California Dreamin’: High Sierra

highsierra

“Guys like you and Johnny Dillinger,” goes the famous line from Raoul Walsh’s exhilarating gangster classic High Sierra, “are just rushing toward death.” The words refer to Humphrey Bogart’s bandit Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, but they could just as easily be hinting at a disappearing America in the grip of change. That same year, the shocked nation would be dragged unexpectedly into a scary new world of old war, its heretofore isolationist policy ceding to the relatively unchartered territory of reluctant heroism. Continue reading

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What’s Wrong?: George Lucas’ THX-1138

thxIt’s easy to call a film prescient in hindsight — especially when the filmmaker plays a considerable role in shaping the future their work portends. When it comes to George Lucas, it’s just as easy to succumb to the lazy consensus, which suggests he was a talented young filmmaker who calcified into brand monolith; a pop innovator consumed by the technology of his very own Frankenstein’s monster. But this thinking undersells the idealistic pioneer operating across his entire body of work. Lucas has always been driven as much by his passion to revolutionise the means of cinema as his pursuit of narrative storytelling, a progressive dedication to enterprise that meant merging with his beautiful machine and the money that made it possible. A popular imagination, it turns out, can be an expensive hobby. Continue reading

Fish tank: Axolotl Overkill

axolotlSixteen-year-old Mifti comes face to face with a tank full of axolotl in a strange, after hours apartment. “It’s like Disney invented them,” an older man says of the translucent amphibians, who stay suspended in a state of permanent adolescence. “They never really grow up.” It’s the kind of broad, brazen analogy you’d expect from a precocious 25-year-old filmmaker, except that Disney would never dream up a chain-smoking, drug-taking middle-finger like Mifti — and writer-director Helene Hegemann, despite the bratty pose, has crafted a film that’s deceptively deeper than the as-billed wild teenage ride through Berlin nightlife. Once the smoke and shit and noise clears, Axolotl Overkill is a surprisingly affecting debut, less concerned with teenage debauchery than the world of disarray in which its characters move. It’s also one that’s strongly attuned to the bonds between women — where they can be lovers, sisters, or mothers; sometimes, all at once. Continue reading