Originally posted on Variety: “House of Cards” returns, and in terms of classy actors in a high-stakes setting, it’s solidly entertaining. Still, the series that set Netflix on the path to programming prestige also feels played out, as if it…
Con artists are not lacking for terrific movies about them. Audiences were treated to a slew of them in the early 70s, starting with Joseph Mankiewicz’s masterful Sleuth, followed the next year by the Best Picture winning The Sting, which had Paul Newman and Robert Redford tag-teaming and two-three and even four-timing with aplomb. Even Orson Welles’ came out of quasi-self-imposed cinema exile to offer his still unparalleled film essay F for Fake in 1975, which continues to challenge audiences and critics alike with its ambiguous depictions of fraud and fakery. After the unmitigated failure of The Sting II, however, the genre quieted, with only a few treats in the 80s and 90s like John Cleese and Charles Chrichton’s caper A Fish Called Wanda and Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. The genre arguably reached its heyday at the turn of the century, with Ocean’s Eleven providing a luxurious remake of a rather lackaidasical caper from the 60s, trading in that film’s notable Rat Pack for a slew of Hollywood elite, before Spielberg and Scott got into the game the following years with fine efforts like Catch Me If You Can and Matchstick Men, respectively. The makers of Focus seem at least partially aware of this rich history, indeed one of the film’s production companies is even called Ratpac-Dune (one named after the men, the other the former Las Vegas casino?), but rather than doing anything to enliven the genre, they struggle to offer anything remotely enjoyable.
(Note: This analysis of the narrative of Creative Assembly’s ambitious game does not feature any spoilers until the final few paragraphs. I note in the piece at which point these spoilers begin, so those who have yet to play the game and don’t want to have the story ruined can still follow along until then. Bear in mind that I do speak obliquely about events in both Alien and Aliens, but then if you haven’t seen those films already then you should unplug your internet until you’ve done so.)
There is a moment, towards the finale of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as Ripley is making a last-ditch effort to escape the impending destruction of her ship, that she rounds a corner to find the titular creature blocking her only means of reaching the lifeboat. Frantic, Ripley abandons her plan, returns to the command deck and attempts to override the auto-destruct sequence. A moment too late, Ripley realizes in a furious panic that she must risk the corridor or die. The moment is one of utter terror and dread, complemented by the dazzling mise-en-scene of the spaceship in its turbulent death throes. Now imagine if Ripley had gone back to the lifeboat to discover its door sealed, and imagine also that she improvises a new plan, one that takes her down an elevator shaft, which leads to a new section of the ship, in which a maintenance android patrols the grounds, and she must run around turning off switches and logging into terminals to override doors, before getting into a spacesuit and walking along the outside of the hull to manually force her way into the lifeboat, which is carrying an alien that she then has to defeat. The scenario would be absurd, overdone, and would exchange the viewer’s panic and terror for tedium and frustration. Nonetheless, this contrived scenario roughly approximates the exercise in excessive paces that Alien: Isolation puts the player through.
A few weeks ago Digital Trends posted a useful, layman-friendly guide to the emerging technology of quantum dot technology and its impact on future TVs. Essentially the technology improves upon existing LCD screens by using semiconductive nanocrystals to produce faithful representations of colours (especially white). Though black levels still pale (pardon the pun) in comparison to OLED, quantum dots nonetheless improve the colour reproduction of those less costly LCD screens. Whatever the benefits or drawbacks, I find the technology behind the screens utterly fascinating.
The one and only stargate: The black hole at the centre of Nolan’s latest, Interstellar
If for no other reason than its fully working model of a black hole (that required 800 terabytes of data to capture), Nolan’s Interstellar will undoubtedly secure a vaunted space in the realm of science-fiction (or is it now more appropriate to label it as science-fact?):
I am certainly looking forward to the scientific articles that Kip Thorne, the movie’s scientific consultant, is set to write after seeing the fruit of thirty years of work modeled before his keen and scrutinizing eyes. Whether I’ll understand any of it is a different subject to anticipate.
Darren Aronofsky’s been making the rounds on the internet recently more for a piece of environmental writing published on The Daily Beast than for one of his films, so it seems to me the only logical next step would be to combine the two. Did anyone else notice that an incredible story readily discloses itself in Aronofsky’s diary? It reads almost like an environmentalist version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with environmental violations taking the place of slavery, the oil-profiteering Suncor dutifully filling in for the tyrannical slave-dealing Company, and things looking bleaker and grimmer for the human race as Aronofsky and his team travel upriver.
After establishing himself amongst horror lovers as a quirky, smart and genre-literate director with You’re Next, Adam Wingard resists the easy request to imitate himself and instead makes an action thriller that blasts open the horror film highlights of the 70s and 80s to extract a post-modern glimmer of what made those films so cool. Continue reading →
Catherine Deneuve at the train station, begging her lover to stay, promising she would wait for him, knowing it couldn’t possibly be true: Jacques Demy’s fantastically grand musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg broke my heart. An ambitious musical on a limited budget, Cherbourg covers a half-decade span of time in the lives of two young lovers separated by time. Entirely sung, with lyrics that range from the inessential to the unforgettable, Cherbourg is an intimately scaled epic.
Here’s an English version of the song, covered innumerable times by numerous artists, sung here by the gorgeous Connie Francis (Futurama fans might already be familiar with this song from a rather appropriate appropriation). But don’t forget it was Michel Legrand who created its original French incarnation, a devastating duet between a teary-eyed Deneuve and a stoic Nino Castelnuovo in Cherbourg‘s most emotionally climactic scene. Deneuve was never more lovely or more beautiful.