Friday, May 31, 2013

30 Countries Parts 29 - 30 (The Unknown Woman/Esma's Secret)

The Unknown Woman (2006) Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Part 29 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Italian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Directed by the man behind the acclaimed Cinema Paradiso this Italian suspense thriller won multiple Italian Film Industry awards but failed to win me over. Irina is a Ukrainian immigrant in Italy. She has your typical back story and demonstrates the typical hard working attitude of people trying to create a better life for themselves. Only, typically, things are not that straight forward because this isn't a Dardenne Brothers picture, it is a generic Euro thriller trying to emulate Hollywood, so enter stories of prostitutes, Russian mafia, child trafficking,a plot filled with deceit and lies. But that isn't the worst part, the worst part is the cynical nature of storytelling adopted by the director, making liberal use of flashbacks to add unnecessary drama and back story, creating tension with tricks and an overbearing score.

Ksenyia Rappaport on the other hand is wonderful and deserves more success as an actress. It's a shame that she's working in a national cinema that is, in the 21st century, pretty much bereft of interesting ideas, whose major exports are charming comedies for old ladies and the worldwide Italian diaspora who want to see movies from the old country about olive groves and nonnas.

Esma's Secret (2006) Dir. Jasmila Žbanić

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Part 30 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Bosnian origin as per its listing on imdb.

In the end I chose a Bosnian movie dealing with the aftermath of Yugoslavian genocide over Lars von Trier's Breaking The Waves because it seemed easier.

Esma is a single mum, struggling to give her teenage daughter a good life, working multiple jobs. Her daughter, Sara, is noticing boys for the first time and wondering about her origins.

It's award winning Eastern European cinema with a story filled with potential but written and directed by an average talent. There's a big "reveal" which is telegraphed early on and the composition uniformly messy throughout which does nothing to add to the intended tone of repressed fear and memories of horror.

These films that deal with the horrors of the recent past are important social commentaries and reminders of things that should never be repeated but that alone does not make for a good film. I expect more from art than to be told something sad and then be told it is time to feel bad about it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mixtape Movies Blogathon: A Tiny Flame to Cup One's Hand Around and Protect From the Wind

“To me, making a tape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and…oh, there are loads of rules.” - John Cusack in High Fidelity.

Andy Hart AKA Fandango Groover has done it again, created another great Lamb Blogathon. This time he challenges us to bring back the mixtape: compile a collection of six movies that fit together, they are not expected to be definitive personal lists, they are just small expressions of creativity in linking the movies. Pick five movies within a chosen theme that compliment each other and one wild card that stands out as different but still maintains the theme.

To me the two most prominent icons in pop culture regarding mixtapes are High Fidelity in which John Cusack discusses the reasons and method for making a mixtape and Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield, the true story of a relationship told through mixtapes and it is the title of Rob Sheffield's book that inspired my movie mixtape.

In general isn't that why we all make or most likely made mixtapes? We all want to be loved. Whether we want to tell the object of our affection how we feel through a handful of well chosen songs or impress them with just how intelligent and thoughtful we are or even just show off how obscure your tastes are, making the perfect mixtape can get you laid, can make you friends, can even be a cathartic experience. It's that attempt to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop, the attention to detail in your artwork, thinking up a really clever title and waiting anxiously for the response from the recipient, that's where the real pleasure in making the mixtape comes from. And that is the joy experienced once more in this digital world as I made this mixtape of movies.

As I said, making a mixtape is all about love and I've taken that idea literally with this one. Love is what these films have in common, films about that moment, however fleeting, when one soul connects with another and all the joy and pain, laughter and tears that it can bring.

So I give you the blahblahblahgay entry to the Fandango Groovers Mixtape Movies Blogathon:

Lost in Translation (2003) Dir. Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray forms an unlikely bond with Scarlett Johansson whilst they are both in Tokyo. A wonderful way to start the mixtape, it's a cornerstone of modern American cinema that most girls I'd give this to would have at least heard of if not seen already. The mesmerising nature of the cinematography and direction perfectly compliment the melancholy nature of the love story and the punch to the gut as the film closes sums up the entire nature of the mixtape.

Weekend (2011) Dir. Andrew Haigh

The second track is as important as the first, you've hooked them with that opener and now they want to see more but it's important not to peak too soon, so you change it up a little. This is the one I put the most thought in to selecting. Initially I considered the wonderful poetry of Kim Ki-Duk's love story Bin Jip but dismissed it as too difficult for a novice, the second option was Zach Clark's mumblecore romance Quiet City. What hipster wouldn't want to share how awesomely hip they are with a piece of mumblecore? But Weekend is the perfect mix of pretension and pop, it also says the compiler is open to people who choose lifestyles different to their own, see how considerate of others I am? Don't you want to come over whilst my mum is out of town? It's also one of the greatest movies about love ever made.

