Posts Tagged ‘Mark Kermode’

Mark Kermode’s Review of Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

November 4, 2018

Michael Moore is the ‘capped crusader’, the left-wing American film-maker responsible for a string of powerful documentaries, from his first film, Michael and Me, to Fahrenheit 9/11 about the War on Terror, Bowling for Columbine about the Columbine High School massacre, Sicko, on the pitfalls of America’s private healthcare system and Capitalism: A Love Story, which is very definitely not a celebration of American private enterprise. His latest film, which was released a few weeks ago, is Fahrenheit 11/9 about the rise of Donald Trump. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are the film critics on BBC Radio 5. Here Kermode gives his view on Moore’s movie.

He begins by explaining that the title refers to the date on which Trump won the presidential and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, conceded defeat. It’s also a reference to his earlier film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and to Ray Bradbury’s SF classic, Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which paper burns. Fahrenheit 9/11 became the highest grossing documentary film and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Kermode has his own reservations about Moore, in particular the grandstanding and stunts he plays in his movies. The film examines how the fruitcake, to use Kermode’s substitute term, we got to this point. Trump announced his intention to run for the Whitehouse because he was sick of Gwen Stefani earning more than him. Then his candidacy was taken seriously, and he got elected. In addition to talking about Trump himself, Moore also discusses his own peculiar relationship with Trump and his aides. He was given assistance with his earlier films by Bannon and Kushner, and met Trump himself on the Tonight Show. Trump said that he liked Michael and Me, but hoped Moore wouldn’t make a film about him. Moore actually went easy on him during that interview, because he’d been told to.

Moore also uses the film to criticize what he sees are the failings in the Democrats. They didn’t take Trump seriously. He talks specifically about the disgusting state of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and how Obama, as he sees it, did nothing about it. This has led to the current crisis, where people are alienated from politics because they see everyone as part of the elite.

He does, however, see change coming from young people, who are refusing to put up with this. Kermode plays a clip from the film in which he talks to Michael Hepburn, a young Black Democratic candidate for Florida. Hepburn explains that the problem is the lack of will and backbone from the Democrats, and the fact that they’re taking money from the same sources as the Republicans. He states that the Democratic party should be recruiting extraordinary ordinary Americans, who get on the same bus as their constituents. Who have kids in the same public schools, and so know what it’s like when the teachers don’t get paid a real salary or lack resources.

A young woman explains that the definition of electoral insanity is electing the same guys over and over again and expecting things to be any different.

This is followed by a clip of a news programme explaining that for the first time, the Democrats in Michigan will have an all-female ticket. He talks to Rashida Talib, who is poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She says ‘We are not ready to give up on the party, just ready to take it over and put some people in there that get it.’
‘Take it over?’ Moore asks.
‘Take it over, Michael. Take it over,’ she replies.

Kermode also says that the strongest voices are those of schoolchildren, including one piece where they talk about the revolution that is going on through social media. He finds it refreshing that someone is talking about social media in a positive way. He still finds Moore a problematic figure, and that the film doesn’t really ‘wrestle the problem to the ground’. However, it does offer a glimmer of hope through young people. This is what happens when people feel disenfranchised, and a younger generation who are fed up with not being represented. He goes on to say that there is a certain repetition of themes, because they’re close to Moore’s heart. He also says that he feels that Moore is sincere about this film. He says it’s impossible to say what impact the film will have. It’s nothing like the scale of Fahrenheit 9/11. He also believes the best film about Trump was You’ve Been Trumped, made long before the Orange Buffoon came to power and which was about him and the golf courses in Scotland. But it’s a sincere work, with less of the ‘stunty stuff’ which Kermode doesn’t like.

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Trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

December 26, 2016

Looking through YouTube on Christmas Day, I found a trailer for the next instalment in the Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant. Directed by Ridley Scott, this follows on from his not-quite Alien prequel, Prometheus, which came out in four years ago in 2012. The blurb for this runs

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby.

