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The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews /  
VAULTED TREASURES FILMS  


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VAULTED TREASURES:
MOVIES YOU NEVER KNEW ABOUT, YOU FORGOT, ... OR YOU FORGOT TO LOVE MORE THE FIRST TIME AROUND!
Check out more @ the VAULTED TREASURES FILM BLOG




"THE 0.001% SOLUTION AND THE RESURRECTION OF POSTMODERNISM: "LONDON FIELDS" -
THE DIRECTOR'S CUT
(Dissecting the brilliance
of a panned film)


by CEJ  
(posted 2/11/19)

LONDON FIELDS: DIRECTOR'S CUT (2018)
(GVN / Muse / Hero / Blazepoint / Mirada)

  GullCottage rating 
(***½ on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Matthew Cullen
Screenplay by - Roberta Hanley,  
Martin Amis
Based on the novel by - Martin Amis
Prod. by - Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner,
Geyer Kosinski
Dir. Of Photography - Guillermo Navarro
Edited by - Douglas Crise, Joe Plenys,
Jamie Trevill and St. John O'Rorke
"Director's Cut" Edited by - Douglas Crise, Fred Fouquet, Mathew Cullen
and Jovan Ajder
Production Design by - Jeremy Reed
Costume Design by - Susie Coulthard


Music - Toydrum, Benson Taylor
and Adam Barber
Running Time: 118 mins.



CAST: 

Billy Bob Thornton (Samson Young), Amber Heard (Nicola Six), Jim Sturgess (Keith Talent), Theo James
(Guy Clinch), Jason Isaacs (Mark Asprey), Cara Delevingne (Kath Talent), Gemma Chan (Petronella), Jaimie Alexander (Hope Clinch), Johnny Depp (uncredited / Chick Purchase), Lily Cole (Trish Shirt), Michael Shaeffer
(Tony De Taunton), Henry Garrett (Dink Heckler), Emily Kincaid (Enola Gay), Adrian Derrick-Palmer
(Pro Darts Player), Jennifer Missoni (Tasty Girl), Pablo Raybould (Black Cross Dart Player), Stephen McDade (Motorbiker), Andres Austin Bennett (Z Big 2), Triana Terry (PA), Sara Beasley (Wife), Craig Garner (Marmaduke), Barrington DeLa Roche (Shakespeare)





      Okay, the first thing is to forget all the promo b.s. you’ve seen in the trailers, or the written blurbs via YouTube, Hulu, Amazon and elsewhere because LONDON FIELDS: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT really isn’t a “thriller”, “crime drama”, “neo noir” or any of a half-dozen other such easy-peasy labels distributors coin to hone in on which demographic they should point-and-shoot their film towards, or onto which shelf Johnny Videostore Clerk can most easily catalog it so people will know of it's existence, … well, if we still had video stores. You know what I mean.

     In another time and place, and regarding another film, one might say "unfortunately". But with LONDON FIELDS fortunately, and thank the cinema gods, it isn’t easily describable. That notion has to be understood first and fore as the baseline before we go any further. Uh, uh it's one of those kinds of films. The kind where before Sundance Channel and IFC (y'know, back when they really were Sundance and IFC, and not TBS with a late') you had to journey out of your way to find a little known / funky hip inner city arthouse theater the way people during Prohibition searched out speakeasies. One of those films in the very best BRAZIL, BLUE VELVET, BETTY BLUE kind of way where a confused part of you almost shamefully wonders while watching it, “Good Lord, what the f**k did I stumble into here?“, while the other part realizes you've struck a perverse brand of cinema gold. With such a film you really have to know what you’re stepping into beforehand, otherwise it can be like going in expecting CHINATOWN but coming out having been handed REPO MAN or THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER - both of which are damned good films. They're weird - good weird! But weird nonetheless. And if you’re expecting Roman Polanski’s 70s era rift on film noir, or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, or even BLOOD SIMPLE, it’s not going to take Phillip Marlowe or Marge Gunderson to figure out why you exited the theater cussing a blue streak about how “freakishly bad!” that "goddamned movie!" was.





