Friday, 24 September 2010

Weekly Viewings From The To-Watch Pile #4

In terms of writing the mini-reviews for this blog I am doing well and, once I can get the style of them correct, I will be gaining momentum. Writing extended reviews of individual films is the next goal, but I may already have a candidate for the first one. From the films I am interested in doing longer reviews for, it will be clear that, despite being dedicated to all films, I will pushing more for the more unconventional, and transgressive and surreal, works.

In regards to the review of Chris Petit’s 2010 film Content, I may have to correct my belief that the film was only shown at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year and once on primetime British TV. There is a possibility that Content was shown at least a few times in speciality cinemas in the UK.

With that, the first film I watched in this post was somewhat of a disappointment for 2010 for me, one that I am still going to think about, and rewatch, by the name of...

The Sky Crawlers (Mamoru Oshii, 2008)

 ‘The story unfolds in another 'possible' modern age. The main characters are youngsters called "Kildren", who are destined to live eternally in their adolescence. The Kildren are conscious that every day could be the last, because they fight a "war as entertainment" organized and operated by adults. But as they embrace the reality they are faced with, they live their day-to-day lives to the full.’ – From Anime News Network

A difficult film that is still hard to judge. On one hand, its long, slow periods between the few aerial battles did have potency, having long periods for contemplation – a trademark of Oshii’s work – which made me anticipate what would happen next and exemplify the aimlessness that war probably feels like. That the film also only drips the slightest bits of information about its world, leaving you in the position of the characters, furthers this feeling. Sadly after a long wait of anticipation there came a sense that, just as I thought the film would remain subtle, it suddenly felt the need to pound its message into me about war without anything truly insightful about it.  That this message has to rely on a plot twist, one which would encourage a second viewing but very little intellectual ‘meat’ to ponder, seems exceptionally lazy. Oshii’s qualities as a director can be seen and it is worth seeing but, for a man in his lesser known work can be extremely subtle or able to convey obvious messages in a very thoughtful way, this suffers the same problem as I think the overrated Ghost In The Shell (1995) has, also directed by him, in suddenly trying to cram ideas in the final act that felt badly forced.

The Outrage (Martin Ritt, 1964)
‘A Mexican bandit, Juan Carrasco, spies a newlywed couple journeying through rugged country. He confronts them, rape and robbery on his mind, and the husband ends up dead. From the viewpoints of each participant and witness, a different story is told of what "really" happened...’ – From IMDB

Meanwhile, this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As an American remake of Akira Kurosawa’s acclaimed Rashomon (1950), this western was already in a precarious position of being a pale imitation in the shadow of the original. It would be interesting to compare the two in a double bill, especially as a chance to rewatch Kurosawa’s film and see what my feelings are about it now, but this version is still able to stand on its own two feet. Were it not for the middle part that slightly lagged, and Paul Newman being far too broad to play a Mexican bandit – another example along with Chalton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958) of why casting white actors as Mexicans and darkening their skin artificially for the role isn’t a good idea, even if Heston did well in his role – this would be far better, but thankfully it doesn’t compromise the ending of the original, keeping the message and tone. As it stands, it is worth viewing not just as a curiosity but as a film in its own right. Also, along with Roger Corman’s The Intruder (1962), it is another film with William Shatner in it, as a priest, where he shows himself as a far more interesting actor for me than a simply dismissible one.

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1998)

‘This film focuses on ex-Foreign Legion officer, Galoup, as he recalls his once glorious life, leading troops in the Gulf of Djibouti. His existence there was happy, strict and regimented, but the arrival of a promising young recruit, Sentain, plants the seeds of jealousy in Galoup's mind. He feels compelled to stop him from coming to the attention of the commandant who he admires, but who ignores him. Ultimately, his jealousy leads to the destruction of both Sentain and himself.’ – From IMDB

While I confess to having not read the original Herman Melville story that inspired this, you would never think the first scene of a Melville adaptation would be on the floor of a dance floor, especially when the song playing sounds like a non-English version of Holly Valance’s Kiss Kiss, a song that got into the British Top 40 years ago only to suddenly disappear for the better. (If you are interested in pop music, or not, the song used in the film is actually the original version, a Turkish song called Şımarık by Tarkan which Valance covered with completely different lyrics. No one reading this probably cares but it interested me). It is quite fitting that I saw this and The Sky Crawlers not that far from each other, as both have main characters trapped in an environment, in this case a member of the French Legionnaires who, because of the habitat and the strict rules, tightens and tightens until he unravels. They both also have very slow paces, but in the case of Claire Denis’ film, she exceeds immensely, helped further by eye-catching cinematography that adds to the film’s mood. It is a very unconventional film but, as a burst of energy is released in the final scene, it succeeds. This is not the first Denis film I have seen, that would be the gory psycho-sexual horror Trouble Every Day (2001) starring Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle, but this is the first one in a long time which makes me anticipate going through her filmography.