The trailer shows the Covenant landing, and a scene with one of the David robots, played by Michael Fassbender. On landing, one of the crew steps on a bizarre set of bulbs, which releases some kind of spore. There is also a proper Alien egg hatching, ready to birth a facehugger. The sequence begins with one of the female characters refusing to let one of the other women out of room with a man, who is clearly in the agonies of some kind of transformation, or the eruption of an Alien from their body. It ends with two lovers in a shower having their tender moment interrupted by an Alien attack.

According to the YouTube page, it opens on May 19th.

This is another movie that I’m looking forward to, along with the sequel to another of Scott’s SF masterpieces, Blade Runner 2049.

The Alien has now become one of the classic Hollywood monsters, alongside the Predator, and older creatures like the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolfman. Several critics have pointed out that Alien was basically a ‘B’ movie, but treated like a Hollywood main feature. I’d say that this was a fair statement. The basic story – alien gets on board spaceship to run amok killing the crew – was the storyline of another, very definite ‘B’ movie of the 1950s or ’60s. The same critic remarked that it could have – and very nearly did – come from Roger Corman, the great director responsible for churning out any number of them. Fortunately, Dan O’Bannon, the script writer, objected and the studio found Ridley Scott instead. What elevated the movie far above it’s ‘B’ movie plot were its stylish direction by Scott, its superb special effects and the way its script broke a number of conventions and gender stereotypes. It was one of the first SF movies to have a strong female lead in Ripley. Another critic has pointed out that as well as breaking gender stereotypes, Ripley also broke another Hollywood convention in that she was basically a hard, by-the-book character. These types usually die before the end of the movie, but not before they perform some noble gesture that shows they’re OK really. Ripley goes by the book, and doesn’t want to let Kane in to infect the ship with whatever attacked him. She’s right, but it’s a hard attitude, and she’s overridden by Ash, who appears to be acting from simple compassion. The reality is otherwise, and, as everyone whose watched or heard of the film knows, carnage ensues. But Ripley survives to the end, and finally beats the monster.

And, of course, what really made the monster one of the classics was its unique quality and the dark beauty of its realization by Swiss Surrealist H.R. Giger. The Alien’s two-stage life cycle – facehugger and then the monster itself, is genuinely alien. It isn’t like anything on Earth. Its gestation inside humans is based on the ichneumon moth, which lays its eggs in captive caterpillars. These serve as living larders as the developing larvae hatch and eat their host from the inside. It plays on the fear of parasitism, and was intended by the writer and director to make the men in the audience afraid of rape and a malign pregnancy, rather than women.

And when it finally emerges and develops, the monster itself does not look like anything on Earth. The film was before CGI and a little before animatronics, so it really was another ‘man in a rubber suit’. However, it’s design was so unique that it didn’t look like one. It was both cadaverously thin, like a spindly, distorted human corpse, but with an insect carapace. It also had a tongue with its own mouth and set of teeth, and appeared to lack any kind of external sense organs. There are no eyes or ears that you can see. Finally, there are the strange tubes emerging from its back.

Stylistically, it was one of the biomechanical creatures that formed Giger’s oeuvre. These were a disturbing mixture of the biological and mechanical, so that organically derived shapes had the shapes of, and acted like, machines. The Alien was so uniquely strange and disturbing, that it’s influenced the design of other malignant beings from space since then. The aliens in Independence Day show Giger’s influence, as did the ‘Sleazoids’ in an X-Men storyline of about the same time, and the Cythrons and their armour in the Slaine strip in 2000 AD, for those comic fans of a certain age.

There’s also supposed to be an Alien 5 in production, which will apparently see the return of Ripley, Newt and the surviving Space Marine from James Cameron’s Aliens. I don’t know much about this, however.

The Alien franchise is now 3 1/2 decades old, and like Hammer Horror’s Dracula, or Star Wars, doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. From the trailer it looks like the latest instalment could be well worth going to, if you’re a fan of what Mark Kermode has called ‘gribbly monsters.’

Coming Soon to TV this Christmas: IDS – A Real Video Nasty?

