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.

 

 

 

 

 

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – A Retrospective Review

One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo's_Nest_poster

Director – Milos Forman

Writer – Laurence Hauben, Bo Goldman

Starring – Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher

 

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest is considered, by many, an elite film. It sits at a lofty height on the I.M.D.B’s top 250 (Incidentally the inspiration that led me to finally watch it), is widely spoken of in many discussions of ‘the greatest films ever made’, and holds an incredible record, as only one of three films in the history of cinema, alongside The Silence of The Lambs ( Demme, 1991) and  It Happened One Night (Capra, 1934) to sweep the Academy Awards main categories. It is safe to say that in the eyes of the general public, and the Academy themselves, this is a very special film. Somehow, despite my years of a cinephile and obsession with cinema, I’d never sat through it as a whole. That is, until now.

What quickly became apparent to me as an observer , is that is no visual masterpiece. The cinematography and the editing are both very simple, yet remain relatively effective. Forman never stops to worry too much about ‘the perfect shot’ or immaculate framing, and thus, as a visual piece, it is a very difficult film to rate. Let us not forget, of course, that film in its dawn was a strictly visual medium, before evolving into a beautiful merger of music and imagery, before eventually introducing dialogue into the equation. As such, one can have the greatest screenplay in the world, but if your visual elements are boring, does any of it really matter? Of course it does. However, striking visuals can elevate a film to true greatness, and perhaps it’s telling that the one Academy Award Cuckoo’s Nest did not pick up was cinematography. Now, this is a minor gripe, and simply me attempting to bring a balance to this review, as the rest is going to be exceedingly positive.

The film is driven, as the awards lavished out would suggest, by the two central performances. Jack Nicholson , as recidivist anarchistic figure Randle ‘Mac’ McMurphy, who in his desperate desire to avoid the work-farm, or to alter his behaviour, has himself declared clinically insane and sectioned. What Mac didn’t account for, was the steely and domineering figure of Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratchet. Mac quickly discovers that life isn’t the breezy scenario he envisaged in the mental instituion, as Nurse Ratchet employs dirty tactics such as humiliation and a forced mind-numbingly boring routine, in order to suppress and pacify the patients. Mac, being the Paul Newman-esque figure he is, quickly goes to war with Ratchet, and a fascinating battle of wills and determination breaks out that is delightful to revel in.

The two actors bounce off one-another extraordinarily, with Fletcher’s cold, calm and calculated showing as Ratchet a perfect juxtaposition to Nicholson’s agent of chaos and destruction, Mac. Whilst there is a lot more going on throughout the film than simply a showdown between two people, that is the central drive. That is what makes this film so fascinating and endearing. Mac continuously tries to drive his fellow inmates out of a state of docileness, trying to bring life back to them. Ratchet however, tries everything in her power to keep a sense of order and calmness. The two are the complete antithesis of one another as characters, but crucially, are the two most alike characters in the entire film, and it is there that the genius truly lies. Batman and The Joker have existed as the iconic comic-book rivalry all these years because whilst the characters outwardly appear to be the opposite of one another, under closer inspection we realise they are two sides of the same coin. The same can be said here, and in turn we get one of cinema’s fascinating duels, as the two battle for the soul of the inmates. I won’t tell you how it pants out, but I must say the ending is truly one of American cinema’s finest moments.

In fact, if one asked me to summarise Cuckoo’s Nest as a piece, in one sentence, I’d refer it thus; ‘ A good film of magnificent moments’. I think the two hour run-time is a bit generous, and the film could have been cut down, but this is less a continuously brilliant piece of art, more a series of fantastic moments. In particular the iconic scene when Mac, after being denied the right to view the World Series, merely pretends to view it instead. Not only does this moment magically define his character as a rebel that will allow literally nothing to prevent him getting his own way, but it is also a moment of true happiness for his fellow inmates and a small victory over the rigid authoritarian figure of Nurse Ratchet. This is a balanced film, however, and every small victory and moment of triumph is quickly balanced by a swift punishment, and Forman pulls no punches in this regards. In particularly, I am not ashamed to admit I had a tear in my eye during the final scene between Chief and Mac.

