Archive for the ‘film review’ Category
He’s been dead nearly thirty years now, but the man who practically invented the psychological thriller, conceived and delivered our very idea of filmic suspense, and took horror from 50’s b-grade kitsch into the realm of true terror continues to haunt the psyches of young directors hoping to emulate the master. It seems everyone from Gus van Sant (Psycho) to Anthony Perkins who played the psycho in the original and later directed Psycho III has had a go. I found a great article on /film covering the Hitchcock remake oeuvre – worth checking out.
His career spanned more than five decades, beginning in the silent era. (I wrote a piece on a couple of them last year.)
Yet it wasn’t until the mid 1930′s that his career kicked off with “The Man Who Knew too Much” starring Peter Lorre, but his move to Hollywood in 1939 and the gothic melodrama Rebecca that saw him begin a 25-year reign, where virtually every one of his films was a critical and popular success. He is still voted #1 director of all time in most movie polls.
If you’re curious, but don’t know which of Hitchcock’s 60+ films to begin with, here’s a good start. All of them are easily available on DVD, most with exquisite restorations. Dig in!
- Suspicion (1941)
- Dial M for Murder (1954)
- To Catch a Thief (1955)
- Rear Window (1954)
- North by Northwest (1959)
- Vertigo (1958)
- The Birds (1963)
- Psycho (1960)
- Rope (1948)
High-brow Finnish horror washes all your sins away
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila
At first glance, this may seem like a standard horror flick, other than its setting – 16th century Finland. The Swedes and Russians have just ended 25 years of war and each have sent a party to define the new borders. We meet brothers Eerik and Knut, represent the Swedes, en route to the official rendezvous.
Whilst they are glad for peace, the endless years of war, away from their family has taken its toll and Eerik has become increasingly violent. He declares he has killed 73 people, including a farmer we meet as the film opens, who he claimed wielded an axe. Knut fears for the farmer’s adolescent daughter and locks her in the fruit cellar to keep her safe. As they set out for their destination, he asks Eerik to let her out.
They meet up with the Russians and together they come upon a sauna, built in the middle of the swamp. Nearby is a village not on any of their maps. The people are accommodating, but rather strange – and extraordinarily clean, forever washing themselves and their clothing. There are 73 people in the village, but only one child. And the girl in the swamp is calling more desperately.
This film is a mere 85 minutes long – but the script is so complex and multi-layered and the suspense so thick, it was a relief when it ended. Afterwards, watching the making-of documentary was almost cathartic – seeing how it was made took some of the chill away. A director’s commentary helps answer some of the questions left dangling at the movie’s end, but still – it’s one you will ponder for a while. One of my top choices for 2009.
Un Chien Andalou put both Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel on the map with its opening scene of a young woman passively submitting as her eyeball is sliced open with a razor. An eye-opener even today, in 1929 it was positively shocking – resulting in the movie running in theatres for nearly a year.
One can only imagine what audiences made of the ‘story’ that follows, a surrealistic dreamscape of murder, mishap, severed limbs and ants. Buñuel appears as the eyeball slicer and Dali as a priest dragged across the floor ahead of two pianos weighted with rotting, dead donkeys. Considering its popularity, one can only assume audiences were far more sophisticated than they are today. We demand logical story arcs that rise and fall, resulting in a satisfactory ending. This little flick makes me want to pick up a camera and make a film of my own and is a must-see for anyone with those aspirations.
Look for the two-disc DVD release. Also included on disc one – a 1986 British doco on the life and work of Salvador Dali, which serves as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with the surrealist master – whose life mirrored his art – right until the end. We could however, have lived without the Alka Seltzer ads.
The second disc features Buñuel’s only documentary, Las Hurdes (1933) the story of a remote Spanish village where he first examines the corruption of the Catholic Church, a theme he continued to explore throughout his career. Also included is a doco from 2000 spanning his tumultuous career.
Between his early years as a surrealist filmmaker and his triumphant late-life career that began with Viridiana in 1961, Luis Buñuel made a dozen or so small-budget movies that were largely ignored by critics and audiences alike. Some were dreadful – a 1953 version of Wuthering Heights, where the producer insisted he use a cast comprised mostly of stock car drivers who had been prepped for a comedy. However, The Young One is the best of the lot and might be considered an overlooked masterpiece. Released in 1960, the year before Viridiana, it sits on the cusp of greatness – but you have to get your head around Buñuel working with an American cast in the deep South.
Bernie Hamilton plays Traver, a northern Black man on the run after a white woman accused him of rape. He escapes on a small boat and ends up on a game preserve island, managed by Mr Miller (Zachary Scott). Miller is dealing with the death of his handyman – and wondering what to do with the deceased’s granddaughter, Evvie (Key Meersman.) At first he considers packing her off to the mainland – but suddenly notices she is not the child he had thought. Indeed, with her pouty lips, long legs and casually swaying hips she is very appealing.