In The Mood For Love (2000) Dir. Wong Kar-Wai

I'm making this for a female right? This one is a beautiful devastating picture that oozes style and I haven't met a woman yet who hasn't found Maggie Cheung and her costumes to be jaw droppingly beautiful. The third track is the point where you really need to make a statement with this kind of mixtape, and with In The Mood For Love I am saying, hey doesn't loneliness suck, I am guy with heart, I could be good for you, putting the possibility of a relationship out there for consideration as a counterpoint to that loneliness.

Harold and Maude (1971) Dir. Hal Ashby

It's time for the wild card, Hal Ashby's beautiful love story of a really old lady with a lust for life and the teenage boy who has a fascination with death. It shouldn't work but it does and whilst it might creep someone out it also demonstrates the power of love and how little differences between two people can be overcome. See, she might have doubts about our compatibility but if Harold can love Maude surely she can love this hipster even if he doesn't wear skin tight cords or enjoy the music of Morrissey.

Last Life in the Universe (2003) Dir. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Two lost and lonely souls are brought together by tragedy in Bangkok. Neither of them speak the same language but their relationship helps them to find meaning in their lives. It's also another weapon in overcoming obstacles, it tells the viewer that love could be fleeting, that life is fleeting and you shouldn't hesitate to make the most of the time you have with this person you are connected with. After Harold & Maude and Last Life if they aren't sending you suggestive snapchat images then you're pretty much out of luck. Either that or you picked a cold, heartless woman who could never love you.

Brief Encounter (1946) Dir. David Lean

Heart wrenching performances from the two leads in this perfect example of how repressing your passions can cause great pain. This is the piece de resistance but also the deal breaker, if she doesn't love this film then I don't want to know her.

What do you think? Would you be putty in my hands after this manipulative mixtape? Leave some comments here or on twitter @bbbgtoby with #moviemixtape. Did you make a mixtape I haven't seen yet? Leave a link. If you want to join in head over to Fandango Groovers for the full instructions and for more movie mixtapes check out the complete database here (after 22nd June.)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Movie Review: Broken (2013) Dir. Rufus Norris

Broken (2013) Dir. Rufus Norris

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Blurb:  Three suburban English families' lives intertwine with tragic consequences. The story of a young girl in North London whose life changes after witnessing a violent attack.
Thoughts: A thoroughly unsatisfying 3 stars.

Broken starts out full of energy, three stereotypical familes in three stereotypical houses on a stereotypical British street (they wish a typical street in England was this nice) and the promise of dark events and lashings of conflict.

Slowly you realise that the director is playing games with you, instead of making an accurate portrait of Broken Britain he's sugar coating things, instead of real relationships he is going to show you ideals. Instead of looking at reality he is going to demonise the weakest elements of the society he chooses to show. The upwardly mobile working class are evil. The mentally handicapped are evil.

Every time there's a decision to make that would make this film better, harder, edgier, more realistic, he takes the easy and lazy option. Of course the chavs are evil, the Daily Mail says so. Naturally the handicapped guy is a danger to children, the Daily Mail says so. By the time the third act drags the carcass of an already rotting film towards the finish line I could take no more as every obvious event unfolds exactly as expected. Even chavs hate the handicapped so they can't all be bad can they?
I know it is based on a novel which potentially was written for young teens or those adults with arrested development (most of the world?) so perhaps most of the blame should lay with the guy wrote the novel or the guy who adapted it for the screen and I am so disgusted with them that I won't even bother looking up their names.

This gets the three stars because every single caricature is played to perfection, there's not a bad performance amongst them. Eloise Laurence shines as the lead girl and deserves all the praise in the world but her supporting cast led by a delightfully accurate Rory Kinnear should bask in the collective glow of a job well done.

In addition, I'm pretty certain there is at least one scene filmed in Hatfield, a town I sadly spent a fair amount of time living in. Spotting its shitty abandoned town centre cleaned up with some fake shops put in was a particular highlight for me and justifies every bad thought I ever had about the place.

Join the discussion in the comments below, at Letterboxd or #broken @bbbgtoby.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Movie Review: Stay Cool (2011) Dir. Michael Polish

Stay Cool (2011) Dir. Michael Polish

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Blurb: The film centers on a successful author who is forced to confront an unrequited high school crush when he returns home to deliver a commencement address to graduating seniors. Shasta O'Neil, a sexy high school senior flirts with the visiting author and invites him to the prom.

Thoughts: I really wish this movie didn't exist. The Polish Brothers have been responsible for some truly interesting and unique independent cinema over the years; a movie about conjoined twins, Billy Bob Thornton as a farmer who builds a spaceship in his barn, a comedy about manure salesmen and Northfork a wonderful movie that defies accurate description but this straightforward enough premise of a writer giving a commencement speech at his old high school and all the inevitable generic clichéd events that this usually throws up is their strangest film film yet. But not in a good way.

