Month: January 2015

Foreground Noise

Here be a compilation of clips focussed on the unreality of reality television.

I grew familiar with the format of reality television since it was always on at home. This was before I matriculated, studying film and learning more about the processes in action, the tricks of the trade. This was all occurring during the surge of reality TV. So when I returned home three years later, I could no longer watch this predominant kind of programming in the same way – the seams were beginning to show.

It was as though it had become it’s own type of media, a disposable form of television that wasn’t made to be watched again, that didn’t require your full attention. The televisual equivalent of fast food. An excused guilty pleasure that isn’t intent on filling you up, so it could blamelessly leave you empty and craving more. Chewing gum for the eyes that tricks you into thinking you’ve seen something when really you have done fuck all. A type of show that acts as a sedative, that you switch it on in order to switch off.

It’s just something to put on in the background, I was assured. But how something so vulgar could be overlooked was beyond me. What was a box in the corner before I left home, had been rolled flat, now a light-emitting window that all the furniture was angled towards, screaming for attention. A tad overpowering for a visual-soundbed. A high-definition realer-than-reality image that seemed to spurt out this hyper-real imagining of celebrities performing amateur sports, ordinary people in talent-shows, and then constructed personalities in ordinary situations. Baffling and bizarre, and none of it real.

American Sniper (2014)

Written for RAF News Jan 2015

American Sniper opens to an Iraqi mother and son approaching a group of American Navy SEALs. Something is off about her gait… her arms aren’t moving. She is holding something beneath her clothing – an RKG Russian grenade – which she hands to her child before sending him running toward the platoon. All of this is witnessed through the scope of Chris Kyle’s rifle whilst his finger rests on the trigger.AMERICAN-SNIPER

This gripping open to Clint Eastwood’s latest contains the essence of the film: the intense focus and moral deliberation (or lack thereof) of decorated SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) caught in extreme close-ups, fast-paced editing and confining sound design.

An adaptation of Kyle’s best-selling autobiography, the film carries his values and moral certainty in tone, but also in Cooper’s performance – suitably beefed up and puffed out with a deep Texan drawl. Accumulating 160 confirmed kills (255 unconfirmed) over four tours of Iraq earned him the title of ‘Legend’ among friends and ‘The Devil of Ramadi’ among Iraqi insurgents. Burly, brave but never boastful, Kyle’s dedication to God and his country is unwavering, though it is certainly tested by the many faces of evil that threaten his brothers-in-arms.

The binary division of heroism and pure evil can make the film appear cartoonish at times – more a western than a war film – with Kyle’s patriotism becoming the most aggressive thing about him. Shown to be a gentle and compassionate man, we are shown the struggle he has in returning back to ordinary life with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids. Intending to give a more rounded view of the most lethal sniper in the US military, these familiar scenes feel tired and almost obligatory.

It is in the combat scenes that Eastwood flourishes, unsurprisingly. At one point, dizzying direction places you at the heart of a shootout when all figures in the frame are swallowed by a sandstorm. These moments of raw cinematic action deliver concentrated doses of suspense that make the film worth seeing.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Spoilers ahoy.

Edge of Tomorrow is a futuristic action/science-fiction film that takes place during a war with an invading alien race who seem to have some control over time. A high-concept film that cleverly works in a conceit that excuses the film for being very Hollywood.edge-of-tomorrow

Tom Cruise begins as William Cage: an inexperienced, queasy-at-the-sight-of-blood, coward officer. This obviously must change – he is Tom Cruise. Confessing to be more involved in the campaigning side of things and attempting to blackmail his way out of participation, Cage finds himself volunteered to fight on the frontline against these alien invaders.

Very soon he will find himself dropped into combat wearing a future-tech soldier-suit, the type to have plasma guns appear from hidden crevices, unfortunately he hasn’t been trained on how to use it. Instead the action hero in the film takes the shape of Emily Blunt as Rita: ‘the full metal bitch’ as they are sure to remind us. Picking up from her previous sci-fi action film Looper, Blunt holds her own against another 50-year-old action star with the same stony faced stoicism. She dances around the battlefield whilst dear old Cage only manages to pick off one of the so-called Mimics before dying.

And then the day starts again… turns out the creature the Cage killed has locked him into his own private Groundhog Day. Now he must use this infinite repetition to his advantage and use his superseding knowledge of the day to find help and get trained up. He must escape the strict watch of his General for instance, and so whilst on exercise he tries to roll under a moving car in order to break away. Every time he mistimes the move and is chewed up by the tires of the oncoming vehicle, his day is reset. Once this is established with the audience, the film doesn’t need to explain how many times Cage has attempted an act of daring, we can safely assume he has tried it over and again until it has worked – we are merely catching his successful attempt.

In Mission Impossible we have no such excuse for the luck that is granted Ethan Hunt. Action films often preface their death-defying stunts by endowing the hero with a history in the special forces, with a very specific set of skills as it were, but it cannot excuse these moments of sheer luck that are threaded throughout Hollywood films – those purely cinematic moments that defy realism. Edge can do precisely that, thereby explaining away why Cruise can roll under a moving car. A beautiful flourish.

We later find out that Blunt too had this power but lost it.. that’s why she is such a bad-ass. She decides to train Cage so that they can work as a team to find the headhoncho alien and win the war. The reset device is used to create a unique kind of montage in which comedy is derived from the execution of the protagonist: if he slips up, she shoots him. LIVE. DIE. REPEAT (get it?) With fast-paced editing and reused shots, this technique provides well-earned comedic relief. If not simply relieving from the cold, austere seriousness of Blunt. She is training him. An unlikely turn for a Cruise action film – though this is corrected when he overtakes her and reprises his role as action hero, saving her in return (call it even) then saving the day like she never could (not quite even) then she is demoted to a fleeting love interest.


Rick: He saved my life once. I saved his twice, so I was one up

Problem is that the stakes have been wiped as there is no longer the threat of death. And so comes a flimsy explanation for how this power is lost, turning the film into ordinary Hollywood fair, especially when in the final moments of the film it seems to employ its own rules and revive the hero for a happy ending.

Edge of Tomorrow utilises it’s concept to justify the Hollywoodness that it shines with, and though it can’t sustain this subversion until the very end, it’s impressive while it lasts.

Wrestling with Reality

As a wee nipper I was a big fan of wrestling. That is to say watching professional wrestling in the form of the World Wrestling Federation, for I possessed very little charisma at this young age and had no signature prop.. I had a snake named Jake in honour of the wrestler, but had no such moustache; I had a parrot named Colin after no-one in particular, but had no golden jacket. Though I was a child, a newly-formed and lesser-intelligent human being, I had started to wise up to the construct of wrestling and believing it to be fake my interest waned. My parents, quick thinkers as they were, taught me that wrestling was indeed fake but often enough it would ‘go real’ when someone pissed someone else off or something. So I would be sitting watching casually when my dad would announce ‘It’s gone real! It’s gone real!’ I would leap of the sofa and stand in front of the television transfixed, watching these actors really go at it, fighting within the fight.

jake the snake1000x1000

I still watched wrestling for many years after, even when I knew it wasn’t a real undertaker with a real grudge against his real half-brother. I watched it for entertainment. It was hyper-masculine dramatism akin to theatre within a sports league. Characters in costumes each given a narrative to follow, a path to tread that would lead them to be supported by or taunted by the crowd: good, evil or underdog. An operatic UFC. In some ways boxing appears to tread this same line. The drama that surrounds the fight can become the focus, from tabloid fodder to pre-match hype that may simply be promotional but appeals to our innate desire for story. (more…)