Anomalisa (2015), An extended Review.

Anomalisa

Director(s) – Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

Writer(s) – Charlie Kaufman

Starring – David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

Set to hit UK cinemas 11th March, this stop-motion comedy drama has turned heads in the states; garnering immense critical acclaim. From the mercurial Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa, despite starring stop-motion puppets, manages to be the most authentically human film released thus far this year.

In 2005, self-help author Michael Stone (Thewlis) travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to promote his latest book at a customer service convention. He is distant to everyone around him, whom he perceives as identical white men with identical faces and voices (Tom Noonan), including his wife and son. He meets Bella in the hotel bar, an old flame of his whose manifestation haunts him; still angry, she is outraged by his invitation to his room and storms out. After taking a shower, Michael hears a female voice. He rushes from his room to find its owner: an insecure young woman named Lisa Hesselman (Leigh). Quickly, he forms a romantic attachment, and finds the excitement his mundane life had been missing.

The screenplay for this film could well be one of the finest pieces of writing in modern cinema; balancing seamlessly both comedy and drama, the dialogue is extremely authentic and entirely stripped of ‘cinematic jargon’. So much so, that it takes some adjustments, as we are so conditioned not to hear people within film or Television actually talk like human beings. Once you get over the naturalistic pauses in speech that accompany genuine human speech patterns, you are rewarded with a rich and subversive work of art.

 The themes are deep and haunting; the idea of isolation, of feeling alone and of feeling as though everybody around you were identical clones of one another, are all deep and rich themes that resonate highly with me personally, and allowed me to deeply sympathise with Michael’s situation. The idea that society around you feels like a procession of clones, and you stand alone on an island as an individual confused by the constant flow, is one that works every time when deployed well.

The small touch of having Tom Noonan do every voice that isn’t Michael or Lisa is extraordinarily simple, yet equally clever. It instantly conveys to us the audience that Michael’s state of mind is not entirely stable, and as such his descent into delusion and lunacy is authentic, powerful and moving.

 Visually, the claymation is beautifully rendered, whilst adding an extra layer of creepyness that underpins the film’s themes. This isn’t claymation simply as an aesthetic choice, rather it enhances the narrative. It is beautiful and jarring and mesmeric, and thoroughly works.

What I loved about this film above all else was its genuine and touching love story. Both Michael and Lisa are rich and interesting characters and, most importantly feel like actual human beings, human beings with flaws that we can sympathise with and get behind. There is also a beautiful poetry behind the idea of two of society’s outcasts, both scarred and afraid of the world, finding one another and forming a beautiful bond.

In fact, I actually haven’t got a bad thing to say about this film. It moves along at a good pace, never sagging or boring. The characters are all rich, the world beautiful and dynamic, and the central narrative is one of the most touching stories I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Come March 11th I suggest you head out to your local cinema and see this movie. In a landscape of remakes, reboots and sequels; it is a wholly original and moving piece of cinema that demands to be seen. A modern classic.

Final Rating – 5/5

 

Joshua Moulinie

One Armed Swordsman (1967), A Retrospective Review

OAS

Director – Chang Cheh

Writer – Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang

Starring – Jimmy Wang, Angela Pan, Lisa Chiao Chiao

This has to be one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Though I adore films of the wuxia genre, I put off watching this one for a while because of the gimmicky title. But this film is no gimmick. It has a depth, message, and emotional profundity to it far beyond expectation.

The titular hero in question is Fang Kang (Jimmy Kang), an orphaned boy, raised as a son by his martial arts master, whose life was saved by the death of his own father. Forever indebted to his master – who in turn is indebted to him – Kang is compelled to leave his master’s tutelage due to the vindictive jealousy of his master’s other students, including his beautiful, yet spoilt daughter, Qi Pei (Angela Pan). However, as he attempts to retreat, he suffers a confrontation with his antagonists which results in the loss of his right arm.