December 13, 2014

Ever since Charles Dickens invented the ‘traditional’, Victorian Christmas with A Christmas Carol, ghost and horror stories have been a part of the season’s entertainment. In the 1970s and ’80s the BBC broadcast a series of ghost stories, including a version of Dickens’ The Railwayman, and the chilling tales of the master of the British ghost story, M.R. James. The latter were told by Robert Powell, taking the part of James himself, who every Christmas settled down in his room at Oxford to tell a story of the ghastly and supernatural to his students. Last year Mark Gatiss of the League of Gentlemen and now Dr Who, presented a documentary on James’ life and career. Gatiss and the other members of the League were horror fans, and arguably much of the new Dr Who has its roots less in Science Fiction than Dark Fantasy and Horror. He therefore was a good choice as the programme’s presenter.

Other spooky delights on offer on TV in the past were Hammer’s gory and grisly tales, such as Dracula, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Wolfman, featuring Oliver Reed as a werewolf, a part, which it could be said, he continued playing in many of his subsequent dramatic performances on chat shows around the world for much of his life. Some of his still remember his finest hour when he was thrown off the final programme of the discussion programme, After Dark.

Now watching the trailers last night for the forthcoming seasonal delights on the Beeb, I came across something that was genuinely unpleasant, far more so than anything dreamed up by Terence Fisher and the other fevered minds at Bray Studios in the 1960s. It was for a celebrity edition of University Challenge, and one of the faces looked like that of IDS.

This is genuinely grotesque. Christmas is traditionally a time of peace and goodwill to all, and yet there’s precious little of that on display with IDS and his actions. This is the politician, who has cut benefits and imposed sanctions to the point where claimants have actually died of cold and starvation on Britain’s streets, in their homes, or taken their lives through desperation. This is the politicians, who has lied and lied again about the effects of his policies to parliament. Not only that, but he is also personally treacherous and utterly without honour. When one lady, a Dutchwoman who had grown up here, worked all her life and paid her tax came to him as her MP about immigration problems, not only did … Smith refuse to help, he tried to have her deported.

Good King Wenceslaus, the song goes, took pity on a poor man ‘gathering winter fuel’, and so took him home to share his food and hearth out of charity. The real King Wenceslaus was the early medieval king of Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic, who converted the country to Christianity. I’ve got the feeling that the Czech version of his name is Vaclav, which is obviously still a popular name in the Republic. It’s the first name, for example, of the dissident poet and first democratic Czech president after the fall of Communism, Vaclav Havel. I don’t know whether the real King Wenceslas ever did what the carol describes, but it’s not impossible. Medieval religion strongly emphasised charity and the ‘works of mercy’ as part of the co-operative grace granted to humanity through which they could gain salvation partly through their good works. It formed what modern scholars have termed an ‘economy of salvation’ in which wealthy merchants and rich noblemen were careful to work out exactly how much money they should spend on charity for the poor in order gain time off in Purgatory. Looking after the material needs of the poor was particularly important, as it was believed that they far dearer to the Lord than the rich, and so their blessings and prayers were particularly important in securing God’s pardon.

For all IDS’ rhetoric about ‘social justice’, I’ve seen precious little evidence that IDS has anything but hatred and contempt for the poor. Far from helping the poor man collect his firewood, and show due concern for the page following in his footsteps against treacherous, icy footing, IDS strikes me as far more likely to have taken away the pauper’s firewood as above the level allowed by feudal law, and given him a strong lecture on his improvidence and lack of self-sufficiency in not having rationed his firewood properly in the Christmas season. And the page would have to have made his own way to keep up with the king, as this would have been the only way to give him the proper training to compete in the go-ahead, globalised economy of the 11th century.

It also struck me as the beginning of a charm offensive by the Tory party in preparation for next year’s election. The Tories are keenly aware that they have an image as ‘the nasty party’. IDS himself is surely aware that he is one of the most hated men in Britain. It’s why he opened a jobs fair in his constituency, Chingford, early and left before the masses arrived. It’s also why he has been forced to sneak out the back when appearing at a job centre in Bath, as well as hide in laundry baskets to escape protesters. He’s also such a physical coward that when he appeared before a select committee in parliament to give evidence, he was surrounded by bodyguards and armed cops, pointing their guns at the public, including a number of disabled people and their carers in the public gallery.

