Everybody was kung-fu fighting

Roughly halfway through the first episode of American Gods, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, its protagonist Shadow finds a large, bearded Irish American calling himself Mad Sweeney getting right in his face. The self-described leprechaun keeps goading Shadow, newly released from jail and trying to keep out of trouble. Finally, Mad Sweeney finds the right button to press – and gets exactly what he wanted: a fist in the face and a shit-kicking bar fight.

Afterwards, as the screen cut to black, my wife turns to me and says, “Now that is how you do a fight scene.”

American Gods

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The loneliness of the modern-day cowboy

The man doesn’t talk much. Mostly he smokes his cigarette and looks out over the untamed land. He’s come as part of a group planning to harness nature, to bring electricity and industry to these apparent outskirts of civilisation – one of several men who never question their right to be where they are and take what they want – yet he stands apart from them. They are not his tribe. He rides a horse into the small town where the natives eye him, not quite knowing what to make of the man. They don’t share his language and he doesn’t understand theirs, but that’s unimportant. Perhaps it’s even the point. The frontier feels like home to him.

It is 2017. The frontier is the Bulgarian-Greek border, and the man is one of several German construction workers employed to build a hydroelectric power station. The film is called Western – a surprisingly apt description for a surprising movie.

Western

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Holy Mother of…

Let’s face it: Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is not the best nor the worst movie of the year, or the decade, or of all of movie history. It’s an average piece of art from a filmmaker who, after making Noah in 2014, has used another narrative from the Bible, i.e. the Garden of Eden, mixed it with ecological concerns, and made a mildly interesting story out of it. The main problem I have with mother! is its lack of surprise for all of its two hours. Once you get that the Jennifer Lawrence character is some kind of Eve and ecological earth mother whose universe is the house she lives in, the rest sort of falls into place. The movie has only three kinds of scenes: Lawrence’s point of view, Lawrence in the frame, or shots over her shoulder. It’s the earth mother’s story and how her realm gets invaded by careless, selfish humans. She has built that house herself and will never leave it – the porch is as far as she will go. She can feel the house’s beating heart getting poisoned by unwanted intruders. The invasion is gradual, but unstoppable, and you know well before the end that we will be back at the beginning, where the house is in flames, with the earth mother dying in it, and her husband placing a diamond on its little altar so that the house can heal again. And so on. Continue reading

Every inch a King

As this blog as much as the many BILLY shelves in my living room stacked with DVDs and Blu-rays can confirm, these days my main media are probably film and TV. However, when I was young, and well into my 20s, I was very much a librophile first and foremost, which is also what determined much of my education and my early professional path. And while he wasn’t there when I got started on a lifelong love of books pretty much as soon as I learned how to read, Stephen King was probably the first writer I obsessed over.

I don’t know when I last read one of King’s novels, but it’s definitely been at least ten years. I don’t much feel the need to return to his world, to visit our old haunts in Castle Rock and Derry. Although it may sound arrogant or pretentious, I’d say I’ve outgrown him – but, and perhaps more importantly, I’d also say that I grew up as a reader in the company of Stephen King.

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Blood takes guts

On the outside, Julia Ducournau’s Raw seems like an endurance test. There are reports of audience members fainting and vomiting, interrupted screenings and official complaints. And all of these people have seen the R-rated version, not the original, unreleased NC-17 version. During the show I was in, a guy left twice, his girlfriend stayed on, but all three of us fidgeted and squirmed more than once. Yes, Raw is hard to watch, but once you think you can cope with the blood and guts, you will find one of the best-told horror flicks in a long time. Like Lady Macbeth last week, Raw is a feature debut in a double sense: Julia Ducournau directed her own feature-length screenplay, and Garance Marillier, who plays the main role of Justine, is a newcomer. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Continue reading

Dark candle in a dark room

Reader, we are not in Jane Austen country anymore. Any Austen adaptation must end in a marriage, whereas Lady Macbeth starts with one, not a happy affair, and it gets worse from here on out. The source of this story is, of course, that famous Scottish play, and then there is Nikolai Leskov’s novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District from 1865, which is said to be loosely based on a real crime. William Oldroyd’s movie, from a screenplay by Alice Birch, could have approached the character of Lady Macbeth from one of those angles. Instead, the movie shows us a young bride called Katherine who initially does not object to be married to a wealthy nobleman who resides in a bleak, solitary country estate. The troubles start during their wedding night: the husband is a gruff alcoholic and under his father’s thumb. He orders her to undress and face the wall, and then he puts out the light and goes to sleep. She discovers that he is impotent and wants to keep her indoors. The mood of the movie has more in common with Wuthering Heights than any Merchant-Ivory movie. Continue reading

War is monkey hell

Technically, War for the Planet of the Apes is a triumph. There are no two ways about it. The fully computer-generated ape protagonists aren’t perfect all of the time just yet, but they have heft and weight and they’re expressive and believable – and while I cannot say how much of the performance is the work of the actors and how much is the animators’, all of these deserve all the praise they receive and more. Outside fully animated films of the Disney and Pixar kind, I cannot remember a film that relied so heavily on non-human protagonists where, after a few minutes, you accept and stop thinking about the fact that the leads in the story aren’t the same species as you.

War for the Planet of the Apes

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