Solomon Kane (2009)

| | Action-Adventure/Dark Fantasy | France/Spain/UK 2009 | USA 2012


At first he thought that it was the shadow of a man who stood in the entrance; then he saw that it was a man himself, though so dark and still he stood that a fantastic semblance of shadow was lent him by the guttering candle.

—Robert E. Howard, Red Shadows


§.00 Michael J. Bassett’s dark fantasy adaptation of Robert Howard’s work begins 39 years before the publications of the Bay Psalm Book, and 19 years before the establishment of the Plymouth Colony, with the pirate Solomon Kane (James Purefoy), who, along with his band of bloodthirsty privateers, lays seige to a unnamed Ottoman stronghold. Kane is utterly ruthless in battle. In one scene, he delivers a thrust to a Ottoman soldier’s neck and, sadistically amused, drags the dying man along like a macabre puppet before the his horrified comrades.

When Kane’s band penetrates the stronghold’s defenses and make way to the throne room they are assailed by demons; panic ensues; Kane tells them to hold the line. One of his men defies him and makes for the exit, whereupon he is promptly slain by Kane who declares, “I am the only devil here!”

After this incident Kane enters the throne room but the doors shut behind him. He hears the howling of his men and grimaces, knowing that demons have set upon them. Alone, he turns to the gilded treasure spilt upon the floor of the throne room and is hailed by a demon who introduces itself as the ‘devil’s reaper,’ and declares that it has come to claim Kane’s soul, which is forfeit due to his villainy. The reaper then instructs Kane to submit. Kane, however, refuses to give himself over to the aberration, and escapes.

Sometime later, Kane makes his way to a monastery and turns to a contemplative life of Puritanism and good works. His newfound dedication to being “a man of peace,” however, is tested when a group of travelers with whom he forms a bond is waylaid by demonic brigands under the command of the satanic sorcerer, Malachi (a ominously tattooed Jason Flemyng).

§.01 The central strength of the film is Purefoy’s performance, which is superb throughout. Added to this is the atmosphere, aptly realized through real-location filming, Klas Badelt’s score, which is alternatively (and suitably) rousing and grim, and an able supporting cast (including, Peter William Postlethwaite, Alice Krige, Max Von Sydow and Rachel Hurd-Wood).

§.02 The central weakness in the film is its flimsy penultimate conclusion. The addition of a gigantic metallic fire demon that looked like it walked off the set of Warcraft presented two problems, the first being that it [the demon] has no heft or solidity (unlike the reaper from the beginning of the film); never does the creature appear like it might snatch up the swift-dashing Kane, rather the distinct impression is that if it were to grasp him, it would phase right through the man’s body. Secondarily (and more importantly), the addition of the fire-demon detracts from Kane’s interaction with Malachi, who has just been introduced on-screen, after half a film’s worth of build-up. Malachi, after being introduced, swiftly vanishes (through the use of his magic) and then, when he finally reappears, holding Meredith as a human shield, focus is removed from him once again, and placed upon the lava monster. It is strange to see a character who is not the focal point of their own scene, especially when they are so pivotal to the plot.

§.03 The aforementioned issues are, however, thankfully brief and do little to detract from my generally positive opinion of the film. Its much better than its trailer made it out to be.


In 2010, Solomon Kane was adapted as a novel by British fantasy author, Ramsay Campbell (published by Titan Books).

30 Days of Night (2007) | Review

| | Action, Horror, Thriller, Supernatural | 19 October 2007 (USA)

Direction: David Slade | Cinematography: Jo Willems | Music: Brian Reitzell

Writing: Steve Niles, Brian Nelson & Stuart Beattie (read script here)

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Danny Huston, Melissa George


30 Days of Night follows the exploits of vampire-attack survivors lead by Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett) in the Alaskan town of Barrow in the midst of a month-long polar night.


30 Days of Night is not scary (I find films like State of Play far more unnerving) but it is effective in establishing a atmosphere of unrelenting depression and vain desperation. This bleak tone is established through the isolation of the frigid clime, the psychological anguish of its principal characters and the unflinching manner in which the film depicts their manifold dispatchment at the hands of the vampires (even when they try and help the beasts, as in the case of The Stranger).

