Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. This is the end: Erich von Stroheim's epic tale of Greed.

Greed, perhaps more than any other production in cinema history, is almost destined to be always defined by its incompleteness. Barring a miracle (and, in terms of silent film, we can't forget miracles have happened - such as the unexpected recovery of seemingly lost versions of Metropolis and Passion of Joan of Arc), the complete version of von Stroheim's astonishing achievement is almost definitely lost. The 'true' length is open to debate - some of the very few viewers lucky enough to see an early version suggested a running time just shy of ten hours, although that was likely a rough or assembly cut that would surely have been edited down before release. Nonetheless, even with a tough edit, Greed was certainly meant to be many times longer than the 140 minute version released into cinemas in 1924. von Stroheim vocally expressed his disapproval of the final version, his vision undoubtedly cut to shreds by an old rival who unluckily gained last minute control over the film's release by MGM.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. A penultimate nineteen: Claude Lanzmann's landmark documentary Shoah.

I was going to leave Shoah until last. It's sheer size and reputation initially made it seem like a particularly appropriate punctuation mark to this mini-project, especially since the other 'long' film Satantango served as the opening salvo. But after watching Come & See, the little I knew about Shoah suddenly made it seem like a natural point of contrast and comparison with some of the observations I had there. They both attempt to represent World War II atrocities through the language of cinema - but, my word, the approaches are pretty much the polar opposite of each other.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Films of the Year - The Entirely Pointless Film Ha Ha Annual Review 2013


Upstream Colour
Another year! Wow. Much fast.

I'm just going to let the long list that follows do the heavy lifting here, but just wanted to identify two exciting and promising trends this year:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Come and See (Elem Klimov, 1985)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Eighteen: Elim Klimov invites us to Come and See hell.

Forget arguments over whether Come and See is a great war film for a moment: it's perhaps most effective as a horror film. This is, in no uncertain terms, a descent straight into hell. The Belarussia portrayed by Klimov is a place of misery, violence and pure terror. Hope? What hope. It's relentless filmmaking that puts the audience through the wringer for almost two-and-a-half hours straight. There's few moments to breathe - a surreal, deluded excursion into a forest is the closest we get - but we're never far away from some act of destruction or death. It's as visceral and disturbing as any slasher movie: in fact, considerably more so because atrocities on the scale of the ones portrayed here did occur, not so long ago.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel, 2012)

The Abyss

In a world where there's a constant push towards the next major advance in resolution and clarity, it's easy to forget the artistic potential of low fidelity. Leviathan - documenting life on board North American fishing vessels and the wild waters surrounding them - is a film that is not exactly what we've come to expect from the digital revolution: it offers grainy, muddy cinematography and digitally distorted soundtrack that seems more suited to a laptop's small screen and crappy in-built speakers than a big screen. And yet Leviathan one of the most vital cinematic experiences of the year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1976)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Seventeen: Ben Gazzara becomes involved in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie's title precedes it. For many years, every time I stumbled across such an incredibly distinctive name, I found myself endlessly intrigued by by it. More than any other film on this list of twenty, it had been occupying a high position on my 'to watch' list for the longest time, based on the name almost alone (that, and several filmmakers I admire cite Cassavetes as a major influence). But, for whatever reason, it was not a film easily accessible here in Ireland without importing, and general laziness meant I never bothered to throw it into a shopping cart whenever I was ordering films from overseas. Thankfully, the BFI were decent enough to re-release a generous Blu-Ray package a few months ago, affording this one viewer the chance to finally easily procure a high quality copy of this relatively elusive film

(FYI: I watched it in its original longer form, although the debate over which cut is superior is deeply intriguing, and I will endeavour to view the notably remixed alternate version)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Sixteen: now, after years in the making, it's Robert Altman's Nashville!

