Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Five reasons why President Truman made the right decision

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The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was apocalyptically awful. 70 years ago today, an estimated 90,000 people were immediately killed when Little Boy detonated 1,950ft above Hiroshima – 50,000 more would die by the end of the year. Two days later, Nagasaki was struck by ‘Fat Man’, killing approximately 80,000 people. It was, as the Allies threatened during the Potsdam Conference, ‘prompt and utter destruction’.

Just four months into his presidency, President Harry Truman was tasked with making one of the most important decisions in human history. He chose to put an atomic full stop on six long years of unprecedentedly bloody conflict – here are five reasons why he made the right decision.

To continue reading, please follow this link: www.warhistoryonline.com/guest-bloggers/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-five-reasons-why-president-truman-made-the-right-decision.html

Film Inquiry: I Am Evel Knievel (2014)

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel poised on his Harley-Davidson.  (Photo by Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel poised on his Harley-Davidson. (Photo by Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

During the 1970s, Evel Knievel was one of the most famous names in America and the world. The huge danger and bravery of his stunts were almost universal in their appeal, but what truly propelled him to super-stardom were his star-spangled costumes, patriotic bravado and perhaps most of all his distinctively mean-sounding nom de guerre. However, underneath the celebrity was, quite frankly, a self-absorbed thug with a propensity for alcohol abuse, infidelity, violence and general criminality.

To read the whole article, please follow this link to Film Inquiry: http://filminquiry.com/i-am-evel-knievel-2014-review/

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is 90 minutes of cruelty with genre tropes that obscure any intelligent commentary.

With an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and claims that it is ‘thought provoking’, one would expect Eden Lake to be cut above Hostel, Saw and other torture films that appear comparable. While it may be superior to a certain degree, it remains a decidedly shallow film that is too constrained by the tropes of its horror genre framework to be taken seriously.

The film follows Jenny (Kelly Reilly) and Steve (Michael Fassbender), a young couple who retreat to the Midlands countryside for a romantic break. As the couple drive north of London, there is an ominous radio discussion about the state of education and the perceived animosity brewing between the young and the old, assembling its themes of ‘Broken Britain’ in a manner that is perhaps slightly obvious.

After several disconcerting encounters with some obnoxious locals, the pair set up camp on the sandy banks of a flooded quarry. Their tranquility is soon interrupted by a chavvy young horde of Daily Mail proportions, led by the psychopathically aggressive Brett (Jack O’Connell). The conflict begins with general boorish behaviour and a wayward Rottweiler, and feeling the weight of his masculine responsibilities, Steve approaches the group and politely asks them to behave themselves. His reasonability is spurned and the couple are soon fighting for their lives in what is effectively their attackers’ back yard.

Many barbarous things have happened when the aggressive and the controlling have attracted the meek and the impressionable. The first example that springs to mind is the 1993 abduction and murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. The pair’s twisted crescendo of rebellion began with truancy and shoplifting, which led to the idea of abducting a child and pushing it into the path of an oncoming car, which finally led to James’s abduction from the Bootle Strand shopping centre and his brutally protracted murder on train tracks by Anfield Park. The two boys enabled and normalised each other’s behaviour, and the roles of ringleader and minion became quite clear in police interviews.

Once arrested and interrogated by officers, Jon Venables was wrought with intense fear and remorse. He confessed to the killing, but was unable to tell the part of the story that he ominously called ‘the worst bit’. Conversely, Robert Thompson, described as ‘street wise way above the age of ten’, was hostile, dishonest and unrepentant. Thompson and Venables had a typical dynamic that became horribly toxic over a day’s truancy; it could inspire darkly compelling material for either print or cinema, providing it was created with intelligence and sensitivity.

Eden Lake could have been this film. It could have been a mature and intelligent insight into senseless violence and the nihilistic, ignorant, vulnerable people who commonly commit it; a film in a similar vein to A Short Film About Killing or Boy A. Instead, the viewer gets a tropey horror film that focuses on neither the group nor the couple in a meaningful way. The film’s main concern is brutality, such as showing us what it looks like when a Stanley knife is forcibly entered into someone’s mouth.