Marlow (Danny Huston), the leader of the vampires that attack the town, is most emblematic of the film’s Zapffeian metaphysics. When Kirsten Toomey (Camille Keenan) is used as bait by the monsters to draw out the remaining survivors, she breaks down and begs for mercy. “Please, God…” she moans. Marlow leans coldly towards her. “God?” He queries opaquely, glancing at the soundless sky and then back at the weeping woman. “No god.” In another scene, during a home invasion, Marlow states to a terrified man, “There is no escape. No hope. Only hunger and pain.”

The counterpoint to this pessimism is ensconced in the character of Sheriff Eben Oleson (played with impressive authenticity by Josh Hartnett).

Whereas Marlow kills and devours his own companion when she is crippled from injury, remarking “That which can be broken must be broken,” Eben continuously intervenes to protect the few surviving townsfolk with little regard for his own safety, going so far as to inject himself with vampire blood to ‘turn’ himself so as to better combat Marlow’s brood, despite possessing full knowledge of what such a grotesque transformation entails. It is in Eben’s final act that the tone of film turns from vain pessimism to fatalistic prometheanism, declaring the valor inherent in willful self-sacrifice.

Its a competent film, well written, scored and acted, visceral and gripping that has aged well (save for the uncanny valley CGI oil which looks like cartoon nutella) and has considerably more to mull over than the typical Hollywood monster fare.


The film was adapted from a comic book series of the same name.

The Ghost & The Darkness (1996) | Review

| | Adventure, Drama, Thriller, Creature-feature | 11 October 1996 (USA)

Direction: Stephen Hopkins | Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond | Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Script: William Goldman | Inspired by: The Man-eaters of Tsavo by John Henry Patterson

Starring: Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Tom Wilkinson, John Kani, Bernard Hill, Henry Cele, Brian McCardie, Om Puri


Summary: Tasked with overseeing the construction of a East African railway bridge for the British Empire in 1898, Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) heads to Tsavo where his workers swiftly come under attack by two ferocious man-eating lions. Work slows and the men begin to believe that the animals are no mere lions, but rather, demons. Patterson enlists the aid of the famed hunter Remington (Michael Douglas), and together they set upon an arduous quest to end the maneater’s reign of terror.


In 1996 Roger Ebert gave The Ghost & The Darkness one-and-a-half star out of four and wrote, “‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ is an African adventure that makes the Tarzan movies look subtle and realistic. It lacks even the usual charm of being so bad it’s funny. It’s just bad.” Suffice to say he hated the film (though Siskel appreciated it).

My assessment was (and remains) the complete opposite of Ebert’s, whose review I mention due his assertion that the film was unrealistic. In the serious consideration of any film which purports to be rigorously based off of, or loosely inspired by, real events (as The Ghost & The Darkness does) it is important to establish at the outset just how fantastical it really is (else one could reasonably cry foul and criticize the piece for false advertising). The Ghost & The Darkness falls decidedly into the ‘inspired by’ category, as it is certainly based on real events and yet plays fast and loose with several matters of historical record (chiefly in its inclusion of the character, Remington, who was created for the film and has no real-life antecedent in so far as I am aware). That being said, the maneaters of Tsavo did exist, they were lions and they killed around the same number of people in the film as in real life (more actually). John Henry Patterson also existed, was a engineer as well as a Lt. Col. and did indeed hunt the beasts of Tsavo in 1898 after they killed his men. There is nothing which occurs within the film which is impossible, and very few moments of extraordinary activity (that which stretches believability most is perhaps the assertion that the lions are hunting primarily for the pleasure of killing, though even this can be girded by noting that felines, like humans, sometimes kill, not for food, but for fun).

One of the fascinating aspects of the film which further instantiate the work in the realist genre is its depiction of various period firearms such as Remington’s hefty yet compact howdah pistol (side arm named after the howdah elephant mount, used for close combat against tigers and lions) and Patterson’s now-rare BSA Lee-Speed sporting rifle.

In relation to the narrative itself, the pacing is excellent (neither too swift, nor too fast), the music atmospheric, the performances decent (in the case of Wilkinson) to excellent (in the case of Kilmer), the tension palpable and the lions very plausibly rendered. Patterson’s creative contraptions were one of my favorite parts of the film, specifically the fact that, though they initially failed (through no fault of his own), Remington congratulates him, noting that they were a good idea, regardless of whether or not they work, a subtle recommendation to exhaust all possible creative solutions in pressing situations, rather than being bound, slavelike, to the millstone of ‘common sense.’