As far as credit sequences go, they don't come any more electrifying than Nashville's. Taking the form of one of those irritatingly familiar infomercials for mail order musical complications, within barely a minute of the classic Paramount logo appearing on screen, we've been assaulted with a primer of how we need to watch Altman's utterly distinctive film. We get previews of the film's country music soundtrack, and we're briefly but loudly introduced to the film's dizzying ensemble. It, like the film that is to follow, is anarchic and overloaded with information, yet somehow remains crystal clear in its presentation.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013)

The Big Switch

Hirokazu Koreeda is one of contemporary cinema's great magicians. His basic premises are typically familiar, simple, occasionally contrived. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, they could easily, perhaps even inevitably, emerge as eye-rollingly trite and aggressively sentimental. Yet through a singular vision and peerless craftsmanship Koreeda-san has emerged as the successor of Japan's great classicists. A review of a Koreeda film will typically reference Ozu at least once, but the comparison should not be considered a reductive simplification of a man with a cinematic control all of his own. That he justifies such high comparisons is testament to his abilities. Like Father, Like Son is further evidence he is a talent we should yell about with the greatest enthusiasm, less his films fail to attract the audiences they so absolutely deserve.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Battles Without Honour and Humanity (Kinji Fukasaku, 1973)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Fifteen: the opening chapter of gangster epic Battles Without Honour and Humanity (aka Yakuza Papers Volume 1).

Aside from its immediate effects - such as the temporary closure of major studios such as Nikkatsu - the Second World War sent shockwaves through Japanese cinema. Of course, it goes without saying that the Second World War also irreversibly and radically changed Japanese society generally, and cinema was only reflecting that. Nevertheless, for decades filmmakers were provoked to explore the war and its aftermath. The great auteurs did it: whether that was Kurosawa's explicitly post-nuclear-bomb I Live in Fear, Ozu's acknowledgment of a changed society throughout his post-war work (often with trademark subtlety, as in Late Spring), or the astonishingly rich films of Mikio Naruse that explored the places and people of occupied Japan.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen, 2013)

Y'all don't know what it's like...

Woody Allen: the great chronicler of the white middle-upper class. There are exceptions to that rule - say, the era-hopping 'early, funny ones', the depression-based Purple Rose of Cairo or his recent European excursions (some sort of people, different continent). But a lion's share of his masterpieces are proudly concerned with the plight of the American middle class. This isn't meant in a necessarily disparaging way: while critics of the man have frequently pointed to his less than diverse filmography, the man has stuck with what he knows, with regularly peerless results. It's not like his films have been blindly celebratory, either. As much as he has frequently shown affection towards his characters, Allen is every bit as able to single out their hypocrisy, privileges, neuroses and naivety (of course, for Allen this is often an endearingly self-depreciating act of social & personality deconstruction). It would be nice to see Allen experiment, of course, but he has worked wonders in his niche, even if said niche was not exactly culturally or socially all-inclusive.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)

Roman Holiday

The Great Beauty announces itself as a film for the big-screen early on, and retains that status for the entirety of its 150-odd minutes. An offbeat, stand alone prologue is the perfect introduction to Paolo Sorrentino's sumptuously strange odyssey. In both stylistic and thematic terms, it's as good a primer for what follows as one could hope for. Rapidly and poetically editing between various different groups - a choir, local workers, early morning strollers and a group of Japanese tourists (one of who ultimately expires in what's implied to be a state of euphoria) - it is full of the swooping, restless tracking shots that are the core signature of Sorrentino's visual style. On a deeper level, too, it's a smart bit of narrative foreshadowing - the conflict between the ancient and the modern, the obscene and the beautiful, life and death.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Yi Yi (A One and A Two, Edward Yang, 2000)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Fourteen: a little bit of everything with Yi Yi.

Ah, the 'everything' film: the product of a director who, in a fit of wild ambition, tries to summarise the entirety of the human condition in one single feature. It is, by its very nature a crazy, impossible task, but it has made for some of the most fascinating films ever created. In recent times, we could count the likes of Synecdoche, New York and The Tree of Life as films that paint on the grandest canvas imaginable, and the results have been as fascinating as they have been polarising.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Elysium (Neil Blomkamp, 2013)

Sophomore slump

Science-fiction is the genre of big ideas, which is why it's always such a shame when its creators confine themselves to a narrow path. Whether it's the half-assed story that gives us an excuse to explore Avatar's intoxicating Pandora, or the vast amount of seemingly smart sci-fi that lose track of their themes with the arrival of some psychotic entity, there's countless examples of amazing worlds diluted by the unconvincing tales told within them.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. At number thirteen, we've got all the time in the world with Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelle.

