Friday, July 25, 2014
Friday, July 25, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
"There aren’t many things less likely to inspire passion than the words “directed by Brett Ratner.” Say what you want about crowd pleasing blockbuster factories like Michael Bay, Zack Snyder or Justin Lin, but at least their work has a clearly defined style and inspires debate. Not Brett Ratner. Renowned as a workmanlike director, his main claim to fame is his ability to bring a project in on time and under budget. So the prospect of a new addition to the Ratner filmography wasn’t exactly setting my world on fire. Adding an additional note of sourness to proceedings is the widely publicized artist-led boycott of the film on the basis that the studio has bilked the late Steve Moore, (author of the comic books that this version of Hercules is based on), out of every penny he was due through sneaky contractual finagling."
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
Set in a perpetually overcast Hackney, Lilting is a delicately painted argument that the most fundamental human emotions exist somewhere beyond language. In this case it's grief, loss and depression that provides the fuel for an unlikely, fractious friendship between two people; Richard (Ben Whishaw) and Junn (Pei-pei Cheng). Richard is a....
...hang on a minute....
Pei-pei Cheng? THE Pei-pei Cheng? The Lady of Steel? The Iron Princess? THE QUEEN OF SWORDS?! This Pei-pei Cheng?
Wow! Alright where was I?
Oh yeah. So Richard is the epitome of metropolitan life; he's trendy, fashionable, hangs out in all the right coffee shops and has a beautifully tasteful run-down house in what looks like Cambridge Heath. Junn is an elderly Cambodian immigrant living a depressed life in an old people's home. She speaks very little English, looks isolated and apparently spends her days counting down the hours until the Grim Reaper comes a-knockin'.
Bringing them together is the character of Kai. He's Junn's beloved son, responsible for her being in the UK and obsessed with making sure she's provided for. As the film opens we see them happily making small-talk about the minutia of their lives. Their mutual love is palpable, though there's an undercurrent of unhappiness from the mother at being 'abandoned' in a nursing home. As conversation rambles on a nurse suddenly enters the room and, in a perfectly executed panning shot, we realise that Junn has been talking to herself.
Kai is dead. Hit by a car. Now, left alone, her only regular visitor is Richard, Kai's best friend. But of course he's not his best friend, he's Kai's bereaved partner. Unable to out Kai to his mother even in death, he feels responsible towards her - though she's confused as to why Richard cares so much. Eventually he hires an interpreter that allows them to converse, and the two very gradually form an uneasy bond.
|Kai and Richard|
Lilting is a purposefully slow, desaturated and flatly shot piece of cinema. Khaou clearly understands the psychic numbness that comes with loss, endeavouring to make his cinematic world as muted as possible. Everything from the hideous 1960s wallpaper in the nursing home to the alabaster white skin of Richard and Kai as they lie in bed together combines to create a rather depressing vision of a world where all hope is lost.
The few bright spots in the story come from Alan (Peter Bowles) and Vann (Naomi Christie). Alan and Junn are a rather cute couple in the nursing home, getting on well even though they can't communicate directly with each other. Richard decides the best way to cheer up Junn is to hire an interpretor, Vann, to translate. Bowles gives the role a great deal curmudgeonly charm, making this geriatric romance rather sweet and uplifting in the middle of all this gloom.
As Vann becomes increasingly involved in the drama between Richard and Junn, she translates more and more. The cinematic result of that is quite interesting, breaking up the rhythm of a normal movie conversation. It's a way of clearly delineating reaction from response, the gap necessitated by translation allowing us to focus on the actor's physical and not what they're saying. Both Whishaw and Cheng exploit this dynamic beautifully, the method adding a ton of tension to the fraught final scenes.
|That wallpaper is just awful.|
Lilting is very much an actor's movie - one of ponderous conversations, revelations and gradual character development. Whishaw in particular embodies that stage in a man's life where he realises, once and for all, that he is no longer officially young. In his grief he's shouldered some very mature burdens; and with the death of his partner he has nowhere to direct his newfound desire for responsibility - Junn being the most obvious and worthwhile outlet.