Script of William Goldman’s The Ghost & The Darkness

Film Review: The Bone Snatcher (2002)

*** SPOILERS


Having read the deplorably cheezy tagline: It will scare you out of your skull. and being a SyFy original, my expectations for The Bone Snatcher were quite low. I was pleasantly surprised.


Directed by Jason Wulfsohn, written by Malcolm Kohll and Gordon Render and starring Warrick Grier and a bunch of people I had never seen nor heard of, The Bone Snatcher follows the exploits of a talented but mousey systems analyst, Dr. Zach Straker (Scott Bairstow) who is tasked with moving from Canada to the South African Namib Desert to aid a geological survey team after several members of their crew go missing. There he meets the imposing and steely Karl (Warrick Grier), the beautiful and headstrong, Mikki (Rachel Shelley), the superstitious and perpetually ponderous Titus (Patrick Shai), a mouthy driver and a guy who is apparently only in the film to be the first on-screen person to be bonesntached. Once Karl discovers the corpses of his colleagues he is enraged and vows to find their killers. It soon becomes apparent that what killed them is not human when Karl spies a hideous being stalking through the desert. He shoots it and it vanishes, as if into the very air. Shortly, the creature begins picking off the team one by one, forcing Straker, Mikki, Karl and Titus to put aside their differences and formulate a plan to kill it before it steals their bones…

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Straker.
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Mikki.
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Karl.
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Karl discovers the remains of his team, stripped of flesh.
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Karl scopes the bone snatcher but guns prove ineffectual for dealing with the monstrosity.
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Nooo! Character whose name I don’t remember got bonesnatched!
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The Bone Snatcher.

Impressions & Overview

Though critically panned (it used to be the hip thing for the movie literati to bash Scifi original movies, regardless of their content or quality) I found The Bone Snatcher to be quite enjoyable and far more substantive than I thought it would be. One of the benefits of any survival horror movie is the raising of the question: What would you do in such a situation? Would you act as the meek and attemptedly calculating Straker? The even-keel Mikki? The doomsaying Titus? The by-the-book driver Magda? Or would you strike out for revenge like Karl? Furthermore, the scenery is often quite breathtaking (the film was shot in Cape Town and the deserts of Namibia. Though the film is never scary (which it should have been since it billed itself as a “horror” film) it is very atmospheric and tense with a decent soundtrack and some moments of surprisingly good acting (especially from Warrick Grier who I hope, in the future, to see receiving considerably more starring roles).

The Acting, Characters & Dialogue

The acting is uniformly solid. One of the main problems that some viewers may run into, however, is the strong Afrikaans accents, which may warrant the utilization of subtitles (especially in the introduction to the main geological team members, there was so much mumbling and accent it was like they were speaking a completely different language).

The protagonist of the film, Straker, is boring and tepid and does almost nothing of importance throughout the entire film, yet, it is these very qualities that make him believable and help markedly to ground the fantastical elements of the film, namely the bone-snatching creature itself, in reality. Early on in the film after the first attack by the creature, Straker losses his cool, he’s almost perpetually terrified throughout, even as he tries to focus and craft a logical plan of action.

The standout of the entire film, for me, was Warrick Grier as the hotblooded and fearsome team leader, Karl.  He, together with Straker, have the best moment in the entire film when Karl erupts, “There are no bears in Africa!” and Straker responds, “I know that, Kaaaaarl!” It would be impossible to replicate the tone of the scene so I suggest you watch the film for the full effect, it had me rolling with laughter.

Central Themes

The central theme of the film is teamwork, as none of the members of the crew being stalked by the bone snatcher seem able to agree upon anything, later, after one of them is killed there is a sequence whereupon various characters keep drawing guns upon each other and shouting about how so-and-so is going too far or losing it. All of the characters who bicker and refuse to work in tandem end up dead which I read as the scriptwriters declaring, “If you behaved this aberrantly when a giant bug-bone monster was trying to kill you, you’d end up dead. Form up, or fall down.” And they’re right.

The Creature

Being a creature-feature, we would be remiss if we did not specifically remark upon the titular Bone Snatcher itself. The ant-bone amalgamation is, whilst in no-wise scary (at least it wasn’t to me) a fantastic looking creation (and yes, the “creature” is just a bunch of ants, if you hadn’t guessed from the promo poster for the film, which, though cool, is rather too plot-revealing!). Some of the shots of The Snatcher itself are not CGI but rather a man in a suit (Brian Claxton Payne) and these, in my opinion, are the best in the film (the CGI in the film was very uncanny valley and at times looked like stop-motion which was distracting). The reveal that the creature was an amalgam of prehistoric killer ants was obvious but inventive. What I kept wondering, however, was, how were the ants aided by forming a humanoid mass? Straker says they do it for “survival” but how, precisely? We never really find out and that’s disappointing.

