Monday, 28 April 2014

La Notte (1961)

  'La Notte' (The Night) is a 1961 Italian film directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni. It stars Jeanne Moreau ('Jules and Jim'), Marcello Mastroianni ('8 1/2') and Monica Vitti ('L'Avventura'). It's the second in Antonioni's trilogy of modernity and its discontents, proceeding 'L'Avventura', and preceding 'L'Eclisse'.

  Giovanni (Mastroianni) and Lidea (Moreau) are a married couple going through problems with their relationship in Milan, Italy. Giovanni is a well-known author. They visit their friend Tommaso, who is dying in a hospital bed. They celebrate the release of Giovanni's new book with champagne, knowing that this is one of the last times they will see each other. Giovanni meets an ill patient in the corridor, and starts uncontrollably kissing her. He tells Lidea about this, but she says she doesn't mind. After a book signing Lidea wanders around Milan, past street fights and rocket launchers. They eventually arrive at a party, where Giovanni is introduced to Valentina (Vitti). During the night, their faint love grows even more distant.

  Michaelangelo Antonioni is not to everyone's taste. When I saw 'Red Desert' and 'L'Eclisse', I didn't understand the hype behind him. After watching 'L'Avventura', 'Il Grido' and 'The Passenger', I feel like I understand his style and approach to movies. He is a great film-maker, but shouldn't be compared to Fellini and Bergman.

  His films are character studies into failing relationships, while examining the human condition. His films never have happy endings, whether it's suicide, a divorce or imprisonment. Antonioni's outlook on life, is a dim and depressing one, but it makes for some intriguing movies. 'La Notte' is no different from his other works, but is a highlight of his Italian films.

  The cast is as good as it can get. Antonioni's muse, Vitti, is on form and gives another fine performance. Moreau, who has worked with Malle, Welles and Truffaut, plays the part of Lidea fantastically. She is ideal for the part. Mastroianni has been amazing in everything he has been in, and is Italy's most loved actor. He brings a distinct character to every role he plays. It is an phenomenal cast, that bring the characters to life.

  The story is slow, and takes it's time to tell. All the usual Antonioni auteur trademarks are included (as mentioned above), but used to full force. Venanzo, Antonioni's cinematographer, embraces his style, making 'La Notte' as visually impressive as 'Il Grido'. The slick camera movements combined with the perfectly composited shots, create a stunning film. Every single frame is a feast for the eyes, which is a great achievement.

  The story is far more captivating than some of his other works, resulting in an emotional final scene. This is still Antonioni, so don't start watching expecting to be entertained as his pessimistic view on relationships is still present in this film. To enjoy it the most just sit back, relax and let the film take you on a journey.

One of Antonioni's best works. A captivating film that shows the beauty of Italy.


Sunday, 27 April 2014

Days of 36 (1972)

  'Days of 36' (Meres tou '36) is a 1972 Greek film directed by Theo Angelopoulos.

  In 1936 Greece, a trade unionist is shot in broad day light at a rally. Sofianos, a police informer, has been jailed for the assassination. While in prison, Sofianos takes hostage a Conservative politician. The government has to decide whether to kill Sofianos or not. If they give into his demands for freedom, they will lose enough votes to lose the next election.

  The second film in the Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol 1, is far slower than the first film 'Reconstruction'. Whereas 'Reconstruction' focuses on a detestable husband and wife characters, 'Days of 36' centres around a group of politicians. They are mediocre protagonists, that you don't root for or against. I wasn't on the side of Sofianos, but neither on the side of the politicians, so when events occur, I do not know who to sympathize with. The characters have many flaws, and is therefore a problematic factor that is consistent throughout the film.

  This is a 30 minute film, told over two hours. Most of the runtime is taken watching people walk from one place to another. Things happen ridiculously slowly. I know it's his style, but the story needs more action.

  The cinematography is a major step up from his first film, using colour to full force. Despite the film's 'do nothing' approach, the film is luscious to watch, so the 1 hour 45 minutes is not tedious whatsoever. The film may have one event happening every ten minutes, but the camera movements and the flat landscape hypnotise you into forgetting this. The camera tends to be medium to long-shot for the entirety, with sunlight casting long shadows on the dry floor. It's a wonderful style, but makes it hard to recognize the characters. This got pretty bad in places, resulting in an end where (SPOILER 1).

  Angelopoulos's films are entirely different from anything else in cinema. The closest is Hou Hsiao-Hsien, as both adore long takes and long shots, as well as having a section of their filmographies dedicated to films about their country's history. This film is a historical snapshot into 1930s Greece, at a time before the Metaxas dictatorship. If I knew more about Greek history, this would have been far more fascinating. As I don't, it's a film purely to look at.

Painfully slow, but nice to look at. It's fairly interesting as it tells a part of history that is forgotten by the masses.


SPOILER 1 (highlight)--> I didn't recognise the three men shot in the last scene<--

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Of Time and the City (2008)

  'Of Time and the City' is a 2008 British documentary directed and narrated by Terence Davies.