     It's this misunderstanding (combined with a misguided, desperate - and Good Lord, desperately bad! - ad campaign) which I believe is mostly responsible for Matthew Cullen’s sly and clever adaptation of Martin Amis’ popular 1989 novel to go down in the books of numerous critics late last year as one of the “filmic dogs” of 2018. But it really isn't! Quite the contrary in fact. It was just sold in piss poor fashion. But I have to admit I too was at first worried, fearful and, yeah, a little pissed as, under an initially incorrect impression, I was for the first twenty or so minutes into this convinced that I was yet again in the midst of yet another lazy thematic and narrative knock-off disguised as “postmodern”. It wasn’t long though before I found myself truly, pleasantly and deliriously surprised at how wrong I‘d been. And I also began to realize how many others were missing out on a truly unique film - as I almost had - simply because of some really bad P.R. which lead audiences down the road of wrong expectations.   

     These days at the Cottage we’re not huge fans of the word “postmodern”. And not because we don't think it’s a bonafied artistic device, especially filmically. In fact in a twist on that old chestnut of a cliché, “Some of our best friends are postmoderns“. Y’know, via Gilliam, Cronenberg, the Coens and on back to Godard and the rest. But the reason the word doesn’t sit too well nowadays is because of how in the last twenty-odd years the cinematic meaning of “postmodern” seems to have unofficially changed. It seems to have morphed and been blunted to such a degree that it now mostly means little more than (at best) an embedded eye-wink / in-joke / Easter egg reference in one film to an earlier film, or (at worst) the near blatant stem-to-stern ripping off of the structure, paradigm and / or even actual narrative of said earlier classic. And in a way that's still kind of okay. But then there’s trying to pass it off as one’s own original brilliance. And that absolutely isn’t.


THE DRIVER (1978) / DRIVE (2011)



     No diss intended but as such, as much as I admire a filmmaker like say Nicolas Winding Refn, I just can’t get as worked up as some do about the “brilliance” of his 2011 film DRIVE because to me, ... to more than a few of us actually ...  it feels much less original and much more like a dot-for-dot pencil or carbon paper rub of Walter Hill’s minimalist neo-noir actioner THE DRIVER. Kind of the same too with his 2016 fashion industry occult thriller THE NEON DEMON. Remember Silly Putty, and how you could pound and spread it on a newspaper then lift it to see the mirror image from that paper in the Putty itself? Well, while visually stunning in its “contemporary Argento-esque” manner, does not THE NEON DEMON just seem / feel a tad too much like a Putty lift of that 1975 KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER episode “The Trevi Collection” - the one where a powerful witch uses black magic in an attempt to corner the fashion industry? Oh, and of course so that she can remain eternally young too.


KOLCHAK - THE NIGHT STALKER: "THE TREVI COLLECTION" (1975) / THE NEON DEMON (2016)



     Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for adapting an earlier used paradigm - be it thematically or, yes, even narratively - as long as it eventually develops into its own being and not just a duplicate of the earlier one upon which it’s based. Biology 101 tells us that the human genome is mostly the same in everyone across the globe, but that there is a 0.001% variation / difference within each person which makes them “uniquely them“. In similar fashion while cinematically a large part of the DNA of Lucas’ original STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK have their origins in classic filmic and mythological tropes, they eventually become their own unique kinds of films and not just a carbon copy of the older ones donning fancy new masks. While Eastwood’s MILLION DOLLAR BABY (based on a collection of short stories by “F.X. Toole”) on the surface may seem but “ROCKY or BODY AND SOUL in a sports bra”, its 0.001% of difference transforms it into a unique stark (and dark) modern day rumination on the so-called “American Dream”. So unique in fact that many still have a hard time plugging into its not-so-feel-good subtext. And for you other movie old-schoolers like me out there who still view the 70s as filmdom's true Golden Age, think back on Lindsay Anderson’s 1973 surrealist black comedy O LUCKY MAN!