Summation

If you enjoy survival horror action films like Pitch Black (which TBS strongly reminded me of) that are more concerned with atmosphere and character than they are with guts, gore or superfluous jump scares, you might well enjoy The Bone Snatcher.

Film Review | Hellraiser: Judgment | 2018

***this post contains spoilers

“I knew what I wanted to make, and I felt like ‘you know what, I wrote a traditional Hellraiser story with Revelations and I got raped by the fans. I’m not going to try and appease the fans anymore.’ I’m going to make a film for me and I have a very strong idea visually on where I want to go with the story and its going to be very different. I’m going to make a food for me and offer everybody a bite.” (“Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe”60 Minutes WithArchived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.)

The Hellraiser films are not so much a “series” (as in, a continuation of a story or set of stories) as they are a reworking of various different motifs and considerably smaller number of characters into completely self-contained vesicles (which I do not mean as either a good or bad thing, it is simply the best description which occurs to me). The only consistency throughout all of the films and what holds them all together is the presence of the mysterious puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration and the bizarre, other-dimensional beings known as the Cenobites (koinos, “common”, bios, “life” | used to refer to members of a communal, religious order).

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Hellraiser mainstay, Pinhead; leader of the Cenobites, the “High Priest of Hell.”

Of the 10 films to date, only Hellraiser (1st in the franchise), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Bloodline (4th) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6th) can be considered any kind of proper series (Hellseeker only because it features the return of Kirsty Cotten, the protagonist of Hellraiser 1 & 2). This is especially true of the fifth installment, Inferno, which, though a very good movie, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the preceding films in the series, save for the cenobites (and they are all different save for the Chatterer – who lost his legs somehow – and Pinhead, who only shows up at the end of the film). Despite the disparate styles and plots of the various films, they (by and large) maintained a continuous mystique and consistently raised questions concerning the principal motivating factor in human activity: Desire. After the abysmal outing that was Hellraiser: Revelation (9th in the franchise) – despite it’s excellent script – I was interested to see what the talented FX artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe could do with Barker’s material in the capacity of writer/director.

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Hellraiser: Judgment (10th in the franchise), was released in 2018 and was directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, produced by Michael Leahy and was created with roughly the same budget (approx. $300,000) as its predecessor. I had absolutely no idea what the budget for this movie was before seeing it and never once did a single thing throughout my viewing thereof ever appear “cheap.” It is also worth noting that the idea (floated by some critics and reviewers) that around $300,000 is a “small budget” speaks volumes of the excess which is bred by a distance from any real fiscal instability, from any real poverty and the unabated hunger for spectacle for its own sake.

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The plot of the film centers around three detectives, two brothers and woman, who are hunting down a serial killer known as The Preceptor, who kills according to the Bible. Every murder committed by The Preceptor corresponds to a particular “sin” described in the ten commandments and if that sounds almost identical to Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Se7en that’s because it is. The generic (and often uneventful) police procedural is, thankfully, interspliced with numerous scenes of a otherword which we later learn is Hell. This extradimensional realm is, as per usual, populated by the ominous cenobites as well as another group of peculiar beings known as the Stygian Inquisition who appear to be headed by a horribly scarred and bespectacled human-like creature called The Auditor, who is responsible for processing the souls of those desired by Hell. The Auditor’s task is accomplished by sitting across from the prospect and inquiring into the nature of their past to unearth their sins whereupon the hell-clerk will type up a thorough documentation of the individual’s misdeeds on a typewriter affixed, not with paper, but human flesh. Ink is dispensed with for blood.

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The Auditor
The Auditor as portrayed by G. J. Tunnicliffe.

Two storylines run in concert. The first is that of detectives Sean & David Carter who are looking for a serial killer and who are quickly joined by a female detective named Egerton who is brought on by the higher-ups to both the expedite the case as well as keep an eye on Sean (who suffers from PTSD and turns to the bottle). The second storyline follows the Auditor processing souls in hell with the aid of various other grotesque and bizarre entities. The outer realm and the mundane collide when the Auditor absconds into his pocket dimension with Sean.

Process of the Stygian Inquisition.

