Friday, 28 February 2014

Fantastic Planet (1973)

  'Fantastic Planet' (La planete sauvage) is a 1973 French Animation/Sci-fi directed by Rene Laloux.

  On a strange planet in an unknown solar system, there lives a war between two species the Draags and the Oms. The Draags are blue, large alien like creaetures with a thirst for knowledge and are an advanced race. The Oms are primitive human-like characters, close to cavemen, living in the wild of the planet and are miniscule in comparison to the Draags. The film begins when a mother and a baby Om are being terrorized by a group of Draags. They kill the mother, and run away, before Tiva (a draag) takes the baby Om (Terr) and nurtures it, like a pet, until teen years. One Om year is the equivelant of one Draag day, so within 3 weeks, Terr has aged to 18. As Tiva's exams start, she ignores Terr, so Terr takes his chance to escape. Once gone, he must lead an uprising against the draags.

  Laloux had two stages in his career. His early artistic and 'Dali'-like films and his later colourful anime stylised films. 'Fantastic Planet' is his most famous, and a high-point of his early career.

  The story is a simple story of a pet rebelling against it's owner, but there are many layers to this story. Firstly there is the surrealistic atmosphere, and strange animation style. Then there is the Freudian undertones and Salvador Dali inspired landscapes and creatures. But what overwhelmed me the most was the story siding with the Oms, making the audience think we are similar, when in-fact as a species, we are like the frighteningly over-developed Draags. The story is written in a way in which we side with the Oms, creating a horrible feeling when they do retaliate of triumph but also dread.

  Not many films can create an entire world, and no films can have as many original ideas as this one. At only 72 minutes, the film may feel short, but it crams a ridiculous amount of ideas. Not a single part of this film, did I look at a clock, nor did I feel bored. There was always something happening, and the world Laloux has created is a strange, but completely engaging one.

  As a 'PG' rated film goes, there is nudity, killing and mass-murder. Just because it's animated doesn't mean it's OK... Does it?

  As I bought the 'Masters of Cinema' blu-ray, I also watched his short films, so here is a quick review of them. 'Le dents du singe' (1960), is his first short film, but is completely terrible. It looks like it was animated by members of a psychiatric facility (perhaps that's because it was). The second film was 'Les temps morts' (1964), contains a philosophical narration, which didn't make much sense. Pretentious? Yes. You can see his early art style, but there is a lack of animation and it appeared more like a slideshow. The third film 'Les Escargots' (1965) is about a farmer who tries to grow large lettuce. The first half is a comical farce, while the second half is like 'Godzilla' with Snails. Far more enjoyable, but I still wouldn't consider 'worth watching'. The Fourth film is called 'Comment Wang-Fo fut sauve' (1987), about a painter in Medieval China, and how the emperor summoned him. His later animation style is visible here, and it matches the gorgeous landscapes and paintings shown. This is by far the best of the short films and I would definitely recommend it. The last short film is called 'La prisonniere' and is really quite forgettable. I couldn't make out any story whatsoever.

As an animation its impeccable, as a sci-fi its 'fantastic'.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Muddy River (1981)

  'Muddy River' (Doro no kawa) is a 1981 Japanese film directed by Kohei Oguri.

  Nobou is a 10 year old child living with his family at the edge of a river. One day, a boat arrives across the river, and Nobou becomes friends with Kiichi, who is also his age. He invites Kiichi and his sister Ginko over for dinner, but it turns out Kiichi and Ginko's mother is a prostitute. Nobou continues to be friends with them until a fateful night at the carnival.

  Judging by the plot, you can tell the writer tried to cram in every possible mismatch and plot contrivance as possible. Despite this, it's a simple story which continues at a steady pace.

  I found the acting to be a problem, as all the adults act incredibly well, even Kiichi and Ginko are putting the effort in. The problem derives from Nobou, who is not really acting but just 'playing the cute kid card'. His po-faced expression is in every scene. He is the equivalent to acting, to what the 1968 Oliver Twist is to singing. This is pulling at strings, as I found the whole film to be thoroughly-enjoyable.

  The music combined with the camera-work, create an Ozu-like atmosphere (Ozu being the elephant in the room, so I thought I better mention him anyway). Some films are ahead of it's time but this is 30 years behind, and feels like a 1950s film. The 1950s are the best decade for film, so it's not a bad thing. Even though the plot has serious undertones, with acts of burning crabs, prostitution and Primal Scene, it is light and a joy to watch.

While the rest of Japan was going crazy with their cameras, Oguri tells an innocent, simple 'coming of age' story.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Great War (1959)

  'The Great War' (La grande guerra) is a 1959 Italian war film directed by Mario Monicelli.