Meanwhile Cheng's Junn bears the burden of constantly lying to herself. You're never quite sure whether she secretly knows her dead son is gay or if she really is naive to the whole deal. I'd like to give the character the benefit of the doubt - her performance is infused with a weird, naked truth that indicates she'd hate to lie to herself. My favourite moments in the film are all her - when she nods in approval as she notices Richard frying bacon with chopsticks, or her sharply felt shock and anger at being denied her son's ashes.
I had no idea Cheng has transitioned so smoothly into straight dramatic roles and though a small part of me was hoping for her to break into an orgy of bloody swordfighting, she fills the screen with the same ironclad inner strength that made her so compelling as a basher of heads and slicer-offer of limbs.
Hong Khaou's style is the cinematic equivalent of a rainy, hungover Sunday afternoon. Lilting is often a bit of a downer, but it's a sensitive movie that has the confidence to proceed at its own pace. I suspect that for some audiences the stately, melancholy drama will translate into straight-up boredom, but I was enthralled from start to finish. It's an unassuming little movie, yet what Khaou has to say about the universal nature of grieving, and how bonds form regardless of cultural or language barriers rings true.
Lilting is released August 8th
Monday, July 21, 2014
Monday, July 21, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
There are few finer feelings than skipping out of your front door right into a street party. Now in its fifth year, the Whitecross Street Party is one of the highlights of my calendar and cements why this is my favourite street in London. Admittedly, living here is pretty ace the other 363 days of the year, but for this weekend the neighbourhood pops on its glad rags and shows off, strutting about with a spring in its step.
But first the weather. After a week long heatwave papers were warning of "the storm to end all storms". I awoke early Saturday morning to a grim scene; lightning was tickling the City skyscrapers and thunder was wobbling my windowpanes. Ah shit, this doesn't look particularly great. Someone must have made a sacrifice to the God of Weather though, because as people turned up the weather kept getting more and more lovely, and largely stayed that way for the entire weekend.
As far as I'm concerned it just isn't right to have a party like this without a spot of sun. Bright pools of primary colours dot the drab Victorian brickwork up and down the street, glowing in the noon haze. This is the yearly exhibition entitled The Rise of the Non-Conformists. Strapped up to the walls is a motley collection of pop-inflected street art, most of it playfully political. They remain for the rest of the summer, continuing to improve everyone's lives even after the rest of the Party has long since disappeared into hungover memory.
My favourites this year were Louise Zergaeng Pomeroy's striking portrait of a woman with a couple of wrenches jammed through her cheeks. Rendered in clean-lined comic book style there's something wickedly funny about the deadpan expression on her face that seems to read: "Oh great, not this shit again." Similarly neat is the black and white sign reading "Your mind is crazy and tells you lies.". It reminds me of the Rowdy Roddy Piper/John Carpenter classic They Live, where the truth behind advertising is revealed by wearing special sunglasses.
Also brill are the this-weekend-only sculptures situated up and the street. Funniest was a remote-controlled wheelie bin courtesy of the Bureau of Silly Ideas. With the pilot casually observing from a safe distance, the bin appears to be possessed by a malicious artificial intelligence, whirring across the road to block pedestrians, honking at them and even, my favourite, spraying them with a blast of water. Most people take it with good spirit (every child loves it) but there's a sadistic side of me that most enjoys it when adults get genuinely annoyed - it's impossible to keep your dignity when you're scowling at an apparently sentient bin.
Similarly neat is the striking visual of an apparently dead body lying inside a giant birdcage. On close inspection it's a mannequin, but at a glance it looks disconcertingly lifelike. This helpless, somehow injured body, surrounded by people looking in other directions made me think of the 'Bystander Effect'; namely the larger the crowd, the greater the diffusion of responsibility. So if we see someone laying in the street and we're the only person about we might stop and check whether they're alright. If there's a hundred of us, we'll figure "eh, someone else will sort them out".