Fortuitously, he is saved by a virtuous country girl (Lisa Chiao Chiao) who nurses him back to health. But, with the return of his health, he must come to terms with the crippling loss of his arm, and his identity as a martial artist by extension. Though he loves his new simple, idyllic lifestyle, he still thirsts for the combative skill that will give him the ability to help and protect others. Thus, he determinedly strives to master the art of one-armed combat.

Yet, as the film philosophically demonstrates, with supreme skill in conflict comes both unavoidable violence and responsibility. As the Taoist sage Chuang Tzu observed ‘Only useful trees are cut down. The useless ones live to a ripe old age.” So, Kang becomes embroiled in the dangerous contention between his master (Tien Feng) and his long-standing opponent, Long-Armed Devil – a cold-hearted sadist, hell-bent on exposing all the deficiencies of his enemy’s technique.

One-Armed Swordsman is a masterpiece of Chinese story-telling. Due to Buddhist and Taoist influence, the Chinese consciousness houses a deep awareness of the mechanisms of fate and karma, and how both work out circumstantially in everyone’s lives, binding us all together. Such awareness was only deepened by Confucian philosophy, and its exact codification of the complexities of human interaction. It is the use of the karma in this narrative as an agent bringing people unexpectedly yet appropriately together which makes this story so powerful.

For one thing, though this film is violent, violence is in no way glorified. Most of the fight sequences are cold and graceful in execution, yet the deaths are swift and sudden, really emphasizing to the viewer that, no matter how glamorous skill in combat may look on the surface, death and pain for all those involved is always the inevitable result.

We really feel the pain and conflict within Kang when he howls in anguish at having realized he has lost both his arm and his guiding purpose in life; as well as the sad poignancy between him and his lover, whose own father died in mortal combat, and yet, who is willing to forswear her own detestation for kung-fu, in favour of the man she loves. Given that most of my relationships were drawn to a close due to my conflict between either loyalty to my partners, or loyalty to my spirituality, it was a point that touched me very deeply.

And, though violence always leads to desolation, watching Jimmy Kang fighting with only one arm is, to me, the definition of beauty. His manner is so relaxed and insouciant, yet his reflexes are so swift; his unconventional, yet incredibly elegant style, reminding me somewhat of Toshiro Mifune’s samurai roles in Kurosawa’s filmography, yet with own special blend of unexpectedness and emotional depth.

There is one particularly superb moment in a tea-room, where Kang is ambushed by a set of rival martial artists. Instead of fighting directly, he sits listlessly in the tearoom, as though his opponents weren’t even there, sending them back in shockwaves and spasms every time he makes the slightest move – true martial power.

The camerawork is graceful, mobile, yet inspired, dynamically bringing every scene to life with subtle force and brilliance. The set designs are also exquisite and beautiful, exacting and authentic in their reproduction of the Chinese countryside, yet just unreal enough to give it a remote fairy-tale feel, as though you are being personally conducted through a sequence of just-so Chinese paintings.

This film said a lot to me about the hidden depth and meaning in all the circumstances and meetings in our lives – things that I can feel deeply, yet not yet put into words. I hope the film will also speak to you deeply, and bless you with its wordless wonder.

Final Rating – 5/5

Check out the trailer here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOe4I3NSgQ8

 

Reuben F.Tourettes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

400 Days (2015), A Review

400 days

Director – Matt Osterman

Writer – Matt Osterman

Starring – Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook

Throughout my life as a cinephile, two genres have always resonated with me more than any other. Those being Sci-Fi and the Psychological thriller. So, you can imagine my excitement when I found a recent release marketed as both. Could this be this generations Event Horizon? (Which is a much better film that it’s given credit for.). Unfortunately, the answer is no, as the second directorial attempt of relative unknown Matt Osterman is a  jumbled mess of a film.