  Davies documents Liverpool from when he was born in 1945 to when he left in 1973. Liverpool was known as "one of the worst slums in Europe", with small brick houses, vandalised shops, and a very poor living quality. Davies then bashes the Monarchy for spending so much on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and not helping his city. Despite the poor living conditions, there was a sense of community, showing days out to the beach, local fairs, street parties and everyone having a jolly good old time (this is Britain after all). This is not a film specifically about the city, but about Terence Davies experience during that time and how he remembers it. Deterioration plagues the city, but he remembers fondly of it. He explains how he despised the pope, the impulses of adolescence, and the escape to the cinema to watch films like 'Victim' and 'Singing in the Rain'. The final 15 minutes examines Liverpool in the present day. The place he once loved, has disappeared and now seems alienating. The sense of community has vanished, the tower-blocks have gone and the city is no longer in depression.

  It doesn't feel like a documentary, but a passionate insight into a forgotten past. The film covers a large variety of topics, from religion, to war, to the monarchy. Davies uses archive and contemporary footage combined with music, narration, autobiographical reminiscence, funny wit and even literary quotations.

"You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it"
Carl Jung

  The film is interesting in places, like the footage of soldiers going to war while the song 'He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother' plays over it. The film does suffer from feeling like an extra long segment from 'The One Show'. It drags at the beginning and the end, but has a satisfying middle third.

A peaceful and heartfelt work, to a city filled with 20th century history.


Why Don't You Play in Hell? (2013)

  'Why Don't You Play in Hell?' (Jigoku de naze warui) is a 2013 Japanese film directed by Sion Sono.

  Michiko appeared in a toothpaste commercial when she was a child, but her father, Muto, is in charge of a Yakuza clan. When the rival Yakuza clan arrived at his house to kill Muto, his wife, Shizue, massacred them all with a kitchen knife. She is sent to prison for ten years. Skip ahead ten years and the wife is being released from prison. She wants to see her daughter Michiko starring in a film, so Muto hires a passerby, Koji, who knows nothing about films, to direct. He then hires a group of amateur film-makers, which call themselves the Fuck-Bombers, to be in charge. To kill two birds with one stone, they organize the bloody battle between the Yakuza clans to be on the same day, and film it. The rival Yakuza clan is fronted by Ikegami, who has a crush on Michiko.

  I was over the moon when I got the chance to see this film, as Sion Sono is one of the greatest directors that is still making films. I have seen nine of his films after watching 'Love Exposure', one of the greatest films of the 21st Century. I did this a while ago, so it's been some time since I have seen any of his films. None of his films reach the greatness of 'Love Exposure', but 'Why Don't You Play in Hell?' comes the closest.

  Sono wrote the script for this 15 years ago. The story is confusing at first, but makes sense as the film continues. The story is completely absurd, filled with crazy characters and ridiculous events which would never happen in real life, but that is why it is so glorious. At the begining there are three main storylines, the Michiko and Koji, the Yakuza and the Fuck Bombers, which eventually intertwine with each other. My favourite is the Fuck Bombers storyline, purely for how insane it is. The film opens when the Fuck bombers are filming two people throwing eggs at each other, when they see a fight happening across the street, which they then film. When the story skips forward ten years, those characters are wearing the exact same clothes, and act completely the same. Every character in the film is iconic in their own unique ways.

  The inevitable battle scene at the end is the craziest and bloodiest I have ever seen, with body parts flying everywhere and a thick layer of blood on the floor. Sono has made some gory films, but this is the goriest one yet. The last few minutes are unexpectedly emotional when (SPOILER 1). I have never seen a Yakuza film, but after watching 'Why Don't You Play in Hell?' I definitely intend to. Mafia films tend to be Scorsese biopics, but Yakuza films are more action-based and focus on rival clans.

  The film does have deeper underlying meaning. Sono is making a statement about Hollywood making films purely for the money, as all the characters are prepared to die, to make one masterpiece. The passion has evaporated from most Hollywood films, so it's great to see it is still in effect here.

  Everything that make Sono films different from anyone else's is all here. All of his auteur trademarks (Teenagers yelling, lots of blood) with his usual mixture of J-pop and classical music. This a must-see Sono film that is very accessible and, therefore, a good place to start watching his films.

Sono at his most insane. This film is brilliant and had me smiling throughout. Funny, bloody and completely preposterous.


SPOILER 1 (highlight)--> The leader of the fuck bombers see all of his friends die. He imagines they are at the premier of the film, and everyone is clapping them.<--

Friday, 25 April 2014

Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

  'Last Year at Marienbad' (L'annee derniere a Marienbad) is a 1961 French film directed by Alain Resnais and written by fellow French New Wave director Alain Robbe-Grillet.

  A woman (A) travels through a Baroque mansion when she meets a man. She has a love affair with the man (X), as her husband (M) gets jealous. X tells A that they have met previously last year at Marienbad, but A cannot remember.

  It took me a second viewing to understand 'Last Year at Marienbad'. While researching about Resnais's cinematographer Sacha Vierny, I came across a book describing the many different theories behind this film. What I first dismissed as pretentious twaddle, is actually one of the most mind bogglingly bizarre films I have seen. After watching it twice, the film still confuses me. There is a lot more to this film than the three line synopsis in the paragraph above... Let me try and explain.