Despite Eden Lake‘s themes of class and age divide being highly superficial, political commentators have made the film fit their agendas. Owen Jones, one of The Guardian‘s most prominent PC enthusiasts, wrote the following in his book Chavs: ‘Here was a film arguing that the middle classes could no longer live alongside the quasi-bestial lower orders.’ Like many who are preoccupied with ideology and prone to knee jerk reactions, Jones mistakenly believes that the portrayal of one group of teenagers is supposed to be representative of an entire social group comprising millions of people.

With good performances and uncompromising brutality, Eden Lake grips and shakes its audience quite effectively. However, it is mere viscera rather than political commentary, sharing more in common with The Last House on the Left than A Clockwork Orange.

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Diana and the Softening of the Stiff Upper Lip

Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters
Diana giving a decidedly tabloid interview to the yellow journalist Martin Bashir. Photo: Reuters

When Princess Diana’s life was suddenly cut short in 1997, Britain experienced its first nationwide emotional outburst of pornographic proportions. Long known for its ‘stiff upper lip’, the British seemingly fell to their knees with hysterically maudlin grief over a woman who was nothing more than a socialite – Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton with a bit of class.

Her death was clearly tragic, she was a 36-year-old mother of two, but the media attention she received both before and after her death was entirely undeserved and downright aberrant in its obsessiveness. What was there to admire? She was unintelligent (by her own admission), uncharismatic, enormously privileged and manipulative on occasion. Despite this, she was not hateful or even particularly dislikable, so the bulk of one’s exasperation should not lie with Diana, but with the media, who, on the morning of 1st September 1997, insisted that Britons across the nation had to mourn a multi-millionaire celebutante they had never met.

The toxic seeds of the international media’s relationship with Diana were planted around 1980, when Prince Charles began courting her. The incessant coverage she subsequently received is rather curious because, like many socialites, the depth of her personality left much to be desired. That didn’t matter of course as she was blonde, blue-blooded and the potential partner of the heir to the throne. The tabloids treated Diana as a sex object, a pretty doll whose coy expressions could tame the Prince in time for his kingship.

It is clear to those with even a modicum of emotional intelligence that Diana and Charles simply weren’t compatible. She was nineteen, naïve and neurotic and Charles had neither the time nor the inclination to spend enough time with her – it was a union orchestrated by each other’s families that neither was ready for. Frankly, their doomed marriage was a 15-year hiatus in the relationship between Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, which was and now is a far more appropriate partnership.

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When everyone got bored some poor bastard had to clear this up.

The media and the public are often keen to glorify an individual when they die prematurely, but with Diana it verged on canonisation. The scores of people who laid flowers and openly wallowed defended their cheap, morbid bereavement by harking on about the virtues of Diana’s charity work, but how virtuous was it?

The images of Diana walking near land mines and prodding terminally ill people are familiar, but what else was she supposed to do when she wasn’t strolling the grounds of Balmoral or building a new gilded existence with the disagreeable Fayed family? Charities have become a fashion accessory amongst A-list celebrities; they’re paraded around much like those ridiculous bug-eyed handbag dogs. It’s somewhat cynical to think this way, and not all celebrity charities are self-serving endeavours (Spielberg’s Shoah foundation, for example), but it’s quite obvious that sanctimony and ‘fitting in’ are primary incentives for many philanthropic celebrities.

It’s often claimed that Diana was a victim of the paparazzi, but she used these free PR agents to create her personality cult. As the frenetic chatter of paparazzos’ cameras started to follow Diana wherever she went, she learned how to present herself and manipulate these desperate parasites.From the battlegrounds of Bosnia to the minefields of Angola, her every precious step was captured and broadcast for the whole world to fawn over. I’d shake the hand of every leper in town if I was adored and almost beatified by swathes of people from the world over!