Hugo Butler’s brilliant and subtle script slowly intertwines Miller and Traver’s paths – shifting the balance of power as it is revealed that Traver is in fact innocent of rape and Miller, despite soothing his conscience trying to convince himself the illiterate Evvie is little more than a savage – guilty. It would sit well alongside the brilliant Tennessee Williams movies of the 50s and 60s. No special features on the disc, but the package comes with a sixteen page booklet containing a brilliant analysis of the film.
As good as The Young One was, it gave no indication of what was to follow. Viridiana took the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1961 and was promptly banned by both the Spanish government (who had financed the film) and the Vatican for its devious exploration of evil and, well, more evil.
Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a beautiful young nun who hasn’t taken her final vows who visits her uncle and benefactor, the wealthy Don Jaime (Francisco Rabal). Struck by Viridiana’s resemblance to her late aunt, who died before consummating their marriage, Jaime becomes obsessed and ultimately drugs and rapes her.
Viridiana decides she can never return to the convent and opts to stay in the house with Jaime and save the world on her own, starting with the local beggars and homeless. She soon discovers that she cannot change what these people really are and is livid when they ultimately turn on her. Buñuel’s genius is in the exposition of Viridiana – she is not the pious young woman she at first appears, but an arrogant sycophant who ultimately has earned her downfall.
Buñuel followed this with seven masterpieces, including That Obscure Object of Desire and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgiousie. I’m waiting for them to arrive as a box set sometime soon…
Undoubtedly one of the very finest 20th century film directors, best known as the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the early 1920’s. He made nine silent films, honing his directorial and story-telling skills. And while the man is worthy of a much longer thought, I recently acquired The Ring (1927) and The Manxman (1929), two beautifully restored melodramas that look like they were shot last week.
Danish actor Carl Brisson stars in both – his startling blue eyes, dimples and boxer’s physique resulting in one of the more handsome stars of the silent era. Though his film career fell victim to the talkie as his heavy accent made him an unlikely leading man, he went on to star in Broadway musicals and released a number of successful albums. His co-star in The Ring suffered a more horrid fate – finding herself out of work, Lillian Hall-Davis gassed herself and slashed her own throat in 1933 at 35. Czech actress Anny Ondra, playing the love interest in The Manxman, continued to work in film, shifting to Germany in the mid-30′s. There she met and married heavyweight boxing champion, Max Schmeling.
In The Ring, Brisson plays ‘One-Round’ Jack Sander a side-show boxer taking on all comers, saving his money so he can marry his girl, Mabel (Hall-Davis). One night he steps into the ring to find he’s met his match with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter), who takes his winnings and blows it on a silver bracelet for Mabel – which she coyly accepts. It turns out Corby is a professional boxer who takes Sander on as a sparring partner, dallying with Mabel behind Jack’s back. But even the most naive of men will eventually cotton on.
If The Ring were made today, it’d probably star Matthew McConaughey (who bears an amazing resemblence) and the starlet of the moment. However, the carny folk would undoubtedly receive far more politically correct treatment – and the flick is a reminder of just how much our culture has shifted in the last 80 years.
The Manxman is my favourite of the two, with Brisson playing Pete, a fisherman who goes off to make his fortune when he’s thrown out of the public house by his sweetheart’s father. He entrusts his best friend Philip (Malcolm Keen) to look after the lovely and coquettish Kate (Anny Ondra) while he’s gone. Philip and Anny become the best of friends, both aware that if Pete were not in the picture they would fall in love, though Philip is hesitant as he is from an upper class family and wishes to pursue a career in law. His family assures him she will never do.
When they receive news that Pete has been killed in an accident, they give in to the long-pent passions. Hitchcock has some fun here, euphemistically grinding some millstones stones in one love scene and having a ship ‘slip’ into a harbour in another. But before they can make plans, it turns out that Pete is still alive – and he’s coming home.
Hitchcock keeps a reign on his actors, limiting the overdramatising so often associated with silents, which can render them unwatchable. (However the use of lipstick and eyeliner on the male stars is a little bizarre.) He also stays away from quote panels, which disturb the pace of the film and remind me the film is silent, despite the score. Instead he relies on visual clues and expects you to do a little bit of lip reading. This was also a way to get around the censors, especially in the second film, dealing with adultery and fornication. I was on the edge of my seat here wondering how it would turn out.
These films are for Hitchcock fans, interested in his early works. He was still a young man learning his craft here, unlike Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Fritz Lang or F.W Murnau who were at the top of their game and produced stunning work. Indeed, Hitchcock appears to have begun his career more as a lightweight – focussing on love triangles. But he moved on…
Notorious, from 1946 with Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains is my favourite Hitch – what’s yours?