  The film stars Oreste Jacovacci and Giovanni Busacca, which meet at the roll-call for the First World War. Despite them being two completely different individuals, they are united in their lack of enthusiasm for the war. They aren't cowards but they do act like chickens, fooling around all the time. They train and soon go to war together. During the training section, Giovanni falls in love with prostitute Costantina, this doe not last long, and they are sent to the front. There they are stuck in the trenches, waiting for the orders to go over the top and die.

  Despite having a morbid storyline, it's actually (sort of) a comedy. It is, however, an Italian comedy and most humour is lost on all non-Italians. It still has it's funny moments, and is like a 'Life is Beautiful' in the trenches. It takes a while to get into, but when it gets going, 'The Great War' is a moving, heart-warming and devastating picture.

  The two main characters, Oreste and Giovanni, are incredibly likeable, well-acted and very human. Thus making the ending even more devastating. It's a war film, it's unlikely to have a happy ending so I'm barely giving anything away. The film is most memorable for it's finale, but does everything else pretty good as well.

  Few films are about the First World War, let alone Italy's involvement. This film shows us a side of the war, few people knew happened or what it was like.

It's tough to create a comedy-war film, but Monicelli pulls it off.


Garden of Words (2013)

  'Garden of Words' (Koto no ha no niwa) is a 2013 Anime film directed by Makoto Shinkai.

  It tells the story of a 15 year old Student, Takao, who plans to be a shoemaker. When it is raining, he misses lessons to draw feet, under a gazebo in a public garden. There he meets the mysterious Yukino and they slowly fall for each other. Problems arise, when a) the rain stops, and b) he finds out she is a teacher at his school. So this is not your typical rom-com, so don't expect a happy ending.

  Shinkai, is one of the finest directors, it's just a shame his films are far apart... and short. 'Garden of Words' is only 47 minutes long, but a narrative so thin couldn't last any longer, so in a way I'm glad it's short. Shinkai is known for creating the best looking Anime, and this may be his best looking film to date. I did, however, see it on a blu-ray player so I admit, I am biased. Any screenshot of this movie, would make a lovely picture. I would even say Shinkai is the only director to make rain look wonderful. Like his other films, it features hints of J-Pop and a wonderful soundtrack throughout.

  I found the story to be thin, as if he thought of two completely opposite characters, in a beautiful setting, and made them fall for each other. I also think of this less of a film but more of a montage of events. The plot skips time so often, it never lets the audience settle in.

  Every director has one bad film, but Shinkai (with Kurosawa and Tarkovsky) is one of the few directors to have a faultless filmography. For this to be his worst film, shows you what a master film-maker he is.

Gorgeous and completely enjoyable. Shinkai's work is the only competitor to Ghibili in terms of greatness.


Monday, 10 February 2014

Tropical Malady (2004)

  'Tropical Malady' is a 2004 Thai film directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

  The film is split into two halves. The first half starts in the jungle, were a group of soldiers find a body. Then they visit a village, where Tong and Keng fall in love. Keng is a soldier, while Tong is a village boy, and as they take trips into the countryside, they start a romance. The second half is set entirely in the jungle, involving Keng and a shape-shifting tiger shaman. As Keng leaves the village to find a lost villager, he gets lost himself.

  The second Apichatpong Weerasethakul, finshes off where 'Blissfully Yours' left off. Turns out the body the soldiers discover at the beginning is 'Min' from 'Blissfully Yours' but it has no significance in the story. Just a little easter egg. Uncle Boonme, is also mentioned, as well as the cave Tong and Keng go down is featured in 'Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall his Past Lives'. Weerasethakul has created a whole dream-like world, where characters come and go as they please.

  The first half might be considered a 'gay' film, but there is no kissing or making love, their emotions are merely mutual. The romance they have could easily be between a man and a woman, so the fact they are gay doesn't change my perception on the film. There is also no bullshit Hollywood schmultz, or a break-up half way through, and at the end they get together. Instead it shows two men having a romance, nothing more, nothing less.

  Weerasethakul's films are personal and spiritual. Featuring shamans, spirits, afterlife and occasionally go off on tangents. Strange plot structure is used, his endings are ambiguous and his shots are long with no story development happening in them. Once you get past these barriers, then you can enjoy his obscure films. All his films are masterpieces, but you have to understand the film-maker to realize this.

  The second half of the film is a beautiful and intense encounter with a shaman. Featured in the same forest as some of his other films, this has a sinister tone and a terrifying ending. It's the film I was hoping 'Blissfully Yours' to be. A film which is more story-driven and more powerful. This film has no flaws and was enjoyable thoughout.