The Road To Memphis (Richard Pearce, 2003)
For the last few months I have been going through the 2003 series The Blues, a Martin Scorsese produced series of documentaries by different directors (Scorsese himself, Clint Eastwood, Mike Figgis etc.) on different aspects of American blues music. Out of the ones I’ve seen – with only two left as this post comes out – the German director Wim Wender’s entry, The Soul of A Man, is the best, and also the one that tries to be more than a standard TV documentary with recreations in black-and-white and Laurence Fishburne narrating as the late Blind Willie Johnson. That said the others, expect Clint Eastwood’s horrifically dull Piano Blues, are interesting and this one was no different, exploring the Beale Street music scene in Memphis, Tennessee, and concentrating on musicians B.B. King, Rosco Gordon and Bobby Rush. Watching the whole series is recommended as they are great introductions to blues music.

Le Concert (Radu Mihaileanu, 2009)
‘Thirty years ago, Andrei Simoniovich Filipov, the renowned conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra, was fired for hiring Jewish musicians. Now a mere cleaning man at the Bolshoi, he learns by accident that the Châtelet Theater in Paris invites the Bolshoi orchestra to play there. He decides to gather together his former musicians and to perform in Paris in the place of the current Bolshoi orchestra. As a solo violin player to accompany his old Jewish or Gypsy musicians he wants Anne-Marie Jacquet, a young virtuoso. If they all overcome the hardships ahead this very special concert will be a triumph.’ – From IMDB

I must admit I really wanted to like this. It’s not necessarily that bad especially when the interactions between actors Aleksei Guskov and Melanie Laurent, the latter recognisable to English viewers who have seen Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009), take place. Also for a very sentimental film I couldn’t help but be partly swept away by it at the end, especially when the central classical piece performed is a great one from composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The only problem is that its tonal shifts clunk so much you can see the seams. The comedy is usually in the registers of loud, and loud and wacky, and it has been a while - far more than in The Sky Crawlers - since a film has whacked me in the head with its political message with the subtlety of a 2X4. It’s a shame, as the only person under forty or fifty in the theatre when I watched this, that I couldn’t share as much enjoyment with it as everyone else did in the cinema. It turned out to be as ramshackle as its orchestra of misfits only no way near as talented.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Weekly Viewings From The To-Watch Pile #3

Warning – The music video Orphans you can see if you following the link contains real life violence that may upset and disturb people either by seeing it or how it is presented. The reason I have not included the YouTube video on this post isn’t because of the content but, considering the varying tones of the small reviews, that it would seem inappropriate for me to present it in the context of this written piece.
 I also want to add that I am that I am just about to start my final year of university. This, and the time it takes to get to and from the campus, the possible workload etc. may affect the number of posts I am able to do in a week.

Camille 2000 (Radley Metzger, 1969)


‘Marguerite, a beautiful woman of affairs, falls for the young and promising Armand, but sacrifices her love for him for the sake of his future and reputation.’ - From IMDB 
Lacking the intrigue in the beginning of it that made the director’s 1970 film The Lickerish Quartet interesting immediately, this English language film (which makes no sense for me being set in Italy) is an erotic drama with little sex or drama worth caring about. It doesn’t look great aesthetically or in cinematography, the acting is generic on the verge of being wooden, and moments of artistry come off as pretentious and hiding the dullness of the film. The only interesting thing about it is that a particular camera technique – where it goes in-and-out of focus on a group of flowers near a bed where the main female character is having sex – was used with exact framing with red apples by the director Anne Biller in her sexploitation debut Viva (2007), but that is not enough to sit through this.

1900 (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1976)

‘Set in Italy, the film follows the lives and interactions of two boys/men, one born a bastard of peasant stock (Depardieu), the other born to a land owner (de Niro). The drama spans from 1900 to about 1945, and focuses mainly on the rise of Fascism and the peasants' eventual reaction by supporting Communism, and how these events shape the destinies of the two main characters.’ - From IMDB

An epic five hour long period piece which wears it liberal heart on its sleeve and shows its fascist characters, personified by Donald Sutherland’s psychotic Attila, as one-dimensional villains. This film does suffer from two problems I find with historical pieces. First, in attempting to be historically accurate to the period as much as possible, it does lose the ability of being expressionistic or even glide into the fantastical that the best films (The Thin Red Line (1998), Andrei Rublev (1966), even Amarcord (1973) etc.) can. Secondly, even though this has moments of character development, the viewer is almost distanced and viewing them through a plate of glass, as part of a completely different time period, rather than seeing the world from the characters’ eye view themselves (again, unlike the best of these films). The decision to make the film in English, dubbing individuals in English in places, and starring Robert De Niro, Sutherland, a surprisingly young and thin Gerard Depardieu (dubbed as well) and other non-Italian actors, is questionable too. Not only is it about Italian, but there are numerous uses of Italian words and songs that makes the decision redundant. Despite these problems, Bertolucci nonetheless deserves some credit for trying to do something different with the conventional genre, bringing things in that would never be allowed in most historical films now – such as De Niro’s character snorting cocaine with his uncle and his lover – that add a more realistic layer to the proceedings.

