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Showing posts from January, 2020

Actions Written on Water

Reflections on a film: Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)
When people talk about "poetic cinema", or films that have the quality of verse, they usually have a very specific type of film in mind. Slow, languorous films about serious subjects, like war, alienation, grief, historical atrocity, or cultural and emotional displacement. Films peppered with beautifully shot natural landscapes, or scenes of urban decay, where the atmosphere of a particular place, its ghosts and memories, is evoked by the filmmaker through a series of drifting, carefully choreographed tracking shots. On the soundtrack, classical music plays as solemn voices intone their deepest and most solipsistic feelings as an aural counterpoint to the images on screen.
Plainly speaking, the term "poetic cinema" no doubt conjures up the impression of works by filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Terrence Malick, Abbas Kiarostami, João César Monteiro, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wong Kar-Wai, Alice Rohrwacher, …

The Drowned World

Thoughts on the book by J.G. Ballard
"The next morning he dismantled the craft, ported the sections one by one up the enormous sludge-covered slopes, hoping for a southward extension of the waterway. Around him the great banks undulated for miles, the curving dunes dotted with cuttlefish and nautiloids. The sea was no longer visible, and he was all alone with these few lifeless objects, like the debris of a vanished continuum, one dune giving way to another as he dragged the heavy fifty-gallon drums from crest to crest. Overhead the sky was dull and cloudless, a bland impassive blue, more the interior ceiling of some deep irrevocable psychosis than the storm-filled celestial sphere he had known during the previous days. At times, after he had dropped one burden, he would totter down into the hollow of the wrong dune, and find himself stumbling about the silent basins, their floors cracked into hexagonal plates, like a dreamer searching for an invisible door out of his nightmare.&q…

The Thin Grey Line

Speculative thoughts on a film: 1917 (2019)
Granted, I haven't seen 1917 (2019), the Sam Mendes directed WWI epic currently generating much discussion following the film's innumerable Academy Award nominations, so this post is pure conjecture; a kind of hypothetical dialog that functions on a level similar to that of thinking out loud.
At the time of writing, critics have praised Mendes's film for its technical proficiency and "event movie" status, as well as its worthy and historically significant depiction of the First World War. However, there's one specific aspect of the film's construction that has really dominated the discourse surrounding the work and its supposed claim to greatness. In short, 1917 is made up of several increasingly long takes, which, when creatively edited to disguise the moment of 'the cut', give the impression of the entire film taking place in "real-time", over the duration of a single, continuous shot.
As an exp…

Roadside Picnic

Thoughts on the book by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

I only knew of the brothers Strugatsky from the various film adaptations of their works. Specifically, the film Stalker (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is adapted from the book in question, and Hard to be a God (2013) by Aleksei German, based on the book of the same name.
Stalker has been one of my favourite films since I first discovered it during my teenage years and began those first tentative, adolescent steps towards a cinema made outside of the Hollywood mainstream.
To this day, the film's formalist aesthetic - its long tracking shots and carefully choreographed camera movements, its cross-cutting between images of both colour and sepia-tinted monochrome, its voice-over digressions and quoted poetry, its foggy landscapes and falling rain, its wind pushing through blades of grass and its preoccupation with ruined architectural spaces - remain part of my understanding of what many critics would call "pure cinema"; so…

The Current Cinema

A Question of Aesthetics?
Avengers: Endgame [Joe & Anthony Russo, 2019]:
Image credits: Larry Wright @refocusedmedia [Twitter] / Marvel Studios

The Politics of Hope

Glass vs. Joker
Last year, I wrote a bit about the recent M. Night Shyamalan film, Glass (2019). On release, Shyamalan's film was largely pilloried by American critics who claimed at the time to be tired of the superhero sub-genre, only to subsequently praise the mega-budgeted Captain Marvel (2019) and Avengers: Endgame (also 2019) as pinnacles of blockbuster cinema. As the same critics now busy themselves with the pointless task of comprising the best and worst films released during the past year, it makes me sad to think that Shyamalan's personal and eccentric vision will no doubt end up further denigrated by its inclusion on many of these "worst of" listings.
Despite its flaws, Glass remains a bold and original work that stands outside of the conventions of any other superhero movie released in the last two decades. A film that UK critic Mark Kermode compared favourably to the cult works of William Peter Blatty - specifically The Ninth Configuration (1980) - while f…