The League of Gentlemen (1960)

league2Major Race, looking at a portrait on the wall: Is that your wife?

Lt.Col. Hyde: Yes.

Major Race:  Is she dead?

Lt.Col.Hyde: No, no. I regret to say the bitch is still going strong.

Somebody get Guy Ritchie on the phone. While I’m much averse to remakes/reboots etc, this is a film just begging for a modern-day remake with an A-list of Brit actors and Guy Ritchie’s crime-comedy skillset at the helm. I can hear the ‘ker-ching’ of the box-office cash registers. Just take my money, dammit. What? It won’t sell overseas? Whats Chinese for… oh, never mind.

Even for a film made in the late 1950s, this film has something of a modern-day wit and sensibility. The brilliant cast chews up the dialogue with gusto, and indeed, what a cast: Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Roger Livesay, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes and even Oliver Reed in perhaps one of the most ill-judged cameos ever, a briefest of moments that likely haunted him for years, it’s so awkward and camp. A reminder that even the biggest of movie stars need to put food on the table before stardom calls.

The story is a boys-own adventure by way of a sojourn in the world of noir:  Colonel Hyde (Jack Hawkins), having suffered enforced redundancy from his beloved army, recruits seven other dissatisfied ex-servicemen for a bank robbery.  Each of his carefully-chosen recruits are experts in their particular field, forced out of the service and each with shady backgrounds and need for money.  Hyde reasons that only a crack team with military discipline and training can pull off the daring heist that he has in mind. Naturally there are twists and turns and tense moments, and the film dates from a period when crime really wasn’t seen to pay, so you can guess how things end up, but its a cracking yarn well-told, and quite daring, I think, for its time in how it tackles topics like bad marriages, promiscuous wives and hidden homosexuality.

A surprising treat and a cracking entirely British film the likes of which we don’t see anymore. Not unless Guy Ritchie picks up the phone, that is…


*The League of Gentlemen is currently doing the rounds on the Talking Pictures channel available on Freeview, Sky, Virgin media etc. and is well worth looking out for.


More 2049 thoughts

I’ve now seen BR2049 five times and that doesn’t feel enough, I really want to see it again. Its been a long time since I’ve been so hooked by a film that I get drawn to repeat viewings like this. There’s this strange quality to it. Its a beautiful film, visually quite extraordinary at moments, but there’s more to it than just visuals. So many films now look pretty or have impressive effects etc- here there is a mood, and a dreamlike pacing that coupled with its running time leaves me with a sense of falling into it. I can’t really think of any other way of explaining it.

And yes there are all the mysteries and possibilities and suggestions to unpack and ponder over. That is one of the major pluses of this film- we are dropped into it with little preamble, little is really explained other than by offhand remarks. References to famine, global environmental catastrophe. The particulars of Offworld remain as vague as they were in the original film. Dialogue is kept deliberately minimal- I do think this is one of the brilliants aspects of the film. It doesn’t beat you over the head with verbal explanations of the plot.

Yesterday I watched a few scenes again, and out of film order too, just to see them out of story-context, appreciate the visuals and art direction etc outside of the usual film experience. I know, it sounds like something akin to heresy, but it’s an interesting way to pick a film apart and enjoy its constituent parts. Not many films reward such an approach of course, but I used to do that with Blade Runner in the old days. That was in the VHS era, which was harder work with its fast-forward, rewind, not-at-all instant access. Discs rather spoil us.

So anyway, a few thoughts.

2049aIt isn’t implicitly stated in the film itself, but I understand that the eye that opens the film belongs to Dr Ana Stellline. She opens her eye and ‘sees’ immediately prior to K waking up in his spinner and opening his own eyes. This forms a curious bookend with the close of the film, where K dies outside in the snow, looking up at the snow falling down on him, which is then mirrored with Ana in her room standing in a column of falling snow, hand outstretched as K does and she comments “Its beautiful, isn’t it?” I’m sure there must be some significance to all of this, I just don’t know what it might be just yet. Does it mean that Ana is somehow aware of K’s fate outside?

It does seem a bit too much of a coincidence. She opens her eyes at the beginning and K wakes, K dies outside in the snow, and she stands in holographic snow inside her building. But what could it mean? Does Ana somehow orchestrate everything? Does she have some kind of link with K beyond her memory implant of the orphanage and the wooden horse? Has she ‘set’ him on his journey through the film? Are her memory implants more than just artificial memories, are they laden with hidden code like a Trojan horse, buried programming controlling/freeing the thousands of Replicants that have her implants? Is she remotely instigating the Replicant rebellion, which, afterall, doesn’t appear to be limited to old rogue Nexus 8s?