     It’s a fairly blatant update of John Bunyun’s venerable Christian allegory THE PILGRIM’S PROGESS. But it’s 0.001% of  difference sets it apart from being just a “contemporary remake”, or even a typical late 60s / early 70s diatribe on “the evils of corporate life compared to the blissfulness of a more hedonistic (with a little chemical help, of course) lifestyle“. Uh, uh, Anderson’s film in its cinema-artistic heart of hearts manages to be a clever bit of both. Yet (whether one likes the film or hates it, and there are plenty on both sides) it at the same time ironically ends up being more than either as the audience is left to decide for themselves (just like Malcolm McDowell’s Mick Travis) if one indeed must abandon their principles in order to succeed. In that regard O LUCK MAN! is the 70s postmodern early-bird version of "audience interactive" where the viewer kind of has to plug themselves into the role of Travis to determine what it all really means.

     So, yeah, there’s that combination of “what came before”, ... and one surely can’t (and shouldn’t) escape that. But, hell, even the blood from those “flies trapped in amber with dino DNA for 65 million years” was combined with a little modern day frog DNA to fill in those “sequence gaps” and make them a little different, right?

     By the way, for those unfamiliar with how we do things at the GullCottage site and Vaulted Treasures blog, I promise this is all still very much about LONDON FIELDS, and that you’ll totally appreciate the ground work being laid down here first. Those already familiar with our “reviews and more” recognize that our norm tends to go a step or two beyond the standard “Great movie; see it!” or “Sucky movie; skip it!”. With ours it's usually a good idea to kick back with a cup of coffee, a shot of Jack, a beer or whatever they’ll let you have on the bus, train or wherever you happen to be reading this, because we take the time to attempt to peel away a few layers and to focus the microscope a bit more on the structure, theory and craft behind a film - the reason for it’s very existence (if you will) which can often put things into an entirely different light than that under which it may have been first viewed.

     It’s the difference between seeing a film as what it always intended to be as opposed to what you may have expected it to be. And that's very often not the same thing. To that aim over the years we've found that one of the most effective shorthand methods of doing said peeling, microscoping and differentiating (in print anyway as opposed to say a classroom with a few weeks at your disposal) is to cite other cinematic examples of similar craft from the past which may have been employed to achieve a sometimes entirely differently desired narrative and / or thematic effect.



     Reworking a truism once quoted by a popular film composer, we’ve always felt that “… in order to be a great filmmaker one has to be both a great painter and a great plumber” - metaphorically speaking of course. One has to be equally well versed in both the magic and the mechanics, … the inspiration and the perspiration; … the artistry and the pick-and-the-shovel work which fashions that artistry into an end result which an audience can plug themselves into and with which they can readily identify. It’s our desire to attempt to expose more of the “mechanic”, “perspiration” and “pick and shovel” aspects than is usually typical in the breakdown of a film, … and certainly more than is in the average review of one. Anyway, if you’re still on board then “Welcome!“. And if not, no hard feelings. Just don't let the door whomp you on the tushy on the way out. Now ...

     ... as we were.


LONDON FIELDS (trailer)










  LONDON FIELDS by Martin Amis (pub. Sept. 1989)

IT'S IN THE "POST"


     Anderson’s O LUCKY MAN - to which Cullen’s LONDON FIELDS would make a fascinating double bill, by the way - feels like the cinematic version of a physics lesson in non-linear mathematics, or an explanation of how our physical universe can be closed and expanding at the same time, or how quantum mechanics explains the possibilities of particles existing in two separate locations at once. To me true “postmodernism” is more than swiping or adapting from another source then winking afterwards, … even if that swiping is done incredibly well and the winking is sexy AF. No, a truly “postmodern” film is a rare gem in that it goes in numerous directions at once, and often with each of those directional tendrils intent on achieving an individual purpose, but all of each which paradoxically by the end manage to dovetail back into a singular thematic whole. It’s a cinematic and thematic, ... and on a good day even philosophical, ... web or patchwork quilt in the guise of a narrative.

     One such thread in the “postmodern” web can often be when the story narrative becomes an example and / or explanation to the audience as to why the film itself exists in the first place. Kind of like Luke Skywalker in THE LAST JEDI coming to the conclusion that in order to stay faithful to an ideal, the ideal must sometimes (ironically) be destroyed before it becomes an idol to which one becomes enslaved. This also happens to be what THE LAST JEDI film itself does in relation to the earlier STAR WARS entries.