  One of the reasons why this film is so tough to decipher, is that there is no confirmed present. Whether the conversations or story is happening in the past, present or future is never confirmed. There is no way to seperate reality from fiction. Who says any of the film is real? One of the most believable theories is that the whole film is a dream, occurring in A's head, but believing that would be boring, wouldn't it? So there is no established time or reality, but atleast we know the characters are real... Well, they might not be either. One theory states only A is alive, M is not as masculine as portrayed on screen, and X is her subconscious. Another one says the film is occurring in M's mind after (SPOILER 1). (SPOILER 2). My favourite theory is that the characters are a part of a recurring film. The photographs in the drawer represent the amount of times the film has repeated. X is trying to break free of this repeating cycle, so he tries to escape with A. During the final scene, the camera (SPOILER 3). The last theory is a much simpler one and that is (SPOILER 4). It's quite easy to prefer one theory to the other, but the truth is, there is no true story. Alain Resnais and writer Alain Robbe-Grillet have no intention of a correct narrative and leaves the choice to the spectator. 'Last Year at Marienbad' is the most ambiguous film I have seen. The film could have a deep psychological storyline, or a simple one depending on what the spectator wants to believe.

  Sacha Vierny, the film's cinematographer which I am currently writing an assignment about, shoots 'Last Year at Marienbad', quite beautifully. The endless corridors, matched with the intricate interior designs is something to be seen to be believed. The style Vierny creates has inspired music videos (To the End-Blur), to films ('The Draughtsman's Contract'), but the most notable imitator is 'The Shining' which also has long corridors, gliding steadicam shots and many interpretations.

  On a psychological and visual level, this film is about as good as it gets. But is the film watchable? The film doesn't return the viewer with any answers, and it is possible to just gaze through the film, without taking any notice of what is going on. The characters stare into space and talk nonsense for much of the running time, and none of the characters are likeable at all. Despite this, 'Last Year at Marienbad' is a landmark in the French New Wave, and is instantly recognisable from any frame.

A film everyone has a different opinion about. It has Visual perfection, and a storyline that can be interpreted in many different ways.


SPOILER 1 (highlight)-->He kills her<--
SPOILER 2 (highlight)--> consumed with guilt, he is unable to realize what he has done<--
SPOILER 3 (highlight)--> shows A and X walking off screen. The camera has no where to go, and thus turns to M on the staircase. They have escaped the clutches of Marienbad <--
SPOILER 4 (highlight)--> She is dead, and the events in the film is how she remembers them. She is lying on the floor as M has shot her, and her last few memories are flashing before her eyes<--

Thursday, 24 April 2014

My American Uncle (1980)

  'My American Uncle' (Mon oncle d'Amerique) is a 1980 French film directed by Alain Resnais.

  The story revolves around three characters. Jean is a bourgeois politician, Janine is a actress and Rene (Gerard Depardieu) is a manager at a textile company. The film flashes back to their past, where it shows the births and childhoods of the three individuals. Jean was born on an island, where he was looked after by his father and grandfather. His childhood consisted of eating crabs, digging a hole and reading adventure books in a tree. Janine lived in a flat for her childhood, with communist parents and the need to rebel against them. Rene was born on a farm, to a strict family with strict rules that had low expectations of him. Throughout the film, the separate storylines of the now fully grown three protagonists occasionally meet.

  Resnais is one of the greatest French New Wave directors, and is mostly ignored over Godard or Truffaut. His films feature advanced plots, scattered narratives and amazing scripts, and things are no different with 'My American Uncle'.

  Equally focusing the story on three main characters is a technique I have not seen in cinema before. The film opens with French philosopher Henri Laborit talking to the camera. The narration does not stop throughout the film, so in a way, he is the fourth protagonist. His theories towards human instinct and survival are intriguing, but also cinematic. As he narrates, sporadic flashbacks and flash-forwards occur on screen, corresponding to his ideas and philosophies. White rats help to demonstrate this, and are used as test subjects. The film compares the rat's reactions when being shocked to the character's actions in the film. Laborit is telling us that we may not have as much freedom as we may think, and our actions are instinctive and nurtured from birth. Throughout the film, he talks about many philosophical subjects such as the subconscious and biological behaviour (among others).

  The three characters are portrayed well by the three main characters. This is the most serious performance I have seen Depardieu act, but I feel Roger Pierre gives a more iconic performance. No matter how they act, this film is Resnais's. The fast paced editing, the quick French talking, the complex plot structure and the brilliant script, all seem to be Resnais trademarks.

  There are distressing scenes, thought-provoking scenes, and memorizing scenes but I feel like I didn't get as much out of it as other critics have. This is definitely one to watch again.

A good and philosophical way to spend two hours. Resnais's directing is on top form.


Friday, 18 April 2014

Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974)

  'Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance' (Shura-yuki-hime: Urami Renga) is a 1974 Japanese film directed by Toshiya Fujita. It is the sequel to the 1973 film 'Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld'.

  Somehow, Yuki (Meiko Kaji)survives the events of the first film, and massacres several policemen on a beach. She gets arrested and sentenced to death. On her way to the noose, she gets saved by Seishiro, head of the secret police. She is hired as an assassin to obtain a note from a criminal, Ransui. Once in his house, Ransui explains that the note proves the corruption of the secret police. Yuki switches sides, and is now helping to try and get the note to the press.

  Where has the tale of vengeance gone? Without the yearning for revenge, it is basically any other samurai or martial arts film. This is the main problem of the film. The events of the first film are forgotten, and there is no explanation of how she survived. Watching the two films, I have discovered that Yuki is invincible. She seems to have been shot about ten times throughout the two films.