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The Auditor.
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The Assessor.
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The Jury.
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The Cleaners.
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The Butcher.
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The Surgeon. The last processor of the Stygian Inquisition.

Sean unintentionally puts a damper on the Auditor’s plans when he declares that “no one can judge him but God.” Shortly thereafter, a angel named Jophiel appears and demands that The Auditor release Sean, stating that God has plans for him. The Auditor is confused and reluctant, greeting the angel kindly but coldly. Shortly thereafter The Auditor seeks council with Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites about what to do concerning the angel and the human. Pinhead asks where Sean is and they both return to the rooms of the acquisition only to discover that the detective escaped. Later it is revealed that the Preceptor is none other than Sean and that the reason he was killing those who had broken the ten commandments was due to his intense religiosity and hatred for the modern world. Pinhead seeks to claim the deranged detective’s soul but the angel Jophiel intercedes once more and demands the man’s release; God wants him out in the world, deeming those he kills to be “acceptable losses.” Pinhead, knowing that Egerton will shoot Sean given that she knows he is the killer, upon his return to earth, happily obliges and Sean is swiftly dispatched by the police woman just as planned. This infuriates the angel who then threatens the cenobite.

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Detective Egerton.

Pinhead, however, is none to happy being threatened with “pain” and decides to torture and dismember the angel and, after sufficient suffering, kills her. All the while the Auditor had been slinking and when the angel is dead he moves to the cenobite’s side and notes that he should not have acted so rashly, for God will surely punish him. Indeed, this is just what happens as a bright, white light envelopes Pinhead, who is transformed into a human and banished from Hell, forced to live amongst the mortals, presumably, for the rest of his days. He cries out at the loss of his “sweet suffering” and then screams. Credits rolls and at their end two Mormon missionaries appear at a house in Germany, peddling their creed, once the door is opened the Auditor’s voice is heard, welcoming them in and signalling that they are soon to be processed by the Stygian Inquisition. It is here that the film ends.

Whilst nowhere near as dense in symbolism and metaphor as some other Barker-inspired films such as The Midnight Meat Train, the film does offer some peculiar and unexpected critiques. One of the most unexpected to me was the criticism of the “anti-modern savior” in the character of Sean Carter, The Preceptor. Whilst his religiosity and hatred of other human beings acts as Sean’s primary source of motivation (especially when coupled with his desire for revenge against his brother and wife who were having a affair behind his back), he also takes sadistic pleasure in what he does, despite the fact that he feels considerable remorse afterwards (as he states in his confessions to The Auditor). Sean’s revenge against his traitorous brother and wife is understandable and his disdain towards those who act wholly without any moral consideration, is also, if not righteous, again, understandable. Yet, at one point later in the film, when he confronts his brother, he screams that he would kill every single human being alive if he was able due their sinfulness, completely neglecting his own past transgressions (beating his dog, slaughtering other humans in war, torturing and murdering those who broke the ten commandments) and the fact that he is precisely the kind of monstrous personality he decries. Sean then is, in many ways, analogous to the self-righteous religious radicals who use the phrase “modernity” with disgust and style themselves as revolutionaries despite being wholly chained to a tradition which has never even existed, those who state how much they cannot stand the modern world, even as it sustains them, those who state that they hate everyone, even as they spout fascicle platitudes of brotherhood and unity under God; those whose plans for change all invariably boil down to nothing more than murder and violent repression on a monumental scale which is always permissible so long as they are the ones carrying it out and so long as it is done in the name of their favored deity (who can, of course, do no wrong, and they, as the instruments of providence, likewise are absolved of all). Unlike this common crop of self-loathing, hypocritical, hysteric, psychologically damaged loons, Sean is, at least, willing to admit his murderous intentions. This vain, human wailing is sharply contrasted by the opening of the film which shows Pinhead and The Auditor discussing the increasingly outmoded nature of the Lament Configurations; they note that the interconnectivity of technological systems has rendered the puzzle boxes relatively ineffective as conduits of desire; people aren’t interested in rituals and puzzle boxes anymore, but rather, the liminal sea of the internet. Instead of bemoaning this, the two denizens of the outer world see this as a opportunity to try out new methods of their own, namely the pocket-dimension houses of the Stygian Inquisition who lure their victims via internet transmissions. Where The Preceptor flails and cries out, the cenobites and the inquisition adapt. And yet, just like many humans, Pinhead falls victim to his own hubris whereas The Auditor never overplays his hand and it is for this reason that it is he alone who stands triumphant at the end of the picture.