After building a relationship with filmmakers over this amount of time you have a tendency to go in to every picture they release with a set of expectations. In this case I expected oddball humour, an intelligent response to genre conventions and interesting visual composition and always good performances. I can't say my expectations were met, infact they were pretty much universally destroyed.

What is with Americans and their obsession with high school? It feels like their are hundreds of teen movies released every year on the same themes, and almost running level in recent years are the films with adults, fully grown human beings with real lives, returning to high school, not necessarily even their own. Sure you occasionally get something wonderful like Grosse Point Blank or Young Adult but by and large they are shit and very rarely are they as humorous as they think they are.


Mark and Michael Polish make some nice obscure and subtle references to the plethora of genre films gone before and simultaneously couldn't restrain themselves enough to avoid a Say Anything reference. Their attempts at oddball humour largely fall flat, with a truly offensive hobbit as THE homosexual stereotype and Chevy Chase the main offenders. Nepotism aside I think Mark Polish is a good choice for this type of protagonist, he has the right every man quality that you very rarely find in cinema and his performance (which some have referred to as flat) had a great blend of exhaustion, apathy, exasperation and insecurity, he should have just written himself a better script and we might all have heard about it.

You can't expect something as great as Northfork every time but you can remain hopeful, everyone has a bad movie in them and hopefully this is theirs.

Join in the discussion in the comments below, at Letterboxd or #staycool @bbbgtoby.

Monday, May 27, 2013

30 Countries Parts 26 - 28 (Julia/Yojimbo/Tokyo Sonata)

Julia (2008) Dir. Erick Zonca

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 26 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Mexican origin as per its listing on imdb.

This movie owes it all to Tilda Swinton. Without her this would be nothing. Her titular character is a trainwreck, the kind of alcoholic people only dream of writing when they create fluff like Smashed, add to that murder, kidnapping, fleeing to Mexico and a complete lack on conscience and you have the ingredients for an interesting crime thriller and a good redemption story.

Julia is living in the moment, making this shit up as she goes and we are along for the ride with her. The editing representing the characters blackouts is handled well but largely this is a bit of a messy story that at 2.5 hours takes far too long to be told. But Swinton gives it her all, she's a wild thing driven by fear and insecurities and it shows in every scene.

Yojimbo (1961) Dir. Akira Kurosawa

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 27 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Japanese origin as per its listing on imdb.

Forgive me lords of cinema but I just didn't enjoy this classic as much as I think I was supposed to. Pretty universally loved, Kuroswa's tale of Sanjuro the ronin and how he cleaned up the town with no name left me frustrated more than anything.

Of course it is a well told story with excellent visual style, it is Kurosawa, but it sure does amble along at its own pace with a series of unnecessary plot points that meander all over the place, half an hour less and you've got a tightly plotted movie here. The other issue I have is with the acting style and the attempts to play for humour; I'm sure it is traditional for the genre, at least, but it and I just don't get along. I expected a bit more subtlety from a film that inspired Clint Eastwood to not move a facial muscle for two hours.

One of the many great things about this film is the influence it wielded and still wields, for example despite the unnecessary nature of some of the plot it is easy to see where every yakuza movie since stole their plot from like one long sixty year battle without honour and humanity.

Tokyo Sonata (2008) Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 28 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Hong Kong origin as per its listing on imdb.

I've seen too many films about financial crises and unemployment I think. At the same time Swedish youths are rioting over long term unemployment I saw this film about the effect of down-sizing and outsourcing on Japanese salarymen and the disintegration of a nuclear family. That this one doesn't exactly end where you think it will is a blessing indeed. I do however think the Swedish riots might have been more relevant to me.

This film is pretty much what you might expect if you took a slow moving family drama and asked Kiyoshi Kurosawa to get involved with it. A comfortable life slowly disintegrates and suddenly the movie takes a left turn in to the unexpected which has Kurosawa's prints all over it. This juxtaposition of the real and unreal dragged me out of the slow moving drama/horror and with my apathy towards such GFC related storylines these days I don't care to take any messages from it.

Give me some of that post-communism miserabilia from Eastern European countries over this any day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Top 15: 2012

You may recall that at the end of 2012 I wasn't exactly thrilled with the cinematic output from the year. Having seen 76 films classified as 2012 release I managed to make a Top 10% list, a Top 7 if you like, now five months later I have seen over 30 more 2012 releases and am ready to go on record for my full end of year Top 15 list.

There's only two films I am yet to see from my list of films that just might fit on this list, Holy Motors and Your Sister's Sister but based on experience the chances are slim. There's a certain amount of hesitancy to publish whilst the Oscar winning film in 15th place is still on the list but there's no denying the quality of it however middle of the road, designed to appeal to the masses, historically inaccurate it is.