  I thought the first Lady Snowblood was a great film, but this adds nothing to the story. No character development, nothing furthering the overall plot, nothing new or interesting to show us. 'Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance' is the definition of a unnecessary and pointless sequel. It hurts me to say that, as the director is the same, it's taken from the same manga, and Meiko Kaji is still the protagonist. Even the cinematographer has changed to Tatsuo Suzuki, who shot most of Shuji Tereyama's films and 'Funeral Parade of Roses'. But everything is considerably worse... Even the sword-fighting feels flimsy. I guess it is the story which lets everything down the most. The beginning attempted nothing to resolve the ending of the first film, and the ending of this film wasn't powerful enough. What is the point of all the bloodshed, over a single piece of paper, which they didn't even use in the end?

  Sequels in the last few years have been better than the originals ('The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' and 'Star Trek: Into Darkness'), but back then the expectations were lower, and they made a sequel purely for the money, with little attention to the film. They should have left the first one alone. This whole review has brought back memories of the horrendous 'Battle Royale II' the sequel to one of my favourite films, so I must stop, before I cry a bit.

Adds nothing to the story. The definition of half-assed. The best thing was that the runtime was less than 90 minutes.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lady Snowblood (1973)

  'Lady Snowblood' (Shurayukihime) is a 1973 Japanese film directed by Toshiya Fujita.

  The film begins in 1874 Japan, and shows a woman give birth to a baby. The mother tells the baby it is born for vengeance. A flash-forward to present day reveals the baby is Yuki (Meiko Kaji) a woman dressed in white on a quest for revenge. Through another flashback, you are introduced to her family, who's father and son are brutally murdered by four criminals. The mother is raped, and kills one of the criminals when she gets the chance. Once she is in prison, she gives birth to Yuki. Yuki now has a mission to brutally kill the remaining three criminals, and has been training all her life to do so.

  If the narrative sounds familiar, it's because Quentin Tarantino stole (taken, borrowed) large amounts of the film, for his films 'Kill Bill Vol 1' and Kill Bill Vol 2'. From the story, to the main protagonist, and even the visual styles. The two Kill Bills are taken from the first 'Lady Snowblood' film. However, there is a second film called 'Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance', which I have no idea where it can go ('Lady Snowblood' has a pretty conclusive ending).

  So how does it compare? Pretty good actually. I am a big fan of Kill Bill, and even if 'Lady Snowblood' isn't quite as good, it's still a well-made exploitation film. For a film that is made in 1973, it's stylistically impressive. Fujita uses vibrant colours in set design as well as clothes, making the film visually startling. The bright light red spurts out of the massacred like an erupting volcano. It may not be as bloody as the 88vs1 scene in 'Kill Bill Vol 1', but for it's time it was probably the bloodiest film around.

  The film doesn't slow down, which is great for a martial arts film. Constant action is occurring on screen, resulting in a film which is never dull for a single moment. Not once did I pause the film I was so enthralled in it. Each scene is choreographed perfectly, including martial arts and samurai film trademarks such as extra high jumps, high body counts and fast paced action scenes. 'Lady Snowblood' is a must see for fans of 'Lone Wolf and Cub'.

  The film itself follows the Kill Bill storyline quite closely, so I could predict most of the plot twists. It is strange to have such a violent female protagonist, but the surprise wasn't that big, as I had seen Kill Bill. I guess Kill Bill made this film worse, and the 'Lone Wolf and Cub' series was similar and improved on 'Lady Snowblood'. It's fast paced, beautiful, inventive, and rewatchable.

The film is great for entertainment, and I could easily watch it again and again.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Wake in Fright (1971)

  'Wake in Fright' is a 1971 Australian film directed by Ted Kotcheff.

  John Grant (Gary Bond) is a teacher in the Outback of Australia. School is out, and his intention is to go on holiday with his girlfriend. Things don't go to plan, when John arrives in the mining town of Bundanyabba, which the locals call 'The Yabba'. During his one night stay he gambled away all of his money on a game of two-up and is left stranded in the Yabba.

  'Wake in Fright' began the Australian New Wave, preceding 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', 'Mad Max' and 'Gallipolli'. Critically acclaimed upon release, but gradually forgotten throughout the years. Soon after release, the film was announced lost. Every copy of the film was gone forever. Eventually, the editor of the film found a negative and positive of the film in Pittsburgh, and began restoring it frame by frame. Finally, the film has been released on blu-ray, and it looks glorious.

  I tend to like movies where characters descend into madness (Filth, The Wolf of Wall Street), as the directors and actors are let off the hook and go completely crazy. 'Wake in Fright' is definitely one of those films and is a terrifying experience. It shocked people on release and it still shocks now, with a deserved 18 certificate.

  The Yabba may be a fictional town, but it feels scarily real. The Outback is an area of the world which is shown in an incredibly small amount of films. The large stretches of desert combined with the sweltering heat creates a strange alienating atmosphere. The Yabba is a frightening place taken from a nightmare, which may well be welcoming when Grant enters, but turns horrific by the time he leaves.

  Gary Bond plays Grant fantastically. He has a great stereotypical, posh, English accent and is a relatable and sympathetic protagonist. It is a shame he has faded into obscurity, and never made the big time. With a voice like that I'm surprised he didn't get a role in 'Chariots of Fire' or 'A Passage to India'. The supporting actors do a good job of portraying vile characters. They are frighteningly realistic.

