Have you ever imagined just how powerful your name is? Both with and without it you are everything and nothing. It can mask and reveal as much about your parents as it can about your own soul. Changed by friends, marriage or deed poll you have a symbiotic relationship with the letters that form the DNA of your existence. Only a parent truly relinquishes their given name, most do willingly, some do reluctantly but when a child no longer recognises you as mum or dad, when they revert to using the name of your own childhood, then you are submerged deep inside your own existential crisis.
A Field In England
Self proclaimed coward and alchemist’s assistant Whitehead cowers in a field. A battle rages just over the hedgerows, the God of War churns up dirt and sound. The English Civil War in “A Field In England” is captured in startling black and white, sometimes Neorealist massacre, at others Nouvelle Vague period drama, and often a psychedelic Theatre of Cruelty
The field grows vast, as the fog of war is lost over the horizon. Serene and unsettling this slice of green and pleasant land seems unsullied by the English assault on God, the challenge to the divine right of kings. Still the earth seems sentient, brooding, and ready to spew forth, righteous damnation on the blasphemous heretics or hell borne fury on the weak of soul. Either way Ben Wheatley’s fourth directorial effort infects his audience with a terrible sense of unease.
“Whilst we live fear of hell we have it” recounts Whitehead. Is he about to reject his faith and place his trust in the pseudo-science of his unseen master? Two ruffians Cutler and Jacob join him obsessed with ale and women. Friend a softer soul, fleshy and malleable takes an interest in the educated Whitehead, “You think about a thing before you touch it.” “Is that unusual?” questions Whitehead. “It is in Essex” deadpans friend.
Whitehead’s prissy curiosity just outweighs his fears and he is in fact on a mission to find the enigmatic O’Neil. Here the camera is lucid refusing to film reality but instead revealing a narrative purgatory, one that never illuminates-but rather suggests the dark arts, the lens replaced by the obsidian orb of a scrying mirror. Cutler puts the motley crew to work pulling a rope that has seemingly been displaced from a galley. Hauled into existence through the dirt is O’Neil.
In the film’s most horrific moment Whitehead is lured into a tent by O’Neil and kissed by darkness. His screams are worse than Quint’s fingernails clawing that blackboard in “Jaws.” Wheatley cloaks his torment, we can only guess at what would break a man so completely. What emerges from the tent is truly disturbing; Whitehead’s twisted countenance leers in slow motion utterly base and depraved as he shambles for eternity, whispers of Aguirre Wrath of God” echo from the screen.
“A Field In England’s” crowning glory is the wild hallucinogenic sequence; Polanski, Roeg, Cammell, Hardy and old computer generated rave videos are all referenced as the film literally collapses in on itself, the audience struggling to remain focused on the mirror images racing right before their eyes. Sound becomes detached, random, something to be caught or plucked out of the air.
Alongside his own “Kill List” Ben Wheatley has created something remarkable, intangible. His ability to deliver the uncanny is frightening. Is he the successor to David Lynch who can also make the most mundane inanimate objects seem the most terrifying things in the world? Art house “Solomon Kane” or acidic “Witchfinder General” “A Field In England” could even be a Chris Morris film about Glastonbury. Now there’s a thought.
It’s tempting to review The Heat, the lady-centric buddy cop comedy from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, by focusing on what the movie is not. It is not an action vehicle made by men, for men; the by-the-books stickler and loose cannon who must learn to work together are played by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, respectively, and its screenwriter is Parks and Recreation veteran Katie Dippold. It is not the most original plot that has ever been put to film; if you’ve seen a buddy cop movie in your lifetime, the basic beats are already extremely familiar. And, last but not least, it is not a total cinematic victory for feminism.
“Is God dead?” For some atheists he never lived, but our film idols did. And when the director you worship dies how do you begin to replace him? Like religion there’s a good deal of choice on offer: Romanek, Audiard, Haneke, Nolan, Ramsay, Tarantino, but one shouldn’t be hurried into making a rash decision. Their talents are undeniable but when your deity is Stanley Kubrick the problem becomes ever more complex; how do you substitute the one true cinematic God for one of his children?
Inside the charm and gentle wit of “The Wedding Video” is an Ira Levin satire trying to claw its way out. Set in the WAG safe-haven of Cheshire, Nigel Cole’s movie has all the right credentials to be a British version of “The Stepford Wives” or “Rosemary’s Baby” as it documents the run-up to the wedding of upwardly mobile couple Tim and Saskia.
Faster, higher stronger! The Olympics continue to deliver the most extraordinary tales of endeavour, victory and defeat against the backdrop of a resurgent London. Athletes and pundits litter their media bites with all the standards: dedication, hard work, sacrifice, agony, heartache, despair, elation and desire. We’re used to sporting comebacks; we love the tenacity and the heroism of them but where do world famous film directors retreat to when they have to lick their wounds?
Joseph is a rampaging shambles of a man, a wounded dinosaur looking for a tar pit to curl up and die in. His meteor hit long ago throwing up a black cloud of hate that blots out the Sun and the spectre of extinction looms large over his nameless Northern home. He wears the universal uniform of a dangerous nutter: tracksuit bottoms with boots and a donkey jacket.
He’s thrown out of everywhere and detests everyone. Vicious, unbridled rage leads him to kick his dog to death over a lost bet. For a nation of dog lovers it’s a hard scene to swallow, it’s even harder to fathom when we see Joseph place a loving hand on his dog’s dead paw. We now know that Joseph is fully committed to hurting the ones he loves the most and that Paddy Considine’s debut feature, Tyrannosaur will be a difficult film to watch.
Something dark, unseen and unspeakable is slithering in suburbia in the new British horror film Kill List (dir: Ben Wheatley). Invisible tentacles constrict a family home, throttling the life from a marriage, twisting a father’s relationship with his son. Hidden mouths half-formed and demented feed upon material wealth sucking money dry until only the vacant husk of a man remains to gaze into the abyss of his empty Jacuzzi.
Russian Film Week NYC, which took place from October 28th through November 4th in the (historically Ukrainian) East Village, opened, appropriately enough, with Slava Ross’s “Siberia, Monamour,” a feature of Chekhovian proportions. Ross’s bleak drama is grounded in the characters of a grandfather and his young grandson, unfortunate denizens of the Siberian village of Monamour, a no-man’s land where feral dogs run wild like a pack of Cujos, ruling the forest that surrounds and entraps the pair. As the two vainly await the return of the child’s father, other lost males – from a morally bankrupt soldier, to a cuckolded father, to a conniving thief – drift in and out of their lives, in turn finding their own subplots.
The thin veneer of middle class respectability is blasted apart in Roman Polanski’s midnight-black comedy “Carnage.” Based on Yasmina Reza’s stage play, “The God of Carnage” the film features two New York couples that try to settle a violent episode between their sons with urbane civility. Unfortunately good manners, coffee and cobbler soon make way for hatred, 18-year-old whiskey and good old-fashioned spleen venting on an apocalyptic scale.