Over the years, cinema has been required to interpret and invent its own unique senses of space and time. Sound stages, sets, camera angles, perspective tricks, even bloody 3D have all ensured film deals with physical space in an entirely different way to any other medium. Time, too, has had to be reevaluated, trimming away the excess seconds, minutes, hours, days and years that are superfluous to the story being told. In cinema, these two most fundamental of concerns are dynamic, constantly being reinterpreted and remixed to provide us with exhilarating new experiences. How amazing, over a century later, that we're able to tell screen stories, free of the limitations of boring old reality! The fluidity of space and time is the very quirk that, perhaps, defines cinema.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

I Was Born But... (Yasujiro Ozu, 1933)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Twelve: one of Ozu's most beloved silent efforts I Was Born But...

When I went to pick up a copy of Ozu's I Was Born But..., knowing little about it other than it was widely considered one of his silent masterpieces, I was wondering why it only came bundled with Good Morning. Only when I read into it did I realise the later film was a 'remake' of the earlier one - although then again the Floating Weeds films are only occasionally double billed. After watching, however, I realised the decision was a sensible, even wise one. One of the great privileges granted to us modern film fans is the ability to watch films in their wider context - whether that's in terms of a director's own career or a more general sociological one. Having seen both film I know realise it would almost do a disservice to separate them and run the risk of viewers missing out on one or t'other. As a pair, they resonate and contrast with each other in fascinating ways.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013)

Wanna Fight?

Drive - need I stress IMO? - was an extraordinarily slick, fitfully hypnotic film that often frustrated as result of its militant coldness. But it just about came together to create a work of contemporary cinematic cool, even if its hollowness left me a tad sceptical. Regrettably, director Nicolas Winding Refn's follow-up Only God Forgives exaggerates Drive's questionable qualities to extraordinary degrees. It's still somewhat of an impressive aesthetic and moody accomplishment, but the film's self-consciousness and self-seriousness ultimately crush it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

King of the Travellers (Mark O'Connor, 2013)

Shit. Just shit. 

King of the Travellers is cinematic excrement – it’s best we get that statement out there right off the bat lest there be any confusion. This is not entirely surprising, given director Mark O’Connor’s previous film Between the Canals was every bit as objectionable. We should, within reason, never write off a director based on their first feature – we’d have missed many great masters if we did. Canals could well have been an aberration: its narrative clumsiness and directorial deficiencies at least partially attributable to major financial limitations and simple inexperience. King of the Travellers, being a sophomoric effort with altogether better resources, does not deserve such kind excuses, and merrily proves Canals inadequacy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Garden of Words (Makoto Shinkai, 2013)

In the garden of Eden, baby

Say what you will about Makoto Shinkai, but the man is efficient. It doesn't seem too long ago at all that I was sitting here pondering the wunderkind's Ghibli cover-version Children Who Chase Voices from Deep Below. Given the intensive labour involved in a lavish and predominantly hand-drawn anime production, one would expect a slightly slower turnaround - especially from a director who does a lion's share of the work himself (although his production team has modestly expanded since his early solo productions). That said, with a running time of only forty-five minutes, that's effectively the work cut in half, so it's no surprise we didn't have too wait too long for Shinkai's latest (he even stuffed a short film in between the two as well).

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro, 2013)

Neon Genesis Godzilla Independence Day

There's a moment as Pacific Rim enters its third act where Commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) confesses the secret hinted at throughout the film. As a result of his piloting of nuclear-powered Jaeger (aka giant robot), he has suffered radiation poisoning that is slowly eating away at him. Basically, he's close to death, although a couple of nosebleeds are the only indication of this. To save mankind (specifically Tokyo) he had to sacrifice himself. It marks the only moment of Pacific Rim where it takes on any degree of contemporary relevance - some hints of allegorical depth as it teases delivering a world inspired by the 2011 Japanese tsunami and subsequent (and ongoing) battle by brave workers to control the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. If the original Godzilla (1954) was a post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki monster movie, is Pacific Rim the post-Fukushima one? The genre attempt at Land of Hope?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tabu: A Tale of the South Seas (F.W. Murnau, 1931)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Chapter eleven: traveling to Bora Bora and confronting a Tabu.

