The Neon Demon is the new film from Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish auteur best known for his blood-spattered fetishisation of Ryan Gosling. The film’s not released until 8 July, but I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening and Q&A with Refn, or NWF as he’s now calling himself, at Manchester’s HOME cinema.
Let’s begin by saying that it is a marked improvement on his last work Only God Forgives, the Bangkok-set misfire which strew terrible characters, terrible dialogue and dull Oedipal metaphors over 90 tedious minutes.
For The Neon Demon, Refn has left Thailand and taken us back to Los Angeles, the sprawling city that Newton Thomas Sigel photographed so beautifully inDrive. Sigel hasn’t returned but Natasha Braier, his Argentine replacement known for her work on The Road, provides similarly dazzling visuals, from sweeping shots of the dusky Los Angeles basin to surreal and sparkling strobe-lit sequences.
Stuart Cooper’s Overlord is a seldom-seen docudrama that deftly blends fictional narrative with archival footage from the Imperial War Museum’s vast collection. It premiered in 1975 at the Berlin Film Festival and won the Jury Grand Prix. However, it did not win an audience or even a theatrical release, sending the film into obscurity for over 30 years. It received a DVD release and limited theatrical run in 2006, and has been featured on Netflix and Amazon Prime, but Overlord remains on the fringes of cinema with just 1700 user ratings on IMDb.
Despite this, a quick read of responses from critics and viewers alike suggest that it is a compelling and affecting piece of work. It’s this small yet enthusiastic support that is seeing the Criterion Collection upgrade Overlord to Blu-ray on 6 June, which will be the 72nd anniversary of D-Day.
The film begins in May 1940 with footage of victorious German troops marching through a recently evacuated Dunkirk. We are then presented with an unfocused shot of a British soldier who charges toward us only to fall under a hail of gunfire. This blurred sequence – which was inspired by Robert Capa’s famous photograph Falling Soldier – is the premonition of Tom Beddoes (Brian Stirmer), the subject of Overlord’s fictional narrative.
Green Room is light on story but excruciatingly heavy on blood spattered, genre-leading survival thrills.
Director Jeremy Saulnier knows a thing or two about set pieces. Head shots, too. The harrowing events of Green Room occur in just several rooms, yet Saulnier’s stripped-down script and direction creates a veritable white-knuckle ride of desperate reversals of fortune and shocking explosions of violence.
The victims of all this nastiness are The Ain’t Rights, a struggling Punk band comprising Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner). After stealing some petrol for their battered old camper van, they head to Seaside, Oregon, where a local DJ arranges a gig for them at a ‘right-wing’ venue, an offer which the destitute band cannot afford to decline.
When they arrive at the club – which is in an ominously remote corner of the Pacific North West – the shaven heads, tattoos and sketchy, leering glances make it clear that the crowd is not merely right wing but positively fascist. It is at this moment that a feeling of palpable danger and isolation starts to germinate, a feeling that comes to brutal fruition when Pat is witness to a murder in the club’s green room.
In a hail of panic and confusion, the band and Amber (Imogen Poots) are locked in the room under the guard of Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) and his fully loaded Smith & Wesson .500, which he explains has cartridges so large that only five can fit into the cylinder. What ensues is a savagely intense siege that affords both its protagonists and the viewer very few luxuries.
After the first few instances of jarring violence, I feared that the film was going to be ninety minutes of audience punishment in the style of The Loved Ones or Wolf Creek. Thankfully, the fortunes of our besieged protagonists do improve, albeit in a wayward and unpredictable manner. It is all the better for it too – the twists and turns of the band’s seemingly insurmountable predicament had me in a choke hold until the very end.
What makes Green Room so engaging is its relatability; it is much like Deliverance in this respect. Both films thrust normal people with little experience of violence into a lethal situation, causing the viewer to wonder ‘what would I do?’, ‘where would I be in this group’s dynamic?’.
Similarly, the protagonists of both films have no one to turn to, no outsider that they can fully trust. With his smooth diction and measured disposition, Darcy (a very interestingly cast Patrick Stewart) initially appears to be a mature voice of reason amongst a pack of rabidly aggressive young men. Alas, such hopes do not last as the contrary becomes quickly evident. It is only Gabe, played by Saulnier’s childhood friend Macon Blair, who appears to be someone the band can work with. Blair channels much of his performance through an anguished gaze that reveals shades of anxiety, doubt and shame. It seems that Gabe has fallen prey to Darcy’s steely manipulation.
This is about as dynamic as the characterisation gets, because although Green Room features fine performances across the board, it is a film is driven by genre-leading survival thrills rather than plot and characters. If you choose to go and see it – prepare yourself!
Ben Wheatley is one of the most exciting British directors working today. His two best films are Kill List, a deeply disturbing horror/thriller about a tormented contract killer, and Sightseers, a black comedy about a troubled couple on their parochial, psychopathic honeymoon.
