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Hit the Road: India (2013)
Hit the Road: India, an inspiring and vibrant travelogue
In our technologically advanced era there is an endless amount of methods for exploring a foreign land and it's often impossible to choose one that will best suit our needs. Given that nowadays even the seemingly most luxurious options tend to be somewhat affordable, people often choose those, which are the least tiring and the most pleasurable. Yet, there is still a small group of people willing to take up the challenge and begin a life-changing journey into the unknown. Although very short, that's an adequate summary of what happens in Hit the Road: India.
Directed by Armenian brothers Gor and Mushegh Baghdasaryan, Hit the Road: India closely follows two friends, Richard Gazarian and Keith King, as they travel across the country in a rickshaw, a means of transport that most would probably call old-fashioned and impractical. It's not an ordinary expedition, however. As a two-man team they've decided to participate in Mumbai Express, a 12-day-long rickshaw rally across India, along with 5 other adventure craving pairs. Although very enthusiastic at first, they gradually come to realize it's a race that demands not only lots of mental and physical strength, but also a great deal of determination and good will.
The documentary doesn't really focus on the race per se, but on the experiences that the two men have during their long trip. Days filled with enthusiasm and luck often intertwine with days marked by pain and signs of resignation, creating a very diverse travelogue of the most engaging kind. Mixed emotions only confirm that even though the decision to take part in the event might've been a bit foolish, it will surely have a greatly rewarding effect.
In the form of an audiovisual travel journal, the boys present their many escapades with the help of camera's attentive and inquisitive eye. Due to many wonderfully picturesque shots the journey is blessed with excitement, vigor, and that rare kind of beauty worthy of a true travel documentary. Complemented by an interesting, often emotional narration by the travelers, Hit the Road: India only proves that India is a country of great allure, but the further we go the more tiring such an unusual expedition might soon become.
Apart from its huge attention to eye-popping landscape shots, the camera offers a close insight into the everyday lives of Indians, who are often enormously fascinated and amused by the presence of white people. Scenes that were the most appealing to me, however, were the ones filmed by a camera hidden inside the tuk-tuk. Those short sequences have the ability to exhibit genuine feelings in a funny and surprising way.
Even though I'm perfectly aware that the directors' intentions wasn't to concentrate on the entire course of the rally, I would've loved to see what all the other participants felt about this challenging adventure. With supplementary, probably completely different perspectives on the whole thing, the film would've gained an additional driving force to give the story a more meaningful tone. It's a lot of fun to watch the guys in action, but there are a few slower moments that could otherwise be improved by an alternative point of view.
Hit the Road: India is not a remarkable documentary, but an inspiring one. What makes the film enticing is its lively and eventful depiction of the journey, meant to encourage the viewers to take a risk and experiment a bit during their own journeys. As I've mentioned earlier, there are really lots of exciting and original ways that will make an initially ordinary getaway unforgettable. So, instead of buying a plane or train ticket next time why don't you just hop on a motorbike and take a cross-country road trip somewhere in India or in any other place that still waits to be fully explored?
Original review here: http://twitchfilm.com/2013/12/review-hit-the-road-india-an-inspiring- and-vibrant-travelogue.html
Kill! astounds with its blend of comedy and drama
With all its dark humor and cynical attitude towards samurai code of honor, Kill! comes as a truly unformulaic and genre-bending period drama. Written and directed by the famous Kihachi Okamoto, the film's loosely based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's widely read short story Peaceful Days (also the basis for Kurosawa's Sanjuro). Kill! (or Kiru in Japanese) combines a well-crafted, complex plot with audaciously choreographed fight scenes, some visually-stunning, long shots of Japanese landscapes, with a bunch of witty - and often farcical - dialogues.
The picture presents a story about two luckless, hungry would-be warriors, who find themselves in the middle of a ferocious battle between the opposing sides of a dangerous yakuza clan. Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a former samurai, who got tired of the difficult lifestyle of a wandering ronin. He wasn't able to find any other work, and just wound up in the deserted city, where he met Hanjiro (Etsushi Takahashi), an ex-farmer who wants to become a samurai, but didn't have a chance to prove his abilities yet. As soon as the two discover that the abandoned city is a battleground for a merciless group of samurai retainers, it's simply too late, and they get dragged into the whole deadly intrigue in just a matter of minutes. It becomes clear that one side of the conflict betrayed the other, and the resolution of the struggle might come only when one of the parties kills the other. In the cutthroat game of murder and betrayal, the two main characters take differing sides, and in order to achieve success they need to kill each other at first. Though Hanjiro's first assignment as an aspiring samurai is to dispose of Genta, he hesitates for a long time, as Genta proved to be a valuable source of information regarding the precious samurai life. As the tension mounts, and both groups become more and more irritated and bloodthirsty, Hanjiro and Genta decide to team up and outsmart everyone in their way, leading on to one of the most riveting and satisfying finales in a samurai picture ever filmed.