F.W. Murnau is perhaps the director responsible for making me take silent cinema seriously. I had seen a handful of 'classics' prior to sitting down and watching Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans on a whim, but that was the film that truly illuminated the intoxicating depths to be found in early cinema. Far from being a chore or relics to be watched because we're supposed to, Sunrise proved to me how they can be giddily entertaining, ambitious, grand and offer completely unique aesthetic identities. The silent masters were perhaps more capable visual storytellers than 99% of living filmmakers, and time has diminished none of their achievements - in fact, the subsequent almost-century have only affirmed their successes with comparatively 'limited' technology. And F.W. Murnau - along with your Eisensteins, Langs, Dreyers - was one of the true pioneers.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

Shell shock

Jim Carrey made minor headlines the other day for announcing that in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, he would feel uncomfortable promoting his work in the forthcoming Kick-Ass 2 and hence has withdrawn his support for the endeavour. Criticisms of hypocrisy weren't far behind - after all, if Carrey is so vocally anti-gun / anti-violence, why did he sign up for the film in the first place? I'd be inclined to at least partially sympathise with Carrey (mostly because I think Mark Millar's aggressively immature work favours cheap, empty shock value above all else). But more than anything it reopened that seemingly endless debate about the connections between screen violence and real violence. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Oh, we're half way there! Diving into the world of Pather Panchali and, because they're so interconnected, two unexpected bonus films: the continuing adventures of a boy called Apu in Aparajito and World of Apu.

To say my knowledge of Indian cinema is limited is a serious understatement - my knowledge basically amounting to stereotypes perpetuated by Western media. There's no doubt that a sharp cultural divide exists, and that the Bollywood industry is built on basic, endlessly repeated formula - but there are without question great films out there that I have simply never been inclined to seek out. That, up until now, included the work of Satayajit Ray - pretty much the uncontested auteur laureate of Indian (or specifically Bengal) filmmaking. The man earned the undying respect of everyone from Kurosawa to Scorsese - honestly, I'm a little ashamed I didn't get around to his films earlier.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater)

Still walking

It's extremely easy to get disillusioned with the sequel as a concept, with the scales so frequently misaligned between 'worthy expansion' and 'cynical franchising'. Then something like Before Midnight comes along to inspire us all - the third wildly successful encounter with a familiar couple (if we're being pedantic, Bizarro World Jesse and Celine also featured in the excellent but hardly canon philosophical anthology Waking Life). It's both a comforting continuation and adventurous expansion of 2004's Before Sunset and 1994's Before Sunrise - the central concerns has shifted dramatically in our absence, but it all still feels like the latest chapter in a consistent whole. Like Before Sunset, Before Midnight was not strictly speaking needed - the beautifully ambiguous conclusion of the last film was pitch-perfect - but it's sometimes the unexpected sequels that provide the most satisfying dividends.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)

Hero worship

I'm sure it's a grand old life being Zack Snyder, aka Hollywood's Worst Auteur (HWA). He might be among my all-time least favourite directors, but in a very limited sense I kind of respect him. The HWA has achieved an enviable position - happily deflecting the vocal criticism of his work as he's consistently granted the hottest properties and healthy creative control (after all, few of Hollywood's other worst auteurs are granted the freedom to make films like Sucker Punch). And, in fairness to the HWA, he's more than a mere hack - his films are his own, his style absolutely distinctive, and his body of work is constantly exploring similar themes & ideas, ensuring his filmography is the work of a singular auteur rather than your average 'filmmaker for hire' even when the results tend to be absolutely awful. Like pretty much all his films thus far (Dawn of the Dead excepted, his sole mostly successful effort), Man of Steel is not quite your average blockbuster - instead it's this weird mix of uniqueness, familiarity and pretension. It doesn't work, not by a long shot.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Attack the Gas Station! (Kim Sang-jin, 1999)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Nine: a night of humour, violence and social commentary as we Attack the Gas Station!

I first heard about Attack the Gas Station! several years ago while browsing through an edition of one of those '1001 Movies Before You Die' books. The short essay about the film, as well as its excitingly exclamatory title, piqued my interest immediately. Regrettably, the film has long since been unavailable on European DVD (if, indeed, if was even released in the first place, an uncertainty my very brief research has failed to illuminate). The film - and I'm merely theorising here - was perhaps unlucky enough to burst onto the scene just before Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters and the whole Asian Extreme craze which, for a period, ensured any vaguely provocative Korean film enjoyed a healthy release. This particular film enjoys a relatively healthy fanbase in States, but maybe arrived at just the wrong time to disseminate beyond the enthusiast importers of Europe.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Story of Yonosuke (Shuichi Okita, 2012)