Which leads me to another possibility. The films text opening assures that Wallace Corp Replicants (Nexus 9s) are programmed to obey and can be thoroughly trusted, explaining the resumed manufacture of Replicants following the issues with Tyrell Nexus models running amok. And yet Luv behaves rather oddly, shedding tears during times of stress, killing people and even, indeed, inferring that she will lie to Wallace about why she killed Lt.Joshi. She even suggests to Joshi that her own trust in K may have been misguided, and that K may have lied to her (which indeed he has). I wonder if this might be related to Ana’s memory implants having some other code as I have mentioned, thus possibly explaining some of Luv’s and K’s behaviour. I guess you might call it freewill, or independence from set programming- maybe it’s the same thing.

On the other hand: this is what the baseline test is designed to pick up, perhaps stress/trauma is the one thing that breaks through the Nexus 9 programming to ‘obey’. A Replicant Blade Runner experiencing combat and near-death moments would experience sufficient trauma to break its programming. Likewise, Luv, doing what she feels she has to do to protect/satisfy Wallace, experiences stress and trauma that breaks her own programming and causes her to act more erratically/aggressively. She certainly doesn’t react well to Wallace killing the newborn Replicant, and goes downhill from there.

One of my favourite scenes from the film might seem a strange one. Its in the orphanage, after K has learned that the records book has been tampered with and the specific information he is after has been ripped from it and stolen, leaving him with a dead end. A noise outside the office draws him back out to the engine/furnace area, and in a perfectly-paced, almost hypnotic sequence, he feels compelled to approach the furnace of his memory and where he remembers hiding the wooden horse. The place of his memory is evidently real, and he slowly gets pulled back in, his memory of a past event, implanted or not, like some kind of inexorable black hole. The music is an ambient dirge, as he is slowly pulled into an emotional and intellectual abyss. There is no dialogue. No voiceover. Its just pure cinema, and finally, when he holds the real wooden horse and the camera slowly closes in on his trembling face, we can see he’s on the verge of exploding, his mind unravelling with the implications of where he is, what he is experiencing, who he is, what he might be. A Replicant who thinks he might be human, a delicious twist on the original film’s Rachel thinking she’s human but realising she’s actually a Replicant. Its bloody brilliant, how its staged. Pure Cinema, as Trumbull used to say.

The transition/cut from the desert campfire where K is recovering, the sparks and embers from the fire rising into the night sky suddenly transforming into the cityscape. Brilliant, a cut as good as the Kubrick bone to orbital bomb in 2001, its that good. A primeval fire’s sparks and embers rising up into the night and leaping thousands of years of technology into future megalopolis. Almost thrown in as an incidental aside as we change scenes. Extraordinary.

2049dWhen K takes Joi up onto the roof, in the rain. The sound design in that scene is just sublime, perfect. The sound of a disembodied voice echoing in the concrete canyons, the rain, the whoosh of distant air traffic and machinery. The subtle textures of the synth soundtrack gently picking its way through the sound effects. Its exquisite work. And of course the cinematography is awesome, I think I could re-watch that scene over and over.

Ridley Scott would have us think that the central question of Blade Runner is, is Deckard a Replicant? I don’t think that is the central question of that film; I rather think that it asks how much who we are, and what we are, is defined by our memories, real or false. That question is asked again in BR2049, and yet with an ironic twist on what Ridley would have us obsess over- here we know K is a Replicant, but at the end of the film, is he actually human too? When Roy Batty saves Deckard in the original, and K here sacrifices himself to rescue Deckard and reunite him with his daughter, do they each attain humanity enough to deserve the term ‘human’? In a spin on the original thesis of Philip K Dick’s original novel, which was regards defective humans and what is ‘human’ in a world of atrocities like Nazi death camps etc, do the films offer a suggestion that engineered Replicants can actually by their actions become truly human, which further suggests that humanity is not a physical state but one that may be intellectual or emphatic, a result of actions and deeds.

How wonderfully special that here is a sequel that expands and informs upon the original. I have not re-watched Blade Runner since seeing BR2049 last October, but I probably really should. If only to give some new perspective on the question, is BR2049 as good as Blade Runner? Is it possibly even better? Ah, now that there feels like an extraordinary question, being someone who has revered the original film since 1982. But it is one that -incredibly- I find myself considering. A year ago, I would not have believed such a consideration possible.