15. Argo Dir. Ben Affleck

A solid, tense thriller that speaks volumes about the declining quality of intelligent Hollywood cinema. The kind of movie they made by the bucketload in the 70's but the fact that it was made in 2012 means it stands out from the crowd.

14. The Pirates! Band of Misfits Dir. Peter Lord

I know it's silly but it's supposed to be and I can't help but love it. The only film on this list that I've seen five times and the one with the highest laughs per minute ratio.

13. Trouble With The Curve Dir. Robert Lorenz

Much like Argo this is the kind of good quality intelligent cinema they used to make all of the time but sadly seems to be few and far between in modern Hollywood. A quiet drama about human relationships filled with pitch perfect performances that doesn't try to be anything it's not.

12. Chronicle Dir. Josh Trank 

A refreshing take on the "found footage" sub genre, an interesting superhero origin story, an exciting blockbuster type movie made on a relatively low budget and a great example of what a exciting young director with some imagination and ingenuity can achieve.

11. Bachelorette Dir. Leslye Headland

Brilliantly funny with some great comedic performances and the reunion of Adam Scott with Lizzy Caplan.

10. Premium Rush Dir. David Koepp 

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon in a race against time, each other and themselves, one is good and one is bad (no prizes for guessing which is which,) it is pure adrenaline fuelled entertainment and great fun.

9. Django Unchained Dir. Quentin Tarantino

So many moments of brilliance, so many moments of absurd self indulgence from the director, great performances, too much length, didn't like the soundtrack.

8. Jess + Moss Dir. Clay Jeter 

Like a book of beautiful moving photographs with words and music added for effect. A perfect example of Appalachian poverty and the rich life (however mythical) of the inhabitants. This was a real surprise and should be seen by far more people than have already.

7. No Dir. Pablo Larraín

A political thriller with strong direction, a clear vision and a superbly restrained central performance from Gael Garcia Bernal. Really highlights the flaws in Argo.

6. Atmen Dir. Karl Markovics

At 94 minutes this way too short, I could have done with another two hours. Slow burn realist cinema with naturalistic performances, haunting, brilliant. Almost nothing happens but so much is experienced. Wonderful cinema.

5. Barbara Dir. Christian Petzold

Understated. Quiet. Slow. Precise. Restrained. Picturesque. Detached. Minimalistic. Subtle. Intelligent. Barbara is all of these and a tense thriller too. Will surely make an international star of Nina Hoss.

4. Damsels in Distress Dir. Whit Stillman

A charming, witty and wonderful surprise, not least because Greta Gerwig can act. A little bizarre, not for everybody for sure but I keep having a wonderful time with Whit Stillman's flowers and it gets even better on repeat.

3. End of Watch Dir. David Ayer

Powerful and enjoyable movie making made even better with incredibly strong acting performances. It sits in your head and demands to be revisited again and again.

2. Killer Joe Dir. William Friedkin

Very cool. Very creepy. Superb performances all round but especially from McConaughey. Everything was understated including the great direction from Friedkin. A highly enjoyable film with one of the best blow job scenes ever seen in cinemas. This too gets better with age.

1. The Deep Blue Sea Dir. Terence Davies

A beautiful and mesmerising film featuring a powerful performance from Rachel Weisz that was strangely overlooked by the Academy. Slow moving and understated, this study of passion is told in the repressed style of the period and will be poking and prodding at your mind for days after watching I'm certain.

Feel free to throw rocks or start a debate, leave some comments or tweet me @bbbgtoby.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

30 Countries Parts 23 - 25 (Festen/Sonbahar/Indigenes)

Festen (1998) Dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 23 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Danish origin as per its listing on imdb.

It's fifteen years since I first heard of the Dogme '95 movement and ten years since I studied the first group of films and the two major players involved in drafting the manifesto, von Trier and Vinterberg, and yet somehow viewing Festen has eluded me until now.

Festen is quite clearly the best film made under the guidelines, not just for the visceral nature of the storytelling but the way Vinterberg made the obstructions, the restrictions, the vow of chastity work for his film. It seems like all other Dogme directors actively sought out loopholes but Vinterberg embraced the challenge and it shows in the quality of the finished product.

A celebration of 60 years of a man's life brings his family together at their large country estate and a shock announcement causes conflict is essentially the entire premise but what you get is so much more. Incredibly raw performances not diffused or heightened through the tools and tricks of the industry combined with the handheld cameras create a real sense of being a guest at this awful party whilst the content itself holds a mirror up to Danish society in a more subtle way than von Trier's Idioterne but it is no less shocking than a retard gang bang.

Sonbahar (2008) Dir. Özcan Alper

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 24 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Turkish origin as per its listing on imdb.