A Tall Long Tale

Photo: Third Window Films
It's perilously close to a rule that every contemporary Japanese film is too long. Undoubtedly, some prove more capable than others at justifying their two hour plus running time - I think few fans of the splendidly indulgence Love Exposure would opt to have even a couple of its 240-odd minutes trimmed (indeed, curiosity persists about the fabled original cut that reportedly ran into Satantango territory). Nevertheless, some happy exceptions aside, a majority of even superior Japanese motion pictures indulge in ten, fifteen, thirty minutes of content than is not - strictly speaking - necessary.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Last Stand (Kim Ji-woon, 2012)

When Arnie meets auteur

The Korean invasion of Hollywood is well underway, and the results are proving fascinating to watch. Park Chan-wook delivered Stoker - not the director's finest picture (mostly down to a rather haphazard script), but a damn fine piece of work that happily proved his unique directorial stylings had made the continental hop mostly intact. Bong Jo-hoon's intriguingly dystopian Snowpiercer is on the way, and Song Kang-ho - perhaps the central acting figure of the 'Korean Wave' - is along for the English language ride.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Helter Skelter (dir. Mika Ninagawa, 2012)

Fashion Frenzy

'Style over substance' is one of those infernally troublesome critical mainstays, and one alas we are forced to address early in any discussion of Helter Skelter. Here we have a film with style to spare - a film set in a world of surface-level beauty that is presented in shades of explosive red. But it's also incredibly tedious - two hours of cloyingly obvious commentary presented through regrettably extended scenes. The maddening thing is that in many ways it achieves exactly what it sets out to do.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Intolerance (D. W. Griffith, 1916)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Eight: an epic jaunt through the ages in Intolerance.

D. W. Griffith's reputation precedes him. Few revolutionary individuals in cinema history have received such varying levels of criticism. On one hand, he was perhaps cinema's first auteur, instrumental to its development as an artform. On the other, Birth of the Nation has forever tainted his name, many labeling him as a filthy racist and a bit of an embarrassment. Given the infamy that surrounds him, plus his penchant for deeply indulgent running times, I've always been a little reluctant to approach his work. But this challenge is all about confronting those second-hand prejudices and making up my own mind, so today I sat down to tackle Intolerance.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

John Dies at the End (dir. Don Coscarelli, 2012)

...and you won't care why

It's hard to articulate exactly why I got the unshakeable impression John Dies at the End tries too hard. Indeed, 'trying hard' is such an absolutely admirable trait, so when is the line crossed? Well, somewhere along the line it became clear to me that Don Coscarelli's film was so desperate to please, so self-consciously wacky, so determined to emerge from post-production to instant 'cult approval', that it all got lost in its own smug sense of anything-goes insanity.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Upstream Colour (Shane Carruth, 2013)

Puzzle box

Upstream Colour is an exhilarating puzzle-box of a film, presenting a dreamy, affecting experience entirely through the language of cinema. When you watch it first time, some details will almost without doubt remain tantalising elusive and vague. But that initial mysteriousness also effectively supplements the film's generous thematic and emotional core. When you sit down to tease out the lingering questions & ambiguities, rather than fall apart you suddenly realise just how deep the film's reservoirs of intrigue, intelligence and formal inventiveness actually are.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Seven: Kubrick's historical opus Barry Lyndon.

Have you ever had an overwhelming reaction to a 'great' film? One where you get completely caught up in the narrative and emotions of the work in question? Where you are drawn into an almost trance like state, and find it a tad difficult to shake off even when the lights have gone up? A film so absolutely immersive you are left in no doubt of its powerful impact on you? I have no doubt Barry Lyndon is a 'great' film, but unusually I didn't have the above reaction to it.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Evangelion 3.33 - You Can (Not) Redo (Hideaki Anno, 2012)

Third (Impact) Lucky?