The problem with Kill! is that it's not as well-known around the world as it really should be. Moreover, it's simply an under-watched samurai epic, even though it actually shares - and makes fun of - all the far-reaching values of many prominent Kurosawa pictures. Here the portrayal of typical samurai warriors is a most parodical one, as Kill! shows so deliberately that there are those, who behave only badly and those, who behave only honorably, and there's nothing in-between. It's a game-changer of sorts when it comes to the topic of samurai, given its highly fanciful attempt at denuding all the hidden aspects of those seemingly convoluted personas.
The cinematography is as raw-looking as it is actually picture-perfect. It brings out all that's eye-popping about the beautiful, yet blood-filled, Japanese scenery.
Kill! also references various other samurai pictures, playing with the idea of a dramatic and serious samurai film, giving itself an utterly lighthearted tone. Kihachi Okamoto created a little, under-appreciated gem that's not only engaging, but also truly smart and concise.
Sugata Sanshirô (1943)
Notable debut by the master of craft
Though the story presented in Sugata Sanshiro might not be the most appealing one, it's still a considerably enjoyable tale about the beginnings of Judo and its most prominent representative, the titular Sugata (played by Susumu Fujita, in a role that earned him a notable spot in the Japanese cinematic history). It's a simple and modest, but a truly elaborate and serious tale of one man's difficult journey to martial arts stardom. In order to find peace in life and achieve perfection in the craft that he's been practicing for some time, Sanshiro needs to come to terms with his own emotions and find a right path, which might eventually lead him to the desired golden mean.
Based on a best-selling novel, Sugata Sanshiro established the reputation of Kurosawa, and made him a prominent figure in the filmmaking business. Though it's far from being a genuine masterpiece, the film still shows the director's steady hand and is the admirable proof of his awe-inspiring versatility.
To become the master of martial arts is an uneasy task, and Sanshiro learns the lesson in the first minutes of the picture. Trying to join a clan of Jujitsu fanatics, he quickly realizes that they're just a bunch of up to no good coxcombs. Seeing how easily Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), the originator and master of Judo, defeated the group, Sanshiro decides to become his student. To become a proficient Judo technician the young, strong-willed, yet somehow reckless Sugata must overcome many of his weaknesses and find out the meaning of a warrior's way, thus learning the true meaning of life. The student, struggling to accustom himself to the situation, is constantly tested by his master, in many more or less laborious ways. And when the time comes, Sanshiro is finally able to take part in tournaments, in order to prove his indisputable technique and unrestrained power. On his way Sanshiro meets a mysterious, elegant, devilish man by the name of Hagaki (Ryûnosuke Tsukigata), who's like a shadow that's been following Sugata everywhere that he goes. Ironically so, the man - with his familiar look and specifically evil attitude - comes as a typical dark character, taken straight out of a superhero movie. In the film's most climatic and disquieting sequence, the two rivals participate in a duel that will determine who's the strongest living martial artist.
For all the lovers of Japanese culture, and for all the adepts of Asian martial arts, Sugata Sanshiro will definitely be a worthy film experience. For the rest it might be an insightful, valuable, and well-crafted period drama that's not only full of perfectly choreographed action scenes, but also full of humane qualities that prove to have an authentic meaning even in the modern times.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Ben Affleck, win #1
Gone Baby Gone achieves a tremendously engaging level of suspense, and does it through the depiction of a perplexing story about a young private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck in a superb role) , who - along with his partner and lover Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) - takes on a difficult case and tries to find a kidnapped girl. Ben Affleck, never really considered a leading man in the acting business, proved for the first time (and not for the last) that his directorial skills are top notch. His high aspirations make Gone Baby Gone a fresh and entertaining addition to the crime thriller genre. The film takes place in Boston, mostly in its underground world, and does a great job of portraying the twisted mechanism that governs the crime scene and all its members.
Enhanced by great supporting performances from Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman - who play the two shady yet plausible Boston area police officers - the cast astounds with an unusually realistic attention to details in the representations of regular working-class folks, who are trapped in an intrigue that's literally making them go insane after only a short period of time. In all its sensational, captivating glory, the story presented in Gone Baby Gone looks as though it's been taken straight out of a newspaper's front page, delivering many real-life moments of pure drama. Apart from depicting the step-by-step investigation, the film also aspires to be a considerable psychological piece, pondering how the mess surrounding the case rebounds on the personal and professional life of the main character. Patrick, giving all that he can in order to discover the truth, begins to doubt his sanity and becomes infuriated with his inability to cope with what's been happening around him.