Unfortunately, it seems many people cherish the image rather than the long, hard graft of real innovation and achievement. Take Norman Borlaug for example, he was an American biologist whose high-yield, disease-resistant wheat vastly improved the food supply in Asia and Africa, causing him to be nicknamed ‘The Man Who Saved A Billion Lives’. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions to world peace, but despite his profound betterment of humanity, Borlaug’s mainstream fame is minimal because he was an old bald man from Iowa.

Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
Jody Williams, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo: Judy Rand

A more direct comparison is Jody Williams, whose extensive work in anti-landmine campaigning and other political activism was also rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Williams was active at the same time as Diana, but heartfelt political principles are of minimal interest to those who enjoy crying, so her committed political career went largely unnoticed by the general public, who found the glamour and fantasy of Diana to be infinitely more watchable.

Diana’s saintly reputation was (and still is) the creation of a mawkishly money-minded press and a disconcertingly large part of the population who willingly indulged it with teary-eyed relish. The other key influence on the event was Prime Minister Tony Blair. Diana’s death occurred at a very opportune time for the newly elected leader; after winning a landslide victory with the New Labour campaign in 1997, he was swiftly handed a chance to connect with ‘the people’ on an emotional level with an intensity perhaps unseen since VE day 52 years prior.

It was Blair who popularised the laughable moniker ‘the People’s Princess’. This is a woman who was bought a £100,000 house for her eighteenth birthday, wore a £9000 wedding dress, and was somehow worth an estimated $40 million at the time of her death – how on earth can she be considered a figure that represented the people?

The footage of myriad plebs flocking to Buckingham Palace and even camping around it so they could mourn an aristocratic celebutante they had never met is pathetic in the true sense of the word. They were shamelessly caught up in Diana’s cult of personality, exposing much of humanity’s need to worship someone or something, whether it’s Jesus Christ or Kim Kardashian’s arse.

Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
Many laughed at North Korea when they hysterically mourned the death of Kim Jong Il, but look at this idiot on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Photo: Daily Mail

Blair wasn’t the only public figure to endorse and exacerbate the media’s campaign of crying, Elton John and Bernie Taupin rewrote Candle in the Wind to fit the occasion. Of course, all proceeds went to charity, but it is clear that the song’s purpose was to vastly inflate John’s ego, not his $450 million bank balance.

Candle in the Wind 1997 is the anthem for the infantile, protracted emotional outbursts that have become so commonplace, whether it’s Jade Goody’s made-for-TV cancer battle or the never-ending Hillsborough disaster. The lyricism of Candle in the Wind is very much to the taste of those who thought it was appropriate to give a kitsch teddy bear to a dead stranger, highlights include: ‘For our nation’s golden child’, ‘All our words cannot express / The joy you brought us through the years’, ‘From a country lost without your soul’.

Where does one begin with these stupid lyrics? I’m sure Elton felt much joy when he rubbed his sycophantic shoulders with Diana at glitzy, gaudy high society functions, but what joy did she bring to the rest of us lowly serfs? The most offensive of the song’s claims is that Britain – the first industrialised nation who conquered much of the world, contributed significantly to science and the arts and defeated some of history’s greatest tyrants – was ‘lost’ without the soul of some posh totty. Elton and Taupin were right about the ‘nation’s golden child’ bit though – she had a 20 million pound jewellery collection.

The solemn dignity of Henry Purcell’s March once flooded Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Queen Mary II in 1695; I wonder what Purcell would have made of Taupin’s claptrap and the melodrama of John’s pianism? I shouldn’t think anyone else gives a toss though, because a 2002 poll revealed that the British public considered Diana to be the third greatest Briton of all time, putting her ahead of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and Tim Berners-Lee. I know, it is just a list, but it’s still a disconcerting measure of the public’s preference for vapid celebrity over true understated genius.

The whole Diana issue is wrapped in another layer of stupidity when one considers the monarchy and the population’s relationship with it. Britain’s former draconian rigidity and pomp and circumstance was largely eroded by two World Wars and cultural revolution, causing the Royal Family to look terribly archaic and useless. The perpetually sour-faced Queen and her clan have devolved into little more than a tinselly tourist attraction for American and Commonwealth tourists to gawp at.