The American Soldier (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1970)


‘Ricky is a cold-blooded German-American contract killer. After serving in Vietnam he returns to his home town of Munich to eliminate a few problem crooks for three renegade cops. He inspects his old neighborhood with his childhood accomplice Franz Walsch, and pays a short visit to his mother and doting brother. When Ricky asks the hotel clerk for a girl, one of the cops sends his girlfriend Rosa. However she falls for the killer.’ - From IMDB
In the beginning, this shows aspects of Fassbinder of significance. The film is well made, with crisp and striking black-and-white photography, and interesting use of music, and has things of fascination. From what few works I’ve seen, he at least seeps his early work with pop-culture references, very like Jean-Luc Godard’s work, usually American iconography like Batman and a lot of pinball machines. Also, while wanting to avoid instigating anything considering Fassbinder’s life story, I cannot but notice how common it is for women to be slapped or backhanded by men in what I’ve seen so far. The American Friend as a film is less interesting, a minimalist crime work with some character scenes of notice but anaemic for the most part.

Content (Chris Petit, 2010)


‘Between a deceased father and a young boy, Chris Petit wonders and wanders through concepts of the past and self-identity.’ - From IMDB

Re-evaluating this ‘21st century ambient road movie’, my opinion of this has changed drastically from a mess to a gem from the moment the alluring, ambient music and sounds making up the score is first heard. In his middle age, and nearer death, Chris Petit is trying to find himself, looking at the world around him. As TVs become smaller, the Internet becomes part of our outer face, and the buildings (in Britain anyway) becomes blander, he suggest that we have become aimless, wandering and trying to find ourselves. A German actor, as a sender of illicit emails, muses on life and the desires people pour out online while YouTube clips, from early Lumiere films to confessions, are played. Numerous scenes are camera footage in cars passing on motorways and roads which, as Petit describes in the beginning, feel as if one is drifting in a dream state. Like the darkened roads of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), they lead to nowhere; the only difference between them is that Petit’s roads and their surroundings are, depending on if you agree with him or not, exceptionally ugly. From the roads to the Kennedy assassination, to Pokemon and German guilt on eBay, this is a warning that we as people have become complacent and ignorant of the past and present as conformity and lifelessness reign, exemplified in the claustrophobic ‘New Towns’ in Britain which have high suicide rates that are hushed up.  This is a great work, but one (as of the 20th September 2010) that is difficult to see, having only been screened at the 2010 Rotterdam Film Festival and once on British primetime TV. If you can find it, watch it, maybe watch it again months later like I did a second time.

Orphans [By Teenage Jesus & The Jerks] (Ivan Lerner, 1978)
Can be viewed here -

‘Directed by porno trade mag editor Ivan Lerner in 1978, Orphans cuts together Vietnam footage that almost captures the violence of the music of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks.’ - From MUBI
Cutting together horrific footage – Vietnam, gun violence, beatings and other atrocities – with the slow and unnerving rock song, this is an uncompromising music video which forces you to look at the brutality. It should be seen even if you hate the song for what the images are trying to say.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Weekly Viewings From The To-Watch Pile #2

[Note – The review of Chuck & Buck spoils a major plot twist to the film. This was the only way I felt I could review the film, so be advised]

This is first time I've added a trailer for a film for these posts. I could have added one or two more for these films, but the same problems of them revealing too much reared their head. Thankfully the trailer to The Lickerish Quartet doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what its about and prefers to have positive quotes from film critics and Andy Warhol.

The Lickerish Quartet (Radley Metzger, 1970)

‘Metzger's porno-existentialist film (or something like that)deals with a family of three, living in a spacious castle, whose comfortable lifestyle is upset by the arrival of a mysterious woman who may or may not be an actress in one of the stag films the husband likes to watch. A woman who may or may not even be real.... But what IS real, anyway...?’  - From IMDB User Comments

From the opening, one must ask if the film is merely not that good or very deceptive. Is it a softcore sex film with wooden acting, or an interesting work that uses a lot of inter-cutting between time and images? Is it erotica with pretension, which is reminiscent of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem (1968) without the politics, or is it a clever meta-film with sex which plays its ideas with a slight of hand? Am I just reading too much into it instead of enjoying the couple of sex scenes and the strange plot? Whatever it is, Metzger’s film is certainly worth viewing, playing a game that, regardless if it has depth or not, makes it strangely compelling.

Zipang (Kaizo Hayashi, 1990)
‘Jigoku is the leader of a small band of renegades who live the dangerous life of treasure hunters. Jigoku has a bounty on his head, and pursued by the hard-headed female bounty hunter named Yuri the Pistol. During the exploration of a mysterious cave, Jigoku`s band discover a mysterious golden sword, which is supposedly the key to the mystical world called 'Zipang', the land of gold.’ – From Amazon UK

A bitter disappointment. After a good black-and-white opening, it becomes apparent as the film goes in it is not as good as it could have been. Looking like a mainstream cinema release from Japan, it is a cartoon, a mostly bloodless (bar one or two moments) fantasy samurai film which has imaginative characters and weapons, but lacks any real excitement to the scenes or any of the sword fights. Were it not for one or two other unconventional moments with black-and-white photography and/or rapid cuts, and sped-up shots, it is very generic.