If there's one word to surmise the exceedingly strange third entry in the Rebuild of Evangelion series it's 'melancholy'. For a franchise that often counteracted its dark, apocalyptic tidings (both personal & literal) with bursts of lighthearted humour and fan service, You Can (Not) Redo massively shifts the tone established in its two predecessors, bringing things much more in line with the divisive final chapters of the original TV series and films. This is Shinji Ikari's film, who awakens almost a decade and a half after 'melding' with an Evangelion unit during the last film's beautifully grand conclusion. Hideaki Anno (here supported by three other co-directors) has always found inspiration for the series through his own battles with depression, and here Shinji experiences the new world in a state of constant confusion, alienation and - yes - crippling melancholy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Playtime (dir. Jacques Tati, 1967)

The fruits of labour

Jacques Tati, the legendary French comedian and filmmaker, belongs in an elite group only really occupied by a handful of personalities from cinema's vast, diverse history. He is a definitively cinematic comedian, much like Charlie Chaplin or, to use the most appropriate comparison, Buster Keaton. Tati is not only a brilliant slapstick funnyman - even the basic mannerisms of his most famous creation Moinseur Hulot are inspired - he is a brilliant filmmaker. His sense of mise-en-scene, his ability to perfectly soundtrack a scene, his (extremely costly) eye for insanely elaborate sets and choreography - put simply, no other medium other than film could possibly have granted Tati the ability to realise his triumphant vision. He dabbled in circus and other outlets, but cinema was his home.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bakumatsu taiyô-den (dir. Yûzô Kawashima, 1957)

A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era

1862, the concluding years of the Edo Period. A famed brothel in Shinagawa. A sought-after courtesan handing out a multitude of marriage promises with nary a concern about the consequences. Her smitten clients. A daughter at risk of being sold off by her father. A frustrated servant trying to extract payment from a supposed big-spender. A group of samurai insurgents planning an explosive attack on the neighbouring 'foreigners' district'. A prostitute entering into a farcical suicide pact with a desperate book-seller. The brothel owners and their extravagant, playboy son. If this all sounds like the stuff of highest melodrama, luckily it's almost entirely played for laughs.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rent-a-Cat (Rentaneko, dir. Naoko Ogigami, 2012)

Feline funny

If there was a dedicated award for achievements in quirk, hedging bets on Rent-a-Cat would surely be a safe wager. The very core is drenched in wackiness, and it permeates every frame. Mikako Ichikawa plays Sayoko, a thirty-something year-old who has earned a reputation as being a bit of a crazy cat lady. And seemingly with good cause - she's lives alone with dozens of the things, and spends her days walking the banks of the local river yelling "RENNNNNT A.... NEKO. NEKO NEKO!" She rents her cats to those in need, albeit only those who pass her personal inspection - those she deems sufficiently lonely and living in a feline friendly environment. Oh, and she also moonlights as a fortune teller. Or is that a stock broker?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wolf Children (Ōkami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki, Mamoru Hosoda, 2012)

What Hosoda Did Next

It is the rare director indeed that illustrates their mastery right out of the gate, as for most greatness is earned. This is very much the rule in Japan, where even the likes of Mizoguchi, Kurosawa and Ozu had a long career of semi-successful studio films behind them before they produced their masterworks. Mamoru Hosoda, too, had a less than audacious start, making his filmic debut directing two long-since forgotten theatrical entries in the Digimon series. After a One Piece film, Hosoda's breakthrough film (and to all extents and purposes his 'true' debut, stylistically speaking) came in the form of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - a well-regarded film, although in this writer's opinion, merely a solidly decent one. Then came Summer Wars, and Hosoda's career went electric. I've composed my thoughts on that glorious feature before, and it has become one of my most rewatched films in recent times as a result of its radiant sense of joy and adventure. Mamoru 'The Next Big Thing' Hosoda had arrived.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)

Transcendence through Debauchery

It's rare that films of extreme excess can draw justifiable comparisons to Terence Malick, but that's the unusual situation we find ourselves in when encountering the fascinating Spring Breakers. With its screeching Skrillex soundtrack, lack of clothing and borderline radioactive cinematography, this may seem like a strange comparison. But Korine's film conjures up a hypnotic mood that I would most compare to the cinematic streams of consciousness Malick offers - indeed, Spring Breakers may be an altogether more mesmeric achievement than Malick's disappointingly frigid To The Wonder.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ordet (Carl Th. Dreyer, 1955)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films can be found here. Six: Carl Theodor Dreyer meditates on issues of faith in Ordet.

