Category Archives: Cinema

Gordon Gekko had the best phone ever.

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When someone says the 1980s to me this is the visual I conjure: corporate raider Gordon Gekko just chilling on his wee private beach, making plans at dawn to change the world with Bud Fox. Those were the days when the mobile phone could be utilised as a weapon. I need this in my life.

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Patrick Batemans are among us.

I was on an Edinburgh bus the other day (it’s a twice-daily slice of masochistic trauma) and overheard two geeky types talking about their mobile phones for 30 fucking minutes in the most detailed and scripted way imaginable, emphasising every nook and cranny of their devices. Two thoughts popped into my noggin: 1. These semi-hipsters really adore their smartphones. 2. This sounds like something Straight Outta American Psycho (book and film).

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Bateman talks with such gusto about his suits, haircuts, business cards, and other trivialities of the material world in a way which seems completely manufactured, as if he’s reading verbatim from a magazine spread. And it really is how many people converse these days. It’s a mass regurgitation of accepted gospel strewn over the pages of lifestyle mags or celebrity endorsements through visual media. In recent conversation I’ve seen a person’s eyes flicker to their top-left to recall key lines of a Guardian newspaper review of a hit movie. They essentially parroted the critique word for word.

It’s why Bret Easton Ellis’s magnum opus satire continues to be relevent. It’s not the murders that captivate decades on, but the novel’s spot-on depiction of how much of our everyday language is fed to us on a consumer basis. And how we use it without even realising.

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Here’s a Pat Bateman belter:

‘“Well, we have to end apartheid for one. And slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and world hunger. Ensure a strong national defense, prevent the spread of communism in Central America, work for a Middle East peace settlement, prevent U.S. military involvement overseas. We have to ensure that America is a respected world power. Now that’s not to belittle our domestic problems, which are equally important, if not more. Better and more affordable long-term care for the elderly, control and find a cure for the AIDS epidemic, clean up environmental damage from toxic waste and pollution, improve the quality of primary and secondary education, strengthen laws to crack down on crime and illegal drugs. We also have to ensure that college education is affordable for the middle class and protect Social Security for senior citizens plus conserve natural resources and wilderness areas and reduce the influence of political action committees.” The table stares at me uncomfortably, even Stash, but I’m on a roll.’
― Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho.

There’s a lot of poetry in that.

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Dunkirk (2017) – a brief appraisal.

Dunkirk (2017) is a new kind of war movie.

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There are no gratuitous blood-and-guts sequences, nor are there any overtly saccharine attempts to sentimentalise the drama (think Spielberg). It was wound like a spring, and shot with such precision and clarity of vision. The film is a non-linear impressionist snapshot of the evacuation, and it was so refreshing to see a picture made of that great escape bereft of nonsensical German accents or extended scenes of generals and statesmen at conference tables. It’s the anti-genre constraints war movie, more akin to a peak Michael Mann picture – Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) – than your generic battle flick.

Operation Dynamo - men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.

Fear predominates – fear of being smothered by a relentless enemy, this claustrophobia reflected in sometimes mere facial expression and the economy with which Nolan employs the classic close up. And in small acts of heroism characters occasionally perform, the film explodes with such unexpected emotion that it occasionally reaches the cinematic heights of the transcendental. The last twenty minutes of Dunkirk (2017) are among some of the most prolongedly intense in modern cinema, hope (and home) the against-all-odds outcome. Masterpiece.

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.historytoday.com/patrick-wilson/dunkirk-victory-or-defeat

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/23/dunkirk-review-terrifyingly-immersive-christopher-nolan

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Verisimilitude on the Eastern Front.

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I’ve always wondered about this one, and have no way to verify whether it’s a legitimate piece of footage or not. It appears to be shot on the Eastern Front, capturing brutal house-to-house fighting between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. Stalingrad, perhaps? I know re-enactments were commonplace, and especially right after battles. It’s an eerie proposition, though, that a soldier’s passing would one day be played back in an Edinburgh slum on a Friday evening, the viewer drinking Southern Comfort from a ThunderCats mug.