Four astronauts in training are locked into a bunker for 400 days as part of a simulation experiment to see how they cope in isolation. We find out that, just before the mission began, Theo (Brandan Routh), and Emily (Lotz) were engaged to be married, but she broke it off just before the mission. As the days began to pass tension rises between the various members of the mission, as the claustrophobia and over-exposure to one another begins to take its effect. After several members begin to suffer hallucinations, a mysterious figure finds its way into the ship, and then a surreal nightmare unfolds as the lines between simulation and reality are blurred

The premise is actually pretty great, and the screenplay begins very well. The relationship dynamic is told to us in a clever manner, the dialogue never feeling particularly clunky. The problem is, as with most of the subplots within this film, that the relationship is seemingly then ignored for the duration of the run time before being revisited towards the end. This mean there is no real chemistry build between Emily and Theo , or any issues resulting from this particularly fascinating story thread. Instead, it’s largely forgotten until the end, when the screen writer seemingly goes ‘Oh yeah, they were in a relationship, should probably do something with that.’ It all falls very flat and hollow, and, possibly, never even needed to be there in the first place.

This film is also ridiculously unsure as to what it is trying to be; beginning as a potential claustrophobic relationship drama, before descending into a claustrophobia thriller, then becoming a conspiracy story, before seemingly morphing into Silent Hill, before ending in slasher film territory. This feels less like a clever bending of genres and more like a film or writer who begins a lot of various ideas but never quite sees them through, before rapidly moving onto the next plot point. The one hook that keeps you watching is the potential mystery of the ending, and ambiguity of plot. I won’t spoil it for you, but I can tell you this; the film ends in the lamest way possible. It has a very ‘is that it? seriously?’ feel to it and confuses you in all the wrong ways. It’s predictable, but, in light of the third act of the film, absolutely stupid.

The characters are all boring caricatures; Theo the broken-hearted brooder, Cole (Cook) the cynical and aggressive asshole, Emily the sensitive female voice of reason, and Bug (Feldman) is so bland he may as well be a cardboard cut-out spouting randomly generated phrases out of a P.C. Also, when did this idea that all Sci-Fi psychologists are female come from? It seems to have become a trend recently. I think there could be an article in there somewhere.

No member of the cast ever inspires or particularly impresses, whilst never being particularly poor either. Routh’s post-Superman career continues to be stagnant and uninspiring. Lotz is a decent actress who did little to wow me. Cook is laughably over the top as the stock asshole character, and a cardboard cut-out of Feldman probably could have matched his performance as Bugg, because as previously stated, Bugg is really, really boring.

Even the cinematography and directing is uninspiring, as nothing is ever stand out, innovative or interesting. It isn’t bad, by any stretch, but plays it safe and goes by the numbers. The result is decent, but uninspiring.

Unfortunately, this is a case where a film had a marvelous premise with infinite potential, but absolutely fails to decide on a certain direction, tries to do way too much, and in the end fails spectacularly at everything. Not a train wreck, and possibly worth a watch at least once, but the next time you criticise Interstellar watch this instead. Believe me, you’ll quickly change your tune.

Final Rating – 3.4

Suspiria (1977), a Retrospective Review

Suspiria

Director – Dario Agento

Writer(s) – Dario Agento, Daria Nicolodi

Starring – Jessica Harper, Joan Benett, Alida Valli

From cult icon Dari Agento comes easily one of his finest ever efforts, that also serves a basic lesson in audio/visual idiosyncrasy for those polluting the contemporary horror scene with their continuous line of drivel. Whilst today’s efforts tend to lean on gimmicks and jump scares, Agento reminds of us of a finer time when directors knew how to hit us where it truly hurts; deep inside our subconscious.

Suspiria tells the tale of Suzy Bannion (Harper), an American student who joins a prestigious dance academy in Freiburg; only to be turned away on her first night, the same night a fellow student is expelled, and Suzy sees her frantically trying to mouth a warning, a warning she can’t quite catch. She then arrives at the academy the next day and everything appears to be in order, until she discovers that the student from the previous night had been brutally murdered. Surreal shenanigans then begin, as Suzy finds herself in the depths of a deep and disturbing mystery and she attempts to uncover the dark heart at the Academy’s center.

