined. You win, Avengers. I love you 2,999.

US
More scissor-sharp sociopolitical savagery from Jordan Peele, making his point a little more obliquely than in Get Out but with no less bite. An America-centric Funny Games, Us had something to say about the privilege of the wealthy middle classes, and how capitalism and consumerism keep them (us) focused on grabbing a little bit more, thus keeping us distracted from those who have so much less. Of course Swiftian satire only works if what's above the surface is good enough, and Us delivered good old-fashioned home invasion horror with sophisticated wit and a total understanding of audience button-pushing. Lupita Nyong'o sealed her rep as a cultural treasure and Peele joined the very short list of directors whose future films I cannot miss under any circumstances.


Disclaimer: I have not yet seen Cats.


Further listicles:

Couldn't whittle it down to ten, sorry

Sorry if you already have, don't @ me to call me a patronising wanker

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

Related image
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