Next to that is the segmented graffiti wall. The air is thick with the acrid yet comforting smell of spray paint, discarded stencils lie on the ground and all about the artists scurry around making their mark. I particularly like Leeks' giant Spider Jerusalem from Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan. Jerusalem is a futuristic Hunter S Thompson, and here we see him booting down the door of a corrupt politician. "I don't have to put up with this shabby crap!" he yells, and below someone has written "So I'm going to Whitecross St!" - a surefire way of appealing to my sense of community pride.
For all the art on display, it's the performers that inject the street with that distinctive carnival atmosphere. Special mention has to go to this child I happened to catch playing a piano in the middle of the street. An enraptured, hushed crowd listened as he picked his way through some standards, making me feel like a talentless sausage-fingered bum.
Also fun to watch was regular Whitecross Street Party attendees, Bramble FM. Parents watched in quiet confusion as, to Motörhead's Ace of Spades, a dinosaur women and a mostly naked man clutching a bone wrestled with each other amongst the crowd, before splatting down into a tub of bubbly water.
All that said, the best performer I saw all weekend was also the last. Babsical Babs and Punkture Sluts were absolutely tearing it up on Garrett Street. With woozy bass beats filling the road she stomped up and down like she owned the place. She blazes with charisma, winning the audience over pretty much from the word go. Her outfit makes her look like a punk rock commander and her reflexive thrusts and wiggles injecting a bit of sexy/ramshackle anarchy into her set. The crowd really gets into it; one particularly statuesque woman conducting a singlehanded stage invasion - bossing a bemused Babs about and at one point demanding the microphone for an impromptu verse. "I've gotten to the point in my career where I need security" Babs quips. Even a percussion band parading up and down the street doesn't throw her off - this woman is way past cool (and I've made a note to track down her next gig).
It was, as always, a lovely weekend and I'm hugely grateful to the organisers for putting together the event. I don't think it was the best this party has ever been - there was no monumentally amazing sculpture like the inflatable tentacles, last year's giant black skull, or Wreckage International's Triceratops from a couple of years ago but hey, I'm not going to pick holes. Already looking forward to the next one.
Onwards and upwards Whitecross Street!
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Saturday, July 19, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
"This is David. He's a journalist. He's going to write about us". A roomful of eyes turned to me as I sheepishly waved hello. The speaker was David William Parry, Heathen Priest of the Goddess Nerthus, poet, critic, dramaturge, academic - kind of a big cheese in the Pagan community. Ruddy-faced and tweed-clad he fixed me with an authoritative stare that unmistakably read "don't write anything nasty, or else".
I began to wonder just what the hell I'd signed up for. Underneath a sex shop on Goodge Street lies Русский мир, a book shop, restaurant and repository for all things Russian. Inside are a motley gathering of Britain's heathens, heretics and pagans; collectively gathered under the umbrella of 'Theo-Humanist Arts'. They describe themselves as "promoting the cause of radical religious Arts across the globe. We celebrate our shared humanity, while aiming to grasp spiritual truth".
Sounds reasonable enough. The centre of the night was poet Darren Storer, reading from his new book The Recusant Who Never Recanted, an epic collection of poetry that probes the author's beliefs and the hypocritical society that surrounds him. Storer is an incredibly interesting man; a self described powerful psychic prone to dramatic visions and who frequently lapses into trance states while writing, emerging to find pages of text he has no memory of writing. In appropriately reverent tones he explains that he could be channelling Edgar Allen Poe, or even The Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley.
Storer's poetry seeks to make followers of those that experience it, joining him in an epic voyage through a world populated by those antagonistic to him, whose reactions range from incomprehension to aggression. He bats questions away from Christians who interrogate him as to whether he's a Satanist, "I have older friends" he archly replies. As he recites he leans on a cane, grimacing every few lines as he worked his way through a fat bushel of papers.
At about 40 minutes long this is a one hell of a reading, often feeling as if he's guiding us down the rabbit hole. There's the odd overly forced rhyme and a blizzard of purple prose, but it all hangs together. As Storer spins out his poem it occurs to me that the very act of reading it might be some form of magickal incantation in and of itself. I glance over his wife's Sarah Tiger's paintings hung on the wall next to me - clawed hands reaching through sigils and spiralling pentagrams.