Any further info welcomed.

1:32 on the clip.

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Groundhog Day and the 10,000-hour rule.

Groundhog Day (1993) is almost a quarter of a century old, continuing to make critics’ top ten lists of the ’90s and beguiling new audiences with its curious, magisterial melange of comedy, drama, and allegory, its unsolved puzzles still fuelling intense debate amongst filmgoers.

groundhog_day_6The broad consensus is that Phil spends just shy of 35 years in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, and in this time becomes a master of all before him, a clairvoyant, and dare I say it, a god. Such speculation makes me wonder how long it would conceivably take to get into that zone of total spiritual dedication on multiple fronts, of achieving exceptionalism. It is very seldom that the polymath within us comes to the fore, and a person is very rarely a master of multiple spheres.

The widely held view, first propagated by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), is that it takes 10,000 hours of work to master something, to reach peak performance as a disciplined ‘expert’. Gladwell, building upon earlier research by K. Anders Ericsson, uses The Beatles’ extensive time spent in Hamburg (1960-1964) as his example, arguing that their more than 1,200 performances and 10,000 hours of playing time indelibly, crucially, enabled greatness. This ‘deliberate practice’ is a key determiner to achieving esoteric outcomes, but not the only component.

“No one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.” – Gladwell.

Here Gladwell emphasises the fundamental importance of environment and upbringing in the realisation of potential, contrasting the fortunes of ‘underachiever’ yet ‘Smartest Man in the World’ Christopher Langan (IQ 210) and Albert Einstein (reputed IQ 150). Social and family connections and the mobility afforded the individual are conducive to ‘making it’.

David Epstein, author of the The Sports Gene (2013), separates innate ability – the hardware – from the software which refines, expands upon that talent, the software being many hours of downloaded practice and learning.

Phil’s software would be his evident intelligence and ability to ‘rote-learn’ circumstances, his hardware the seeming infinity he can utilise to perfect whatever he wishes to perfect – time is his kinship, the ultimate software.

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Phil has peculiar hobbies.

A recent Princeton study, this a grand analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, concluded that practice resulted in only a 12% difference in performance. And if we look at Frans Johansson’s book The Click Moment (2012), he convincingly argues that only areas with ‘super stable structures’ afford a significant improvement in performance from deliberate practice, these stable structures in rules-based fields such as chess and classical music. This would explain Phil’s excelling at piano, at ice sculpting, and as a medical practitioner (illustrated by his expert Heimlich manoeuvre).

The dark core of the movie for me is this eternal conundrum – what happens in the (widely accepted) years and chapters that the viewer doesn’t see? It takes us to deeper, more foreboding possibilities, that it is more than a simple appropriation of the 10,000-hour rule that enables Phil’s eventual success and spiritual exaltation. We certainly see Phil at his lowest ebb – after Rita’s many rejections he ends his life in numerous ways, clearly unwilling to reside in his own personal hell anymore.

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Phil starting not to give a fuck. 

Would he not succumb to carnal temptation that the viewer hasn’t seen but is given glimpses of? We see him rob, seduce a local woman with lies, kill the Groundhog, assault an insurance salesman. Would he not go one further and murder, torture, … rape? This is something that some film reviewers have alluded to, and I must confess the topic has occupied many a conversation amongst friends.

The selfess acts Phil performs, all which seamlessly collide to set him free of Groundhog Day, may even be a meticulously prepared plan to go forth anew with a ‘free’ lifetime’s worth of skills and knowledge, and with Rita’s love attained.

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Phil is so winning.

That such a family-friendly, PG-rated movie is open to these disconcerting interpretations is testament to its longevity. Phil’s eventual mastery is the product of calculation, dark impulses, sheer hard work, and yes, an inherent goodness; not for nothing has the picture been labelled ‘Capraesque’.

Ideas for a ‘Day after Groundhog Day’ movie are welcomed.