The cultural bastardisation of the Diana debacle stressed just how absurd the notion of royalty is. With their divorces, syrupy concerts (more of that in a minute) and Nazi themed fancy dress, the Royals have dumbed down along with the rest of mainstream culture, reminding us more than ever that they too are homo-sapiens, African apes with tiaras and fascinators. The French realised this in the 18th century, and even though I understand and enjoy the allure of tradition, it’s about time we did, too.

I may disagree with their unearned adoration, but that doesn’t mean I dislike the Royals as people. William and Harry appear perfectly affable, so it was particularly disappointing when they organised and hosted the Concert for Diana in 2007. The show commemorated what would have been her 46th birthday, which was almost 2 months before the 10th anniversary of her death and the subsequent destruction of British values.

Make some noise for Princess Diana y'all! Photo: MTV
Toe curling: ‘Make some noise for Princess Diana y’all!’ Photo: MTV

Elton John returned, opening and closing the ceremony with a selection of naff ballads. The rest of the concert comprised 26 acts, ranging from Duran Duran (Diana’s favourite band) and Tom Jones to Kanye West and ‘P. Diddy’, or ‘Puff Daddy’ or ‘Diddy’ or whatever juvenile pseudonym he was using at time. Musically, P. Diddy’s performance was very lacklustre, he instead channeled his efforts into what he called ‘Diana’s rebirth’, which saw him walking to the front of the stage and asking the audience to join in with him shouting ‘We love you! We miss you!’ Diddy’s self-serving display left me utterly incredulous.

Using a format similar to Red Nose Day, the concert was punctuated with short films of charity workers and other interviewees relentlessly praising Diana as if she was the Earth’s first faultless human being. The last film that championed a real-life figure so spectacularly was Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (1935).

Whether it is the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the sob stories in the weekly pabulum that is The X-Factor, or the death of Jade Goody (don’t get me started), an unhealthy appetite for vicarious bereavement and the 24hr media circuses that satiate it continue to rage on. The masses may eventually get a grip, but the damage has already been done. There will always be two categories of people: those who cried when Diana died and those who rightfully did not.

Film Inquiry: A Trip to Normandy and Saving Private Ryan

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I first saw Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the early 2000s; it was a VHS copy playing on a big old JVC television that had a similar depth to a Toyota Aygo. I have since seen Saving Private Ryan a large number of times, but my reaction to its first 25 minutes remains unchanged, a reaction of shock, recoil and deep admiration for the people who executed this excellent, transformative piece of filmmaking.

My knowledge of WW2 was minimal at this time, but I roughly knew the basics. I had long known that the baddie was a loud man with a funny moustache that resembled a paintbrush (my father would often place one over his mouth like a second-rate Charlie Chaplin). So familiar was I with Hitler’s appearance that, at the age of 6 or 7, I drew pictures of Hitler being killed spectacularly by my maternal grandfather surrounded by his proud, cheering comrades. I was vaguely aware that Hitler committed suicide in reality, but I chose to ignore this and, long before Tarantino did, created an alternate history in which my grandfather, Sergeant George Rice, singularly killed Adolf Hitler… I thought the premise was entirely plausible.

To continue reading, please follow the link: filminquiry.com/trip-normandy-saving-private-ryan/

Film Inquiry: Maps to the Stars (2014)

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Maps To The Stars is about the aspects of Hollywood that, as a film fan, I‘d rather not think about. Written by the acerbic Bruce Wagner, it is about the cynicism of the industry, about the actors who are motivated by vanity and the money-minded executives who exploit them.

These people’s heads have been long removed from their shoulders, their molly-coddled lives are run by other people as they incessantly try and top up their serotonin through drink, drugs, sex and bastardised spiritualism with increasingly less success. It has been called ‘narratively unwieldy’ by the ‘tomato-meter’, and the events in the latter stages of the film are certainly dramatic and in quick succession, however Maps To The Stars is a great, grotesque satire from David Cronenberg, who could also be described in such terms!

