Though ostensibly not an uplifting film in any capacity, A Day At The Beach does have its virtues. Bernie is a three-dimensional character, his aggression and world-weariness clearly derived from a sense of loss (it is implied more than once that ‘Uncle’ Bernie is in fact Winnie’s biological father). Despite Bernie’s lack of avuncular charm and complete irresponsibility, Winnie appears to have a soft spot for him throughout, even jumping to his defence when he is beaten up by a creditor, and there are brief glimpses of heartwarming humanity amidst the doom and gloom of the day’s events. Occasionally the film loses its raison d’être, and one wonders what Polański’s direction might have done, but overall it’s an intriguingly sinister slice of life. Look out for Peter Sellers as a camp-as-hell stall owner.
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Jodorowsky is said to have only taken the film on as a means of keeping busy before his ultimately defunct Dune project, and was reportedly so disappointed with the result of this film that he attempted to destroy all working copies of it. Those versed in Jodorowsky’s otherworldly cinematic imagination may be disappointed by the straightforwardness of this one, but in all honesty it isn’t that bad. Aside from the occasional fart joke, Tusk tackles the concepts of fate and serendipity with surprising maturity for a children’s film, and the parallels made between the lives of Elise and Tusk are sweet if obvious. Kudos for the story must go to Reginald Campbell, whose book Poo Lorn of the Elephants formed the basis of the film, but the interpretation is all Jodorowsky’s. A warm, colourful oddity.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Apart from the patronising disclaimer at the start of the film which acknowledges the need for an explanation for ‘lay audiences’, Marc’O does a good job of drawing the viewer in, the curiosity of his new film language being a reason to watch rather than switch off. Unlike his lettrist colleagues, Marc’O revels in the possibilities of both image and sound, engendering a sense of discord as the mind tries to follow the two independent strands. The narration plays with the phonetic complexities of language, sounds being stressed and repeated at random, and brings to mind a Beat poetry session. Closed Vision is a little too theatrical to fully follow through with its mission statement, but merits commemoration in experimental film history.
Sunday, 20 June 2010
Director Andrew Bujalski is known as one of the bastions of the mumblecore movement, which generally sees as its enemy the artifice of cinema. Beeswax’s most impressive feat is its realism, and all of the actors embrace their roles to the point of living them, but that doesn’t amount to a great deal when the slice of life under the microscope is not particularly notable. It is thus hard to understand exactly what Bujalski wants to tell us about life beyond his fantasy that everyone dabbles in the same hopelessly charming idiolect, and a lot of the dialogue borders on preciousness. Bujalski’s previous feature, the vastly superior Mutual Appreciation, succeeded for the warmth and innocence of its protagonist, and this is perhaps what Beeswax lacks the most. Bujalski is a very promising filmmaker, and one hopes that Beeswax is an anomaly.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
There is an unusual feeling of the underground with Headless. Both ‘stories’ show the viewer private aspects of the characters’ lives, and the film’s home movie shooting style, combined with the almost imperceptible narrative structure, lend it an uncomfortable realism. Though it may be an obtuse comparison to make, the film occasionally outdoes the likes of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield in generating intensity from the first-person perspective, and is far more believable than either of the two. One is also reminded of Michael Haneke’s oeuvre, the true drama taking place in the imagined spaces between scenes. This is not to give Headless too much credit as a lot more could have been said in its hour-long runtime, but anyone looking for a modern underground film would do well to seek it out.
Without the luxury of time, any retelling of a Verne tale is a bit abrupt and doesn’t have the draw that the books do. Accepting time as a limitation, Méliès uses his imagination to create a visually active backdrop evocative of a thriving submarine habitat. As in many of Méliès’ films, the fantastical aspects of the story are helped along by a bevy of dancing girls, and their constant movements against a psychedelic background make for a hypnotic effect. The film is bookended by scenes which explain the purpose and outcome of the characters as in the book, but one feels that Captain Nemo should have featured more. It might not measure up to later feature-length adaptations, but Méliès’ film is an entertaining, if slightly too brief jaunt. Look out for the menacing giant crab.
Friday, 18 June 2010
It is hard judging such a film being outside its target audience, and there are supposedly many sign-language in-jokes that make for a very different film experience. Originally billed as a ‘light comedy’, Deafula is a horror story whose eeriest element is its incompetence. Although designed for the deaf, the film does feature selective dubbing and a piano score, presumably so that hearing people could also enjoy it. This, however, distorts the film even further as the tone and content of the audio doesn’t always match up to the image. It is in its own way a very endearing film, an unsettling peculiarity in the history of cinema, but as good as its intentions were, Deafula is little more than a living nightmare.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
What is most immediately noticeable about Pearls of the Deep is the demystification of morbid subjects such as death, a common theme to Czech cinema and literature. Menzel, Němec and Chytilová all make a point of treating death not as an end, but as a beginning of another form of life. Though certainly an interesting concept, the project is unfortunately too unbalanced to be a great representation of the Czech New Wave, with Schorm’s installation being the weakest (his King And Women might have been a better bet). Nonetheless, it is worth a view for Chytilová and Jireš’ films.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Director Nobuo Nakagawa is well known for mixing the supernatural with diverse genres of film, and in Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya, he does a sublime job of giving the chanbara (or samurai) genre a much-needed boost. While it may not be as subversive a work as some of its contemporaries, the film has a wonderfully simple premise, and Nakagawa uses the time to reinforce Ryutaro’s story with some colourful characters. With his bizarre hood and penchant for spinning walnuts in his fingers, the unnamed samurai walks the line between clown and sinister threat, and the scene where he reveals his true face is unusually tense. It may not be for everyone, but Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya is a brilliant mix of history and the ethereal, making for great evening viewing.