Another piece of wonderful minimalist cinema (I'm nothing if not consistent) this time from a Turkish filmmaker making his debut feature. Yusuf, a political prisoner, is released from jail on health grounds and returns to the tiny village community he grew up in.

As you might expect from that premise this is a film with a political message which is at times forced upon the viewer, a distraction from the contemplative mood of the piece as Yusuf comes to terms with everything he gave up for his ideals, his new found freedom, his mortality and his struggle to reintegrate with village life.

Packed with beautiful vistas and long moody takes without dialogue it is the use of ambient noise, or at times a lack of, that most impressed and so the occasionally invasive use of melodramatic music only served to irritate rather than accentuate the moment.

The sub story of his connection with a young boy and a prostitute are pretty standard narrative devices but never feel arbitrary, which in itself is impressive but the emotional arc they guide you through places them as some of the more impressive uses of the trope I have seen.

Quality low budget world cinema from a strong new voice worth keeping an eye on.

This film can be found on two great letterboxd lists for the discerning viewer looking to try something new: Take 100: The Future of Cinema and Looking for Something to Watch.

Indigenes (2006) Dir. Rachid Bouchareb

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 25 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Algerian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Indigenes: Colonial African soldiers who fought for France in World War II.

With a similar structure to Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One Rachid Bouchareb's Oscar nominated war movie is less a statement on the folly of war but a political picture about the mistreatment of these Indigenes by the French. It's the same old racist story told again and again and it does get any less galling, each injustice feels as fresh and offensive as if it was the first time and it is that power that caused a policy change by the French government in 2006 after President Chirac saw the movie.

Yep. It took 60 years and this movie to make the French do what was right. But let's not judge them too harshly, the Americans forced racial segregation in the racially enlightened countries wherever their troops were stationed during this war.

The overly political nature of the film detracts from the usual power of the futility of war stance a great war movie will have but there are plenty of your typical explosions and gun fights to keep war enthusiasts happy.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

30 Countries Parts 20 - 22 (The Singer/Lorna's Silence/The Man From Nowhere)

The Singer (2006) Dir. Xavier Giannoli

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Part 20 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of French origin as per its listing on imdb.

Of all the films from all of France I had to pick this one.
The Singer is Gerard Depardieu as a morose old man trying to reclaim his youth. What was I thinking?! I'd wanted to see the guy actually act in his native tongue without being the fat comedic buffoon he seems to have become of late. And he didn't let me down. That aside this movie is incredibly tedious and more than a little creepy, what with him constantly trying to sleep with young women. I know there are people like this in real life, and I know that it works quite often but it's sure no fun to watch for two hours.

Lorna's Silence (2008) Dir. The Dardenne Brothers

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 21 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Belgian origin as per its listing on imdb.

A last minute substitute in the challenge but certainly one that was worth it.

Very cool. A thriller of sorts, told in the realist style with incredibly natural performances. My first experience of the Dardenne Brothers was quite something. A look at immigration issues within the European Union at present without the hysteria applied by the media.

Lorna is not your average benefit or health care tourist, she works hard and has a dream. To achieve that dream she has entered in to an agreement with some shady characters.

What the brothers achieve with this premise and their style of realism is something quite remarkable, drip feeding you information through plot development that in turn feeds character development which is followed up by taking the film in a direction nobody could guess.

This is powerful cinema and I look forward to more from these brothers.

The Man From Nowhere (2010) Dir. Jeong-beom Lee 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 22 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of South Korean origin as per its listing on imdb.

I recorded this off of the world movies channel nearly a year ago because it sounded interesting but clearly not interesting enough to actually watch. It took Berken's great challenge to get me to actually press play.

Turns out it's a great example of the South Korean revenge flick with more than a touch of The Man With No Name trope and I should have seen this sooner.

What sets The Man From Nowhere above the also rans is not gratuitous violence or a protagonist of super human strength but style and heart. I'm a sucker for anyone who recalls the infinitely cool Jef Costello and does it well and Phoneshop Ghost is built of similar stuff, but with highly skilled unarmed combat training in his past.

An equal mix of dramatic intrigue and violent action Jeong-beom Lee directs both aspects with equal skill, this is intelligent action cinema bringing to mind Johnnie To's 2009 film Vengeance and if a move in to Hollywood isn't soon forthcoming I'd be very surprised. I'd prefer it if he didn't but money talks.

The middle section features a real dip in excitement as the film gets bogged down in plot but the action in final third more than makes up for it in terms of incredible action scenes.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

30 Countries Parts 17 - 19 (Dogtooth/Melancholia/Tetro)

Dogtooth (2010) Dir. Giorgos Lanthimos
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 17 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Greek origin as per its listing on imdb.