To continue reading, please follow the link to Film Inquiry: http://filminquiry.com/maps-to-the-stars-2014-review/

Movie Marker: A Serbian Film (2010)

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Some say that A Serbian Film is transgressive, but I think such claims are rather tenuous.

The tempestuous cycle of critical thought that surrounds a genuine transgressive piece of art begins with an initial reflex action of disgust and anger that gradually matures into re-evaluation and appreciation. It’s been seen many times before, whether it’s Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), which effectively ended Powell’s career only to be championed years later rather undeservedly by powerful figures such as Martin Scorsese, or Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (1991), an almost unprecedentedly violent book that was reviled by readers, critics and feminists alike only to be considered a postmodern classic some years later.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Movie Marker: www.moviemarker.co.uk/?p=27449

Movie Marker: The Riot Club (2014)

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The Riot Club is a genuinely uncomfortable, shocking film about yobbos in waistcoats that met and surpassed my expectations.

After an amusing introductory scene that informs you of the club’s centuries old origin, the film turns to contemporary Oxford and presents us with the latest generation of students and Riot Club members. It follows first-year students Miles Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin), both are of ‘good stock’ however the former is normal and down-to-earth and the latter is a malicious, fascistic sociopath.

To read the rest of my review of The Riot Club, please follow the link: www.moviemarker.co.uk/?p=27431

Film Inquiry: Life Itself

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The thumbnail image of a suspiciously lithe-looking Ebert that I was first drawn to on Rotten Tomatoes. Photo: Everett Collection

Life Itself is a superlatively crafted documentary that gives a compelling, poignant insight into Roger Ebert, while also delving into the subject of film criticism and its relationships with the film industry.

When I want to see a film’s critical reception, I head for Rotten Tomatoes rather than IMDB, because the latter is saturated with fan-boys and uninformed opinion. Rotten Tomatoes introduced me to many different critics who wrote for reputable sources such as The Guardian, The New York Times and The Telegraph, but time and again I was drawn to the small thumbnail image of a white haired, bespectacled man who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times. I had no knowledge of Roger Ebert’s fame at this point, I was just naturally drawn to his image when I selected the ‘Top Critics’ section.

To read the entire article, please follow the link: http://filminquiry.com/life-itself-2014-review/

Film Inquiry: Our Favourite Film Couples

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The Film Inquiry team have been considering cinema’s greatest couples. I was planning on choosing a non-romantic couple for my contribution until I remembered the very special Enough Said. Directed by Nicole Holofcener, the film charts the romance between Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini), two divorcees who are introduced to each other at a party. Their remarkably naturalistic performances are key to the film’s success.

To read more about Enough Said and see the other contributions, please visit: filminquiry.com/favorite-film-couples/

Film Inquiry: What Constitutes A Cult Film?

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Cult films are difficult to define, as they vary in scope, themes, genre and in just about every other way. Despite these ambiguities, it is demonstrable that the revered Roger Ebert once got the definition entirely wrong.

In his review of Avatar, Ebert described the film as an “event” that was “predestined to launch a cult.” Avatar was indeed an event, as the film had been the subject of a relentless $150 million promotional campaign that employed methods as commercial and corporate as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. An otherwise emphatic Ebert acknowledged this caveat, describing it as a “dubious advance buzz,” but I think this manufactured buzz should immediately negate any arguments that it is a cult film. Any highly successful blockbuster film with a profile that’s been pumped up by Rupert Murdoch’s deep moneybags can rarely be called a “cult film,” as its reach and grasp are far too large.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Film Inquiry: filminquiry.com/what-constitutes-cult-film/

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl is a dark, suspenseful and brilliantly twisty thriller with a sharp satirical edge.