Chuck & Buck (Miguel Arteta, 2000)

‘Buck is a man-child who has lived his existence in a life of Romper Room, kindergarten collages, and lollipops. When his mother dies suddenly, Buck remembers his old childhood friend Chuck, with whom he feels a need to reconnect after having invited him to his mother's funeral. Buck treks out to Los Angeles where Chuck, an up-and-coming music record executive, is living his life. Buck ends up developing an obsession with Chuck and begins stalking him.’ – From IMDB

This film should have been one of two stories. It should have been either a) a story of unrequited love of one man for another after they experimented sexually as kids, or b) about a man who has the mindset of a child trying to reconnect with his childhood friend despite never having grown up. By not following this, and making the film both, the film loads too much into the plot to make it emotionally credible. It may happen in reality, or work in a film, but here it feels like a forced attempt to make it a black comedy when in fact a heartfelt drama, driven by a great performance by Mike White, is trying to get out from its genre straight jacket.

The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson, 2008)


‘Brothers - older Stephen and three years junior Bloom - have been con artists since they were kids. Stephen is the mastermind, for who the intricacy of the story used in the con is as important as the positive outcome of the swindle. Bloom is the main character of Stephen's stories, the character he considers the anti-hero. As adults, they travel the world and never enlist the same people twice in their cons, except for their consistent sidekick, the mysterious and primarily silent Bang Bang, a Japanese woman who just appeared in their lives one day and who has a penchant for blowing things up. As Bloom hits his mid-thirties, he wants to quit the business as he is losing his own identity to that of the characters he portrays; he doesn't know anymore what is real and what is make-believe. Stephen talks him into one last con, the mark to be the eccentric, lonely but beautiful New Jersey heiress...’ – From IMDB
A mess of a film that is convoluted for the sake of it. This writer has become bored of most films with plot twists as it feels like they, and the feeling of asking whether what is real or not that directors try to get the audience to have, seems far more important and the driving force of them instead of mood and interesting characters. Even the eccentricity becomes too much here in places when it is clear it is covering up lack of plot logic and lack of character development. Aside from Robbie Coltrane, the only interesting thing in the film is Rinko Kikuchi as Bang-Bang, a mostly mute, elf-like eccentric with very expressive eyes and face who was far more compelling a character than anyone else. I kept watching for Kikuchi, looking for her on screen to see what she was doing, instead of concentrating on the story itself. Even then, she has little point in the plot by the end, an example of how this whole film has little of interest and to enjoy.

It’s Alive (Larry Cohen, 1974)
‘The Davies expect a baby, which turns out to be a monster with a nasty habit of killing when it's scared. And it's easily scared.’ – From IMDB
The film is not perfect, suffering from a pace that becomes sluggish at times, and the question of what its message actually is. However this B-movie, which brings up many ideas in its earnest story of a killer, mutant baby, has a lot more clever than a lot of A-movie and Oscar worthy dramas, which may look intelligent on the surface but are only surface-deep, even though its premise is very silly. Not only is there a good performance by John Ryan as the father, but the slower pace allows the director to build up the characters and their situation significantly. Even the references to childhood in the background throughout are effective despite being obvious. It also has – combining the events that happen with the music, lighting and sound effects used – the perfect ending for a film like this.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

What I’ve Been Listening To... #1

I have a lot of CDs and MP3s in my possession that I need to sort through, from the ones to keep and the ones to get rid of, so expect this type of post a lot. The range of music with be very eclectic, including albums that while leave some people bemused and would embarrass others – expect a lot of pop albums from the nineties onwards that I inavertedly have and will listen to at least once to give them a chance -to ones that may turn out to be musical gems.  With this in mind, here is the first...

The Shadows - 20 Golden Greats (1977)
At one point collaborating with Cliff Richard, this is best of catalogue of the British band’s best instrumental rock and roll tracks. It’s interesting to listen to, but I feel I’ve heard better instrumental music from other groups. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