It’s a testament to the brilliant writing that this moment hits home, as Hauben and Goldman paint a beautiful portrait of friendship between Chief and Mac with Chief having not said an entire word the entire time. By the time the final scene hits, you firmly believe in the respect and admiration they have for one another, and it is an emotional sucker punch. Of course, the writing between Mac and Ratchet is equally brilliant, and as a whole I’d say this is a fantastic screenplay. Most importantly of all, the ‘nuts’ are all endearing, likable, and never once do they feel like they are their as comic-relief or fodder. Everybody has a purpose, nobody is the butt of anybody’s joke.

Cuckoo’s Nest is in general a great film, that at times feels weighted down a bit by it’s run length, and sometimes can appear as a series of magical moments as opposed to a beautiful running work of art. Nicholson puts in an electric performance (although he still can’t quite shake his ‘I’m always Jack Nicholson’) shtick, and I’m not sure if I’d have handed him best actor personally, but it is nevertheless an engrossing and captivating performance. I was more impressed by Fletcher’s turn as Nurse Ratchett, as her ice-queen matriarch act was pitch-perfect and wholeheartedly believable. Forman pulls of a great, if not magical directing job, and the score is relatively memorable, if never particularly excellent. This is not one of the greatest films of all time, far from it, but it is a great one nevertheless.

FINAL SCORE – 4.4

 

Joshua Moulinie

36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) – A Retrospective look

36th Chamber of Shaolin 

Director – Liu Chia – Liang

Writer – I Kuang

Stars – Gordon Lio, Lo Lieh

36th chamber

Martial arts movies hold a strong fascination for me. Though I am a peaceful person by nature, I am attracted to the motions of its best practitioners, whose mastery readily exemplifies harmony of body and mind. Martial arts is not about aggression – it is about preserving peace. Every move, stance, and yell is encoded with thousands of years of Eastern philosophy, the teachings of Zen masters and Taoist immortals carefully interwoven into every flexed muscle.

The best martial arts combat does not look like fighting, but like a dance between two poisonous snakes – a courtship ritual between two fully erect cranes. Every move is peaceful and untroubled – even when death is close at hand.

If you enjoy watching such mastery in motion, then I recommend the 1978 classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin. Staged during a tumultuous period of Chinese history, the local populace are striving to fend themselves against their tyrannical Manchu rulers. One young student (Liu Chia-Hui) laments that if only they were adept in martial arts, then they might be able to defend themselves.

With this idea in mind, he becomes ordained as a monk at the famous Shaolin Monastery, where he is instructed in these sacred arts. Along the way, we see San Te progress from a novice, into the very image of peaceful ferocity. The actor’s face has a look of concentrated intensity only Bruce Lee could surpass, carving itself into your mind. Making his way through 35 chambers, he attains mastery in every part of his being.

Because of this, 36th Chambers is elevated from the empty revenge story it could have been, and instead becomes a story about spiritual progress and self-realization. Because every fight or display is integral to the story, and not just gratuitous violence, the beauty of the narrative flows excellently, every scene eminently memorable and influential.

 

One particularly nice touch is the minimal use of music. During the practice or fight sequences, the sound effects and motion tell the story alone, only adding to its intensity. One notable instance is when San Te is challenged to repeatedly bang an enormous bell every time his master strikes a woodblock. Sound, strength, and camera angle tell the story – all superfluous music and dialogue stricken from inclusion.  A consummate, inspiring moving. Master this, and you’ll master yourself!

Rating – 4.5

Reuben F.Tourettes

The Revenant

The Revenant

Director – Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu

Screenplay – Mark Smith and Alejandro Gonzales I Iñárritu

Starring – Leonardo Di Caprio, Tom Hardy

Last year when I sat down to watch Birdman at the cinema, I did so entirely on a whim. I knew little to nothing bout Iñárritu and had largely avoided reading much about what the film entailed. I went in blind, and I was astounded. Here I saw a director at the peak of his powers, a potential all time-great in the making. After seeing The Revenant, this time with the hype machine firmly behind it, I can say I still stand by that massive statement. Despite the almost entirety of the hype being built behind Di Caprio and how this was finally the defining performance of his career, and the one that would finally bag him that elusive Academy Award that he had been (apparently, according to his fanbase) clamouring for, he is not even the best part of this incredible film.