One of the core reasons for this series of posts was to motivate myself to seek out the films of directors I hadn't gotten around or whose output I had only dabbled in. Most urgently among the auteurs I wanted to discover more about was Carl Theodor Dreyer. It's safe to say my viewing of The Passion of Joan of Arc late last year was one of those rare treats where you discover a truly beautiful, timeless film. With its provocative content and intense, close-up dominated aesthetic, it still feels vital and fresh on its eighty-fifth birthday.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban, Takashi Miike, 2012)


I have previously composed my thoughts on the continued failures of video game adaptations, but in essence the thesis boils down to two core points. The first is that they have been manhandled by incompetent creatives and studios - unfortunately few auteurs have yet braved the world of gaming adaptations. But more damningly is their farcical lack of allegiance to the source material. Adaptations of games, with a handful of exceptions, often bear little to no resemblance to the thing that they're adapting - perhaps a token character name here or there, but in many cases existing in entirely different genres. Those who aren't intimately familiar with gaming as a medium may scoff - and often do - at the idea, but game worlds, characters and stories can be rich, diverse and iconic. Film rarely, if ever, reflects that.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films can be found here. Hitting a quarter of the way through with the formal complexities of Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up.

I confess to being a latecomer to the filmography of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. Indeed, until viewing Close-Up I'd only seen his two most recent (and excellent) works Certified Copy and Like Someone In Love. One thing that has struck me on these early encounters is Kiarostami's unique sense of cinematic time. Scenes regularly take place in a sort of real-time - whether that's the extended taxi trip of LSIN or the lengthy, flowing philosophical conversations of both films. Of course, all of this is heavily compressed to fit the remit of a standard feature film, and traditional editing techniques are adapted to jump in space and time as required. But Kiarostami is a wonderful illusionist, persuading us that we're watching things play out in a 'reality' similar to our own. His ability to allow sequences play out at their own dreamy pace is one hallmark of a director whose films I have thus far found completely bewitching.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Return to Oz... again

One phrase I resist using when it comes to writing and talking about film: they don't make 'em like they used to. Of course, there is truth in that statement - they literally do not make films like they used to. It's the negative inflection that I take slight umbrage with. Film is still a rich and healthy medium, and both complements and contrasts with the vastness of cinema history. Alas, this Wizard of Oz prequel doesn't really do modern film any favours, especially mainstream cinema. In almost every way it is inferior to a seventy-three year old predecessor, despite having access to resources Victor Fleming could only dream of. And whoever directed that weird ass Return to Oz. That shit was crazy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Land of Hope (Kibô no Kuni)

After the Disaster

Film Ha Ha turned two the other day (wahey!). The site was actually started less than 48 hours before the 2011 Japan tsunami. You have likely seen the anniversary of the disaster being marked in the media over the last few days, with a particular focus on how the repercussions of the Fukushima nuclear incident are still being felt. Meanwhile, Japanese director Sion Sono has become the most regularly reviewed auteur on this site - I'd reviewed three of his new releases in barely a year (Cold Fish, Guilty of Romance and Himizu). With all that in mind, I can't think of any more appropriate time to discuss The Land of Hope, Sono's second reflection on the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

This Is Not a Film

Rebel With a Cause

At the risk of gross simplification, there are two types of successful films, both being a pivotal part of a healthy cinematic landscape. There's the frivolous type - that may be wonderfully crafted but don't really have anything new or of note to say. That's not a criticism or anything. But there is another, albeit rarer, type - the important film. A work that genuinely advances the medium or has something of real worth to express.  This Is Not a Film fits snugly into type B, although as the title helpfully suggests 'film' might be too inaccurate a descriptor.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

La Jetée / Sans Soleil

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films can be found here. Part four: a double-bill from the late Chris Marker with Sans Soleil and the short La Jetée.

La Jetée is perhaps best known as the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's manic time-jumping thriller Twelve Monkeys - not so much a traditional remake but rather an affectionate re-appropriation of the general concepts, themes and iconography. Twelve Monkeys is a perfectly likeable and unusual film, but the original in this case is very much superior. The film's loose, drifty narrative concerns a survivor of a near apocalyptic third World War whose nuclear fallout has driven the remaining humans underground. A Parisian prisoner (Davos Hanich) - obsessed with the memory of a vague, witnessed tragedy from his past - is sent back (and ultimately forward) in time to prevent the collapse of society. In the past he meets a woman (Hélène Chatelain), who featured in that formative memory of his. The two form a romantic, almost philosophical bond, which is ultimately interrupted by the demands of the prisoner's future 'mission'.