  No review of 'Wake in Fright' would be complete without talking about the kangaroo hunt. At first glance I didn't think they were real, but were stuffed kangaroos, but I was wrong. The hunt turns into a massacre as the main characters slaughter a disgusting amount of kangaroos. It adds to the film notoriety, while making it more terrifying. It's disgusting, and would demote nearly every other film, but strangely, it adds to the film.

  The film is shot flawlessly, but the restoration is still patchy in places. The film should have ended ten minutes earlier, but I'm just being picky. It deserved EMPIRE Magazine's infamous five star review, and is an experience I would recommend to anyone. Unless they worked at a kangaroo reserve.

A terrifying and memorable film which is different to anything I have ever seen. I'm so glad this film was found.


A Good Marriage (1982)

  'A Good Marriage' (Le beau mariage) is a 1982 French film directed by Eric Rohmer.

  Sabine, a young(ish) woman from Paris has just stopped having an affair because of the bother with his wife and kids. Sabine then goes on a quest to find a husband. At a friend's party, the friend recommends Sabine her cousin. The cousin is a single lawyer called Edmund. She falls in love with him, desperate to get married, however, he has other things on his mind.

  The main problem with this review website is that I give too many films a score of between 70 and 85. The reason for this is because I love the majority of films I watch, which is great for me watching them, but problamatic for you guys, as it's hard to recomend films when they are rated similarly. THANK GOD for terrible films like this one, so I can definitely tell you a film to definitely avoid.

  My third Eric Rohmer film, the 35th best foreign film ever made (according to and the second film from the eight film Rohmer boxset, which is tempting to give up on. 'My Night at Mauds' was a decent film and 'The Aviator's Wife' was mostly dull with a singular interesting part. All these three films suffer from the same thing... Too much inane talk about love. J'taime la petite Couer oui oui etc. I hate to use the term pretentious... is.

  'A Good Marriage' feels very similar to 'The Aviator's Wife' in that the characters are irritating and the filming is realist. All scenes are set on the damp, dreary streets of Paris, which adds to the dullness of the overall experience. I have no problem with a film being shot on the streets, but atleast have good, well-framed shots or beautiful settings. It's the equivalent of me recording myself walk down an alleyway. It does nothing for the film at all.

  The actors do a great job of portraying annoying characters I never wish to meet. Sabine, the main protagonist, is someone I hope I never meet. Whining constantly to everyone "I'm going to get married" when she barely knows Edmund. I know there is a thing called love at first sight, but there is nothing appealing about Edmund at all. Is she a gold-digger? I don't think so. She's 30-ish and in total desperation to settle down for the rest of her life, but that's not a good, or cinematic, to watch.

  Does it get better towards the end, like most films do? Nope. It is bland throughout it's entire runtime. Congratulations Mr Rohmer, you currently have the lowest rated film on this blog.

Not bad, but monumentally bland. Rohmer likes realism, but this is the equivalent of being trapped in a room with a bunch of pretentious, desperate, dull, French people. Not pleasant and not a good waste of time.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Lion in Winter (1968)

  'The Lion in Winter' is a 1968 British film directed by Anthony Harvey, based on the play by James Goldman.

  In 12th Century England, King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) is deciding on Christmas in the year 1183 who will inherit the throne. His three sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins), John (Nigel Terry) and Geoffrey (John Castle), all want the throne, and plot against each other to get it. Meanwhile, the King's wife Queen Eleanor (Katherine Hepburn) returns to the castle and then the plotting begins. The Queen wants Richard to have the throne, as she has raised him, the king wants John to have the throne as he raised him, and Geoffrey is just scheming like crazy. King Phillip II of France is also at the castle, with his sister and join in, to try and get some land. 

  'The Lion in Winter' picked up three Academy Awards in 1968, and has been a film I have been putting off for a long time. I was expecting a massive period war film, like 'Ran' but set in England. Turns out, it's a period character study with a family which really (and I mean really) hate each other.

  It's a hard film to find a character to like. Peter O'Toole is very skilled, playing the king with passion and is very realistic (I imagine Henry II was very similar). Katherine Hepburn gives her finest performance as his angry wife. She won an Oscar for it, and rightly so. Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton also give worthy d├ębut performances. This film is an acting powerhouse, with not a single 'good' protagonist to root for. All character's are backstabbing detestable and evil, similar to a film where all the main characters are played by Joffrey from 'Game Of Thrones'.

  The acting outshines the British location, average camerawork, and confusing script, but this contributes to the main problem. It feels incredibly stagy. Like 'August: Osage Country', it's adapted from a play, and the film does little to add to it. Except from the first ten minutes including a lousy horse-based battle scene, all scenes take place in small rooms. The film adds incredibly little, to a great play. The performances are staggering, but that's about it.

This had the potential to be brilliant, due to the stellar cast, but shrugs it off with a mediocre production. The acting was really superb and intense.


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Japanese Tragedy (1953)

  'A Japanese Tragedy' (Nihon no higeki) is a 1953 Japanese film directed by Keisuke Kinoshita.