Whilst the screenplay isn’t magnificent, it also never falls into poor or awful territory either. The dialogue is, mostly, believable and not ridiculously jam packed full of exposition. Still, there are some awfully clunky moments, particularly towards the end. It’s a relatively decent writing effort and at the very least the mystery is intriguing and enigmatic, and encourages one to continue watching.

The performances, also, are never particularly bad nor particularly great, and one particular segment towards the end is laughably poor; in fact, I think the ending was my biggest gripe with this whole thing, but Harper is serviceable if unspectacular and is never poor enough to drag one out of it. Benett and Valli are both pretty decent; being the pretentious and rude type one might associate with such highly held locales, whilst suggesting more sinister undertones.

Now, this is what the film doesn’t do particularly well, and I wanted to get it out of the way early, so I can talk about everything the film does do absolutely spectacularly well. Truth be told, as a horror film, great writing is rarely what one attends to see. Rather, you want to be uncomfortable, disturbed, provoked and evoked; Suspiria manages all of these things beautifully.

The key, I believe, to creating a fine piece of horror fiction is understanding basic human psychology. Perhaps nobody in the history of cinema has understood it better than the great David Lynch, who could make a seemingly normal scene feel monstrous via his genius use of sound and visual cues. Agento gets this clearly, in particular with his over saturation and heavy use of the colour red. Red, historically, can mean two things to us, on a subconscious level; passion, and danger. In this case the reaction is the latter, and the constant and vibrant use of the colour causes a reaction within you that you are barely aware is even transpiring. It is subtle genius, as it reaches into the dark recesses of your subconscious and causes a reaction deep within, causing you to spend the entire run time on edge, alert and disturbed, without truly knowing why.

The violent scenes are also very scarce, with, to my memory, only four scene of particular violence happening. When they are deployed, however, they are a thing of macabre beauty. In particular a horrific experience with some barb wire is particularly impactful. If you’re a fan of torture porn, you’ll probably be a bit ‘meh’ about this whole thing, but if you’re a fan of torture porn, I’m seriously not the critic for you, and Agento not the director for you either. Agento gets the ‘less is more’ theory that always works well, relying on tension and atmosphere as opposed to splatter and gore, but giving you just enough of the latter to satisfy any primal cravings.

The score is also great; creating a truly hypnotic and mesmerising effect that again burrows into your subconscious and shits out ugly eggs of discomfort. Make no mistake about it, this is not beautifully composed music. It is guttural, and nasty, and industrial, and for all these reasons it works and resonates within your mind in all the worse ways. Goblin deserve a lot of credit for their work here, and I’m going to give it to them.

Now, this isn’t a true masterpiece, akin to the likes of The Shining or The Wicker Man, but it still stands head and shoulders above most of the contemporary scene. This is a raw and brutal assault on your audio/visual senses, that attacks you at your deepest level, and beats you relentlessly until the end. For any horror geeks out there, this is must see.

Final Rating – 4.1

Come Drink With Me (1966), A Retrospective Review

comedrinkwithme

Director – King Hu

Writer(s) – King Hu, Yiu Cheung

Starring – Cheng Pei-Pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-Lit

Though this film is a kung-fu classic, it is the characters, not the combat, that make Come Drink With Me worthy of that honorific.

Making magical use of China’s fairy-tale landscapes and pine-covered hills, Come Drink With Me is a rescue story fronted by the beautiful Cheng Pei-pei as Golden Swallow, a ferocious governor’s daughter and martial artist on a quest to save her brother from an unruly gang of bandits who are keeping him hostage at a local Buddhist Monastery. Along the way she is assisted by Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) an eccentric drunkard and beggar, who, whilst appearing foolish and stupid, is actually wise, crafty, cunning, and undefeatable in combat.

The bandits whom they must fend off are no less distinctive, particularly their leader, Jade-faced Tiger (Chan Hung-lit) who, with his painted face, elven cheekbones, and air of feline femininity makes for an especially sinister villain.

As I said earlier, it is the characters that make this film so loveable. From the moment she appears on screen, Golden Swallow is instantly electrifying, elegantly comporting herself with all the poise of a warrior. Drunken Cat – who does, indeed, have the appearance of a drunken happy cat – is almost like a Chinese version of Charles Dickens’ Fagin, wandering around with a group of children, and singing silly songs in taverns in order to make a living.