As usual in this kind of movies the truth is hidden several layers deep, and in order to reveal the whole one has to go through a troubling amount of more or less acceptable evidence. Every new and unexpected fact found by Patrick adds up to the masterfully build suspense. Though unmistakably intense and utterly gripping, Gone Baby Gone offers one twist too many and changes its message for a less entertaining, yet still perfectly valuable one. In the world of corruption and hypocrisy nothing is certain, and Ben Affleck's debut feature is not only a taut and downright realistic thriller, it's also a hard-hitting exemplification of all the values that rule this shabby place.
Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi (1945)
Culturally conscious period drama
The film is not only based on an incident that happened in the 12th century, but also on the Noh play Ataka, and on the Kabuki play Kanjincho. Initially banned, the film was first released in 1952 and is the fourth film made by Akira Kurosawa. The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail focuses on the exemplification of true feudal values that ruled Japan starting in the Heian period. In order to understand the movie perfectly, one has to know what happened before the events depicted in the picture. Here's a brief presentation of the story: after winning a bloody Naval battle with the rival Heike clan, the triumphant lord Yoshitsune Minamoto returns to Kyoto in order to take command. However, his jealous and envious brother Shogun Yoritomo orders his men to arrest Yoshitsune and all his comrades. Due to a lucky circumstance, Yoshitsune and six of his loyal samurai retainers are able to escape. In order to be truly safe they need to travel through the country and find shelter in the home of an only friend, Idehira Fukiwara.
The movie starts when a group of monks traverses through a huge forest. Being accompanied by a silly yet truly helpful porter (Kenichi Enomoto), the group rests and decides to figure out a perfect plan. It's the first time the audience gets acquainted with all the characters, in order to realize that the monks are actually the lord (Hanshirô Iwai) and his samurai companions in disguise. They plan to march to the gate where the keepers await, and trick them into believing that they're actually a group of friendly monks gathering money to build a large temple in Kyoto. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers are already aware that a group of seven men is traveling through the country in such a disguise. With the help of the porter the men finally arrive and face the enemy, in what seems to be a tranquil, yet strangely intense, battle of nerves. Benkei (Denjirō Ōkōchi), a warrior monk, and Yoshitsune's most loyal friend, takes the stand and tries to persuade the watchful sentries of their faked mission. After a few moments of danger, just when the whole situation seems to be in shambles, Benkei once again shows his unmistakable intelligence and self-control. He proves that his skills and experience are masterful, leading to a successful ending to this dramatic story.
The Men Who Tread On The Tiger's Tail is not Kurosawa's best, bust still a truly remarkable, detailed, and culturally conscious period drama, where the many ponderous Japanese virtues meet with an ostensibly stagnant atmosphere, all covered up in a package of truly minimalistic aspirations. Though short and not that interesting as many hope it would be, the film gives a fantastic glimpse at the rules that governed Japan in the 12th century, and presents a story, where wisdom and decisiveness are more valuable than bravery and prowess.
An early masterpiece
Being a perfectly consistent and downright expressive man, Akira Kurosawa knew how to approach every fresh topic, no matter how controversial. He had this innate ability that allowed him to transform, with unmistakable ease, each and every one of those topics into impressive and captivating motion pictures. Scandal (Shûbun) is his darkly satirical effort to unveil the gradual deterioration of the Japanese press industry. Through a somehow unsurprising and bitterly pretentious – yet informative and intense – drama Kurosawa attempted to criticize all the immoral actions of reporters in post-war Japan. For the sake of sensationalism, the private lives of not only celebrities, but even some of the lesser-known citizens, were suddenly deemed invaluable. It seemed as though to catch the attention of the readers is to forget about a human moral code. Writing a story, which might not even be true, was totally all right, and even hurting other people's feelings was on the agenda. Ironically so, all those wrongdoings remain unchanged up to this day in most places in the world.