What a strange world this is.


Jóhann Jóhannsson has died

It is with profound shock and sadness that I have read the news that Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was found dead yesterday at his home in Berlin. Over the last several years I have enjoyed his music, particularly the albums ‘IBM 1401, A User’s Manual and Fordlandia, which are particularly moving and thoughtful pieces, and witnessed his rise as a film composer with such scores as Sicario, Arrival and The Theory of Everything. Last year  Blade Runner 2049 should have had a score by him. In fact, that score was likely the one thing I was most relaxed/looking forward to about that whole project. He seemed a safe pair of hands who might offer the film its own ‘voice’, especially following his score for Arrival, where the music was such a major part of the film. The subsequent news that he had been dropped from the BR2049,  announced late in the film’s post production, was the first real note of alarm regards the project. While so much else seemed great regards cast and crew, Jóhannsson being fired was my first real “oh, hang on, wait a  minute,’ moment when doubts began to leak in, and while the film finally turned out to be great, his absence seemed strange and I always wondered at what his score would have been like. I thought that maybe we would find out what happened and what his music was like, maybe even hear some of it someday.  But maybe now we never will.  

Berlin authorities are investigating the death and an autopsy will follow, so cause of death is obviously unknown. I am genuinely shocked and bewildered and so very saddened. Awful news. Maybe some sense will arise when we learn the facts behind his passing, but at the moment its hard to process it. I did not know the man but I did love so much of his music, and from a purely selfish perspective I am sad that I will not get to hear any further new albums/film scores from him. It feels like how I did when I learned that Prince had died. You think these guys will be around forever, and rather take the gift of their music for granted. We really shouldn’t.

Modern Hollywood – Where Does Polanski Fit In?

Fascinating online article here from The Guardian regards the current moral outrages storming Hollywood and its strange relationship with director Roman Polanski. Its a very well-written and balanced piece that I’d recommend well worth a read if you haven’t already come across it-


Hounds of Love (2016)


Hounds of Love is a highly traumatic modern horror. Based on a true series of events in Perth, Australia in 1986/1987, it is doubly disturbing because the serial killers that the film centres upon are a married couple. Its one thing for a film’s sick bastard/killer/rapist to be a man, but another for a woman to being aiding and abetting and even joining in on the awful depravations that ensue. Somehow it feels doubly wrong, doubly abhorrent, and while the film does seem to try to rationalise what makes the wife, Evelyn White (a standout performance by Emma Booth) such a subversive accomplice, it is nonetheless guaranteed to leave a sour taste in your mouth. Indeed, this is one of those few horror films -alongside stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre– that really lingers in your head afterwards, horrifying not for being particularly graphic in this case (Hounds of Love is far more restrained than Massacre or other ‘torture porn’ horrors, etc) but rather for offering an awful glimpse of the grim filthy underbelly of modern suburbia.

I’d even go so far to say that the genius -if it is genius- of this film is that very restraint, because the worst things that happen do so behind closed doors, and it is the viewers imagination, triggered by the sounds of screams etc and visual clues that preempt the sequences (a box and its contents is glimpsed, as are the blood-sodden aftermaths of earlier events) that does the most disturbing work. What is suggested in horror films is most often far more effective than graphic display.

The film is also a very intriguing study of domination and a need to belong, to be loved and have purpose (if I’m ‘reading’ it right).  John White (Stephen Curry) is bullied by neighbourhood thugs who he owes money to- his sense of powerlessness and weakness in that situation seems to be externalised by his emotional and physical bullying of his wife Evelyn. Evelyn is coming off some kind of dysfunctional relationship in which she lost her two children, and feels ‘saved’ by John and utterly dependant on him, so much so that she facilitates his grisly desires for kidnapping and raping/torturing/killing teenage girls. I don’t think for one minute that the film ever really suggests we should try to empathise or sympathise with these two sick killers, but it does offer some kind of nuance to what could quite easily be a straight slasher/exploitation flick. There’s much more going on here. In any case, this is certainly a superior horror film.

One point I must make- the dog.