With his powerful yet mercurial trickster spirit, he has to be one of my favourite characters that I’ve yet seen in any Chinese movie.

Some of my favourite moments in the film are those set in Drunken Cat’s secret retreat – a beautiful series of bamboo huts with a small river moving between them. Not only does it look like my ideal place of residence, but it is also here that we get to watch Golden Swallow lose some of her ferocity, as Drunken Cat nurses her back to health following a blow from a poison dart.

One of the things I like most about martial arts is its concision, logic, and directness. So, I was quite disappointed when the initial fight scenes I witnessed were frivolous, flamboyant, and, quite frankly, silly, lacking economy in movement. Apparently, this was intentional, as director King Hu was inspired by the stylized fight sequences of Peking Opera. And, while they certainly are entertaining, in no way detracting from the merit of the film, the continuity of the sequences are often shot to ribbons by the poorly executed jump cuts they apparently necessitate.

Otherwise, the camera work is excellent throughout, aided and abetted by a rousing score of Traditional Chinese Music, also worthy of the Peking Opera. If you want to meet a host of lovable characters you’ll never forget, then Come Drink With Me may be just the invitation you’ve been waiting for.

Final Rating – 4.3/5

 

Reuben F.Tourettes

 

 

 

 

 

Seven (1995) , A retrospective review

SE7EN

Director – David Fincher

Writer – Andrew Kevin Walker

Stars – Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow

The next step on my run-down of IMDB’s top 250 films of all times takes me into murky neo-noir territory with ‘Seven’; the film that launched David Fincher, alongside Fight Club (1999)  into a hipster icon, as his posters would go on to adorn, first-year film student’s walls worldwide. It also marked, alongside Silence of The Lambs (1991), a cultural milestone, as the intelligent serial killer returned to push-aside the masked slashers of the 70’s/80’s, and John Doe, The Zodiac Killer, would leave his legacy on cinema forever.

For me personally, Seven is a relatively straightforward affair throughout the first two acts of the film, before morphing into a finale that simply cannot be denied as one of the most intense endings you are likely to see in any film that snuck its way into the mainstream eye and exists outside of the art-house spectrum. Walker’s screenplay begins with some pretty unforgivably clunky exposition; ‘You’re always asking questions Somerset’, that relatively quickly present to us our character dynamics and what sort of players this game will be featuring. Eventually though, once this exposition is dealt with and the script is allowed to breath naturally, it evolves into a good (if not great) one. Particularly, a later speech on the nature of Apathy by Freeman’s Somerset is impressive.

In terms of the aforementioned characterisations, the film unfortunately relies on old tropes and charicatures that do nothing whatsoever to break any new ground. We’ve got Freeman’s Somerset; the old, cynical detective who’s consistent familiarisation with death and debauchery has left him emotionally cold to the world. This in turn allows him to thoroughly think rationally and calmly about every small detail, never allowing emotion to get in the way. Think a contemporary Sherlock Holmes, minus the opium addiction, and you’ve pretty much summarised Somerset.

He’s paired up with Brad Pitt’s David Mills; a hot-headed ‘rookie’, still full of hope for the world, run purely by emotion, which leads him at first into conflict with Somerset, before, predictably, they earn one another’s respect. This isn’t necessarily poor writing, as the relationship feels authentic enough, it just feels like we’ve seen it all before. More than likely, you have. And, as for Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Mills’ wife, Tina, the less said the better. The character exists entirely as a plot device in order to; A, bring together Mills and Somerset as a unit, and B, in order to play the ending’s McGuffin. I’m not an active feminist, but even I was irked by how important her character was to the narrative, yet simultaneously how she, as a human being, was devoid of anything interesting to do or say.