His agent believes in him, but he learns to believe in his Michael Jackson self when he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton). She lures him to Scotland where she lives with her husband Charlie Chaplin and daughter Shirley Temple in a commune with a dozen other impersonators.
They are building a performance centre in the hope that once it is built, audiences will come. We are treated to enchanting performances from Madonna, the Three Stooges, Buckwheat and Sammy Davis jun, not to mention the Queen, who capture both the essence of the original characters and the isolation and alienation of the people behind them.
Meanwhile, in a remote convent in Panama, Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog) delivers emergency food rations to area villages, the nuns sitting in the back of his rickety old plane, tossing packages out the cargo bay.
When the plane jerks, a nun falls out, and with her habit flapping furiously, she prays for the Lord to save her. She lands in a field, dazed but unharmed.
The rest of the convent soon take up skydiving sans parachute – a genuine miracle, which Father Umbrillo is very proud of, though he declines to jump himself. He decides to visit the Vatican and show the Pope.
Though the two stories never connect, they run on an emotional parallel, as director Harmony Korine takes us on a curious journey through a forgotten corner of the human psyche, examining our identity, our ability to do the impossible and just what it will cost us in the end.
Mister Lonely is far more colourful and, if not life affirming, at least more life loving than Korine’s chaotic debut, the cult classic Gummo (1997). Unfortunately, there are no special features on the DVD.
Forty-five years into their career, the Rolling Stones team up with Martin Scorsese, Jeff White, Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy, 18 of the finest cameramen in the business and a couple thousand of the luckiest ticket-holders in the world for two nights in New York’s wonderfully intimate Beacon Theatre.
With President Clinton ‘opening’ the show, the result is pure magic.
Sure, it’s easy to poke fun at the ageing Glimmer Twins, Mick’s once baby-face and pouting lips are desiccated, and Keith’s crepe-paper arms sag like a 90-year-old woman’s. Get them up on stage with Ron Woods, Charlie Watts and the rest of their entourage and it’s clear time is still on their side as they crack into a “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as electrifying as in 68, 78, 88, or 98.
Scorsese, bless his rocking little heart, understands audiences want to see and hear every song from start to finish, feeds us cynical little interview snippets from the past 40 years of reporters asking the band when their going to quit, in between songs.
Christina Aguilera lends her pipes on “Live With Me,” and Jack White takes a turn at the mic on “Loving Cup, ” while Buddy Guy tests his chops on “Champagne & Reefer.”
Scout out the 3-disc special edition.
Disc 1 contains the flick and special features including four songs cut for running time, a behind the scenes featurette and an interactive version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” I couldn’t quite get my head around.Disc 2 is a digital copy for your Ipod and Disc 3 the soundtrack CD. It’s all packed up in a flash box with a souvenir booklet. Simply brilliant.
Mike Leigh’s last outing was the relentless depressing and despairing Vera Drake (2005). With Happy-Go-Lucky he pulls a 180 and introduces us to the deliriously optimistic Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins) whose first thought at discovering her beloved bicycle has been stolen is, “I didn’t even get to say good-bye!”
Without her wheels, Poppy accepts that at 30, it is time to learn to drive and organises an instructor to give her weekly lessons. Scott (Eddie Marsan, best known for his baddie roles in Hancock and Mission: Impossible III) is miserable and unlucky, stuck in a life he never wanted because other people have always been out to get him. Surly and cranky, he is the antithesis of Poppy. While she doesn’t give him a second thought, each week she gets under his skin and on his nerves just a little bit more – so much so, she suspects he might be stalking her just a little.
Poppy lives with her best mate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) also a primary school teacher. They plan lessons, big nights out and scheme over how to meet Mr Right – both of them fending off family pressures to marry and settle down, defiantly happy with their lives as self sufficient, independent women.
But in the midst of this happiness, Poppy has occasional moments wondering what her life is really all about. She finds herself needling Scott, deliberately taunting him over his catch phrase, “En-ra-ha,” not realising she might be pushing him over the edge.
Happy-Go-Lucky is a rare film, absolutely joyous, but so rooted in the reality of day-to-day life it never feels false or forced. Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins form a perfect team, coming up with possibly my favourite movie of the year.
Special features include: Behind the Wheel, a making-of doco on how Hawkins and Marsan did all the driving themselves; a featurette on the key characters; plus an image gallery and the trailer.
Director: Neil Marshall
…Until the Reaper mysteriously resurfaces in London in 27 years. A team of crack military scientists, headed up by uber-fit Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra, Boston Legal), will venture into that forsaken territory in search of survivors whose blood will contain antibodies to be used as basis for a cure.
When they arrive they will find a land ruled by opposing factions – one group gone back to its medieval roots reoccupying castles and eking out a subsistence living, headed up by a psychotic Malcolm MacDowell.