What is most interesting about The Auditor, in terms of his personality, was how polite and dutiful he was, in contrast to the cenobite, Chatterer, who is erratic and violent when unconstrained by his master; so much so that when Sean helps hurry the auditing procedure along, The Auditor treats him kindly, gifting him a reward of inhuman knowledge; yet he is, at the same time, completely sanguine about inflicting suffering, if it is necessary to complete his task. This contrasts with the cenobites who enjoy suffering for its own sake. “I am a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency,” The Auditor states flatly, during his interrogation of the child murderer Watkins, who had been reticent in divulging his sins, “I will spend some on you… if you like?” One can easily image The Auditor as having been a overzealous DMV worker in his previous, human life.

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“DMV? How dare you use that word. I am the DMV.”

It was a thoroughly enjoyable film, well-crafted and with something to say. I’d recommend it.

 

Rogue One (2016)

Film criticism is generally held in contempt by the broader public despite it’s popularity. Everyone is a critic! The public declare, bemoaning the endless deconstruction of their beloved sentimental pop culture treasures. However, there is much utility to film criticism, not just as pertains to the artistic appraisal of films one has or might see, but also as pertains to films which one might make themselves. Indeed, the critique of a story – any story – given sufficient deftness, can prove most useful in aiding any storyteller, whether novelist, filmmaker, orator, or so on, in improving his or her work by finding out what narrative works for certain kinds of stories, what tropes are unbelievable/believable, what cliches have grown tiresome, the right way to build a coherent world and to make a story-line consistent, ect. One could go on for sometime but you get the idea. With this in mind let us turn our attention to the second newest Star Wars film, Rogue One.

Unlike the previously reviewed Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a relatively compelling film with likable, three-dimensional characters, a (for the most part) interesting story and a depth of gravity and weight that the previous installment lacked. Whilst I had at first assumed Rogue One to be a sequel to The Force Awakens it is actually a prequel to the events of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, the original film in the franchise (though not the “first” chronologically speaking within the canon of the film series itself).

Synopsis.

Rogue One follows the exploits of Jyn Erso, the daughter of a prominent Imperial scientist during the heyday of the Galactic Empire. Erso’s father, Galen Erso, who has left the Empire and taken up a life of idyllic splendor with Jyn and Lyra, his wife, on a lonely but peaceful little planet called Lah’mu. However, their peace is shattered when the sinister Orson Krennic, the Empire’s lead weapon’s developer, lands on the planet with a cortege of armed guards and attempts to court Galen back into service for the development of the Death Star, a weapon that can destroy whole planets. Galen refuses and his wife intervenes, pulling a weapon on Krennic; she is slain by Krennic’s guards and Galen is apprehended. Jyn, however, flees and is able to escape due to the help of the humorously named, Saw Gerrera, a former Rebellion fighter who broke off from the Alliance due to their lack of radicalism.

Many years later Jyn is rescued from a Imperial labor camp by the Rebel Alliance who want her to find her former savior Gerrera who alone is believed to know the location of Galen Erso. Jyn, though hesitant, acquiesces and joins the Rebel Alliance in their quest to find Gerrera, extract Galen and find a way to stop the Empire from deploying Krennic’s planet-killer. What Jyn doesn’t know is that the Rebel’s do not actually want to extract her father, rather, they want to kill him.

Pros.

The plot of the film is slightly more layered than that but such is the essential plot-line. The first thing which struck me was the lack of ham-fisted political messaging throughout the film. The Force Awakens was something of a pulpit for gender politics, with Rey being the primary mouthpiece for their propaganda. Rey, embodied the Superman conundrum: when you have a character that is completely indomitable there can be no real conflict for that character. Furthermore, Rey did not earn her enormous power, neither through special lineage or training, rather she was gifted with invulnerable plot armor wherein any time she was placed in peril “the force” would come to the rescue and she would overcome the obstacle without explanation. Rey is a obvious by-product of third-wave feminism wherein the ideal conception of Womanhood is wholly removed from man  (I’m a strong independent woman, I don’t need no man). She removes herself from nearly all male entanglements because she is believed to have “liberated” herself from “the patriarchy.” Yet this ideal is not liberating, but rather, isolating.