Seven, as a story, is an intriguing yarn, if predictable in places. (It was obvious the fingerprints behind the painting would lead to the next victim as opposed to the killer) – but perhaps that was intentional, as we the audience reflect the cynicism of Freeman’s Somerset. Unfortunately, the rapid-editing and dramatic police shots suggest we were supposed to buy it, temporarily. I hope not, because I certainly didn’t and can think of few intelligent film-goers who would. Fincher’s direction throughout is strong enough, and the cinematography is decent if nothing particularly innovative, other than one impressive chase sequence, and THAT ending. We get a lot of noir staples; flashlights, darkness, low-lighting, emotional close-ups, and what is most impressive is the muted or ‘greyed-over’ colour palette that would remain a Fincher staple right up until Gone Girl in 2014. The mis-en-scene matches the film’s atmosphere tone-perfectly, and as such deserves praise.

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that Seven was designed and built around the emotional impact of its final act, an act so powerful that, like the Sixth Sense, you don’t remember how the rest of the film wasn’t that impressive until several hours after you’ve finished the movie. A lot of this is down to Kevin Spacey as his performance as John Doe violently wrenches the spotlight from Freeman and Pitt, and in turn his performance, whilst the shortest of the three, in terms of screen time, superscedes them both. That’s not to say that Freeman or Pitt are bad, as neither ever are, but Spacey is just that damn good. From the moment he enters the picture until the moment he exits, he steals the show and elevates the film to a higher plateu. The parallels in thought pattern’s between Doe and Somerset give the film an extra dimension in the final act, as we realise they are merely two sides of one coin.

Seven is effectively a very decent if unoriginal neo-noir thriller, featuring a unique and iconic villain that transcends the film’s final act into a work of pure tension. If the film doesn’t immediately draw you in, despair not, and stick with it. This is all about the final act, and it delivers in a blaze of glory.

 

Final Rating – 4.2

 

Joshua Moulinie.

In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, 2012), A retrospective review

In Another Country

Director – Hong Sang-soo

Writer – Hong Sang-soo

Starring – Isabelle Huppert, Yoo Jun-sang

Country of origin – South Korea

It is generally considered the reason why films are so exciting is because they excise all of the meaningless fat from life, and leave just the juiciest extremities: our moments of great passion, adventure, romance, grief, and disaster.

But In Another Country is engaging and engrossing precisely because it is not exciting. Filmed in an unassuming, eternally foggy south-Korean seaside town, the film is comprised of three different stories, each one containing most of the same characters, the same locations, even some of the same events and dialogue, but with lots of beautiful and subtle variations to each of them. All of the stories focus on Anne (Isabella Huppert) a French woman staying at a seaside resort. In the first, she is film actress; in the second, she is having secret getaway with a South Korean man with whom she is having an affair; and in the third, she is a recent divorcee trying to escape her woes.

As said above, not a lot happens. The film is almost completely comprised of a series of insignificant incidents – the loss of a phone, the borrowing of an umbrella, the smashing of a beer bottle, petty arguments and small talk – all of the tiny brick-a-brac of experience that add unacknowledged color to our days. Because the director’s stylistic use of long shots, natural sounds, and natural lighting make it very clear from the offset that nothing of tremendous moment will happen, all of these tiny moments gradually begin to seem incredibly important. The smallest insouciant gesture becomes a ballet – an offhand word becomes a sonnet, imparted with the greatest poignance.

In this respect, the film is almost an exercise in narrative spaciousness. Each subsequent story seems to fill in the tiny gaps its predecessor hinted at but did not explore, so we get a sense of marvellous, yet tiny, wholesomeness, as these charming parallel realities nuzzle freshly into one another. It’s wonderfully magical and human – a delicate ode to all the purposeless ephemera of life, and just how much they really matter to us. And, throughout the film, it is a delight to have Huppert’s apathetically sassy Frenchness contrasted with the innocent yet clumsy propriety of her South Korean co-actors.

It is a film about dimensions, and the multiplicity of dimensions that exists gently within our every choice. If you want to be amused, without knowing why, and spellbound without being able to explain it, then you’d better visit In Another Country.

Final Rating – 4

Reuben F.Tourettes.