I cannot describe what I think I just saw. My mind struggles for comprehension. I am exhausted. I feel like I have been repeatedly struck by a large stick for the past 90 minutes. A new friend recently referred to Vincent Gallo's Brown Bunny as the most bizarre movie they'd ever seen. I think their brain might explode if they saw this.

So this family, they choose to create their own world for their children with their own rules and their own meanings, they build walls both physically and mentally and keep their children within their compound despite them being adults. That's the premise. It doesn't sound too bad really.

Giorgos Lanthimos takes this entirely unreal, unknowable, incomprehensible to at least 99% of the world I'm sure, scenario and films it in the style of Michael Haneke et al. It is this contradiction between natural realist cinema and a subject matter that is unfathomable that causes your brain to react in this manner. He's just so matter of fact about it all.

Much like the work of Haneke you can take a thousand different readings of this film, you can believe it is a political statement, you can see it as an allegory, you can even watch it as a documentary of an evil man but if you watch this film and aren't affected or moved, even if it's to nausea, you probably weren't paying attention.

Cinema like nothing else I've experienced so far.

Melancholia (2011) Dir. Lars von Trier

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 18 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Swedish origin as per its listing on imdb.

An interesting and visually stunning film with a real insight in to the effects of depression. Utilising different points of view for each half of the movie to demonstrate this insight in a very effective way. Von Trier's most accessible film to date I'm sure and most certainly his most assured. This is filmmaking of the highest order by somebody fully aware of how much skill they have at their fingertips. The introduction is at a whole other level however and after such impressive visuals the film itself could never live up to it.

Tetro (2009) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 19 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Argentinian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Coppola directs Gallo in a black & white Buenos Aires. It's a compelling concept that almost lives up to my expectations. A beautiful film to look at but beyond that I was not as enamoured of the story as others have been.

Gallo is a writer in seclusion, distancing himself from his family in America. He lives a quiet life, the locals know nothing of his past, not even his girlfriend but when his half brother arrives looking to reconnect it all goes to shit. You know how this works, family secrets are revisited, old wounds reopened, conflict, conflict, conflict, but the approach taken by Coppola isn't as straightforward or deliberate as you are used to.

The performance of Gallo is exactly what you would expect and carries the film, giving what might be taken for a soulless film a layer of depth and emotion and a real edge that any other actor couldn't hope to achieve. Because they're not actually crazy.

This is certainly better than Jack and The Rainmaker and represents a much more interesting direction for the man who many consider to be a filmmaking genius.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

This is the Isherwood we have been waiting for, it seems to me his best novel. - Graham Greene

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: In this brilliantly perceptive novel, a middle aged professor living in California is alienated from his students by differences in age and nationality, and from the rest of society by his homosexuality. Isherwood explores the depths of the human soul and its ability to triumph over loneliness, alienation and loss.

Thoughts: Christopher Isherwood has written a book that makes me hate him. Or maybe I hate myself? The main theme of this book is loss; loss of a lover, loss of youth, loss of identity, loss of direction, it's all there in beautifully phrased observations and it tickled that spot in my mind, the spot where I hide all of my fears, until I could no longer ignore the fact that I am and I continue to lose these things myself until one day the devastating and unthinkable will happen and I will lose that which I hold most important. It's not my hair, for once.

“The prefect evening...lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself sleepy...Jim lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other's presence.”

Isherwood's novel demonstrates how repressed my fears are, and so does my natural reaction of making a silly joke about my hair. This book does this to me and whilst I love that I am seen reading such wonderful literature on a train when either side of me are people with the latest mega bestsellers with no words bigger than two syllables and all the feeling of my hand after I've slept on it all night, I'm not sure I am mature enough (or willing) to deal with the consequences.

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”

I didn't really want to discuss the fact that Christopher Isherwood was a gay man and that his protagonist is a gay man but it seems that a lot of people can't get past that fact. Top hits = GLBT etc. and perhaps when this was written it really was unique to write about a gay man AS IF HE WAS A NORMAL HUMAN BEING but to me George is not defined by his sexuality, he is defined by his humanity and as such that should really be the end of it. This is not a great piece of gay literature, this is a great piece of literature full stop. If that offends you I shall not apologise.

“No one ever hates without a cause....”

I feel that to discuss this book any further would be to ruin it for you, it is 152 pages of quite large font, all you need to know beyond this is that it's also an incredibly uplifting and life affirming day-in-the-life narrative.

Feel free to discuss the book, the movie, anything but gay bashing in the comments or tweet me @bbbgtoby

Monday, May 13, 2013

30 Countries Parts 14 - 16 (Police, Adjective/Window in to Summer/Cairo Time)

Police, Adjective (2009) Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 14 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Romanian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Police, Adjective is a minimalist police procedural film that follows the hard work of one man trailing a teenage boy on suspicion of drugs offences that is at the same time a portrait of post-Communist Romanian, a discussion of the nature of police work and the law, alienation and the effects of being a policeman on the policeman.