(L to R) Bernardo Bertolucci, Terry Gilliam, David Lynch: Postmodern masters known
to upset filmic applecarts and disturb the hell out of cinematic "arbiters of good taste"


 



     Another not uncommon truly "postmodern" thread is in how the characters in a narrative may be very much aware that they are pawns, or are being puppet-mastered within a larger play or universe than their own - an often surreal one. But they aren’t aware that in many instances it is us the audience - those watching them go through their paces - who are the very ones putting them through those paces. Or at the very least we’re in collusion with the author who is doing so - the god who has set up this “fishbowl” universe / arena to which we’ve been invited to watch and study the actions of these underling mortals that we may learn from them and their actions and reactions as they clang about at the whim of fate like metal spheres in a cosmic pinball machine. In this regard think back on Bertolucci’s still influential THE CONFORMIST (1970), ... as well as to most of the films of David Lynch for that matter.  


     The Bertolucci reference is wholly appropriate for Cullen’s film as, feigning itself to be a noir-ish mystery as did THE CONFORMIST, LONDON FIELDS opens with a quintessentially burned out / borderline nihilistic bit of narration by terminally ill American author “Samson Young” (Billy Bob Thornton). Having temporarily traded his New York digs for the London flat of successful British writer Mark Aspery (a mostly unseen Jason Issacs), he hopes a change of continental scene will help break his 20 year case of writer’s block.

     A complex series of web-like and self-referential (but not self-reverential, and that’s an important difference) threads run in best postmodern fashion throughout the central nervous system of LONDON FIELDS. While Cullen’s film is a unique entity unto itself, for a moment let’s rolodex through a trio of recognizable devices employed in the past by the three aforementioned filmmakers - Bernardo Bertolucci, David Lynch and Lindsay Anderson - as “stepping stones” in order to illustrate / understand how Cullen similarly brings certain of LONDON’s nebulous ideas / concepts to the plate in a manner which makes things maybe just a little easier for the general viewer to “get a handle on“.  





THE CONFORMIST (1970 / dir. - Bernado Bertolucci)





     Within the format of a novel those "nebulous ideas / concepts" can be more readily explained, illustrated and examined with - as is the case with LONDON FIELDS - 470 leisurely paced pages described by a 1st person narrator or omniscient 3rd person voice. But within the relatively "quick and dirty" confines of a two hour film - where most of the information, tone and paradoxes (if any) must be conveyed visually - the filmmaker must seek alternate methods to induce the same intellectual and emotional response from the audience.

     “This is a true story, but I can’t believe it’s really happening”, Young begins, “It’s a murder story too. I can’t believe my luck. And a love story of all strange things. I know the murderer, I know the murderee. I know the time, (and) I know the place”.


     In similar fashion to how David Lynch turned old-school cinema tropes on their ear (pun intended) with BLUE VELVET - a perversely clever twist on the 1940s style mystery, and with WILD AT HEART - the road movie with a shout-out to THE WIZARD OF OZ, and with LOST HIGHWAY - a doff of the cap to film noir, so does LONDON FIELDS begin with an inverse “end of the story first, then flashback to how we got there” opening as did Wilder’s SUNSET BOULEVARD, Chandler’s FAREWELL, MY LOVELY and a dozen others.

     This familiar cliché quickly withers away, however, as we’re introduced in rapid succession over the next five minutes to the three other corners of our character quartet - all of whom cross paths on the same afternoon in a local pub.




Director Matthew Cullen at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival



     There’s the enigmatic, drop-dead gorgeous, Barbara Stanwyck-esque “Nicola Six” (DRIVE ANGRY and AQUAMAN’s Amber Heard), none-too-bright small time criminal and professional competitive dart player on-the-rise “Keith Talent” (Jim Sturgess of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and 21), and married-upper-class-banker-desperately-seeking-a-life-change Guy Clinch (the DIVERGENT and UNDERWORLD series’ Theo James).

     When Young discovers that Nicola lives on the floor above him in the same apartment building, then he retrieves a set of journals he saw her tossing out, and they’re journals in which she claims to almost Cassandra-like know the future, including the time and means of her own impending death, it isn’t long before the similarly soon-to-die Young strikes a deal with Nicola which will grant him permission to follow her in her final days that he might base the main character in his new book upon her.