His appearance on a festive edition of University Challenge looks like an attempt to present him as genial and family-friendly, a jolly type quite prepared to make a fool of himself on a quiz show at this time of year, rather than the vindictive, mean-spirited curmudgeon his really is.

It also seems to bear out a comment by Mark Kermode about the personal character of the makers of Horror and Family movies. Kermode’s the film critic on Radio 5 Live. He’s a long term Horror fan, having written books on Horror cinema and spoken before the British Boards of Film Certification about the censorship of particular video nasties. You remember them. They were films like Driller Killer, I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left, that were so disgusting that when they appeared in the 1970s and ’80s they were banned. Kermode has said in his reviews that the makers of Horror movies all invariably tend to be really nice people. Wes Craven, who made Last House on the Left and then the Nightmare on Elm Street series, was actually a genuinely nice, highly educated, intelligent man. Craven has said in interviews that the extreme and genuinely disgusting violence and brutality in Last House on the Left was partly inspired by the images that were coming out of Vietnam in 1973. He saw the film as a polemic against violence, and showing how violence simply begets even more violence. To that point, he once walked out of one of Quentin Tarentino’s flicks. When one of the horror great Horror directors asked him how he could walk out of Tarentino’s movie, after he had directed something as revolting as Last House on the Left, Craven replied, ‘Well at least my movie’s about something!’

M.R. James seems to be another case in point. Rather than being a pale, sour misanthrope, Gatiss’ programme described James as quite a jovial, very sociable figure in real life, who enjoyed physically romping with his fellow students. Gatiss talked to the son of one of James’ students, who said that his father believed him to have been a non-practicing gay. Regardless of the speculation about James’ sexuality, what was clear was that James was a genuinely friendly man, who enjoyed his friends’ company and affection.

By contrast, according to Kermode, you can bet that the people who make family films are personally nasty. Well, this seems pretty much the case with IDS, which is no doubt why he wants to appear on TV in a positive light. Forget Hammer, Frankenstein, Dracula and Freddie Kruger, this is one Horror story I’ll be glad to miss.

Movie Review: Black Sea and Mark Kermode on Countdown to Zero

December 6, 2014

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the submarine thriller, Black Sea. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s been advertised on the TV, and the basic plot is that a group of British and Russian divers and submariners get together to search for a sunken German submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. The sub’s cargo is a consignment of gold from a loan the Germans extorted from Stalin during the brief period of peace during the Nazi-Soviet pact prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Ethnic tensions between the Brits and the Russians, and personal betrayal leads to a series of catastrophes that eventually scupper the mission and lead to a battle for sheer survival. It’s a taut thriller, with much of the tension derived from the situation of desperate, dangerous men working in a highly confined, dangerous environment, while trying to avoid detection by the authorities.

Despite the ethnic friction between Brits and Russians, I also found the film optimistic in its portrayal of relations between the two nations. The two leading characters, who set it up, one British and one Russian, are friends living in London. Even after the outbreak of violence, the hero and his Russian counterpart continue working together and try to prevent its escalation. Even after the end of the mission, the friendship between the few surviving crew, Russian and British, continues. I liked it, because not only does it show the current reality in that since the fall of Communism, people from the former eastern bloc, including Russia, have come over here to live, work and set up businesses, but that friendship co-operation between Brits and Russians is as much the norm, indeed possibly more normal, than chauvinistic distrust.

Glasnost and the Rise of a Shared Pop/Rock culture

In this respect, it’s a slightly better world than when I was growing up. I was at secondary school during the new Cold War between Reagan, Thatcher and the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. It was an absolutely terrifying time, when many people feared that at any second the world would end in a flash of gamma radiation and fall out. There were some truly horrific films, like Threads and The Day After on American TV, showing what a nuclear war and its consequences would be like, along with documentaries about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. It was very much a cause for celebration when tensions eased when Reagan and Gorby started to talk to each other around the negotiating table in Iceland, and the USSR began to open up to Westerners and western influences. The first pop video I bought was of UB40’s concert in Moscow, not so much because I liked the great Reggae popsters themselves, but because I was fascinated and delighted by the fact that they were now playing live in Russia in front of their fans from that side of the former Iron Curtain.