  After the Second World War, a recently widowed mother (Haruko) must cater for her two children (Seiichi and Utako). The children asume the mothers actions where to lead a life of pleasure, but she was making many sacrifices for the two children, including trading on the black market. She paid for Seiichi's medical lessons and Utako's English lessons, yet they are ungrateful and are fed up with her. Seiichi is making plans to leave for an elderly couple who own a hospital, but have lost their son in the war. Utako, on the other hand, falls in love with her English teacher.

  My third Kinoshita film is rarely seen outside of Japan. I have only seen three, but I can already see he is a director which experiments with different genres. 'Ballad of Narayama' and 'A Japanese Tragedy' focuses on troubled relationships between youths and adults, whereas '24 eyes' centres on a loving teacher and her relationship with her pupils. The opposite. His films do feel traditional, focusing on relationships rather than samurai and cops like Kobayashi and Kurosawa.

  'A Japanese Tragedy' is, of course, a tragic movie. It's unusual for a film's protagonist to be a loving mother who has disrespectful kids. The mother is acted well, but it's painful to see her descent into depression. Japan came out of the war in a terrible depression and that is shown on-screen, with it's post-war climate. Families are struggling, the loss of those who have died is weighing on people's minds, and the economy is in a dire state.

 The story sounds like something new, but the film feels very familiar. Kinsohita's other two works (which I have seen) seem far more accomplished and visually superior. The other films spend longer time manipulating the emotion of the audience, unlike 'A Japanese Tragedy', which when the sudden ending occurs, it's not that saddening. The characters the film develops throughout the film that aren't particularly appealing, but they are familiar. The main theme of the film, ignorant relatives and their effect on a loving person, is common today as much as it was in the 1950s, so the film is relatable.

A tragic film, that refuses to pull heartstrings. It's nicely (not amazingly) made but feels like it's nothing new.


Monday, 7 April 2014

Flowing (1956)

  'Flowing' (Nagareru) is a 1956 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse.

  Oharu, a widow who has lost her child to an illness, takes a job as a maid in a geisha house in Tokyo. Otsuta is the owner, and the house is running into substantial debt. Her daughter, Katsuyo, also lives in the geisha house but is not a geisha, but worries about her mother. Namie, a geisha which had previously worked at the house, has an angry uncle, who keeps approaching the Otsuta for money Namie owes him. Otsuta's younger sister, Yoneko, is staying at the house with her ill daughter. The other two geishas Nanako and Someka also have problems. Someka owes Otsuya's older sister, Otoyo, money while Nanako has unreliable man problems.

  Half of Naruse's films are about geishas (Woman Ascends the Stairs, Late Chrysanthemums) while the other half are smaller family based dramas (Sound of the Mountain, Repast). This film, belongs to the prior, that is about geishas, Japan's classier version of prostitutes. 'Flowing' has a large ensemble cast, filled with the finest Japanese actresses.

  1956 was an important year in Japan, as it's the year that prostitution was outlawed. Due to the year, the large cast and the topic, you could easily confuse this film with Mizoguchi's 'Akasen Chitai'. The two films are incredibly similar, the only difference is that 'Akasen Chitai' focuses on a selfish character as one of the geishas, while 'flowing' has a maid as a character. 'Akasen Chitai' has a shockingly tragic ending, which 'Flowing' avoids any tragic elements.

  'Flowing' is concerned with, as the title suggests, with the flowing of every day life. Insignificant factors, like the cat or the geisha lessons, are implemented into the story to make it feel like these events are happening. The realism is amplified creating a startling effect, like you are watching a documentary of sorts.

  This film tells the daily-life of a group of geishas. The film is told from their perspective and doesn't feature any clients at all. The film throws a bunch of characters into a house and sees how they react to each other. The characters are all strong woman, that aren't ashamed of what they do and the audience can sympathize with all of them. This film has many fantastic characters, and in two hours you feel like you know every little detail about them.

  Naruse is a combination of Mizoguchi's women and Ozu's camerawork and family dramas. I would say he is copying them, if he wasn't directing when they were. All of Naruse's trademark characteristics are present in this film. From the intricate, Ozu (and square) interiors, to the many gazes of the protagonists. Naruse intended 'Flowing' to be a woman's film (that is, a film about woman), and it is definitely that.

'Akasen Chitai' is a better film, but this is still a great film with wonderful characters.


Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sound of the Mountain (1954)

  'Sound of the Mountain' (Yama no oto) is a 1954 Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse. Adapted from the novel by Kawabata Yasunari.

  Kikuko is a housewife stuck married to  the neglectful Shuuichi, who ignores her, and is cheating on her with another woman. Shingo, Shuuichi's father, has grown fond of Kikuko and tries to resolve his sons many problems. Meanwhile, Shuuichi's sister, Fusako, and her kids, have arrived at the house to stay with the family, after fleeing from her husband.

  Naruse is the one Japanese director I have not seen a single film from. He's often compared to Mizoguchi, or Ozu, yet his films are rarely seen. The 3 film out-of-print boxset this film is from, is selling for over £70 on ebay, so I ordered it from Lovefilm. Regrettably, as I prefer to purchase films and support the smaller DVD labels.

  The first thing that struck me when I began watching, was the similarities with Yasujiro Ozu. The camera-shots, the characters, the actors. Everything is virtually parallel. However as the film progresses, the film becomes an Ozu hybrid, carrying those similarities, while adding a melodramatic tone, a more powerful story while making a statement about women's place in society. Melodrama plays a large part in this film, so the film turns into a Sirk melodrama or a good version of one of those 1930s-1940s Romances (The Lady Eve, Now Voyager etc).