     The morose Young - his existence all but propped up by booze and the medication he takes to combat his un-named terminal illness - is fascinated by the vivacious Nicola who is his polar opposite personality-wise in that her knowledge of her soon-to-end lifespan has the effect of the proverbial candle burning twice as bright because it only burns half as long.


     Nicola has a voracious appetite for all she can possibly experience psychologically, psycho-sexually and otherwise. And it is this voraciousness which attracts men into her orbit then traps them like flies in her seductive spider’s web. Once thusly ensnared, Nicola then coldly puppet-masters these men in the most fiendishly Machiavellian of ways.

     Could it be this “puppet-mastering” which blows back upon her and leads to her presumed upcoming demise? That’s the surface plot. But beneath that surface LONDON FIELDS quite brilliantly - if at times confusingly to many - peels back layer upon layer of the onion to reveal our (most innately human?) tendency / desire to constantly want to play God in one way or another with someone else’s existence.

     In a very real way filmmaker Cullen is doing the very same “puppet-master / God” thing to us his audience. And hence that true definition of postmodern is entirely apropos here - that definition of a film which kinda / sorta is aware that it is a film, and that its reason for existing is very much mirrored in the plot and characters of said film itself. Unlike so many other modern (so-called) “postmodern” exercises, however, Cullen has the creative courage to allow his characters and film to play themselves out straight.






     He doesn’t succumb to the all too common fear we see today of wondering if the audience will fail to grasp certain concepts, or wondering that if they do manage to grasp them it will be too obvious, and therefore he and the characters must do the “wink, wink; nudge, nudge” thing in order to remind us that yes, they’re actually hip, ‘in the know” and not naively anachronistic in any way, and that because of this we really shouldn’t take any of this sh*t too seriously.

     When a film and / or filmmaker does that kind of self-serving saving of face by tossing his or her own film under the “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” bus, it shows a disdain for the material and / or the audience as it underestimates them both. Now, just to play devil's advocate ...

   
     What if the filmmaker is brave enough to not underestimate the material and / or the audience, and he / she opts to play things straight and leave it to the audience’s intelligence to pick up on the actual postmodern elements? Y’know, pick up on what could be defined as the cinematic equivalent of  “recursion” - where the reason for the film’s existence is mirrored in the film’s plot and characters, and vice versa … just like those popular photo images of “infinite recursion” where someone has a mirror in front of and behind them which reflects a reflection of a reflection of a reflection again and again and again ad infinitum?

     If a filmmaker is brave enough to do this, his / her cinematic material (admittedly often non-linear as all hell) can run the risk of sailing right over the heads or under the “hip-o-meter” radar of some in that audience? And the filmmaker can end up with a final film which many may interpret as “confusing”, “impenetrable”, “self indulgent” or just plain “fucking weird” - opinions all of which have been leveled at LONDON FIELDS.

     Keep in mind, however, that the same artistic critical (and sometimes audience) hand grenades were originally lobbed at Disney’s FANTASIA, Kubrick’s 2001, Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW, Scott’s BLADE RUNNER and others at the time of their original releases. And while I’m not necessarily saying Cullen’s film will go down in film school history as did those others (though I do have my personal opinion), the fact remains that the general critical and audience opinions of all of those films changed for the better as the luxury of time (as opposed to the necessities of immediate box office) allowed them to be peeled, microscoped, studied, then finally understood as / for what they were intended to be as opposed to how they may have been incorrectly interpreted and judged at the time of their original release.

     Maybe it was something as damned simple as those films being re-seen in a later era which made them more conducive to that later understanding and success. Perhaps they were just genuinely and literally ahead of their time. Who knows for certain. What is certain though is the fact that because they weren’t initially understood and embraced (or even liked) doesn’t mean they were “bad” films. They were just not … well, just not understood, embraced or (a dirty "open up your creative wrist and end it all now" word here) liked. But is that really the worst fate for a film?

     In the long run maybe not.












LONDON FIELDS clip - "Murderee"








Pg. 1, 2


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