Further reading:

This is how many days Bill Murray’s character actually spent in Groundhog Day…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

https://www.fastcodesign.com/3027564/asides/scientists-debunk-the-myth-that-10000-hours-of-practice-makes-you-an-expert

http://www.businessinsider.com/new-study-destroys-malcolm-gladwells-10000-rule-2014-7?IR=T

 

 

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Last Tango in Paris (1972) – off the grid.

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The Paris of Last Tango appears exactly as I remember it – grim, filthy, unforgiving, and indifferent. This uncaring squalor is manifested in the perversion practised by the characters, they upending all social mores and societal constraints. Almost as alarming is how cut off Marlon Brando’s Paul is from the outside world – it’s given him nothing but pain so he rejects it, and he himself confesses he has no friends or contacts worth having. The ‘man is an island’ feel of it, rather than sordid butter episodes, is what captivates me. This is of course by no means the central theme of the film, whose intention (I think) is to essentially piss on bourgeois conventions, but as artfully as possible; that Bertolucci marries some of the most sumptuously shot scenes with such animalistic content is no accident.

It is, though, the loneliness of the tale, the feeling that no one will ever know the travails of someone like Paul, that lingers most. His story has no indexical appeal – a chewed stick of gum on the underside of a Parisian balcony is the departing evidence that he was there, the connect between his end and the mysteries of his past (Schneider’s Jeanne intimates as much in her last lines as she prepares for police questioning).

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In countless bars I’ve had drunken chats with innumerable ‘over-the-hill’ old codgers equipped with the most captivating and heartbreaking of evocations: a hazy trip with a childhood sweetheart to Amsterdam in the ’70s, riding the metro system with an ex-wife in Communist Moscow, a fleeting romance in Hong Kong circa 1964. The stories appear more than authentic enough, but they merely die with the teller.

I simply do not think I could cope without legitimisation through documentation – my travelling escapades are accompanied by articles, Instagram snaps, Facebook updates, WhatsApp messages to friends, and hundreds of photos, from beer glasses and buildings to cheeky street photography of stray dogs, traffic, and panhandlers. My view of unexplored regions is so tainted with media that I can’t separate myself from it – there is no solipsism on my voyages, and I disseminate any new city (for me) as a shared experience. My extended saké binge in Tokyo wasn’t just me getting wrecked in Tokyo; I brought along for the story Sofia Coppola, Yasujirō Ozu, and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) theme. I must integrate myself into these narratives, extend their percolation, contribute my own little testament for the annals.

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Chilling at Shibuya Crossing, 2015.

When people do go ‘off the grid’ as Paul does, we presume there is something really wrong with them, that they’ve done a Christopher McCandless; conversely, they are far more interesting, these nebulous figures unencumbered by our social media definitions. Were I a devoted wanderer of the East in the pre-digital age, I can’t imagine the pain of losing my copious rolls of film; it would render the whole trip without worth, an extended vignette banished to the fragmentation of my own memory. Moreover, it is through the photographic form that I continue to revisit, and even reimagine, the places I’ve seen – the photo has become the memory.

 

In something Straight Outta Bernstein’s haunting girl-on-the ferry story in Citizen Kane (1941), I twenty years ago at Nantes train station exchanged a wave with a woman on the platform as my train departed. Not a month goes by without me thinking of that elegant MILF with her lustrous blonde locks and catwalk boots. I do now wish I could have taken her snap or somehow exchanged Facebooks, as creepy as it sounds. She is but forever a fading, distorting memory. Call me, babes. Whoever you are. X.

Further reading:

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/834-last-tango-in-paris

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/how-social-media-is-changing-travel

http://www.impactnottingham.com/2014/12/social-media-changing-the-face-of-travel/

http://twentytwowords.com/5-differences-between-life-now-and-life-before-cell-phones/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kalevleetaru/2016/04/29/new-york-city-in-1993-an-hd-look-at-life-before-cell-phones/#4e7d2fde2351

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