Weerasethakul's films are unlike anything else in world cinema. A relaxing first half and an intense, profound second half.


Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Soft Skin (1964)

  The Soft Skin (La peau douce) is a 1964 French film directed by Francois Truffaut.

  Jean Desailly (Pierre Lachenay) is a fairly famous writer, living in Paris with his wife Franca (Nelly Benedetti) and daughter Sabine. On a business trip in Portugal, Jean falls in love with flight attendant Nicole (Francoise Dorlea), and they start a passionate affair. During the following day, he heads off back to Paris, but he can't stop thinking of her. During the following week, they spend time together between her varied flights. He decides to head a lecture in Reims, taking Nicole with him so they can have a mini holiday together. As with every film about affairs (Crimes and Misdemeanours, Fatal Attraction), things soon go horribly wrong...

  Told from the man's point of view, this is more of an acting film then anything else. There is only so much nifty camerawork possible with such a limiting script. Truffaut is at his best being inventive and the typical story of a man cheating on a woman and bad things happen, is not inventive, and is as old as cinema itself. Made after 'The 400 blows' and 'Jules and Jim', this film was made at the peak of his career, but lacks from being unoriginal and predictable. Maybe it wasn't back then, but it sure is now.

  The acting is fairly decent, but it never really pulled me in. As all New Wave films, all the women in it are beautiful, but even the ladies don't bring this film above mediocrity.
  That said, it wasn't terrible to sit through, just occasionally gripping but mostly unremarkable. Better than the ultra-naff 'Fahrenheit 451' but worse than every other film of his.

Only Truffaut's nifty camerawork, save this film. He's done a lot superior films, just skip this one


Saturday, 8 February 2014

Siberiade (1979)

  'Siberiade' is a 1979 Russian film directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy.

  Spanning five decades and three generations of the Ustyuzhanin family from Yelan, Siberia dealing with their feud with the Solomin family, war, poverty, greed and death. Beginning in 1904 and finishing in 1964, the film documents life in this Siberian village. Nikolai, is a kid in 1904 Siberia, and meets a fugitive from the revolution, which inspires him, while he helps his father chop trees and create a road. The film skips 13 years to 1917, when Nikolai has grown up, and he falls in love with a member of the rival Solomin family, Anastasia. They fall apart and she decides to marry another man. Nikolai starts a fight on her wedding day, and after her husband sexually assaults her, she jumps in the boat with Nikolai, to the city. The story skips to 1932, then to 1941 and finally to 1964. You see characters grow up before your very eyes, as the Second World War and other obstacles get in their way. I really don't want to spoil anymore of this story. There are many threads, characters and dramatic events which occur during the movie.

  This was a complete blind-watch for me, and I was not disappointed during any of the duration. The film lasts 275 minutes (4 hours, 35 minutes) but the version I saw lasted 205 minutes.

  The film is split into two segments and five time-zones. With each time change, the village feels like a different place. First there is the snow, then the green countryside and forests, and after the war, the village is derelict and filled with Russian grannies.

  Visually this film is stunning. The camera switches to black and white when there are war scenes, or 'Devil's Mane' scenes are located. Otherwise the film is in lavish colour, emphasizing the unknown beauty of Siberia. Whether the weather is snowing or sunshine, Yelan looks breathtaking.

  'Siberiade' has an grand vision, shown in a distinct Russian way. The films of Russia feel like they couldn't be further away from Hollywood, and that is why they are so great. Viewing a film like this, feels like you are seeing something far from the norm. So different, it's strange how it provoked more emotion inside me, then 99% of American films.

  Russian films are known for their inaccessibility. Don't expect to like it, especially if it is one of your first ventures into Russian films. I found 'Heart of a Dog' and 'Kin Dza-Dza' very enjoyable, but found 'The Diamond Arm' to be unfunny and dull. Either way I think it's one of the best films on this review blog.

In my top three Russian films. Epic, thought-provoking, ballad-like and visually stunning.


Friday, 7 February 2014

Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975)

  'Chronicle of the Years of Fire' (Chroniue des annees de braise) is a 1975 Algerian film directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. It won the Palme d'or in 1975, but has been completely forgotten since.