Some Older Reviews #1

When I decided to make this blog, I felt it was a good idea to post up some of the old reviews I wrote in for my own leisure. In later posts, these will include things that I wrote from around sixteen or so until now, but as of yet I have here three reviews of films I saw for the first time this August that never got used on a forum or another website. Aside from some spelling and grammar corrections, these are the original notes, which means they may not be as polished as the other mini-reviews I have posted on here, and in the case of the review of a Jean-Luc Godard short, show my more controversial and honest opinion of films that needs to be brought out more in my writing. For these reviews, as with all the other short ones I will write old or new, I will have synopses for all of them and links to IMDB or sites which provide any good information on them if possible. I may include trailers from YouTube but I am concerned about them spoiling too much of the films as they can notoriously do (the aesthetic look of the post is just as important a factor; I was going to add the official UK trailer for Life During Wartime (2009) in a previous post, but it was too big for the page and covered the Site Topics list).
So with that, here we go...
The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, 2010)
‘Barney Ross leads the "Expendables", a band of highly skilled mercenaries including knife enthusiast Lee Christmas, martial arts expert Yin Yang, heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar, demolitionist Toll Road and loose-cannon sniper Gunner Jensen. When the group is commissioned by the mysterious Mr. Church to assassinate the merciless dictator of a small South American island, Barney and Lee head to the remote locale to scout out their opposition. Once there, they meet with local rebel Sandra and discover the true nature of the conflict engulfing the city. When they escape the island and Sandra stays behind, Ross must choose to either walk away and save his own life - or attempt a suicidal rescue mission that might just save his soul.’ - From IMDB
There is a perverse glee to a film where the explosions and random death is only taking place only by the thinnest of plot threads, or to be honest, no particular reason at all. That said it does feel empty and a little lifeless compared to the action films it is referencing that at least had some character depth and proper story structures. There are still things to like – the small details in scenes, the blatant phallic symbolism of the weapons, the silliness of the exploding heads, and the feeling this reflects the inner children of men of a certain age who idolised these actors – that make for an more interesting film than other blockbusters.

Sweet Movie (Dušan Makavejev, 1974)

‘Pushing his themes of sexual liberation to their boiling point, Yugoslavian art-house provocateur Dušan Makavejev followed his international sensation WR: Mysteries of the Organism with this full-throated shriek in the face of bourgeois complacency and movie watching. Sweet Movie tackles the limits of personal and political freedom with kaleidoscopic feverishness, shuttling viewers from a gynecological beauty pageant to a grotesque food orgy with scatological, taboo-shattering glee. With its lewd abandon and sketch-comedy perversity, Sweet Movie became both a cult staple and exemplar of the envelope pushing of 1970s cinema.’ – From the Criterion Collection website

The ideas behind it, of sexual and political freedom pushed to their farthest, are fascinating and still relevant now, but the film is flawed, not because of the fact I was shocked by the content, but because the work was far too erratic for me to work. Works that nearly take on a surrealist bent can be in danger of having a bad pace and problems with not making sure everything – the satire at the beginning of this for example – is strong enough or original with enough intellectual punch to succeed. This is what I feel is my biggest flaw with Sweet Movie.

Origins of the 21st Century (Jean-Luc Godard, 2000)
'Commissioned by the heads of the 2000 Cannes Film Festival to make an opening-night short commemorating cinema as it enters its second full century, Godard instead offers up a 17-minute barrage of re-edited footage of wars and Nazi atrocities, interspersed with clips of Maurice Chevalier in "Gigi" and Godard's own "À bout de souffle."' – From IMDB

As with my thoughts on most of Godard’s work, and of some video essay work, the exact meaning of it is not completely graspable, yet this is not a flaw. With the best of these works, and unlike some of Godard’s other work, there is still resonance and an emotional reaction to it as a whole and as individual fragments of image, and this particular Godard unlike others has that power. Its fragments of war atrocity, film, ordinary life and even hardcore pornography still have a great power and a meaning even if one is unsure of Godard’s reason for using them. The work was supposed to be a reflection of cinema of the last decade, but Godard instead, and with inspiration, reflects the decade as a whole itself, and at around 17 minutes, it avoids Godard’s biggest problem of his work of running out of inspiration halfway through, and that fragments are usually far cleverer than their whole sum total together. The only real flaw to this incredible and emotional short is the use of some of the film clips; a few, such as the ones used at the end that do have incredible power, completely work, but some in the middle are slightly pointless. My views of Godard as an erratic director still remain, but this and the beginning of Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998) show that, despite 90% of his work I’ve seen being not that great, the 10% left is someone who is intelligent and capable of truly thoughtful ideas. He is now an experimenter whose work is highly divisive for me, but which I will still see as it may contain things as powerful as this particular short.

Additional Notes – After I wrote the review of Godard’s Origins of the 21st Century, I managed to watched the whole of Histoire(s) du Cinema. Sadly the middle episodes – from Seul le cinéma (1997) to Une Vague Nouvelle (1998) – slip in quality drastically, but the whole thing is still a praiseworthy project. Not only is the first part Toutes les histoires (1988) Godard’s best work so far and a masterpiece, but the rest of the episodes are great and insightful, with the perfect conclusion in Les Signes parmi nous (1998).

Additional Notes 2Sweet Movie is still worth viewing as long as you have a strong stomach. As a piece of subversive cinema, it needs to be watched to stray out of your comfort zone when it comes to the taboos it pushes, and its importance in world cinema. It also needs to be seen because of the unlikely casting of late American actor John Vernon as Mr. Kapital in the first half, one of the richest men in the whole world with an obsession with sanitation and bizarre piece of anatomy. Known by me mainly for Animal House (1978) and Dirty Harry (1971), spotting him in this still controversial arthouse film raises my opinion of him even higher despite not rating the film itself greatly. 