My life keeps intersecting with the occult in all sorts of weird ways. Last year, just after having been invited by the Warberg Institute to examine his personal papers I literally stumbled across the Crowleyian history book Sword of Wisdom by Ithell Colquhoun, which someone had, for some reason, left lying on a Notting Hill pavement. Just a couple of days ago I was enjoyably picking my way through the Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition in the British Library. I turn a corner and find the staring eyes and hairless pate of Crowley bearing down on me, hearing an audio recording of the man himself tinnily chanting down through the years.
|Sarah Tiger and one of her paintings.|
I don't buy into the mysterious forces that Crowley claimed to have grasped, but I do respect the man for leading one of the most interesting lives I've ever read about. I'm also fascinated with the history of Occult Britain, which I like to read as a mutant reflection of very British preoccupations for ceremony, tradition and class. But it's one thing to sit around writing about this. It's quite another to be sat in a small, hot room full of people that really sincerely believe.
Looking around I wonder who these people are, what they do and where they go at night. Chatting outside later I learn that they consider themselves a family - members are husbands and wives, godfathers to each other's children and so on. To be honest the word 'family' in this context makes Charlie Manson (that other famous beast of the 20th Century) spring unbidden to mind. I feel guilty making the association, especially as everyone here appears nice and polite enough. That said, I still felt a little bit like Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man.
Adding to my nerviness is knowing the unfortunate tendency of some strands of Paganism to trip over into far right views. Hanging out with Satanist Nazis is the last thing I want to do on a sunny Friday evening, so I find myself desperately hoping that I don't spot any old NF tattooes in this pleasantly diabolical crowd. Thankfully everything feels relatively apolitical - perhaps I've just read a bit too much about the vagaries of Norwegian Black Metal and their predilection for Norse mythology.
I love discovering what's going on in the hidden places of London, sniffing out interesting subcultures and meeting the kinds of people you only hear faint whispers of. In that regard I had a hell of an interesting time - though not knowing anything about theo-humanism or this particular brand of Paganism left me afloat in a deep, murky, unfamiliar sea. As I cycled home my head spun trying to think of some way to conclude my thoughts on the night. Then I stopped off at a supermarket to buy some dinner.
Friday, July 18, 2014
Friday, July 18, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
There are few things more tedious than having someone tell you their dreams. This is precisely the same tedium that Mood Indigo induces: “and then the alarm clock turned into a spider, and a little mouse man ran out of a pipe, and then an eel popped its head out of a tap and I had to chase it! Isn't that CRAZY?!” If your measure of good filmmaking is how much random bullshit you can cram into a movie, then director Michael Gondry's latest definitely delivers.
The largely irrelevant plot concerns the relationship of Colin (Romain Duris) and Chloe (Audrey Tatou). Early in the film they meet, fall in love and get married. Then Chloe gets infected by a water lily which grows in her lung. Treatment is expensive and soon Colin's finances are spent, forcing him to take up a job incubating proton guns (which involves him lying on a pile of dirt for 24 hours at a time). Pretty crazy, right? Well, not really - underneath the constant visual assault and self-consciously surreal plot developments it's actually a straightforward terminal illness weepie, but one so wrapped up in tawdry quirks that it's difficult to care.
I have a hell of a lot of time for Michel Gondry: one of the smartest, most inventive directors around. His successes, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and his brilliant music videos are awe-inspiring works of genius. I even have a soft spot for his failures: Green Hornet was a deserved flop, but even within that there's solid gold nuggets of sublime cinema. With all that in mind it's with a heavy heart that I have to report that Mood Indigo just isn't very good.
|What a wacky car. What will they think of next?|
From the opening shots you sense that this is the product of a director let off the leash. It's as if Gondry has gone through his notebooks and realized every unused idea he's ever had – throwing everything into making this the most Michel Gondry film ever. But, like guzzling down a big box of chocolates in one go, too much of a good thing makes you sick. Concepts that would have made for a great three or four minute music video are splattered hodgepodge throughout the movie – and worse, they don't mean anything other than being weird for the sake of being weird.