Scandal proves to be a considerable visualization of a celebrity's worst nightmare. Coincidentally, a well-known beautiful singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) meets an aspiring painter Ichiro Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) while he's working on a new painting in the countryside. Moments later, Ichiro offers Miyako a lift on his bike, since they both stay at the same inn. Unfortunately, they are tracked down by a group of paparazzi looking for an exciting story to publish in their tabloid magazine Amour. One random picture and a cover story that insinuates an ongoing romance between the two artists change the pace of the film dramatically. In just a short period of time Ichiro and Miyako become the objects of interest of almost the whole nation (a silly exaggeration, though a efficacious one). To prove them all wrong, irritated Ichiro quickly decides to sue for damages, and in order to do so he hires a clumsy, welcoming, yet secretly perfidious lawyer Hiruta (Takashi Shimura). Though Hiruta convinces Ichiro that he shares his hatred towards the press and its shameful actions, he actually goes behind his client's back and decides to throw the trial, in order to get some money for his sick daughter Masako (Yoko Katsuragi). What's surprising is that even though Ichiro is aware of the position of his disloyal lawyer, he still believes that he will come to his senses and choose the right way. For the sake of sheer entertainment and for Kurosawa's own sense of fulfillment, Hiruta goes through an enlightening transformation and brings about the most satisfying twist in action.
Even though Mifune, with all his suave and charm, comes as the most prominent actor of the movie, it's really worth to mention Yoko Katsaguri's performance. Her character, though bound to bed through the whole movie, is the brightest star of the whole showcase. With her purity, kindness, and plausible sense of judgment she is the source of all-energy and immediately becomes, even in her fragile state, the guardian angel seeking a happy ending.
In the ever-changing media reality people are only looking out for themselves, and that is, in the subtlest sense, a cause of the gradual downfall of humanity as such. People tend to care about material things in the first place; they need to suppress their urges through the misfortune of others. And press – with all its power and attention – creates this deeply superficial world, as we now know it. Scandal, the title of this picture, corresponds not only to the sensations that surround the fictitious love affair, but also to the behavior (though unnecessarily biased) of all the characters connected to the newspaper industry.
The Town (2010)
Ben Affleck's directorial win
The Town is a deliberately old-fashioned, pulpy crime drama that serves its purpose as a romantic heist picture, where character-driven narrative intertwines with many action-packed sequences of utmost suspense. With this film Ben Affleck surely hit a second spectacular home run (right after Gone Baby Gone), assuring that his directorial career will be more rewarding than his acting one.
What's surprising is that the story depicted in The Town comes as a rather familiar and simple one, but the way it's presented and acted promises many splendidly entertaining and downright thrilling moments. Right within the first few minutes of the picture the tension mounts to unbearable levels, as a group of masked criminals robs a bank and takes one of the female workers as a hostage. The woman, Claire (Rebecca Hall), quickly becomes the object of interest of the mastermind behind the heist, Doug (Ben Affleck in his most promising role to date). Yet still unknown to her is the fact that Doug was actually the one, who commanded the operation and caused the whole mess. As the two begin their burning love affair, Doug - along with his three partners in crime - plan another dangerous robberies. His sudden affection towards the girl and gradual loss of readiness to go into action makes his partner anxious and relevantly angry. Jem (Jeremy Renner; the guy really had a good few years), his longtime friend and former jailbird is trying to convince him that money is worth more than a girl. Apart from the personal conflicts, Doug is followed closely by a FBI operative Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is eager to put the guys behind bars and stop the Charlestown criminal ring once and for all. Because, after all, it's a business of relationships, and what happens in the family stays in the family. Doug walks a thin line between freedom and imprisonment, and this one final action might be all that he needs to finally take the matters of his life into his own hands.
Being a smartly written and captivatingly shot (many great aerial shots of Boston) thriller, The Town brings about all that's best about the genre, without referring to any clichés per se. Through combining its modern, violent crime nature with an appealing 30's vibe, The Town advises the audiences to look closely into the substance of the film and react to a many of the intense and gritty sensations that cleverly fill the core of the film. Every actor has a room to maneuver, and - decidedly so - each and every one of them finds a way to be a considerable part of the whole picture.
Great comedy from the master of existential angst
In Sideways - Alexander Payne's most bittersweet comedy to date - men on the verge of emotional breakdowns need to take a dangerous journey into the deepest parts of their minds, in order to challenge all the incoming problems, and - ultimately - accept their better feelings. To find solace and tranquility in life is an uneasy task, and the characters of the picture learn that harsh lesson very quickly, just as they traverse through the sunny, chic wine country of California.
Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) are two middle-aged buddies, who decided to spend a few days just roaming around various vineyards tasting wine and eating good food, just before the latter will take the trip down the aisle. Miles is both an unsuccessful, nerve- racking writer and a passionate wine lover. Even though he tries to enjoy his time, he still can't forget about the fact that his wife has left him a couple of months ago. Jack is a struggling actor, a former TV star, and a desperate playboy, who will jump at every opportunity just to get laid. His laid-back attitude and quirky humor make a local girl named Stephanie (sandy Oh) fall in love with him. While Jack is having a good time doing wild things with his new partner, Miles is striving to impress a pretty woman Maya (Virginia Madsen), who also happens to be a big wine amateur. Though Miles has nothing to show for himself as a person, he's able to make a girl interested just by saying all those ridiculously poetic stories about everything wine-y. He's miserable and anxious all the time, yet Maya seems to be the cure for all his troubles. In the meantime, the sex-filled relationship between Jack and Stephanie is brutally stopped because of the little marriage-related secret that's finally been revealed. Ironically, even the humiliation and beating don't stop Jack from trying another one of his cunning tricks on another unsuspecting lady. And who's going to help him when all his plans are in shambles? Of course no one other than the good ol' Miles.
In all the naturalism and humanism that permeate the film, Sideways proves to be a smart, wonderfully-written dark comedy that is not only humorous, but also tremendously realistic. The story might go both ways, and it does at some point, just to arrive at a conclusion that is as heartbreaking as it is actually pleasing. The boys come back from the trip changed, they think differently, and the aspirations that they now have are incomparable. Sideways - with all its charm and subtle pretentiousness - shows that Alexander Payne knows how to create a madly good film with a splendid character-driven narrative, where existential angst is only a man's world.
I'm not an avid comic book fan, but I really enjoyed this cheerful, passionate geek-doc. It's really not as much about Comic-Con in itself, as it is about the people that travel there from different parts of the world in order to follow their lifelong hopes and dreams of distinguishing themselves in this ever-changing, tremendously cool industry.
By juxtaposing the interviews with some awesome, well-known people, with the adventures of a few Comic-Con regulars Morgan Spurlock achieved a subtle level of tenderness and showed a much different side of this enormous, spectacular fan gathering. The subheading (A Fan's Hope) reveals the whole truth about this picture, as the movie truly corresponds to the adventures of five attendees, who think of Comic-Con as a place of ultimate fulfillment. Comic-Con is a cultural phenomenon that's able to bring together not only all the true geeks and cos-players, but also many people, who aren't actually interested in comic books, yet they still want to take part in this splendid event. The truth is that this is the only place in the whole world where all of those people can really feel at home.
Apart from showing the passion and energy that permeate the place, this documentary also ponders a very difficult topic, namely the gradual demise of the cult fan-base, due to the overpowering force of corporate impact on the industry. While comic books will be made and fans will still read them, Comic-Con is slowly changing into a sort of business conference, where money is mentioned more times than any superhero or villain. That's a thought that the creators of the movie leave the audiences with.
Straw Dogs (1971)
Gritty and challenging
Home Watching Straw Dogs proves to be a haunting experience, one where brutal and graphic scenes of violence shock as much as the psychological tension and emotional imbalance presented by all the recurring characters. In a seemingly peaceful village in England horrible incidents occur one after another, and the thin line between good and evil becomes blurry, as the transitions that the characters go through change the way the audiences perceive the whole unnerving intrigue.
David Summer (Dustin Hoffman's most sinister role), an American mathematician, moves to the isolated town of Cornish along with his gorgeous, young wife Amy. Shortly after their arrival, all the citizens begin to show their dark natures, harassing and assaulting the two newcomers. In the film's most climatic and disturbing sequence, David decides to fight back against the oppression, and realizes that the only way to fight violence is to do it with even more violence. In a most suggestive manner,
Straw Dogs plays with the viewer's imagination, fiercely suggesting that David might actually be the antihero of the movie, and the source of all-evil in himself. His strangely unemotional attitude towards all the horrifying occurrences and – even more – towards the tragedy of his wife ironically makes him the antagonist of the film, and sort of a brutal animal that won't stop till he does too much damage.
The film became famous for its controversial rape scene, which is by far one of the most unsettling scenes of sexual harassment ever filmed. The bestiality and mockery that permeate the film almost all the time makes Straw Dog an emphatic affair where physical bloodbath must give way to deeply psychological struggles between the id and all its counterparts. Sam Peckinpah created a truly gory and forcible tale about bullying, in which man's worst nightmares suddenly turn into the realizations of his most ferocious ideas and dreams.
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Visually stunning, though provoking sci-fi odyssey
Forbidden Planet is a hell of a ride, one that the viewer should and will enjoy wholeheartedly until the very last minutes. This is also definitely one of the most astounding, visually stunning, challenging science-fiction movies in the history of cinema. Not only is it truly thought provoking and unpredictable, it's also genuinely scary in its utterly valuable evaluation of the human psyche and its inconceivable capabilities.