Key to these films’ success are strong characters with interesting dynamics. Kill List begins almost like a domestic kitchen-sink drama centred on the failing relationship between Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Burning), but it subsequently evolves, or rather devolves, into something dark, dank and horrible in a most unpredictable manner. Sightseers may be most commonly remembered for its scenes of outlandish violence, such as when Chris (Steve Oram) deliberately runs over a litterer in a fit of righteous anger. However, underneath the comic outbursts of gore is the poignant relationship between Chris and Tina (Alice Lowe), an oddball pair with a past of loneliness and insecurity.
Having proved himself as a director of visceral horror and emotional substance, Ben Wheatley is the natural choice to direct J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, a Goldingesque tale of violent class war exploding within a brutalist tower block. The fragility of civilisation, and the primitive savagery that lurks beneath it, is a darkly fascinating subject that has made for excellent films and books, such as Threads, a devastating vision of post-apocalyptic Britain, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which needs no introduction.
High-Rise does not brush shoulders with such works, for its allegory of class divide gets lost in a dull montage of blood, sweat and blue paint. Oh, and dancing air hostesses, for reasons that are, to put it politely, enigmatic.
The focal characters – Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a measured, middle class doctor; Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a sultry woman who serves as Laing’s gateway in to the upper floors’ high culture; Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a pugnaciously aspirational documentary maker; and Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), the patrician architect who designed the building – are introduced well enough, but ultimately do not receive sufficient development.
As the lead and perhaps most relatable character, we are in the body of Laing when he traverses the tower’s social scene, which he admits to ‘not being very good at’. Some may find him steely, but Laing has an affable reserve and high emotional intelligence. He isn’t particularly interested in the petty one-upmanship that comes with climbing the social ladder, but he manages to deftly negotiate it anyway through his insouciant reserve that maintains peoples’ interest and disarms any potential enemies. Hiddleston, one of Britain’s hottest exports, is well cast here, he delivers the best performance of the film.
However, after a competent introduction to society in the high rise, Laing and the others get lost in an incoherent narrative that favours aesthetics and absurdity over credible character interplay. It begins three months ahead of the main events, showing a blood spattered Laing roasting a dog’s leg over a fire surrounded by dirt and detritus. After the aforementioned introductory period of around thirty minutes, the film then charts what led to this repellent spectacle with a disjointed series of set pieces that give little sense of progression.
Electrical problems are plaguing the building and resentment is brewing between the upper and lower floors, but the descent into nihilism just… happens. Dogs are being drowned, Laing’s painting his apartment (and himself) like a total madman and the whole building becomes a rubbish-strewn nightmare – but there’s no tension, no crescendo, no credibility and, curiously, no one who considers leaving! The worsening relations should have been more gradual and given much greater depth and meaning by the characters, their dialogue and their relationships. Instead, the main character covers himself in paint to communicate his increasingly aberrant state of mind, which appears to be an obvious metaphor for tribal decorations.
High-Rise fails as a film about primal savagery and particularly as a film about class. In Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, I cringed as Jasmine and her husband Hal, arrogant members of New York high society, barely contained their raging superiority complexes as they awkwardly condescended to Ginger (Jasmine’s sister) and Augie, a decidedly blue collar couple who wonder at Hal and Jasmine’s luxurious home. No such realist interplay is to be found in High-Rise, because its characters are thinly drawn and it isn’t rooted in reality, which is very much to its detriment.
Towards the film’s end, there are moments in which Royal and his minions discuss the politics and future of the tower, with Royal remarking that the lower floors should be ‘Balkanised’, meaning that they should be fragmented and pitted against each other in a manner reminiscent of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. I liked the use of that phrase, there should have been a lot more of this in the script, more overt political manoeuvring rather than surrealist claptrap and brutalist 70s chic.
Alas, Wheatley’s High-Rise is more concerned with aesthetics and the 1970s, which means there’s more in the way of shag-pile carpets, dodgy hair and the colour brown than developed characters, coherent narrative structure and sociopolitical substance.
The Sound Barrier, one of David Lean’s lesser-known entries into his proud catalogue, is coming to Blu-ray on 11 April thanks to a joint effort from the BFI National Archive, STUDIOCANAL and the David Lean Foundation.
The transfer looks great, old fans of the film will be very pleased with its high-definition sheen. However, those who enter this film after seeing Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia will probably be disappointed because of its poor characterisation and reliance on aerial spectacle, which has inevitably aged after 64 years.
Set in mid-to-late 1940s, the film follows John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), a wealthy pioneer of aviation who believes the sound barrier can and should be broken. His pursuit is egotistical and uncompassionate, for he considers the project’s fatal danger to be par for the course and justifies the endeavour by comparing himself to Prometheus, the Titan of Greek mythology who ‘came to a sticky end… but gave the world fire.’ The problem with that it won’t be John who comes to a sticky end, but the brave pilots who are willing to become his guinea pigs.