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Weekly Viewings From The To-Watch Pile #1

This is the first of a regular feature where I will have short reviews of what I have been watching during the weeks. I will be doing longer posts looking at individual films, including ones already reviewed in these, but I will have to plan which film will be the best one to begin with before writing an analysis. Until then, here is what I have been watching.

The Devil aka. Diabel (Andrzej Zulawski, 1972)
Not to be confused with the Ken Russell film The Devils (1971), this is my first Zulawski film. Set during 1793 during Poland being invaded by Prussia, a Polish nobleman is taken out of imprisonment by a stranger, only to move further and further into insanity as he sees what has happened to the people he once knew. It starts promisingly with its prowling camera and a soundtrack that may divide people significantly (think 1970s progressive rock with added flute playing), but as it progresses it feels more and more hollow and just a gallery of pale people (including every female character in the film) on the verge of, or in, convulsions and acting deranged. This does concern me as I have been anticipating the DVD re-release of Zulawski’s Possession (1981) this October in the UK, and if this is any indicator of what to expect, I am just going to end up watching a film where the actors and the mood stays in a hyper-insane style for the whole film with no real mood or depth until it gets tiring. I hope for the best, after knowing about it since later adolescence, but I am slightly hesitant now after seeing The Devil.

Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, 2009)
Beginning with the prequel Happiness (1998) bleeding into the sequel, this film, for its moments of bleak humour, becomes less a black comedy than a drama where the ghosts of the past, of all kinds, return. It is an incredible surprise from a director who has already made great films, one which has a fantastically good cast of actors playing new characters or replacing those from the original (an act, with their weary aged faces, which makes complete sense). It is a sublime film, Solondz’s best and one of the highlights for me of 2010.

Project A (Jackie Chan, 1983)
While a turning point in Jackie Chan’s career, this Hong Kong set period martial arts film where he is faced against pirates was not as engrossing as I thought it would be. A lot of the problem is that, while some of the stunts are impressive and the fight choreographers are at their best, they don’t have the full energy and distinctiveness that superior films have, which also means that the thinly stung plotline is even more weakened as a result.

A Selection of Short Films By Paul Robertson

Kings of Power 4 Billion %
·         Kings of Power 4 Billion %
·         The Magic Touch
·         Pirate Baby’s Cabana Battle Street Fighter
·         Devil’s Eye
·         Do The Whirlwind [By Architecture In Helsinki]
Freely available on YouTube and the internet, these works of an Australian animator Paul Robertson are as delirious as you could get, combining videogames, film references, gore and crazy deaths, anime and scantily clad female characters in works that are both tributes to these things but also willing to push taboos at the same time (cannibal, zombie babies that burst out from the stomachs of pregnant, zombie women anyone?). These are the sort of films that will put people off immediately, yet they are visually arresting nonetheless. With numerous images and actions taking place on-screen in his most frantic work – pushed to an extreme in Kings of Power 4 Billion % - Robertson possesses a great sense of twisted imagination as well as a love for popular culture that makes the selected shorts difficult to dismiss and fascinating to view.
Just to give you an example of Robertson’s work, here are the three most accessible ones I have seen. From there on, if you find them of interest, explore his longer works Kings of Power 4 Billion % and Pirate Baby’s Cabana Battle Street Fighter.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Timothy Carey and the trailer to Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena

Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena (Timothy Carey, 1970)
Additional information

After being a fan of films for a while, I am surprised it was only a year or so ago that I knew about the actor Timothy Carey. Playing small roles in films such as John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), The Wild One (1953), and Marlon Brando's directorial work One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Carey is infamous for his antics in front of and behind the film camera. He was also a director himself, making The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena, the latter a TV pilot for a planned television series.

Sadly his directorial work is almost impossible to watch, which is a shame because, if the trailer I've included in this post says anything, Carey made two works that live up to his bizarre and unique reputation. Admittedly if people find the trailer just strange for the sake of strange, its understandable, but watching it myself I can't help but imagine how it plays out for seventy minutes, especially since it did get a rare retrospective screening in 2009. I'm also interested in watching any of his small performances in other films. I've seen One-Eyed Jacks (I don't know if the version of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie I saw was the director's cut or the original version with extended Carey), but I am curious if anyone can recommend any performances by him.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The Great False Advertising of Danny Dyer

The cover for the 2010 re-release
The original Tartan Film DVD release

The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (Thomas Clay, 2005)

[WARNING – This comment piece has both possibly significant spoilers for the film being discussed and describes scenes that may be deeply unsettling. Reader discretion is advised for either or both]