  The power the film creates, derives from the acting leads of Setsuko Hara and So Yamamaru. Setsuko Hara is a veteran film actress starring in many Ozu, Naruse, Kurosawa and Yamanaka films. Known for 'Tokyo Story', but I think 'Tokyo Twilight' is far superior. One of two Japanese actresses which defined a film-making era (the other being Kyoko Kagawa, both of which are still alive). She plays the damaged character of Kikuko with passion, and is one of the reasons this film really takes off the ground. So Yamamaru, also appeared in 'Tokyo Story' and 'Tokyo Twillight', but here, plays the affectionate, caring father. The magnificent acting combined with his distinct, clear voice, makes his character memorable and relatable.

  Naruse is all about the characters's gaze. Each look the character's make, you can tell exactly what they feel, a technique a surprising few directors can pull off. The entire film is set in the beautiful, rural Japan. Not much of the film is set outside, but the scenes which are, have an elevated beauty. Something so simple like a country road, or a public park, makes for some appealing backdrops (see the picture below).

  The simple story of a small, problematic family, is fascinating to watch. Naruse focuses on the escalating relationships (like Ozu), and fallen women (like Mizoguchi), creating an intimate and relevant character study.

This film was a joy to watch, and is on-par with Ozu.


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Top 10 Tragic Deaths of Directors

All these deaths are tragic, so you can ignore the fact they're ranked. The deciders of this list are: method of death, impact on cinema, impact they could of had on cinema, and age of death. If you can think of anyone I have missed, please mention them in the comments.

Jean Eustache
Director of the French film "The Mother and the Whore", shot himself in his apartment at the age of 42 (in 1981).

Forough Farrokhzad
Director of the Iranian docu-film 'The House is Black'. She didn't get leprosy, but instead swerved her car to avoid a school bus, into a stone wall. She died in hospital at the age of 32 (in 1967).

Tony Scott
Ridley Scott's brother, directed 'True Romance' and 'Top Gun'. At the age 63, he jumped off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, California (in 2012).

Michael Reeves
Director of 'The Witchfinder General'. He got depressed soon after release, took a handful of anti-depressants and died afterwards aged 25 (in 1969).

Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Director of the magnificent 'Berlin Alexanderplatz' mini-series and 'Fox and his Friends'. He made 40 films before overdosing on cocaine and sleeping pills aged 37 (in 1982).

Mario Monicelli
Directed 'The Great War' and 'Big Deal on Madonna Street'. Known most in his home country Italy. Made films until his death in 2010, when doctors told him he had prostate cancer. A few days later he jumped from his hospital window and died at the age of 95.

Larisa Shepitko
Directed 'The Ascent'. She was up-and-coming, making the great film 'The Ascent' so early in her career. She died in a car crash with 4 of her camera crew aged 41 (in 1979).

Pier Paolo Pasolini
Directed 'Accatone', 'The Decamaron' and 'Salo'. Probably the most infamous director on this list for directing 'Salo', which appears high on most people's "Most Disturbing Films Lists" and is definitely my number 1. A year after the release of 'Salo' (in 1975), aged 53 he was beaten to death on a beach in Rome. No-one is sure of why or who. His political views? his homosexuality? An actor from 'Salo' getting revenge?

Jean Vigo
Directed the wonderful French film 'L'Atalante' and 'Zero for Conduct'. Died of tuberculosis aged 29 (in 1934). He only made those two feature length films, but is a crucial part of French cinematic history.

Sadao Yamanaka
Director of 'Humanity and Paper Balloons'. Someone you probably haven't heard of, partially because only three of his films have survived. Two of those films are considered some of Japan's finest. So what happened? His government didn't like his films, so they sent him to the front lines on the same day as the premier of 'Humanity and Paper Balloons' and he died on the battlefield at the age of 28 (in 1938). 

Friday, 4 April 2014


  Thanks To everyone who has viewed my blog. Granted 1,000 isn't much, and most of it was me refreshing the page but I thank everyone anyway. I'd like to thank me... my laptop... my Blu-Ray Player... and my HDMI cable.

  More reviews are on the way. Stay tuned fellow film devotees.e most people.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Vengeance is Mine (1979)

  'Vengeance is Mine' (Fukushu suru wa ware ni ar) is a 1979 Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura, based on the real-life serial killer Akira Nishiguchi.

  Iwao Enokizu, is a thief who has been in jail once before. His father is a Catholic and his mother has a weak heart. Iwao's wife is secretly cheating on him with his father. He starts off his murderous spree by killing two men, and stealing their money. He escapes to an inn, and changes his identity to a university professor, where he gets to know Haru, the innkeeper. Haru's mother is a previously convicted killer and is suspicious and senile. He leaves for Tokyo to continue his spree.

  I am generally against film-makers making films about serial killers, as it only encourages more killers to kill. Especially after the announcement they are going to turn the Charles Manson killings into a TV series. I imagine 'Vengeance is Mine' is one of the first, way before 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer' and 'Elephant'.

  'Vengeance is Mine' won many awards upon release, telling the Akira Nishiguchi story with style and colour. Imamura's crazy style of film-making is present here, with great camera-shots, while telling the story with gritty realism and sadistic humour. No-one has quite embraced colour like Imamura. The colours are bright and vibrant similar to 'Profound Desires of the Gods', from the startling outbursts of bright red blood in the murder scenes, to the beautiful island landscape in the island flashback scene. Even if the film is not to your taste, you can still view the film as an artistic triumph.