Very much cut from the same political cloth as Sjowal & Wahloo's Martin Beck sequence of novels, the slow pace and incredibly long takes become mesmerising from the first six minute silent tracking shot of the cop following the teen and doesn't let up through meals, meetings and stakeouts. I couldn't help but enjoy it and even now I find it growing on me further. It's not as powerful as my other recent Romanian film experience but is another superb example of what is coming out of that country in recent years.

Summer Window (2011) Dir. Hendrik Handloegten

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Part 15 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Finnish origin as per its listing on imdb.

If Nina Hoss hadn't been so phenomenal in Barbara and if Barbara hadn't been so good there is no way the German Film Festival of Australia would have screened this film as it's just not very good.

Yes, I am complaining at being suckered in by the presence if Hoss and the soft science fiction angle of the plot, a soft science fiction time travel story that's been told a thousand times before with different variations sure; but still nothing interesting was done with the concept, nothing was at stake and I certainly didn't care whether the movie ended in a positive or negative manner for the protagonist, as long as it ended and ended soon.

I felt totally ripped off coming out of this movie, it was so half baked and ill conceived and completely misrepresented in the promotional material, i.e. they told lies to entice viewers.

Cairo Time (2009) Dir. Ruba Nadda

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 16 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Irish origin as per its listing on imdb.

I've had this film sitting around the house for so long now that I'd completely forgotten why I picked it up in the first place. In my mind it had almost become an awful indie version of Eat Pray Love set in Egypt with Patricia Clarkson in the Julia Roberts role. This last fact being the only reason worth watching it, who wouldn't want to watch Patricia Clarkson in anything?

So having dismissed it as a bit of fluff I was more than a little surprised by the quality of the filmmaking from the very first scene and by how similar the dislocation of Clarkson's character from her surroundings were to Lost in Translation. Suddenly I remembered that I'm not the kind of person to pick up romantic fluff even if Patricia Clarkson was starring and infact, when was Patricia Clarkson ever in romantic fluff?

Ruba Nadda is a much less confrontational director than Sofia Coppola but in her own way she perfectly captures the near paralysing nature of arriving in a strange place with different customs to your own, the cacophony of sounds and overwhelming images attacking your brain, forcing you to wander around in a disconnected personalised fog. The way she brings you out of that at the same time as Clarkson is staged as wonderfully too.

There is a romantic angle to the film and it is staged with such a subtle touch you might be forgiven for missing it I suppose. That guy from Star Trek DS9 is so much more than a holiday fling, a tool to highlight the social and cultural differences of life in Egypt or a catalyst for personal awakening, he is a character in his own right and the perfect accompaniment to Clarkson's lead.

Having compared the film to Lost in Translation I should point out that this film is more impressive visually but lacks a little of that final punch to the guts that Coppola delivers via Bill Murray, so more than likely won't resonate quite so much with most viewers, but the final scenes, whilst expected, still manage to flaw you with their emotion.

Friday, May 10, 2013

30 Countries Part 11 - 13 (Home/Cache/Reprise)

Home (2009) Dir. Ursula Meier

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 11 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Swiss origin as per its listing on imdb.

Idyllic family unit, living in the countryside, next to an abandoned freeway. The freeway is reopened and their lives change forever.

I expected a movie with this concept to be a little more surreal, instead this is a political message film posing as magic realism disguised as kitchen sink drama.

I cannot even pretend to know what this movie is a metaphor for but I would hazard a guess at the perils of modern life, the planetwide disaster that is technological pollution, mental illness, the importance of family.

It looks amazing from start to finish, Meier does a great job of making you feel dirty and claustrophobic as the film progresses with the help of an excellent cinematographer of course. The story is not explained, the characters are not open books, events unfold and the characters react in different ways. There's a certain amount of similarity to the Todd Haynes film Safe both in terms of central character and visual design which leads me to believe that the major statement is similarly about pollution and/or mental illness.

Of all of the films picked for this challenge Home was one I was most looking forward to and I wasn't disappointed, but for once I am left wishing there had been less realism in a movie.

Cache (2005) Dir. Michael Haneke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 12 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Austrian origin as per its listing on imdb.

"I like the multiplicity of books, because each book is different in the mind of the reader. It's the same with this film - if 300 people are in a cinema watching it, they will al see a different film, so in a way there are thousands of different versions of Hidden. The point being that, despite what TV shows us, and what the news stories tell us, there is never just one truth, there is only personal truth." - Michael Haneke

I guess that told me more about the content of this film than watching it did. I have a lot of respect for the man as an artist and I've enjoyed the films of his that I have seen so far but I am yet to find myself gushing over him like so many others.