I saw Gone Girl back during its theatrical release and I had so many good things to say about it that it became a hard article to write – it’s easier to severely criticise something than to steep it in praise. The film really felt like an event, the widespread advertising had roused the interest of many people I knew. The trailer had certainly roused mine, it was an 18 certificate domestic thriller that really compelled me to wonder ‘Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?’ – I was sure that David Fincher would answer the mystery with his trademark style and vigour.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ haunting What Have We Done To Each Other? filled the huge and completely empty auditorium as I walked into it, immediately creating the film’s rivetingly dark, aberrant tone. The instrumental continued during the film’s opening, which I expected to be another of Fincher’s elaborate introduction sequences, but was actually far more understated. Dunne’s suburban Missouri neighbourhood is captured in a slick, foreboding manner by cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, who has collaborated with Fincher on Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The film’s first hour is riddled with a very ominous ambiguity. With his insouciant, equable manner, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) appears to be a likeable protagonist who is taking his shocking situation perhaps too much in his stride. As new details emerge from the case, however, we begin to wonder whether Nick’s nonchalance is a manifestation of a callous, sociopathic mind.

There’s not much more I can really say about either character or narrative development, as the film has a great twist. It is perhaps a spoiler to even say that, so I will stop. I was pleased to find that the film is just as good second time round, especially if you’re watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it, you can experience the film’s twists and turns vicariously.

In addition to its excellent plotting is a sharp satirical edge; Gone Girl’s satire on the media is far more cutting and resonant than anything in the dull, self-satisfied and heavy-handed Network (1976). Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) – the brassy, brash presenter of a Fox News inspired current affairs programme – doesn’t wonder about Nick’s curiously relaxed behaviour, she declares with absolute certainty that Dunne is a sociopath who has murdered his wife. Abbott obnoxiously raises her voice as she shamelessly peddles bias and hatred to masses of people, inviting ‘experts’ to falsely corroborate her toxic claims. As the film progresses we see the extent of Abbott and her programme’s fickleness and yellow journalism.

As the media circus that literally surrounds Nick gets increasingly hysterical and dangerous, the threat of mob violence seems only moments away until Nick recruits Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), an affable and brilliant lawyer. Bolt’s relish for challenging situations and unwavering confidence is very comforting for both Nick’s and the audience’s nerves – Perry gives a great performance as the amusing, quick-witted executive.

To support Cronenweth’s attractive photography and the wide, cinematic 2.35:1 format is the aforementioned excellent score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The score is a collection of electronic ambient music that ranges from the peaceful with Sugarstorm and Like Home to the dark and disturbing with What Have We Done To Each Other? and Consummation, which is a sound straight from hell.

Reznor and Ross are very adroit at creating music that perfectly fits and enhances each scene. Reznor gave an interesting insight into the collaborative methods between Ross, Fincher and himself in an interview with Hit Fix –

We made the decision to make music we felt belonged in that world, not for scenes, not for characters. We absorbed the script, we thought about the space it was in, the feelings involved, then spent a few weeks composing music from an impressionistic point of view, subconsciously almost, to run by David to ask ‘Hey, does it feel like it’s in the right world?’’

This approach was ‘right on the money’, inspiring Fincher which in turn further inspired Ross and Reznor.

The Academy is routinely criticised for omitting quality films from their nominations and commending works that don’t deserve it. I think this year’s greatest insult is a Best Picture nod for the comparatively insipid American Sniper over this delightfully warped psychological thriller. They nominated Rosamund Pike for Best Actress at least, but I can’t discuss her show-stealing performance!

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Film Inquiry: Auschwitz and Cinema’s Depiction of the Holocaust

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‘My visit to Auschwitz was more uncanny than overwhelming’

‘I had read that it was an ‘overwhelming’ experience, and I suppose that is an accurate description, however my reaction to this overwhelment wasn’t an emotional breakdown but rather a numb detachment that was punctuated by an occasional portent feeling and this nervous unease that put the hairs on the back of my neck on end. I’d get this latter sensation when I peeked into the windows of locked barracks; in most instances the rooms were dark, dusty and dilapidated, yet having some knowledge of what happened in these nondescript old wrecks made me feel somewhat spooked as if some tortured soul’s face was suddenly going to appear in the shadows.’