For example, what does an ice-rink attendee having the head of a pigeon mean? How much does it inform us as to the themes of the film to have a pair of shoes growl like dogs? Why are the side panels of that car made of perspex? All this imagery piles up on top of itself in a chaotic, tangled mess – the few genuinely powerful symbolic elements drowned underneath. Worse, the stop motion, hand-made nature of Gondry's many, many weird gee-gaws induces a kind of doomy queasiness, like being on a drug trip that's starting to go bad.
The upshot of this is the near total crushing of any humanity in the film. Duris and Tatou, so moving together in Cedric Klapisch's recent Chinese Puzzle, do their best to wring a drop of pathos from this material, but even actors of their calibre can't contend with a cinematic world designed to focus our attention anywhere else other than on the human elements. The end result is that when the credits roll you think “that's it?!”
|Oh right, some kind of cloud thing. Fair enough.|
The closest cinematic companion to Mood Indigo isn't Gondry's previous work, but that of Terry Gilliam. At Gilliam's best, the rush of ideas and imagery is exhilarating, at his worst it induces a numb fatigue in the viewer, like a boxer who's gone a few too many rounds and stopped caring about taking the blows. More specifically, this film reminded me of Gilliam's 2005 nadir Tideland, a nauseatingly unpleasant movie that also throws everything it can at the screen in an attempt to disguise that there's not much going on (also the only film I've ever seen that opens with the director half apologizing as he explains that you probably won't like what you're about to see).
I feel incredibly guilty criticising a film for being too imaginative. The vast majority of cinema is a sludgy grey morass of cliches and banal platitudes. Mood Indigo certainly isn't that – on the rare moments that it does work it becomes briefly magnificent. The slow slide into desaturation throughout the film beautifully conveys depression and guilt, as do the cobwebs and muck that slowly accumulate in our hero's apartment. But these tiny highlights are swamped by a flood of pointless visual bullshit that distracts and annoys much more than it does inform.
For all that I didn't enjoy watching Mood Indigo, it's a difficult film to genuinely dislike. Even if the end result doesn't work, the enthusiasm baked into every single frame very faintly rubs off on you. Then again, I might be singing a more pissed off song had I seen the original 131 minute cut of the film. After a critical beating by festival critics, the theatrical release has been pared down to a svelte 94 minutes. Frankly, even the truncated version feels overlong – by the final act I was bordering on exasperated, checking my watch to see how much more I had to endure.
I respect the creativity that's gone into Mood Indigo. I appreciate the effort it must have taken to make. I'm glad that films like this can exist. But it's there's no escaping that this is a failure as a movie.
Mood Indigo is released August 1st.
- by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
Try to imagine Brick Lane without a curryhouse in sight. It's a strange vision. Yet this is exactly what happened to Limehouse. The area used to be synonymous with its Chinese population, mythologised by Victorians as a hazy warren of opium dens populated by sinister Oriental stereotypes with a penchant for luring innocent English girls into a degraded life of sin. These stories were a load of racist rubbish, yet they magnetically drew curious visitors to them. Tourists would take special buses out to experience their first tastes of Chinese cooking and bask in exotic novelty.
The reality of Chinese Limehouse was broadly similar to any enclave of new immigrants: a self-supportive, tightly knit community that establishes themselves in a somewhat downmarket area and runs a limited range of businesses - in Limehouse's case generally laundries and restaurants. As the years ticked by and bombs fell, the buildings of Limehouse degraded and after the War it was decided that something needed to be done. The London County Council proposed to bulldoze the area, rehouse the remaining Chinese families and build modern flats. They were as good as their word - so thorough in their urban clearance that the only traces of the near-hundred year link with the Chinese community are a couple of street names and a tin dragon statue.
Most Londoners probably assume Chinatown is where it's always been, tucked in Disneyland isolation in the tourist-friendly West End. Yellow Earth's The Last Days of Limehouse aims to correct some of that, recreating the end of Chinese Limehouse and ruminating on what the memory of the place is worth.