The other has taken refuge in cannibalistic 1980′s disco-punk, led by MacDowell’s psychopathic son Sol (Craig Conway) who pales beside uber-girlfriend, Viper (South African stuntwoman Lee-Anne Liebenberg, virtually stealing the flick in her first feature role).
Anyone for a barbecue?
Where did they get those weapons? The petrol? Who’s growing food? Providing the drugs? Designing those fabulous outfits?
Terrible, nonsensical, full of plot holes – but anyone who loves a good yarn with the sound turned up to 11 will not be able to tear their eyes away. In the spectacular final car chase, set to with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”, Mitra drives a sports car through a bus, and I was cheering them on. Neil Marshall has stripped this flick down to the bare essentials – sex, drugs and rock’n'roll… It’s got no class – but it’s got style and guts and a vision of the future no worse than the latest swine flu scare-mongers have got on offer. Bring it on!
Special features include three making-of featurettes and an entertaining commentary.
Ang Lee is one of the few directors who can tackle virtually any genre, and with a few exceptions (2003′s The Hulk leaps to mind) come up with something marvellous if not exceptional (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000, Brokeback Mountain, 2005).
Lust, Caution is a slow-burning thriller set in WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Wong Chia Chi (27 year-old Wei Tang in her film debut) is university freshman, abandoned by her father, and living with relatives. She has no sense of belonging – anywhere or to anyone. She joins a drama group who long to be part of the Chinese resistance and discovers an unknown talent..
When the troup’s plan grows grander, she agrees to take on the role of a lifetime – seducing Mr Yee (Tony Leung), a corrupt government minister responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Chinese resisters. She will lure him away from his heavily armed security, so he can be assassinated.
This means Chia Chi must learn to dress, speak and also perform sexually – the way Yee would expect, not as a virginal university student. Of all the indignities she has to bear, I found this ‘training’ the most painful.
Eventually she succeeds in her mission to seduce Yee, but any sense of control is immediately shattered. Though she never wavers from the purpose of her mission, her encounters with the cruel and emotionless Mr Yee are the only time Chia Chi truly feels truly alive. She is longing for him as much as she longs to see him dead.
It is simply impossible to do justice to this film in a few hundred words. There is the complexity of Chinese politics in a time of occupation. Chia Chi’s personal story. And then there is the issue of the thousands of women who’ve performed this wartime ‘service’ for their countries who, if considered at all, are more likely to be called whores than heroes.
At 2 hours and 39 minutes, Lust, Caution is long and the first half hour lingers over the manners and habits of the moneyed class. Joan Chen has a small but interesting role as Yee’s wife, caught up in gossip, shopping and mah jhong.
Yet once the story begins to move it is riveting. The breathtakingly frank sex scenes (for which Tang was blackballed by the Beijing film industry) are unforgettable – and are the one caveat I offer before recommending this film. If you are even moderately easily offended, the sex scenes will likely take you out of your comfort zone – as much as they do Tang’s character, which is why they are entirely appropriate.
Jane Campion’s delicate, almost leisurely construction of Kiwi Janet Frame’s autobiographies is one of those rare films that draw you completely into its world, so while watching you lose all sense of time and place. Frame’s life unfolds at so naturally, you may not notice the overlap of the three actresses (Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, Kerry Fox) playing the quirky girl with unruly red hair.
Though exceptionally bright, and a good student, Frame is an outcast on the playground, envying the popular girls who always know what to say. Yet, at home, despite the family’s poverty, she and her three sisters create a magical world where she is safe and completely loved.
When her adored older sister Myrtle drowns, Janet begins to unravel. Though she continues to study and finishes teachers college, her ability to cope with the ‘real’ world declines and she is sent to Seacliff, a mental hospital on the South Island where she is subjected to 200 shock treatments for schizophrenia and barely escapes a lobotomy because a book of her short stories has won a literary prize.
She emerges from this horror and with the help of writer Frank Sargeson and other writers and artists, slowly finds the strength to live in the world. This is an exceptional film and an exceptional story that would be highly recommended regardless of where it came from. That it is a New Zealand movie makes it an absolute must-see.
Unlike Campion’s The Piano (1993) which has yet to receive a decent DVD release, An Angel at My Table has been given a high-definition digital remaster, supervised by director of photography Stuart Dryburgh, so the look of the film itself is simply perfect; and the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does justice to Don McGlashan’s melancholy score.
The producers have put together a surprisingly good set of special features, including a short making-of doco, deleted scenes, commentary with Campion, Fox & Dryburgh and a 23 minute radio interview done with Janet Frame for Radio New Zealand in 1984. Also included in the package is a 40-page booklet including an essay on Campion and extensive excerpts from Frame’s autobiographies. As good as it gets.