Please read the whole article on my visit to Auschwitz and a discussion of cinema’s depiction of the Holocaust at Film Inquiry – filminquiry.com/auschwitz-cinemas-depiction-holocaust/

Nightcrawler (2014)

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Jake Gyllenhaal gives an excellent performance as Lou Bloom, one of the most compelling on-screen manipulators I’ve seen in a long time.

Nightcrawler is a Schraderesque character study of a man far more dangerous than Travis Bickle. Like Bickle, Lou Bloom doesn’t like people, however Taxi Driver saw Bickle feel compassion for at least one person – Lou seems to have contempt for absolutely everyone. Lou’s interactions with other people have only one purpose – control. He is very opportunistic and has an unshakable confidence that isn’t hindered by the human inconveniences of nervousness and guilt.

Jake Gyllenhaal commands the long monologues of Dan Gilroy’s script, stealing every scene he’s in as the unnervingly brazen and enthusiastic Lou Bloom. Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role and it really worked, his gaunt face and glaring eyes do quite a lot of the acting for him. The performance carries the film and this will no doubt be recognised by the Academy next February.

In the film’s opening moments, Lou is a vagrant who is shown committing crimes both petty and, it’s suggested, not very petty at all. He’s in the desperate pursuit of a job, and when he meets someone who could be of benefit, Lou initiates his charm offensive and inundates them with a relentless barrage of articulate yet platitudinous language as if he’s reciting the effusive CV of a quixotic student.

Although his self-promotion is overbearing in the first few instances, Lou soon proves his skill in accruing large amounts of information and repeating it with the utmost conviction and credibility. Gyllenhaal must have relished delivering director Gilroy’s excellent script, his manner of speech reminded me of Patrick Bateman’s highly detailed monologues on everything from his morning routine to Huey Lewis and the News in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Despite both men’s articulacy, their diction feels recycled, and this is because it is – their sociopathy means they cannot form true, sincere relationships, but they can counterfeit them through their adroit ability of learning and imitating the necessary behaviour.

Quick wits and amorality are key skills for any successful paparazzo, so it is unsurprising that Lou Bloom thrives in the field. His first forays into professional prying are very funny. Inspired by a chance encounter with venerable camera man Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), Lou buys a rudimentary camcorder and scours the myriad streets of Los Angeles, abruptly stopping next to the scene of a car accident and poking his camera right in people’s faces; when he’s challenged he proclaims with an uncommon doubtfulness –‘I’m fairly certain I’m allowed to do this!’ You soon see Bloom gain confidence as he pushes the boundaries further and further, making for tense, unpredictable viewing.

His audacity proves successful, snatching footage that’s nice and gory, impressing Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the blonde, brassy director of a local news channel. Despite an appearance and demeanour that suggests seasoned business acumen, Nina spends much of the film under the thumb of Lou.

After proving his worth, enjoying his growing control over Nina and soon realising how vital he is for the news agency’s spiking ratings, Lou proves that his manipulation can work, albeit it very unattractively, in courtship. Gilroy’s best monologue occurs when, over dinner with a reluctant Nina, Lou blackmails her into establishing a longstanding sexual agreement, using a business-like vernacular bereft of anything remotely romantic, erotic or sexual.

Like Gone Girl, Night Crawler is a satire of the yellow journalism peddled by television news, content that’s perhaps interesting for the public but not in the public interest, a distinction that is gleefully ignored in favour of lucrative scare-mongering and countless other immoralities. As the majority of the characters are under this satirical gaze, I found it hard to care when they fell victim to Lou’s vicious conniving, my apathy extending to even his long, suffering accomplice Rick (Riz Ahmed), who is too darn wet and insipid to get that emotionally invested in. None of this, I hasten to add, is a major detriment.

The film is attractively shot by Robert Elswit, much of whose striking work can be found in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson including There Will Be Blood (2007), Punch Drunk Love (2002) and Boogie Nights (1997), the latter’s sun-kissed, neon-lit aesthetic being most similar to Nightcrawler’s. Elswit’s work here is also likely to immediately draw comparisons with Newton Thomas Sigel’s photography in the beautifully slick Drive (2011). 