Staged promenade style within the pleasantly dilapidated Limehouse Town Hall, this play that keeps the audience on their toes. Literally. The action takes places at different locales around the Hall, all within one room. At one end there's a recreation of a 1960s Chinese restaurants, in one corner a sitting room and a dinner table at the other end. Over the next 90 minutes this rather minimal set becomes host to a cast of characters that feel like ghosts haunting the space.
As the actors move around the room the crowd bustles after them, constantly moving and regrouping around the actors. As they move the crowd we part like the red sea, the unpredictable nature of the play meaning you never quite know where the next scene is going to pop up. One moment you're standing on tip-toes trying to peer through a forest of people to catch what's going on, the next you're up close and personal with the cast, able to see every bead of sweat upon their face. The overall effect is to make us into invisible yet involved eavesdroppers, reminding me of Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man.
The narrative is centred around the arrival of Eileen Cunningham (Amanda Maud). She was born in Limehouse where her father ran a restaurant, though left at the age of six when her family emigrated to New York. Returning as a woman of means she's dismayed to find that the Limehouse of 1958 barely resembles her memories. Determined to preserve the character of the area she launches an 'urban preservation' campaign, trying her best to rope in as many supporters as possible.
The problem is that most of the remaining British-Chinese residents understand all too well the reasons for the council's decision. They live in the decaying remnants of Victorian housing, without indoor toilets, heating and with open drains - maybe one tiny step away from a genuine slum. They accept that the area is their home but have their eyes on a rosier, modern future. The battle is thus between sentimentalism and practicality - and Mrs Cunningham isn't doing a particularly good job of arguing for the former.
|How the Victorians liked to imagine Limehouse.|
The play's clear vision and careful judgment shines through from the first scene. This isn't some misty-eyed nostalgia trip into the past, rather an examination of the evolution of urban communities. Central to the story are Johnny and Iris Wong (Matthew Leonhart & Gabby Wong), second generation immigrants and restaurant proprietors. As soon as we meet them we instantly understand them - quite simply, they're Londoners. They talk like Londoners, behave like Londoners and have London aspirations (namely to move somewhere north). Late in the play, Johnny crisply boils down his position on Limehouse to one simple statement "This place has served its purpose."
It's difficult to argue otherwise. The East End has been a safe haven for immigrants for most of its history, both the Huguenot weavers and the Jewish community having moved on to make way for new waves of Londoners. Some day the current Bangladeshi community will move on too. What The Last Days of Limehouse understands is that the end of Chinatown was just part of a natural urban process - fighting it will turn you into King Canute.
But Miss Cunningham, though she's trying to fight back the tide, has a decent point underneath all her half-baked schemes and insulting bluster. She argues that we should be able to see who came before us; the cities should be developed like a coral reef, with organisms building around what came before rather than wholesale demolition. As someone who gets a geeky historical thrill spotting some weathered piece of old London jutting up beside an anonymous, glassy skyscraper, it's hard for me to disagree.
By the closing scenes The Last Days of Limehouse has concluded that while bricks and mortar may be cleared away, the spirit of the place lingers in the memories and in the children of the inhabitants. As one touching scene near the end points out, the descendants of those that scratched a living in this cobbled streets might now gaze down at the site of their shops from within Canary Wharf - the embodiment of the immigration success story.
The Last Days of Limehouse is relevant not only to the Chinese London community wanting a glimpse of their roots but to anyone remotely interested in the way groups of people disperse and accumulate around the contours of cityscapes. It's an excellent play, well-performed, interestingly staged, funny, melancholy and touching all at once. Highly recommended!
'The Last Days of Limehouse' is at Limehouse Town Hall until 3rd August 2014. Tickets available here.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Thursday, July 17, 2014 - by londoncitynights · - 0 Comments
As far as ridiculous movie premises go The Purge takes some beating. Set in a near-future US, the government has decreed that the best way to reduce crime is that for one night a year all crime (including murder) is legal. The thinking is that if the populace has a release valve for their repressed anger then the other 364 nights of the year will be relatively peaceful. Amazingly it sort of works - 'Purge Night' is in its sixth year as the film begins and, though it the majority barricade themselves inside their houses and pray for sunrise, it at least appears to generally accepted as a worthwhile endeavour.