Don’t mess with the dog, man. Thats where I draw the line. I’ll watch many things in film and forgive pretty much anything, but violence to dogs, even if it is offscreen and suggested? Well, that’s just too far and has to be punished. I don’t care who a character is, what they done, what they reasons were, they got it coming if only for canine mistreatment. Thankfully, the shit who crosses the line here gets his just comeuppance. Otherwise this film would be relegated to the ‘never again’ list, like Tyrannosaur.

Anyway, just thought I’d get that out of the way. Torture porn is one thing, but hurting a dog? Get out of here.




Blade Runner Art

Well, I’m sure you can all guess what I was watching last night.

On a related topic whilst I digest 2049 one more time (doesn’t the blu-ray look gorgeous? What in the world can 4K add, I wonder?), here’s some artworks inspired by the original film that have caught my eye recently. Some ‘work’ better than others, but I like how these pieces rather capture the spirit of the original film:





Elle (2016)

elle1This proved to be quite a disappointment. I’ve been a huge fan of Paul  Verhoeven’s films in the past (although I never watched Showgirls) but this one just left me cold. Strangely, it was widely praised by critics with great reviews, so much so I wonder if I completely missed something.

My issue with the film was its wholly unrealistic characters and character behaviour. I just couldn’t get a grip of any of them- eccentricity is one thing, but this was something else, almost a bunch of loons with madly implausible histories etc. I should have realised it wasn’t for me from the start. The film opens with Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) being raped in her home by an attacker whose face is hidden by a ski mask. Once the attacker is finished with her and leaves, Michèle recovers and cleans her apartment of the mess and breakages from the assault, evidently of a mind not to call the police. Later, she casually tells some freinds at a meal that she was raped. She seems distant, almost casual about it.

She won’t contact the police because her father was a mass murderer who, when she was ten, went through their street killing neighbours and their children- I believe 27 in all. Whoa, I’m thinking, there goes any credibility, this thing’s moving into some other place here. I don’t know what I was expecting Elle to be – an arthouse Deathwish/ Kill Bill, maybe, I don’t know. But at least some serious film about a woman dealing with being the victim of violence and feeling empowered to do something about it. In a way, this is that film, but it just goes nuts doing it. I mean, people thought Basic Instinct was daft OTT nonsense but this is something else.

Michèle has not seen her father since he was put in prison some 39 years ago, much to her mother’s disappointment, but when her mother dies and her father fails at his latest parole hearing, Michèle relents and decides to see him. When she arrives she discovers that her father has killed himself in his cell, presumably because he had been told she was finally going to visit. She sees his corpse and mutters something along the lines of “I killed you at last!”  Its nuts.

Eventually Michèle discovers the identity of her assailant -after he returns and attempts to rape her again-  and then she goes to his home and has violent sex with him in his basement. Indeed, she even continues some kind of relationship/affair with him behind the back of his wife, a woman she considers a friend. Meanwhile, she is also having an affair with Robert, the husband of her best friend and business partner, Anna. When she later admits to Anna what is going on, Anna is at first enraged but later suggests she move in with Michèle and resume their friendship now that Robert has left them both. The wife of the rapist, who is devoutly Catholic,  eventually discovers what her husband has been doing and  apologises to  Michèle, suggesting she was well aware of her husbands twisted desires and proclivities and was fine with it as long as she wasn’t on the receiving end.

Now, you’re either reading this thinking, ‘hey thats so weird it sounds like it might be good’, or like me, you’re thinking, ‘what a load of mad shite’.  In some ways its so up its own arse with some kind of sophisticated study of gender roles and what women are in society that maybe I have indeed missed the whole point of it. I just found it impossible to take its totally far-fetched characters and character histories/behaviours seriously- it was almost stretching over into farce. There was always something self-knowing and tongue-in-cheek about the sensationalist aspects of Basic Instinct, like a HItchcock film on steroids or something, but Elle tries to dress everything up as normal and humdrum, no matter how bizarre things get. If this is all normal for people living in France, well, no offence, but I’m staying this side of the Channel.

I haven’t even mentioned that Michèle’s mother is having an affair with a man likely fifty years her junior, or that Michèle’s ex-husband, a writer,  is in a relationship with a younger woman who it turns out has mistaken him for some other author and promptly dumps him when she realises. Nor have I mentioned Michèle’s son, an ex-drug dealer who is in a relationship that Michèle disapproves of, and who is clearly not the father of the child that his girlfriend gives birth to. Or the fact that Michèle and her friend Anna own a videogame studio. Where does the madness end?

Only at the closing titles, my friend. Only at the closing titles.