And the same process happened in reverse too, as Russian bands and clothing became fashionable over here. The USSR always had a very strong youth culture, and they were not as nearly as backward as was often portrayed in the British press. If you believed the Sun – I know, that’s a very big stretch, but go with it – then the young and cool in the Soviet Union had only just caught up with the Beatles in the 1980s. In fact, the Soviets had a large skinhead culture, who were, I was told at College, referred to by the rest of the Soviet press as ‘British horrors’. A massive Heavy Metal rock culture developed extremely rapidly. The greatest and most visible exponents of Soviet Heavy Metal were the mighty Kruiz, who toured the West and whose albums were available over here. I think one of their songs was ‘Heaviest in Town’, in which the singer searches for the heaviest rock band, only to conclude ‘I’ll fly to Moscow for Kruiz’. There were also a number of other Russian bands, who were virtually unknown over here. Martin Walker, the Guardian’s Russia correspondent, tried to make people on this side of the Baltic aware of some of the best and most interesting in his column. There’s a lot of really good rock and pop in Russia and the former eastern bloc states, quite apart from some of the stuff that appears on the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re on Youtube and worth checking out.

Black Sea reflects this changed situation, and I am profoundly glad that it does and the world has moved on and improved just that little bit since the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the Russian characters shows it’s aimed partly at the Russian market. Its release during this period of strained international relations between Russian and the West over the situation in the Ukraine shows that the friendship and co-operation between Russia and Britain is now considered the natural, normal reality. My deepest hope is that this situation will continue and that our politicians will have the wisdom to build on it, and not let the conflict in Ukraine drag us back to the fear and hatred of the Cold War, that nearly destroyed our world.

Countdown to Zero and the Persistence of the Nuclear Threat

Mark Kermode is the film critic over at Radio 5 live. He’s a very literate commenter, having a doctorate in Horror film. When he was younger, he was the British correspondent for the Horror film magazine, Fangoria, or as he states it was known to aficionados, ‘Exploding Chests Monthly’. His reviews are always interesting and well argued, even if you disagree with him, such as on the subject of the Star Wars films. He dislikes them, while I really loved the first three films, and enjoyed the prequels. He also genuinely appreciates his listeners writing to him and giving their views, even when they take the opposite view to his.

One of the films he reviewed is Countdown to Zero, a documentary about what happened to all the nuclear weapons that were supposedly packed away at the end of the Cold War. The film shows that the weapons and the hair-trigger response systems are still in place. A nuclear bomb is much easier to make than may be thought, and the danger that these could fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states is very real. The film reveals how at several points after the supposed end of the Cold War, mistakes made by the superpowers could have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. I haven’t seen the movie, but it does sound like a deeply unsettling, thought-provoking movie, and the opposite of the slightly more optimistic vision behind Black Sea. Hopefully, the optimists and peace-makers will win through, and that the world won’t go back to the ideological, economic and nationalistic fears and hate that nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. Countdown to Zero shows that we shouldn’t be complacent, but it does seem that the world is just that little bit better after the end of the Cold War. And we should be profoundly glad of that.

Kermode’s review of Countdown to Zero is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfkfn4W_hgM. It’s well worth a listen, especially as it shows we still need to get our politicians working on a truly secure peace.

Blade Runner to Be Re-Released in Cinemas This Month

December 2, 2014

Good news for fans of quality SF. According to Mark Kermode’s blog for 28th November, last Friday, the BFI are releasing the final cut of Ridley Scott’s epic Blade Runner to be shown for one day in cinemas around the country on December 14th, 2014. According to Kermode, the film will also be shown nationally for a week next year. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/posts/The-Mystery-Of-Blade-Runner.

Kermode makes the excellent point in the post that most people have probably only seen the film on the small screen, and not as it was originally intended to be seen at the cinema. This is a film that truly deserves and rewards being seen at the cinema on a large screen. As for Blade Runner itself, we’re only four years away from the time it’s set in 2019, and there are no Replicants nor off-world colonies. This doesn’t matter in the slightest, as it’s still one of the great, classic SF movies which transcends its limitations. Highly recommended.