The first image of the film shows a human-made spaceship traveling somewhere in vast space. On board of the ship is a crew of various professionals, who were hired in order to investigate a mysterious disappearance of a group of people on the distant and secluded Planet Altaire. Just before landing they're able to communicate with the only survivor, Doctor Edward Morbius, who is as unpleasant as he is secretive. The first 'person' the guys meet on the planet is Robby, the Robot. His abilities are beyond imagination: he can produce huge amounts of liquor, he can move whole buildings with his bare hands, he can speak 187 languages, and he is as polite as no Earthling probably can be. His role in the film is irrefutable; hence it's crucial to call him a supporting character rather than just a mechanical creature. Three leading man of the operation (Commander J.J. Abrams, Lt. Doc Ostrow, Lt. Jerry Farman) ride with Robby to the house of Dr. Morbius. There they discover not only that the doctor is a deeply enigmatic man and a bizarre individual, but also that he has a beautiful daughter named Altaira. Adam and Ostrow quickly become infatuated with the girl, and during the whole visit they fight for her attention. Morbius explains to them that an unknown force killed all his comrades, and that if they won't leave the planet immediately the same thing will happen to the whole crew.
It's later reveled that the place has been inhabited by a mysterious race named Krell, all of whom died at once 200,000 years ago. Morbius, learning of their enormous intellectual powers, decided to spend every day in the abandoned laboratory trying to figure out a way to achieve supernatural intelligence, thus becoming almost invincible. As the crew investigates and discovers the truth behind the whole mystique operation, people begin to die and the atmosphere becomes tenser every day. There is only one way to stop the madness, and that involves suppressing the beast that's been haunting Morbius' mind for years
Forbidden Planet is a puzzling picture, mostly due to its complex, smart, futuristic nature, exhibited so forcefully through a many enigmatic conversations. No less than that, it's truly an eye-popping sci-fi odyssey, which makes a great use of amazing special effects, fantastic set pieces, background electronic music, and Robby's delightful performance. In the most elaborate sense, Forbidden Planet is also a fascinating commentary on the Freudian psychoanalysis, where a raging id is stronger than the conscious human mind, and leads to horrible disasters even in the outer space regions.
Killing Them Softly (2012)
Dark, violent, but over-talked
Killing Them Softly is a brutally downright, satirical crime thriller, where punchy dialogues intertwine with offbeat visceral attitude. Even before the audiences get acquainted with all the sleaze-bag characters, Andrew Dominik communicates one thing very clearly: in the film's brutal nature hides a much bigger, more considerable subtlety, namely the critique of the United States and its collapsing financial and political spheres (right before the 2008 elections). It's not really a film about gangsters and their operations as it is about hope that's somehow faded away a long time ago and there's no way of retrieving it. In all the mess and violence that permeates the screen during the impetuous intermission-like sequences, the characters gradually create their own demise in a way that makes the still-heard political speeches seem almost comical, compared with the enormous problems of the so-called little guys.
Three slow-witted and unimaginative guys (Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Vincent Curatola) execute a seemingly perfect mob-protected card game robbery. Even though their plan looks too perfect to be true, they still manage to go on with it. Surprisingly, everything goes smoothly, so the boys start enjoying their easily made money doing drugs and drinking booze all the time. Unknown to them is the fact that a brutal, emotionless enforcer named Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) has just arrived in town, and is now ready to find out who planned the job. In the middle of the whole dialogue-driven narrative there are bits of utmost violence, during which Jackie takes the law in his own hands and does so with impressively gory results. What's crucial to say is the fact that every character in the film has one's own ideas about the world as such, and those ideas quickly turn into inanely simple plans, instead of real hopes and dreams.
Killing Them Softly bases its substance on a round of long and moody conversations, which – unfortunately – become more and more melodramatical and superfluous with every following minute. The film proves to be a game of sorts, juxtaposing various ostensibly inconsistent pieces into a climatic neo-noir creation. Apart from politically related themes (during the card- game robbery President Bush speaks about the financial crisis, during the final payoff there is Obama's victory speech after the 2008 victory), there are the aforementioned abrupt jumps from over-talked sequences to the brutal ones. There is also a sudden contradiction between the low life reality and all those high hopes for a better future, and that's probably the most disturbing thing about this film, and a true eye-opener in itself.
The editing is marvelous, mostly so in the drug-filled scene or the ones where gun shots cut through the unsettling silence and create a hardcore mash-up of brains and blood (also, the one, in which Ray Liotta takes a harsh beating is really satisfying). Brad Pitt shows he has guts once again, and proves that his acting skills are on the highest level. Let's hope we'll see more of him in the future. James Gandolfini is more of a lame asshole than a true criminal, but that's his role so there's no way of complaining. Richard Jenkins delivers one of the best lines in the whole film.