This is a sequel to the 2013's The Purge, which used the night as an excuse to stage a relatively low-budget home invasion movie. The sequel sets its sights much higher, guiding us through the streets of Los Angeles as the citizens tear each other apart. With gangs of flamethrower wielding maniacs, van-based minigun nutters and ranting sniper rifle wielding egomaniacs prowling about it's a pretty crazy 12 hours.
Stuck in the middle of all the mayhem is a pretty standard gaggle of stock types. There's mother and daughter pair Eva and Cali, dragged out of their homes by a mysterious paramilitary army. Shane and Liz, whose car breaks down at the worst possible time and the mysterious 'Sergeant' - a thinly veiled ripoff of The Punisher. Thrown together by fate the group pick their way through the carnage, looking for a safe haven - or in The Punisher's case - bloody vengeance.
There's a pungent whiff of John Carpenter to all of this and DeMonaco relishes showing off seedy, urban environments populated with over-the-top, extravagantly costumed weirdoes. The premise allows for a cavalcade of violence throughout, mostly through gunshot wounds. This isn't some splatter flick though, and while you get your fair share of bloody squibs blasting holes in people, a surprisingly amount of the the violence is either threatened or left to our imagination - gotta get that R rating after all.
The central idea - that an awful lot of Americans are secretly frothing gun-crazy psychopaths with fear of punishment as the only thing stopping them heading off on a Grand Theft Autoesque rampage of death and destruction - is inherently satirical. The Purge: Anarchy is thus easily at its best when its directly engaging with politics. It doesn't feel enough to say the satire here is 'on the nose', more that it's screaming while beating the nose in with a baseball bat.
DeMonaco has refreshingly little time for nuance in his political commentary. Going straight for the jugular, he introduces the concept of being a 'Martyr'. Essentially if you're poor you can sell yourself to a wealthy family as a sacrificial lamb. They'll carve you up and send your relatives a hefty cheque for privilege. DeMonaco shoots this scene like a live action political cartoon - an elderly, dignified working class black man sitting Buddhalike surrounded by grinning, primped, psychotic WASPS.
Better is to come later in the film, when we enter an elite hunting club run by 1%ers with the 99% as their quarry. I have seen few more satisfying things than a load of hoity-toity snobs in suits getting their shit wrecked up bigtime by a very angry Punisher analogue. If nothing else DeMonaco has his finger on what the people want: when a horribly witchy Republican woman is held at gunpoint by our heroes the audience actually began murmuring "shoot the bitch!" at the screen. There's similar assent when we see a mutilated man strung up in front of a bank bearing a sign "This man stole our pensions." Eh, he probably deserved it.
The audience's palpable bloodlust makes you think that maybe DeMonaco is actually onto something with this Purge idea. After all we're all gathered to watch people getting blown away in increasingly creative ways - and it's undeniably pleasurable to watch a bunch of arrogant rich pricks getting theirs at the hands of our firmly proletariat heroes.
It's a shame then that these sequences are broken up by the rest of the film - which turns out to be a pretty by-the-numbers action thriller. The further we get away from political commentary the more we stray into territory that has the unmistakable stink of straight-to-DVD. None of the characters are particularly compelling, well written or well performed, though at least they manage to look believably terrified most of the time.
It's also a bit of a let down visually - the film is bathed in queasy piss-yellowish light that looks a shade too artificial for the grittiness of the material. DeMonaco obviously has it in him to compose a decent shot - there's a few moments that make you sit up and pay attention - but the majority of the direction is pretty bland - especially some of the later action sequences, which are so impersonal they could be lifted straight from any number of B movies.
The Purge: Anarchy is undoubtedly a B-movie; but when it's unapologetically acting out revolutionary wish-fulfilment it's at least a B-Movie with its heart in the right place. The rest of the time it's a faintly bland, largely identikit bit of fluff. This isn't a film to run out and see, but if you want a bit of schlock in your life you could do worse.
Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist is on limited release from May 13th.
Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist is on limited release from May 13th.