Caught up in the grand experiment is Tony (Nigel Patrick), John’s son-in-law who eventually serves as his chief test pilot; Susan (Ann Todd), Tony’s concerned wife and John’s somewhat estranged daughter; and Christopher (Denholm Elliot), John’s son, apprehensive heir and doomed first test pilot.
Most of the time, ‘cultural appropriation’ is not a bad thing. It only becomes ‘problematic’ when people appropriate culture in an affected manner, like insecure white boys wearing flat caps and speaking with an ebonic flair.
There are examples of so-called cultural appropriation in abundance. The most recent, microcosmic one I have encountered is a cover of Beyonce’s Formation by an obscure white YouTuber called Max Milian.
Before I continue I must get one thing straight – Beyonce Knowles is a stupid person’s idea of a strong woman. Just like so many divas before her, she bares her flesh and peddles her sex appeal, because for an utterly money-minded person like Beyonce a bit of T&A is far too lucrative to forego. And her new song Formation – which is godawful – reveals that she has no shame in exploiting race politics for more and more adulation and hard cash.
Real strong women include Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff, Geun-hye Park – we may not agree with or even like some of these women, but there’s no doubt that they are (or were) motivated, intelligent, highly successful and in positions of great importance and responsibility. They are not trivial, sexualised pop musicians who get political when it’s in vogue.
Anyway, back to Formation. The song is a decidedly shallow ‘celebration of black empowerment’ and features multiple use of the word negro, which landed Max Milian (whose hair looks suspiciously like Justin Bieber’s) in hot water. Some outraged commenters said that white people should ‘stick in their lane’ and that those who don’t understand why his video is so ‘damaging’ should be ‘educated’.
The aggressive, patronising and hypocritical nature of these comments is typical of what is known as the Social Justice Warrior (SJW). These people believe themselves to be paragons of morality, yet advocate segregation when they say whites should ‘stick in their lane’.
Some SJWs display a modicum of nuance in their writing – their ideas on cultural appropriation are slightly more complex yet still feeble – but most are crass, loud and obnoxious. What all of them have in common is a raging persecution complex, which causes them to perceive almost anything as a threat or a ‘trigger’. For example, trying new cuisines is a veritable minefield fraught with problematic and damaging micro-aggressions. To be so sensitive that you take offence at the language in Asian restaurant menus suggests that it is fact you who’s the problematic one.
Thankfully, not all the commenters were so neurotic and unreasonable. maymay4891 wrote: ‘I’m black and the negro shit doesn’t bother me its just the fact that he looks and sounds like a complete fuckboy.’ Well said, maymay. There was absolutely nothing racist about Max Milian’s cover, it was just a toe-curling homage to the mainstream culture that he appears to be obsessed with.
Imagine if all of us did stick to our ‘lanes’, what a terrible constriction that would be on our lives. And even if the SJWs allowed us to stray from our lane and have an Indian, they’d barge into the restaurant just as we raised the first forkful of curry to our mouth, demanding that we check our privilege and consider the brutality of colonialism.
However, there are some caveats. For some people – namely those who have a propensity for being affected bellends – there does come a time when they should stick to their lane.
Many young people, both in their teens and twenties, will affect a facade when searching for an identity. Changes in speech will often occur, and one of the most common faux-accents is mockney. It’s very grating to hear someone of middle-class origin, such as Lily Allen, appropriating working class accents by dropping their t’s and h’s. Even more jarring are those who appropriate what linguists call Multicultural London English, which is like Dizzee Rascal, Plan B, Ali G or Lee Nelson.
The descriptive in me says that the rise of MLE is just an example of how language works; words, phrases and accents rise and fall, ebb and flow. The prescriptive in me feels that MLE, when spoken by some white people, whiffs of affectation and downright foolishness. A study by the University of Lancaster found that elements of intermediary English from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Caribbean creoles was present in MLE. This means that white British MLE speakers are using the rudimentary language of immigrants despite being native speakers whose parents most likely have traditional accents. The whiff of affectation becomes a stench when you consider that.
I love the enormous variety of dialects and accents in the English language, whether it’s the southern drawl of Texas, the rhotic forgedda-bou-dits of New York City, the cut-glass received pronunciation of a bygone British age or the colourful idiosyncrasies of Jamaican Patois, but I cannot stand any of this if it is a poseur’s passing affectation. Identifying those who are authentic and those who aren’t is subjective and often difficult to determine, and a direct face-to-face inquiry will probably result in a punch to the teeth.
Perhaps the poor SJWs, so downtrodden by all the triggers in their lives, would feel better if they realised that cultural appropriation is a matter of being a faker rather than the warped notions of racism and imperialism they attach to it.
Bomber Offensive: Marshal of the RAF Sir Arthur Harris is the memoir of Sir Arthur Harris, who served as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command from 22 February 1942 to the war’s end in 1945. It is a personal account of his life and career that offers an insight into the formative years of the RAF but lacks – as one would expect from its notoriously obstinate and self-assured author – a balanced discussion of Bomber Command, which was perhaps the most controversial force in the Allies’ ‘good war’.