Monday, February 25, 2013

JDIFF - 23rd and 24th February Round-up

Curtain Call

The final weekend of JDIFF Edition Eleven kicked off with White Elephant (dir. Pablo Trapero). It started well - a few heavily styilised opening sequences scored to a truly overwhelming, forceful Michael Nyman soundtrack promise good things. Alas, what follows is disappointing. There's an old priest (Ricardo Darín) who calls in a young priest (Jérémie Renier) to assist him in a violent slum in Buenos Aires. It's influenced by a true story, but alas the story is told in a wholly unremarkable, formulaic way. The performances are decent, there's an impressive tracking shot or two, the rare bursts of that deafening Nyman soundtrack are arresting, and it's moderately involving overall. This is a film that is merely alright - it does not waste your time or any grievous crime like that, but simply fails to do anything particularly special.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

JDIFF - 22nd February Round-up

Chan-wook emigrates! Malick disappoints! Colfer Annoys!

An early start was justified on this nippy Friday morn, with a preview of Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park) before its JDIFF premiere that evening (the later screening clashed with Beyond the Hills, so I was grateful of the opportunity). What a wonderful visual feast it offered! It was some relief to see Chan-wook emigrate with gusto, especially as others have failed to transition effectively. But Stoker builds a compellingly idiosyncratic atmosphere early on and barely lets up. Eccentric framing (keep an eye on the excessive head space afforded to characters), brilliantly disorientating jump & match cuts and a gracefully weird soundtrack ensure this is an invigoratingly cinematic gem, and perhaps the most accomplished film visually of the festival. Also great to see the ever talented Mia Wasikowska enjoying a weighty, offbeat lead role. The only problem to speak of is a script (bizarrely penned by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller) that in the last act struggles to sustain the creepily perverse tone of what came before. No matter - at ninety minutes it doesn't overstay its welcome, and the film is frequently straight-up brilliant.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

JDIFF - 19th February Round-up

Love is in the Air

Abbas Kiarostami's Tokyo-set Like Someone in Love is amongst the least condescending films I've ever seen, and accordingly one of the most singularly bewitching cinema experiences I've enjoyed recently. Riffing on some of the the same ideas and styles that he explored to equally fetching effect in Certified Copy, the director's latest crafts a remarkably assured pace and tone through a series of extended dialogues and quietly observed character moments. With the addition of some dreamy visuals - very often long-takes set entirely in small apartments or cars - the film invites rather than tells you to get on board with its utterly distinctive mood. It's an invitation worth accepting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

JDIFF - 17th and 18th February Round-Up

Melodramatic Gosling, Medicinal Mischief, Musical Accompaniment and Miserable Korea

The only thing worse than an early morning screening on a Saturday morning is an early morning screening on a Sunday morning. Luckily The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance) made the 8:45 alarm and subsequent hour-long commute just about bearable. Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper star. The film marks a step-up for the director - its go-for-broke narrative is an ambitious step-up from the solid if overpraised Blue Valentine. ... Pines presents a compelling melodrama so serious, so sprawling, so proud that it's almost quaint yet also extremely admirable. Unfortunately I must speak in generalities to avoid spoilers, which in this case may well diminish your impact of the film: despite a few developments that border on the ridiculous, and an unusual structure that will catch audiences off guard for better and worse, the film bewitches more than it infuriates. Accusations of over-seriousness are not unwarranted, but if you allow the film to wash over you there are many pleasures to be found. In more than one way it was a surprisingly apt antidote to the sprawling mess that was Cloud Atlas the previous evening.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

JDIFF - 16th February Round-up

Silence is Golden

Silence became somewhat of a recurring theme over the three screenings I attended on my first day at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013 (it started on the 14th, but despite my freebie season pass I had to pass on the first two days of festivities). Unfortunately, technological shenanigans were responsible for the two most unwelcome periods of silence. With screening one - at the ungodly hour of 11 AM on a Saturday morning! - Blancanieves played for fifteen minutes before the film stopped after someone eventually realised there were no subtitles. It didn't matter all that much - the film is silent, and subtitles only served a handful of Spanish language title cards. But despite the early narrative being extremely clear even without translation, we had to sit through the opening act again once the film was restarted with subtitles restored. A hasty fast-forward wouldn't have gone amiss. Then at Mercy the projector cut out smack bang in the middle of the film's dramatic climax. Both, naturally, were digital faults - as happy as I am to accept digital projection, today did the technology no favours. It was a relief when the final film was presented in glorious old 35mm.