  Split into 6 chapters: The Years of Ashes, The Years of Embers, The Years of Fire, The Year of the Cart, The Year of the Massacre and November 11, 1954. The story tells of the Algerian war of Independence through the eyes of a peasant (Ahmad). It starts of in a remote village, before moving across deserts and villages, all while the second world war is occurring in the background. One scene, sees Ahmad listening to the radio with other Algerian's in hope Hitler wins the war, so their country can be freed from the French. Another sees a mini-war occur over a river, which is between two pieces of land. Ahmad's life is interlinked to the war, so all of the events are realist, and it is very much a 'look how terrible this war is' type film, and it tries to show it in every way possible. Another, particularly powerful scene, sees Ahmad carrying a child through a hospital with hundreds of injured villagers. The film, leads up to the big revolution at the end, involving a massacre.

  If you can't tell, this film is anti-French and completely biased towards the Algerians. If you forgive it for this, and the three hour running time, it is one of the best African films ever made. That's not saying much, as Africa have created very few widely seen films. 'The Gods Must be Crazy' appears to be the only African film with over 1000 votes on IMDB. This film has 158 votes. Hopefully there will be a 'New Wave' in Africa soon, as there films are wonderfully bizarre.

  Due to the film being so rare, the version I watched was very poor quality (on YouTube here), so it was hard to tell what was happening and the subs were sometimes white on a white background. Making the film's more visceral scenes seem fuzzy and not impressive. The opposite of it's intention.

  The film is relatively dull (unlike the three reviews on IMDB which say it is the greatest film ever made), until the final half an hour. The massacre is unmissable movie-making, and the final scenes are magnificent. It's strange for a film to turn around so close to the end. Everything was cranked up to ten, from the bodycount, to the acting to the mountainous backdrop.

  'Chronicle of the Years of Fire' 'epicness' derives from the large amount of extras in the film. The scenes where Ahmad is carrying the child through the hospital lasts 10 minutes, as the screen is filled with extras. There must be thousands in this film. It wouldn't surprise me if there are more extras in this film, than people who have seen the film!!!

(the best quality picture of this film I could find!)

Lengthy and boring film with a fantastic ending. Better than 'Xala' not as good as 'Yaaba'


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sunshine on Leith (2013)

  'Sunshine on Leith' is a 2013 Scottish musical, directed by Dexter Fletcher. Most people know it as 'The Proclaimers Musical', as it stars many of their songs.

  Davy (George Mckay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) have returned home from war in Afghanistan. The film centres around their and their parent's love life. Ally wants to marry Davy's sister, Liz (Freya Mavor), while Davy starts a relationship with a nurse called Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). After refusing Ally's proposal, Liz moves to Florida and trains to become a nurse, Ally goes back to Afghanistan and Davy and Yvonne go through relationship issues. A second storyline stars Rab (Peter Mullen) and Jean (Jane Horrocks), Davy and Liz's parents. On Rab and Jean's 25th Anniversary, Jean finds a secret letter, threatening divorce. Rab then collapses from a heart attack, and they love each other again.

  The storyline is perhaps the weakest aspect of this joyous and fun musical. If you know The Proclaimers's songs you can guess where the storyline will go. At some point someone will send letters from america and someone will get married. The way the storyline tangents to play specific songs can be irritating, resulting in a sporadic and weak plot. I felt the hospital storyline was unnecessary, as depressing illness should not be bought into films which are upbeat and happy. Same applied for 'Arthur', despite it being unfunny, there was no need for the storyline to go there.

  What 'Mamma Mia' did to Abba and 'Tommy' did to The Who, is what 'Sunshine on Leith' has done to The Proclaimers. Cheesy song after cheesy song, random dances, average acting.

  This is a purely Scottish film, set wholly in Edinburugh (except a few scenes in Afghanistan and about 10 seconds in Florida). Unexpectedly, the cinematography was impressive. Establishing shots of the city, under a yellow hazy sunset, is far superior than anything 'Mamma Mia' could have given. I have visited Edinburgh a few times, and the film makes it look better than it actually is! The film uses every landmark available in Edinburgh, from the historic hilly roads, to the museum, so if your a Scot, this film will make you proud.

  Despite the songs being cheesy, they have amazing vocals. Even Peter Mullen sings amazing with his deep vibrating voice. Yes, even better than Russell Crowe. The person who decided to play 'It's over and done with' through the end credits is a genius.

  Nice to see they put a few little Easter Eggs in the film, like the only American in the 10 second shot of Florida is a morbidly obese man, walking through a door in the distance. Also, during the 'I'm on my Way' song, The Proclaimers walk out of a pub.

The fun and enjoyment cancels out most of the negatives. More of a 'favourite' film then a 'best' film.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Die Nibelungen (1924)

  'Die Nibelungen' is a silent, German film directed by Fritz Lang. It is a Fantasy/ Epic which lasts 282 minutes and is the combination of 'Siegfried' and 'Kriemhild's Revenge'.