In terms of narrative, the The Revenant is not particularly complex, but more so than you may have been led to believe. This is not simply a story of revenge, about a man left for dead by his so-called peers, and his son murdered before his eyes. Nor is it simply a tale of survival against all-odds, about the perseverance of a man of strength and determination, even when all hope would appear lost. Whilst is is true that these are indeed the central crux of the film’s narrative, and thus in terms what drives Glass’s central tale, this is not all that is going on. The film is marvelously complex, and the Native American factor adds an extra depth that demands a second viewing. Put simply, I’m not entirely sure I gathered everything on my one viewing, and that story can only be done true justice by multiple viewings.

What stands Iñárritu out in the current market is that both Birdman and The Revenant were high-end productions, both with largely inflated budgets, and yet both are essentially arthouse pieces, masquerading as large-scale cinema. That is how they would be perceived today, at least. At one point in time these style of intelligent yet expensive productions would be considered the norm, but those days are gone, and Iñárritu is a glorious throwback to forgotten era of grandscale film-making with, other than the fantastically convincing bear scene, not a drop of generated images in sight. Everything is filmed on location, and it gives the film an absolutely gorgeous natural beauty that is truly a sight to behold, and one cannot praise this without mentioning Iñárritu’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lebezki, the two time academy award winner. Words could never do justice to his work on The Revenant, so this reviewer refuses to make a fool of himself by trying. The closest word I can think of is perfect. It’s that fine, and if he doesn’t take a third golden statue home this year, I’d be extremely surprised. The fantastic opening attack by a gang of Native Americans, with its lack of cuts, continuous shots and constantly rotating angles was a spectacle of true majesty. Oh, and that bear scene? It’s as good and as brutal as everyone has said.

Now, finally, onto what most of you have been waiting for. Does Di Caprio match the hype? The simple answer, in my opinion, is yes he does, and then some. Stripped of his traditional trademarks; his looks and his charm, by a role that demands neither, he is allowed, in my opinion, to put in a true acting performance for the first time of his career. He says very little, and everything he does do is with his body, and his face, and it is a physical acting masterclass that all aspiring screen thespians should see. Di Caprio has matured beautifully over the last few years as an actor and this, his harrowing porayal of Hugh Glass, could finally be the culmination of all that development. Unfortunately, he is outshone by another performance of a very different nature, and that is Tom Hardy’s turn as the man who leaves him for dead, John Fitzgerald.

Like Di Caprio, Hardy transcends the line between actor and superstar. To hundreds of women he’s nothing more than wonderful eye candy, to thousands of cinephiles, he is one of the best pure character actors on screen today. Fortunately for us, Iñárritu is clever. He takes Hardy’s good looks and removes them, giving him a scarred bald head, horribly dirty skin, and a terrible beard. Thanks to this, the Tom Hardy we know dissapears and becomes his character entirely. It is a rare trait in today’s world of Adam Sandler’s , but Hardy has seemingly mastered it. For me, his finest two performances will always be as Ivan Locke in Locke (Knight, 2014) and as Charles Bronson in Bronson (Refn, 2009) but potentially this is better. I’m not saying it is, I’m saying it could be, but only time and repeat viewings will tell. It is, to my knowledge, his first Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and I would wholeheartedly support his victory.

In the rise of Iñárritu we are watching potential history. We could be watching the rise of an all time great, mentioned one day alongside the likes of Kubrick, Hitchcock and Lynch. The Revenant is an unforgiving, cold, mericiless piece of artistic delight that manages to also be a work of visual beauty, and one of the finest works I have ever seen on the Silver Screen. It never outstays it’s welcome, and you won’t even notice that the two and a half hours have gone by. It’s that captivating. Some may argue that the muted colours, the deep violence and the lack of likeable characters leads to a cold and brutal movie, but, this was a cold and brutal time. True art is not there simply to warm you up, true art lives to move you, to unsettle you, to leave you uncomfortable and in thought. Make no mistake about it, this may be a large budget multiplex film, but this is art. Potentially, this is the most expensive Arthouse film of all time. In Iñárritu, Hardy, Di Caprio and Lebezki we are watching four of the finest talents in their respective fields, of their generation, come together to create a true masterpiece. For this, we should all be very grateful, and I implore you all to see this film. My only regret is that I couldn’t see it again before reviewing it, as I am unsure if I have done it any justice.

Final Score – 5

 

 

Joshua Moulinie