Monday, 14 June 2010
The plot implies a heavy Pasolini influence, and this is visible in Serra’s handling of the subject matter, but there is something about his version of events. Most notable is the way in which he humanises the Three Wise Men – these aren’t men capable of herculean sufferance, but living human beings, vulnerable to boredom, hunger and thirst. In this way, Serra both demystifies and realises elements of the nativity story, as the magi while away hours with philosophical discussion about the world. It is perhaps most appropriate to say that Birdsong is a magical experience – Serra does not wish to convert, nor is he as cynical as Pasolini. The film’s long takes and extensive silence can make it a trial to watch, particularly as they lack the substance and power of, say, Sátántangó, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth watching at all.
Wednesday, 9 June 2010
Agnès Varda, a mainstay of the French New Wave, appears to be channelling the Czechoslovak New Wave here, applying a theatrical, surrealistic mode of thinking to her use of the space, and a cheerful demeanour about the morbid subject of mortality. The family’s story is succinctly told through gentle vignettes, the nuclei of which are not solid events, but feelings and expressions. Varda uses different textures not only in the rooms, which are at different times covered in grass, feathers and soil, but also in dialogue – the phonemic richness of the father’s gerontological jargon is later mirrored in the children’s discussion about ‘bad’ words. Visually inventive and bizarrely touching, this Buñuelian short is a minor masterpiece in Varda’s impressive portfolio of work.
Monday, 7 June 2010
From the space-age cranial dome that Ricky supposedly requires in his comatose state, to the doctor’s parapsychological nonsense (“her body may be young, but her soul is old”), this dire sequel appears to take a laissez-faire approach to both science and horror, not to mention its overreliance on footage from the previous films to tell its story. Laura’s blindness is barely vital to the story besides supposedly giving credence to her psychic visions, which also seem too selective to be reliable. The film is not without its mildly amusing moments – Ricky hitchhiking with the dome still intact, for example – but it’s otherwise an abysmal experience with some unforgivably poor dialogue. Oddly enough, Lynch fans may recognise two of the film’s stars, Eric Da Re and Laura Harring, from Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive respectively.
Sunday, 6 June 2010
There is very little in this film for those who like their horror stone-faced and without a trace of kitsch, but for everyone else, there is plenty. As with many of the Hammer horrors at the time, Death Line has surprisingly high production values, the underground setting used to its absolute full potential. An impressive tracking shot travels throughout the cannibals’ lair, serving merely to set the scene but also showing off the set design. Even more striking is the film’s unrelenting gore – no body part or impromptu weapon is spared as the family work their way through various passengers. There are the expected troubles with acting and realism, but anyone wanting to take this ludicrous story seriously should probably wait for the inevitable remake. Wrong Turn, eat your heart out (literally) – this is the original twisted cannibal family.
Nightly Dreams is a dark episode in Mikio Naruse’s oeuvre, a blunt portrayal of what low self-esteem and superstition can do to a man. While none of Naruse’s films find universal satisfaction for the characters, the destructive powers in Nightly Dreams eat away at both protagonists and their son, and the world outside becomes a dangerous place. Naruse captures little moments of human vincibility that other directors would have forgotten, using abrupt zooms to give scenes unexpected emotional impact. Although the story arc belongs to Mizuhara, who undergoes more peaks and troughs than anyone else, the film belongs to Mitsu, the strong, passionate female figure so frequently seen in Naruse’s works. The innocence of childhood is not forgotten in this family drama, and Mizuhara’s relationship with Fumio seems more fraternal than paternal. Nightly Dreams is a saddening, quietly powerful film.
Saturday, 5 June 2010
Though some may beg to differ, Liu has a great sense of cinematography, only keeping her characters fully in shot when it’s necessary. The family members are often crammed into the frame, reflecting the living space they occupy, and the heated atmosphere that seems to pervade every meal. At times, the off-kilter framing brings to mind the work of Michael Haneke, who often keeps the dramatic moments of his films out of sight, only to be heard or imagined. Although not nearly to the same extent, there is a similar sense of the sinister here, as the viewer is left to ponder how much of Liu’s own life is playing out in front of us. The exchanges between family members are so natural and believable that it is impossible not to identify with some element of their lives, whether it be the Father’s superstitious insistence of stirring sesame paste clockwise, or the family’s unexplained sympathy towards the cat’s habit of scratching all the leather bags.
Wednesday, 2 June 2010
The film’s title is contrasted to the word ‘in’, meaning fashionable, suggesting that the plot is a reflection on the futile search for popularity. The characters who are supposedly ‘in’ the secret society are unaware of it, and the characters who beg, steal and borrow for information do not see much improvement in the quality their lives as a result. Rivette’s decision to set the film amongst theatre groups raises questions about the participation of the viewer in both the theatre and the cinema, and the artifice and duplicity of acting, and the success of his film is a testament to the cast’s abilities. Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine from The 400 Blows) is particularly brilliant as the uncaring Colin, a man whose lifeblood is pretending to be a deaf harmonica player in order to extort money from the public.