For the last two weeks when I went to my local Tescos supermarket, I was left baffled every time I looked at the shelf for the new and Top 20 DVD releases, spotting a film under ten British pounds each time I never thought would be there. Now first of all, that kind of mentality could be have negative connotations against non-mainstream films being available in grocery stores, and ignores the fact that in the stores of almost every shopping chain in Britain you could probably find some such films available at cheaper prices than specialists like HMV on the Top 20/Top 50 racks. However that still doesn’t explain how Thomas Clay’s 2005 debut got into Tescos. Looking at the cover, it looks conspicuous enough, one of many films to capitalise on the actor Danny Dyer, his face upfront and his name even above the film’s title. I remember seeing one other Dyer film called The Football Factory (2004), which was a terrible, lobotomised version of Trainspotting (1996), but even thought its positive depiction of football hooliganism can be heavily criticised, it not something that would catch me off-guard seeing it on the shelf of a supermarket. What someone who is looking at it for the first time, thinking it will be like The Football Factory, may not know is that this film belongs to that list of films that were premiered at film festivals that cause uproar of controversy for its graphic violence. I have heard nothing about the film since then until this re-release, but while it may have be forgotten, it’s on the list with Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009) and Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (2002) as one of those controversal films that caused walkouts from the premiere and revulsion, and divided critics – look at the following examples of a positive and negative review to see what I mean.

This presents the first problem in with the advertising in that, bar the tiny warning tag, it looks like any other Danny Dyer film rather than the controversial film it is. Again, I can be criticised for suggesting transgressive films shouldn’t be available in supermarkets, and as of yet no one has complained about it since the re-release, but one of the worst things you can falsely advertise is a film whose strong content, including sexual violence, you should be well aware of unless one wants to be even more emotionally scarred than if you were warned. I am against film censorship and believe people have the right to see what they want and believes films can depict scenes even in the most disturbing way, but I feel people should be prepared for what they are about to see. It doesn’t affect a film’s power, as this was still deeply unsettling for me, but it was a good thing that I was prepared for what was in it even in the vaguest of ideas.

My opinion on the qualities of the film is a completely different matter. I am still interested in Thomas Clay, especially his only other feature from 2008 Soi Cowboy, which has gotten positive reviews. But to be frank, having only seen his debut ... Robert Carmichael once, I would place it on my bottom 100 list of the worst films I have seen, and it can be squarely blamed on the final quarter of the film and the ending. For the first three-quarters, it is an interesting and unsettling film following the socially awkward youth of the film’s title, a talented cello player who yet has a darker side, finding the works of the Marquis de Sade sexually arousing (a point where the director-writer is not being heavy-handed but practically signposting that Carmichael is disturbed), and along with his closest friends taking part in drug taking and objectionable acts of violence. At this point the first of two rape scenes, while disturbing, makes sense in where the film was going and, because of how Thomas Clay portrays it, doesn’t feel exploitative and makes it a scene in a very serious film that has a potent effect on the viewer. However once it gets to the final quarter where a middle age couple are terrorised on screen in an incredibly graphic scene, what merit the film has quickly deteriorates. Not only does it feel unjustified, and out of place in an already unsubtle film bar the first rape scene, but by the end the whole film becomes a pointless excuse for shock. There is suppose to be a potential political message, as throughout the film we see televisions with the then news and of the Iraq War on them, but there is no real connection. There is neither any sense that Carmichael and the others’ malicious actions are just for the sake of it either but rather a contrivance of the screenplay (the mention of Carmichael’s obsession with Sade, hammered at you in one, shows how contrived the whole thing is).

The second problem with this re-release’s advertisement is that Danny Dyer doesn’t even have that big of a role. He does have an important one definitely, as a character that is released out of prison and helps pull Carmichael further into depraved acts, but he is still a supporting character. Again I have to go back to the DVD cover, but this time I want to compare it to the original DVD release I’ve also included. On the Tartan release, the person on the cover is the actor Daniel Spencer who plays Robert Carmichael himself. The film is not advertised as a star vehicle, and one quote compares it to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), A Clockwork Orange (1971), and Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) in one single sentence, three films that deal unsettling subject matter (and at least two of them were very controversial). The 2010 release cover may have warnings of its brutal content, but not only is there no comparisons with controversial ‘arthouse’ films, it looks more like a crime thriller than what it actually is that is, promoted solely because of a recognisable face who isn’t even a main character.

Despite despising the film greatly, I am still glad it got re-released for people to access and make their own opinions on. But I am concerned by how the DVD distributors have presented the front cover. There could be a chance someone expecting another Dyer film may be profoundly affected by Thomas Clay’s film and explore other non-mainstream works, but I think in nearly every case the false advertising is going to lead to an exceptionally uncomfortable Friday night viewings. Films with difficult subject matter and content should be treated in a special way in my opinion, and promoting it as it has been done is an extremely stupid idea considering what it is.

An Introduction: An infinite number of bloggers with an infinite number of keyboards and an infinite amount of time...

...could (maybe) write a good film blog. Admittedly there is only one blogger on one keyboard writing this blog, but hopefully after a few stumbles things will improve.