This film is an interesting psychological drama bordering on horror that holds your attention throughout by not explaining anything. Well played Heneke as that was obviously your intention. But much like American horror movies this is populated by stupid people who don't behave like normal people when faced with these scenarios. They didn't make Scream for no reason you know. We're all aware that people have to behave like idiots and Haneke is no different, he seems to be trying to subvert the genre whilst following all of the rules of the game.

Reprise (2006) Dir. Joachim Trier

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Part 13 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Norwegian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Joachim Trier is a very interesting director. He takes a little of the Amelie gimmick and rubs it in a heavy dose of coming of age realism to create a sobering yet joyful experience filled with poetic visuals and somehow succeeded in making a quite lovely film despite it being is debut.

I actually dismissed this film repeatedly back when it came in to the video store, deciding not to watch it as it was heavily promoted by people who thought Control was a great comparison for it. I wish I had just given it a go now. It would almost certainly have meant more to me in my youth than the jaded curmudgeon I am today.

It's an inspirational film for any wannabe film maker too, of everything you can take from this movie that is the one thing that sticks in my mind - if you believe in your story and ability you too can make an inspiring and beautiful debut film without spending a zillion dollars or resorting to gimmick and indie cliche.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

30 Countries Parts 8 - 10 (Surveillance/Children of Glory/Little Red Flowers)

Surveillance (2008) Dir. Jennifer Lynch

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 8 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Canadian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Enjoyable enough drama/thriller from the daughter of David Lynch. Lazily referred to as a sick and twisted Rashomon by some reviewers, both with a positive and negative intention. This is nothing like Rashomon in terms of structure, style or content. In the aftermath of a murder in a small town in America two FBI agents question three witnesses who tell the story of the same events from completely different points of view. That sounds like Rashomon I grant you but the approach towards the idea taken by Lynch will not bring Kurosawa to mind in the slightest.

She builds atmosphere from the start and presents some interesting Jim Thompson-esque cops, a basic horror movie family on a road trip complete with creepy child and a young couple with the prerequisite quirk of being crackheads, their stories told in voice over as the events unfold in flashback, slowly building to a dramatic if predictable ending. It bears more similarity to 70s grindhouse (including colour palette) than it does to anything else.

There's nothing too special about the film except perhaps the performance of Pullman & Ormond as the investigating agents or even Stewart & Harper as the cops, both pairings might have been enough to carry an entire movie with a stronger script but the major flaw of the film is that it tries too hard to be too many things and therefore doesn't do anything beyond averagely.

There's too much fake intrigue, too many red herrings, not enough Michael Ironside and not enough depth to the characters to make it work. Overall disappointing considering how much it got right.

Children of Glory (2006) Dir. Krisztina Goda 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 9 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Hungarian origin as per its listing on imdb.

Hungarian made for Hungarian people, a film to memorialise the brave men and women who fought back against Communist oppression in 1956 only to be left to die by the West as Soviet Russia returned to destroy the uprising. There's little in the way of explanation for those of us uneducated on the subject but nevertheless it's an interesting wartime biopic with an Olympic showdown sub-plot which allowed the distributors to use the marketing phrase "Lives of Others meets Chariots of Fire!" Co-starring Sandor Csanyi from Kontroll who has now become my most watched Hungarian actor working in their native language, the ensemble cast all put in good performances and the script, rather bizarrely penned by Joe Eszterhas of Showgirls, Flashdance and Basic Instinct fame, does a good job of keeping enough detail in whilst keeping the final product under two hours.

We were recently in Budapest and learned quite a lot about the various revolutions and some of the horrors perpetrated by the Russian regime, they are stories that deserved to be told to as many people around the world as possible so that these people can be remembered and these acts might never be repeated. For that reason alone you should seek out this movie.

Little Red Flowers (2006) Dir. Yuan Zhang

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Part 10 of the 30 Countries project.

For the purposes of this project this movie is classed as at least partially being of Chinese origin as per its listing on imdb.

Quite intriguingly this Chinese film looking at the uniformity of their preferred society in an undefined period post 1949, could have been classed as an Italian picture. The vagaries of modern film funding.

Much can be said about the strength of the child performers throughout, it is from a child's perspective that we see the magic of the world used for Communist gains afterall, without strong performances this would have been quite dreadful. As it is however they are perfect examples of children; constantly screaming, screeching, moaning, whinging, crying, grizzling and generally giving me a headache. Nope, I'm still not ready for fatherhood.

It's beautifully filmed and I can see exactly why such a big fuss was made of its premiere on British TV several years ago when I first saw clips from it (and have had it recorded and unwatched ever since) but I have a heart of stone and it just didn't effect me the way it is intended to and the way others surely were.

If you're not as cold and hard to the beauty of childlike wonder as I am you may well have a great time with this one.