With a tense, unpredictable narrative that’s laced with strong satire and anchored by a great character and great performance, Nightcrawler is one the best films of 2014.

88%

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

toxie
Toxie having the obligatory post-intercourse cigarette with his blind girlfriend Sara.

 

The Toxic Avenger is an absurd piece of filmmaking with just enough laughs and quirks to make it bearable.

I have been informed that The Toxic Avenger is one of Troma’s better films, so it was perhaps not the most appropriate introduction to their notorious catalogue that contains titles such as Nazi Surfers Must Die and Class of Nuke ‘Em High.

I was expecting gratuitous nudity and violence, and I was presented with it, but one thing I didn’t expect was the pantomime acting. There’s an array of absurd caricatures, including Bozo (Gary Schneider) a psychotic, gym frequenting idiot who enjoys running children over with his friends Slug (Robert Prichard) and Julie (Cindy Manion). Whilst at the gym, they antagonise the janitor Melvin (Mark Torgl), a ridiculously dorky moron who spends much of his screen presence squirming and baring his comedy-looking teeth. I thought there would be a good old fashioned revenge film to be found in The Toxic Avenger, and there is to a certain extent, but the relentlessly silly acting broke any modicum of investment I may have had in the characters to the point where it became almost unwatchable.

Other characters include Mayor Belgoody (Pat Ryan Jr), the corpulent, corrupt mayor of ‘Tromaville’; the German police chief (David Weiss), who accidentally exposes his closeted Nazism by compulsively performing the Nazi salute and blurting out Fuhrer!, and Sara (Andree Maranda), the Toxic Avenger’s attractive, blind girlfriend whose condition is often the subject of juvenile jokes, the most frequent one being her stick inadvertently making contact with Toxie’s crotch.

I’m sure most are familiar with the premise – during a particularly humiliating session of bullying, Melvin the janitor falls out of a window and into a barrel of toxic waste, transforming him into a super strong and super righteous mutant – The Toxic Avenger.

Performed by Mitchell Cohen, the Toxic Avenger’s, or Toxie’s, screen presence is the film’s chief merit. The prosthetics and makeup applied to Cohen’s body are very good considering the budget and Troma’s reputation. The scene in which Melvin transforms into Toxie is also appropriately painful looking and gruesome, reminding me of the transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London released three years prior.

What I found particularly funny was the Toxic Avenger’s voice. He initially only grunts and roars, I assumed he could no longer speak, however the toxic waste somehow provided him with a silky smooth mid-Atlantic accent (the voice acting provided by Kenneth Kessler). Kessler’s diction is made for radio, it never gets old hearing it emanate from such a grotesque mouth. Amusingly, whenever Toxie speaks in this accent, his back is always facing the camera; this I thought was a reflection of the budget, so I was surprised when in the latter stages of the film you see Toxie speaking directly into the camera with no technical hitches at all – a sudden influx of money, perhaps?

Like everything else in the film, the violence is amateurish. At times it reminded me of my friend and I’s home movies. Using the ‘DigitalBlue’ camera, we created whole horror film franchises including the terrifying ‘Oven Glove Man’ series and homages to the infamous Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th. Inevitably, the two characters eventually clashed in a Freddy vs. Jason fashion, my friend was the ‘Oven Glove Man’ and I, wearing a fancy dress hockey mask, was Jason Voorhees.

If my memory is correct, the majority of the films followed the same format of a murder scene followed by a still shot of the victim covered in terrible blood and gore effects that I had applied with relish using the software’s paintbrush function. Now and again the film felt like this, there would be lengthy fight scenes with little in the way of tangible choreography and violence. The viewers’ bloodlust is only given slight satiation when Toxie deals a finishing blow and the incapacitated victim’s wounds are shown in often motionless close-up shots, some of which being very gory, particularly the scene in which Bozo runs over a teenager’s head.

With gore, scantily clad women and ridiculous campy humour, The Toxic Avenger has many earmarks of a Troma film. However, unlike most comparable films, there are enough laughs to make its 87 minutes bearable and at times somewhat entertaining.

60%