Killing Them Softly is a wonderful piece in the visual sense. There are lots of stylish camera angles and sudden outbursts of technical improvisations, which only enhance the final effect. However, due to its over-talked ambitions and somehow shallow critique, the film becomes tedious after some time, even strangely one-dimensional, only leaving the audiences begging for more action.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson's most heartwarming picture
Given its highly fanciful aura and bizarrely original storyline, Moonrise Kingdom is arguably the most charming and expressive film directed by Wes Anderson. This visually stunning picture casts an enchanting spell on the viewer, pulling him deep into the picturesque universe where even the seemingly insignificant events are the key to a happy ending. Wes Anderson applies the usual palette of extraordinarily vivid color compositions, making this eccentric rom-com drama look more like a dream-based sequence, explained by a highly creative child.
The viewer gets acquainted with the setting of the picture through a short yet insightful introduction made by an unidentified man in a quirky red hat (a homage to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou): this is the island of New Penzance, and the year is 1965. The film follows closely the adventures of two teenagers, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), as they embark on a journey, which might seem like a sort of a desired rebirth for them, but ultimately brings chaos into the lives of all the adults that take part in the story. The two main characters, deeply in love with each other, long for solitude, somewhere far away from all the real-life problems that made their lives truly miserable. Sam is a socially awkward, orphaned 'Khaki Scout', and Suzy is a depressed girl who strikes as a totally unemotional figure, but through her behavior it's actually easy to register what goes on in her mind. Love is what brought them together some time ago, and love is what made them consider running away from homes as the means to fulfillment. Unfortunately, this drastic decision disturbed the idyllic society of New Penzance, causing an island-long search carried out by a bunch of radically unbalanced people. There's Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Suzy's parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) among others. In the midst of this ridiculous investigation, all the adults actually expose their own grand problems in the process. The dialogues between them are as sharp and angry, as they are actually sophisticated to say the least. What's crucial to say about them is that a minor alteration of the daily routine uncovers their fears and hidden desires, ironically making look them even more childish than the younger characters in the film.
Wes Anderson made a great use of his well-known cast. Every actor has his or her specific role in the whole intrigue, but the greatness of those many performances can be really seen only when all of the characters come together. They're like the smaller pieces of a bigger, wholehearted and whimsical puzzle.
By applying various camera techniques Wes Anderson gave some of the scenes in the picture a nifty stage play-esque touch. The atmosphere, the colors, the old-school filters, and the on- location shots, reveal the film's strange, but somehow familiar, 60's vibe.
There's a lot of awkwardness in the film, but this is really what makes it so enjoyable and satisfying. Being a noteworthy addition to the comedy genre, Moonrise Kingdom aspires to be the most imaginative film of the year. Wes Anderson's stylish exploration of young love is a satisfying one, and apart from applying a lot of his typical quirk and whimsy, the director shows that he matured and put a lot of his own heart into the project.
Born to Kill (1947)
Tierney is fantastic as the man 'Born to Kill'
Born to Kill is one film noir that surely deserves its title. Lawrence Tierney plays a ruthless, psychopathic character named Sam Wild. That he was 'born' to kill is confirmed in the first few moments of the picture, when the man kills an innocent couple out of sheer jealousy and sudden outburst of aggression.
The only person to see the bodies lying lifelessly on the floor is a beautiful woman Helen Trent (Claire Trevor), whose divorce has just come through, but she really doesn't want to get involved in the whole murderous affair and decides not to tell anybody about what she saw. The whole narrative changes abruptly, as the two characters meet on-board of a train bound for San Francisco, and instantly fall in love. Realizing that Helen is already married to another man, Sam decides to fall for her wealthy, tender and enthusiastic half-sister Georgia (Audrey Long), just to make Helen jealous and unhappy. Even though they're both in relationships, their whopping yet disastrous love flourishes. Unfortunately, the detectives starts snooping around in order to find the double murderer. Enter Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.), Sam's old pal, who arrives in San Francisco and brings the cops along with him. In a sudden and unexpected turn of events, Marty is found dead and the two doomed lovers continue their illicit love affair. Even when Helen is sure that Sam is the true killer, she doesn't stop loving him. In the intense finale Sam is finally caught and faces arrest, but he decides that he won't back down now and commits the one last crime...
Born to Kill is a rather uneven, yet distressingly macabre melodrama with a nifty storyline and a typically-noirish mix of failed romance and cold-blooded murder. Though it's hardly original in its themes, it still entangles the audiences with its tense, moody atmosphere and Lawrence Tierney's most sinister role ever.