  The film starts off at it's most violence, with the two deaths of the men Iwao first targets. The blood gushes from the head as the audience is forced to witness the entire event. Film's like this are scarier than most horror films as it plays on a much darker fear. Real-life fear, which could happen to anyone. When you see teenage girls running away from a man in a mask with a knife, all I can do is laugh. But the second it gets realistic, things get far more horrible. The film gets less and less violent as the film goes on, with a finale where you don't see anyone die.

  The main character is meant to be detestable in serial killer biopics (Natural Born Killers), but Iwao seams like a crazy guy. Not detestable, but clever and funny. It's still possible to tell he's a serial killer, but you really don't want him to get hanged in the end. Even if he did kill 5 people (not a spoiler, his fate is mentioned in the beginning).

A violent, dark biopic which repels as much as it seduces.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Reconstruction (1970)

  'Reconstruction' (Anaparastasi) is a 1970 Greek film directed by Theo Angelopoulos.

  In a Greek village, Eleni and her lover Christos, murder Costas (Eleni's husband). They bury the body nearby and attempt to flee the country, but when this goes wrong, Eleni and Christos, return to the village, just as the police investigation is beginning. After the sister-in-law suspects them and alerts the police, they eventually confess to the crime.

  Theo Angelopoulos is one of those few directors which is known for never having made a bad film. I decided to purchase "The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Vol 1", in a hope to start watching his films. The only other Greek film I have seen is 'Dogtooth' and I knew this would have been completely different. However, I think I should have began with his later, more accessible work, rather than his early historical epics.

  It's a simple story, but the difference is that the audience knows who murdered him, as the film begins. The film focuses on Eleni and Christos as the main characters, and I'm going to be honest here, they're not the most likeable people. Christos is an immigrant, and Eleni is a bar-maid, and their love deteriorates during the film time. They weren't that loving towards each other at the start of the film either (Eleni gets a giant slap by Christos during the first 10 minutes), and the husband was the most likeable person in the film. He did nothing wrong, but was strangled by two lovebirds. It's Similar to Goddard's 'Week-End' or Greenaway's 'The Baby of Macon' as the main characters are irritating little pricks.

  The film does show Greece in a dim, neorealist light. The cinematography may be the best aspect of this film , but the village is eroding and the villagers seem rude and unattractive. One character complains about how the young people are migrating to the cities, leaving the old people in the villages. So every now and then, the film complains about the historical context and how the country is falling into ruin. It may be hard to believe, but the events which occurred in this film happened in real life... In that village! Many of the villagers where there when the actual murder took place. But take a look at the villagers now and... Well... Lets just say the Eastern Europe old granny stereotype, is still very much a thing.

  The picturesque mountain landscape, the strange look of eroding village and how the camera-shots are long in duration and a long distance from the characters, prove that Angelopoulos has a distinct and beautiful style. I really anticipate to see one of his colour films, as I've seen screenshots and they look far more beautiful. The black and white, used here, just depresses the atmosphere of the film even more.

A vacant and miserable film. It does interest me in the work of Angelopoulos.


Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Le Quai des Brumes (1938)

  'Le Quai des Brumes' (Port of Shadows) is a 1938 French film directed by Marcel Carne and starring Jean Gabin and Michele Morgan.

  Jean (Jean Gabin) is a soldier, arriving in Le Havre to escape from the past and to start a new life. Le Havre is a harbour town in North France, and Jean's plan is to hitch a boat to Panama in South America. However, in a shanty bar, he meets Nelly (Michelle Morgan) who is trying to escape her former lover, a gangster. Jean and Nelly gradually fall for each other, while Nelly's father Zabel (Michel Simon) schemes and becomes over-protective of his daughter. There's also an adorable dog attracted to Jean.

  Marcel Carne directed the acclaimed 'Children of Paradise', which I thought was too long and a bit of a bore. Earlier that day, I had completed my last GCSE exam, so I watched 'Children of Paradise' to celebrate. I'll return to it one day, when I have watched the 100 or so films in my room, but in the meantime, I ordered the recently released blu-ray of his other acclaimed work 'Le Quai des Brumes' from LOVEFILM.

  Maybe my hopes were too high, but I found this modestly entertaining. The two best features of this film is that it's beautifully French, and the acting is superb. The three main stars were all French mega-stars of the time. Jean Gabin starred in 'La Grande Illusion', Michelle Morgan (who by the way is still alive!!!) starred in 'The Fallen Idol', and Michel Simon starred in 'The Passion of the Joan or Arc' and the eerily similar, but ultimately superior 'L'Atalante'. All three of them together, produces an acting powerhouse, which is better of paper than on screen.

  I found Aki Karismaki's 'Le Havre', filmed in the same port, better in many aspects. 'Le Quai des Brumes' isn't bad in any aspects, but it's not great in any aspects either. It's just incredibly unremarkable. Everything from the soundtrack, to the story, is passable but doesn't exceed good. Everything culminates in a fairly enjoyable, incredibly French, but sadly mediocre film.

Watch 'L'Atalante' instead. It's a very similar film, which is superior in every way.