In stark contrast, the central protagonist of Rogue One, Jyn Erso is a rather believable heroine. She is tough, both mentally and physically, yet her skills, unlike Rey’s, are justified given that Jyn was raised as a child soldier by the dissident fanatic Saw Gerrera. Also, unlike Rey, Jyn is not, from the get-go, a moral paragon, she’s a liar, a criminal and is generally uncertain and suspicious about the moral validity of the rebel cause (there is a quite excellent scene where she confronts a Rebel assassin and accuses him of being no different than a Imperial Stormtrooper).

This moral uncertainty is also embodied by Cassian Andor, a pilot and talented intelligence officer for The Rebel Alliance. In a early scene in the film, Andor murders a informant by ruthlessly shooting him in the back after gaining his trust to tie up loose ends which shows that the Alliance was not so squeaky clean as one had been led to believe from the previous films. Then, later on in the film Andor expresses regret for such past actions but remains firm in his convictions, declaring that that he can not turn back from The Cause, for that would have made all the lies, destruction and death meaningless. A very evocative scene.

There is also a very exciting, and quite terrifying, scene featuring Darth Vader hunting down some hapless rebel fighters who he then mercilessly slaughters. Another high point in the film which will certainly stick in your mind after viewing.

Cons.

One of the bigger and more glaring problems in the film is Gran Moff Tarkin. The problem lies not with Guy Henry, upon whom former Tarkin actor, Peter Cushing’s face has been CGI mapped but rather lies with the CGI itself. It is not that the CGI is bad so much that it is very obviously CGI. There is a peculiar fantasy French film called Immortal which features a bevvy of very low-budget, though highly detailed and aesthetically interesting CGI juxtaposed with real-life actors. Yet in Immortal the CGI/real-life juxtaposition never frays the visual nerves due to the fact that the computer created imagery – though obviously CGI – was, from the very beginning of the film, omnipresent. It was everywhere, for extended periods of time and due to this continual integration with the real life landscape that made the viewer accept the CGI as part of the world of the story. In Rogue One there is no shortage of CGI, but it is most prominently utilized as background or in brief flashes (such as laser fire, explosions, ect.) almost too quick to be perceived whereas Tarkin’s appearances take the viewer deep into the uncanny-valley.

Additionally, Saw Gerrera’s bizarre squid monster, which latches on to a living beings and forces the truth out of them at the expense of their sanity is very poorly explained. When Gerrera unleashes his beast on the turn-coat imperial pilot, Bohdi Rook, the creature drives him mad. He stutters and wanders about as if lobotomized; completely out of his wits. Yet a couple of scenes later, Rook is completely sound of mind. This is never at all explained and remains a jarring plot hole despite how trivial it was to the rest of the plot.

Second to last we come to the dialogue which is, on the whole, slick and solid (the robot, K2 has a bevvy of humorous lines) save for one particular scene involving Darth Vader and Director Krennic. Krennic, overjoyed that he is able to maintain control over the deathstar (his crowning achievement for the Empire), despite his past folly states the following:

So I’m still in command? You’ll speak to the emperor about this- [eyes bulge, choking he collapses to the floor]

To which Vader replies.

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director. [Before releasing Krennic from his force-choke]

It seemed wholly misplaced coming from the stoic and brooding Vader, who, least as far as I can recall, never made a single pun or joke in his entire tenure throughout the series. Very out-of-character.

However, my greatest problem with the film, as with all Star Wars films, is that the motivations of the Empire at large are never explained. The Emperor himself, we know from previous films, is a sadistic, egoistic Machiavellian political string-puller and that Krennic and Vader are similarly corrupt and vile, but what of the rest of them? What indeed of those planets who align, willingly, with the Galactic Empire? What of those normal citizens who view the Rebel Alliance as a terrorist organization (which they, by definition, are)? This seems a rich area to explore in future films but given that Lucas had never delved into it before and Disney now has the reins on the franchise it is unlikely any kind of socio-political meat or real philosophical heft will be injected into the series at any point in the future.

Conclusion.

All in all, the film is worth seeing, if only just.

FILM REVIEW – LE SAMORUAI

Spoiler warning.

[Editor’s note: This article was previously published to my personal blog, thus if you have already read it there and recall it’s contents you might wish to skip it. Thank you for reading.]

If formalism was gold Jean-Pierre Melville might have just been the richest filmmaker to ever live and none of his works more aptly demonstrates this than the cold, calculated crime classic Le Samourai. Though the film is now hailed as a masterpiece (so much so that it has been adopted into the Criterion Collection – which you should check out) this wasn’t always so; indeed when the film was first released there was a great divide between critics, one praising, the other side decrying. It is easy to see why; minimalist to the extreme, there isn’t any dialogue until about ten minutes into the film.