  In Part 1 (Siegfried), Siegfried, the hero of the story, sets out from his small town after hearing rumours of a gorgeous princess in Burgundy. The man who told him directions to get there lied, and Siegfried encounters a dragon. Killing the dragon and bathing in it's blood, turns Siegfried invincible. He then sets out to a mysterious forest, where he meets an invisible old man. Siegfried stabs him and before he dies, the strange old man curses him. He takes the sword from the Nibelungen treasure and leaves. He enters the kingdom of Burgundy, has a battle with Brunhild, he wins and marries Krimhild. Their happiness does not last long, as plans arise, conspiring to kill Siegfried. (HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER)- Siegfried is murdered at a hunt and Kriemhild vows revenge on the killer Hagen von Tronje. Brunhild, who helped in the killing, commits suicide by Siegfried's body.

  In Part 2 (Kriemhild's Revenge), Kriemhild marries Etzel, king of the Huns, and has his baby. All to plan revenge for the events in part 1. She gets gradually more and more crazy, as she forces her husband and Margrave Ruediger to do her revenge for her. The last 45 minutes is a siege on the palace where (HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER) their baby is brutally killed by Hagen, the king and Margrave gets stabbed and most of the Hun warriors and all the Burgundy soldiers get massacred. After burning down the palace, Hagen walks out the gate and states how only he knows where the Nibelungen treasure is. Kriemhild goes bezerk and kills him. One of the master soldiers then kills her from behind. 

  Due to the time it has taken to explain the summary, you would have thought the film would last 4 1/2 hours, but the film feels like it lasts longer. The best part was Siegfried running through the forest as we, the audience, are introduced to new sets after new sets. Once at the palace it feels less 'Lord of the Rings' and more 'Game of Thrones'. Plenty of conspiring against each other, a whole second act which matches Daenerys Targaryen's storyline, and a massacre at a banquet. The film definitely could have been shortened. I believe the second act could have been shortened to an hour, instead it seems to go on and on.

  The bases of the story was originally written in 1200 AD, which explains why it is anti-Hollywood, has a sad ending and the hero dies half way through. Completely destroying the concept of 'The Hero's Journey' by Joseph Campbell.

  Despite the racism from massacring 'The Huns' and the lengthy duration, I still enjoyed this film. The set design was astonishing and really made you feel like you were in a fantasy world. This included Metropolis style grand sets, and a moving dragon (looking suspiciously like a dinosaur).

Enjoyable, silent, forgotten classic, if a bit too long. Best to see in two or more sittings.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Il Bidone (1955)

  'Il Bidone' is a 1955 Italian film directed by Frederico Fellini. It is the middle part of Fellini's trilogy of independence succeeding 'La Strada' and preceding 'Nights of Cabiria'.

  Augusto is a lonely aging crook living in Italy. He organizes and operates big swindles and lives a life off of other people's money. His two younger friends, Roberto and Picasso, helping him out with these cons. Picasso has a wife and child, and things don't go too well when they find out his proffession. After Augusto meeting with his daughter, a crazy 'Italian style' party and various hustles, things go terribly wrong after stealing money from a father with two crippled daughter.

  'La Strada' and 'Nights of Cabiria' are two amazing, acclaimed films, but Il Bidone is relatively unknown. Fellini's best movies were early in his career and were better than his colour epics, when Fellini turned into a 'sick old man'. All of his early films are filled with creativity and style, I am surprised this one slipped under the radar.

  This film does seem to be worse dubbed than his other films. Half the cast was American and didn't even speak the language, so the dub is amazing considering this. Also interesting, is the cast which wasn't American, weren't actors. They were largely  found on streets or in bars, the only 'real' actor was Fellini's muse Giulietta Masina, who brilliantly plays the part of Picasso's wife. Riddled with many pre production and production troubles, Fellini must have worked wonders in the post-production process.

  My favourite part of the film is the ending (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want a SPOILER). The finale is great as it tricks the audience, while not expecting it. Like similar films of the era, you expect him to be beaten to death, until they realise they can't find the money. Giving an Itlaian neo-realist 'be good and bad things will happen' view on things. Turning this on it's head, they find the money and leave him beaten down a hill. Very clever.

  It's better than many of his films (Satyricon, Amarcord, Il Vitiloni), but not as good as others (8 1/2, La Dolce Vita, Nights of Cabiria, La Strada). It sits in the middle as being in the 'good but not a masterpiece' section of his career.

Another great film from Fellini. Wrongfully forgotten.