I decided to start this blog for a couple of reasons. The first was to encourage me to write more than I usually do; despite having grand aspirations to become a writer, even writing a novel that I have revised over and over again since college, I have been somewhat lackadaisical about it in the last year, and by having this blog, it will force my writing hand to keep working even if its typing on a keyboard. Secondly, I wanted to expand my ability to speak my mind. I confess I have difficulty in talking and expressing my views, but I decided by having to keep a continuous blog, I would slowly start to get over this problem, choosing to make it mainly a film blog under the belief I could write a lot about one of my favourite hobbies.

The best way to continue this post is to talk about where my love of cinema, and obsession with culture came from, but instead of writing a long monologue, I can instead explain through four films and one anime television series said history. With this in mind, here is said five...

1. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)


My parents were pretty liberal about what films I saw when I was younger, but within reason. I vaguely remember with the first 18 certificate film I saw, The Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, having a discussion beforehand on if I should watch it, and afterwards its evil influence didn’t corrupt me at all. However Starship Troopers is the film of most importance as it was the one that slowly pushed me into an interest in film. Along with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and numerous others, not necessarily good, that were rented from a local DVD rental store, I developed an interest in genre and horror films that would start my course to becoming a film fan.

2. For A Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)

Along with the rest of Leone’s filmography, this was the first film where other factors other than the story and how entertainment it were just as important in determining whether it was good or bad. The extreme close-ups, the vast landscapes, and the mesmerising score of Ennio Morricone had a powerful effect on me that still lingers to this day (rewatching The Good, the Bad and The Ugly (1966) a month or so ago, the moment in the graveyard when Morricone’s Ecstasy of Gold starts playing sent a tingle in my spine). It also helps that Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef radiated magnetism as actors.

3. Chrono Crusade (Yū Kō, 2003-2004)


I had watched anime series in my youth, such as Pokemon (1997-Ongoing) and Yu-Gi-Oh! (2000-2004), but like a lot of anime on Western TV it is edited for content deemed unsuitable for children. This was the first series, even if viewed in a English dub, that I watched the whole of uncut (unfortunately it wasn’t the first thing I saw uncut, which would be the first four episodes of Ikki Tousen (2003), which I eventually watched the whole of much later, but let’s forget that to avoid embarrassment). Chrono Crusade, despite its numerous flaws, was gripping and struck an emotional chord with me. It helped a lot by the fact the main female character was around the same age I was watching it for the first time (sixteen, which I didn’t know until the end of the series and created an even stronger emotional effect because of it), and that visually her character design was memorable to me. The series lead to me exploring more anime, which not only fed my obsession with Japan, but would lead to my interest in cultural items from other countries. Hell, the series’ setting of 1920s North American, and the decision by the late American distributors ADV to have slang of the time in the English dub, lead to an obsession with the Roaring 20s America I still have.

4. Ichi The Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001)


Dubbed one of the sickest films ever made in an ad for one of the film magazines I used to read (either Total Film or Empire), I managed to see this one or two years before I was legally able to. Not only did it live up to the advertisement, but I was faced with something that was both intelligent and imaginative in its style as it was twisted. This was the film that lead to me exploring non-mainstream film, starting in investigating Takashi Miike’s other films and extreme Asian cinema, before leading to non-genre films in many different languages. After this, I was nearly who I am today as a film viewer.

5. Satantango (Bela Tarr, 1994)


Starship Troopers made me interested in films, while For A Few Dollars More made me aware of the different factors that made a piece of work art, and Chrono Crusade fed my interest in works from other continents and countries. Ichi the Killer and Takashi Miike would lead me by the hand to world cinema. Then, about one or two years ago, I discovered the podcast and a show called Left Field Cinema. Presented by a man named Mike Dawson, it was a great show I still listen to (and has a great forum), but it did an episode on an obscure Hungarian film called Satantango, a novel adaptation about alienation, backstabbing and downtrodden people which had a feature length of seven hours and twelve minutes. Since it was freely available, and the description of it being one of the longest films ever made almost posed a challenge daring people to watch it all, I naturally got hold of it.....and I have never been the same ever again. I have been truly thankful to Dawson for covering this, as it became almost the final test to see if I was a true cineaste or not. That I own the three disc UK DVD, and hold its director Bela Tarr as one of my most highly regarded, I passed the test (although I still desperately want to see Tarr’s work before his 1988 feature Damnation). Satantango is also, along with Mike Figgis’ 2000 film Timecode, which splits the screen into four smaller ones following different characters, the only movie that has bled into my dreams that night after first seeing it. All it took was the first sequence, a continuous black-and-white 10 minute scene of cows walking across a field, and I have developed an obsession with seeing films of all types and genres regardless of what they are and where they are from.

I hope you like this brief history of the creation of this blog. I may presume this is too egotistical after posting it and feel guilty, but to be honest creating a film blog is already feeding my ego and I can’t turn back now. If anyone wants to comment on this or anything else, there is the option although if there are some technical hiccups I will fix them. From now on, I will try to add posts as much as I can, from small and large reviews and opinions on films, even drift into areas such as music, books and anime if the idea takes my fancy. At some point this blogger will be able to write a good blog as long as he doesn’t become lazy about it.