The plot is generic and straightforward, Jef Costello (portrayed with immaculate, eerie reserve by a young Alain Delon), a mysterious hit-man, is contracted to kill the owner of a popular, ritzy Parisian nightclub. He does so but is caught in the act by the establishment’s pianist, she says nothing when questioned but the police aren’t convinced. His alibi is air-tight, too air-tight. When the criminal organization whom contracted him realizes that he might be ousted they turn against him; putting out a hit on the hit-man. The rest of the film is a cat and mouse game between the police, the crime syndicate and Jef.

This sounds rather uninspired and somewhat bland but when you see the film you will realize it isn’t so much the plot itself as it’s execution, that really stands out. Details are the overlords of this film, from Jef’s seeming pathological perfectionism (ever straightening the brim of his hat just so and always ritualistically putting on white gloves before a kill) to the tight, glacially paced camera work and immaculate and strangely barren landscapes. The fact that I was never once confused within the film, even when near fifteen minutes go by without a single piece of dialogue, is a testament to the director’s mastery of the medium. We have it easy these days, what with Michael Caine ever popping up and banging on and on about the plot, page after page of heavy handed exposition (I swear Caine is in everything these days and always as nothing more than a exposition vessel). It is as if Hollywood believes that their public is so stupid that they can’t go ten minutes without the writer holding their hand through the events there unfolding.

More than being a mere highly stylized aesthetic exercise or ruminations on crime character study (both of which it certainly is) the film posits a view of life from the point of view of a dreamscape that is, in my opinion, exceedingly admirable. Here I’m talking about Jef the not quite human, the dream’s fell harvester. He has no fear of death, indeed he seems as inexplicably drawn to it as to the pianist who spared him. In one scene a man sticks a gun in the samurai’s face and Jef not only doesn’t flinch but then promptly bitch slaps his foe to the ground (with such banal ease that it always makes me chuckle). He also is emotionally aloof; in one of the character’s early establishing shots he is driving down a abandoned street (it seems all the streets of Le Samourai are ever abandoned which adds a unearthly, surreal vibe as if to say “This isn’t real, would you want it to be?”) and stops at a sign. A beautiful woman pulls up beside him and smiles flirtatiously, he looks at her as if she were just another signpost along the way and then icily returns to his work. Another scene has him caressed by a woman who is so madly in love with him that she’s willing to take the fall for complicity in his crimes if it came to that; he merely looks away, disinterested in her romantic overtures. He also kills without compunction – His first assassination scene has always been one of the comic highlights of the film to me:

Club Owner: Who are you?

Jef: Doesn’t matter.

Club Owner: What do you want?

Jef: To kill you.

Delon says this last line with such drab flatness that the subsequent gunshots which blast the club owner into oblivion are both jarringly horrifying and completely hilarious. But that could just be me. Either way the scene is indicative of Jef’s amorality – but is he a sociopath? My answer is no – he kills because he is paid (he says as much himself) and, more simply, because he’s good at it. He’s almost elemental in that regard (much like his arch-nemesis, the enigmatic art collector-gangster, Oliver Rey {played by Jean-Pierre Posier}). He’s not so much evil as he is beyond humanity, similar to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (without all the effusiveness). He also isn’t without principals – indeed there seems to be nothing more important to him than his principals (which he describes as his “habits”). This shows that so dedicated is he to these principals that they have become second nature, instinctive but not dogmatic. He also isn’t without compassion, for though it would have been easy for him to let his accomplice take the fall he sacrifices himself instead (though this is also likely due in part to his seeming obsession with the nature of death and a understanding of it’s inevitability). This non-moralizing, distanced self overcoming is, when taken in gestalt, a cohesive philosophy and one which holds, for me at least, as much amusement as wisdom.

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Jef, fatalistically fearless in the face of a confederate assassin.

The film doesn’t preach, it doesn’t paint it’s characters as good or bad, the characters do that. It doesn’t posit fate or tell you that everything is going to be fine or that everything is terrible and that it always will be. It is as pragmatic and logical as it’s protagonist’s tactics and, to me, immensely inspiring.

A final word of parting: I highly recommend the Criterion Collection version of this film, expensive as it is – well worth the money for the pristine restoration.

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