The changing power of truth
The Celebration, Thomas Vinterberg's most astounding creation to date, is as realistic as it is confusing. Ironically, it's sometimes relatively easy to mistake a deeply dramatic scene for a comedic one. This is a sharp and somehow disturbing tragicomedy that reveals the transformative power of truth, showing how a seemingly ordinary birthday party can change into an acute contest filled with accusations and revelations. After a rough and intense night no one is left unharmed, and the characters subconsciously know that even before they start to delve into the past.
A cultivated and wealthy patriarch Helge (Henning Moritzen) is having a huge, luxurious 60th birthday party, and the whole family is invited. In the group there are three of his children: Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen), a chronic and irascible boozer, Helene (Paprika Steen), an anxious and depressed anthropologist, and Christian (Henning Moritzen), a withdrawn and angry restaurateur, whose twin sister recently committed suicide, among other guests. Before the party even starts, the intimacy of the main characters is exposed, as they plunge deeper into the state of irrepressible existential angst with their peculiar pre-party 'preparations'. When the family gathers for a sit-down with the man of the night, a huge feasts begins and toasts are about to be made. As of then, nobody even expects that Christian is about the make a shocking Speech of Truth, one that will change the course of the whole evening, destroy the relations between the relatives, and ultimately cause a hell of a farce. By accusing his father of sexual abuse when he and his loving sister were little (additionally pointing out that his father is the true killer behind the sister's suicide), Christian only encourages others to expose their true feelings. What began as a celebration of one happy man's birthday turned into a violent, alcohol and hate-filled showcase of the most shocking kind. The gradual loss of innocence (though it's all right to assume that such a disturbing even took place before) is properly 'enriched' with a Dutch racist song, a few fights, a few bottles of wine, and a late-night dance that is supposed to smooth the whole repugnant situation. It's only surprising to observe as all the relatives eat breakfast the next morning in the exact same place, looking into each other's eyes without any apparent regret.
Indisputably, The Celebration is Vinterberg's visionary approach to a family-in-shambles. As in every other Dogme 95 picture, the realism of the whole story is enhanced through on-location shooting, natural sounds, hand-held cameras, and no additional effects whatsoever. Even though it's hard no to laugh at times, the devastating power of this film is as harrowing as the main characters are cold-blooded and self-contained.
Creative, unformulaic whimsy
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is definitely not Anderson's best, but arguably the most eccentric piece of filmmaking. Once again, the director takes us on a magical, wonderful, whimsical ride into his peculiar yet amazingly stylish world, where cartoon-like vibe merges with the awesomely unique composition of colors. When it comes to photography, the overall result is definitely stunning. While the story might seem rather incoherent at times, the characters, and their bizarre and poignant attitude towards life, compensate for the superficiality of the narrative.
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), a pioneer of sea voyages and a well-received weirdo-filmmaker, decides to gather his crew of many fanciful mates, and embark on what will probably be their last journey. This time it's personal - Steve wants to avenge the death of his close co-worker. In order to do that, he needs to find a rare shark somewhere in the vast ocean waters. As ironic as it may seem, in this clearly peculiar team it's hard to find someone who even tries to think straight. Apart from the regulars - Steve's haughty wife (Anjelica Huston), a mysterious German loner (Willem Dafoe), and a few others - Steve finds an unexpected companion in the form of a man (Owen Wilson), who claims to be his estranged long-lost son. Then there's also the nosy yet fairly vulnerable journalist Jane (Cate Blanchett). As the team sails, the audiences observe their every-day actions in what seems to be a smartly-developed video-log. There's romance, mutiny, abordage, there are heartbreaks, fights, mysterious discoveries. And in all of that hides the bigger premise, which now involves not only finding the creature, but also rescuing a friend who was kidnapped in the process by a gang of tough pirates. Though Zissou finally finds his 'arch- nemesis', seeing how glorious and uncanny it is, the protagonist changes his mind and decides to observe the shark in all its glory rather than harm it.
Great performances by a stellar cast enhance the experience of watching The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and cleverly cover up the artificial nature of the picture. It possesses an amazingly magical and enchanting aura, which - combined with the director's typical touch of heartfelt whimsy and many witty dialogues - provides for a somehow surrealistic adventure. It's yet another successful collaboration between Bill Murray and Wes Anderson. Saying that the film's odd, unformulaic and simply bizarre is a huge compliment to the work of those two inventive people.
Jack Black's best performance
Bernie owes much to Jack Black's impressive performance, arguably his best to date. It's a lovable, highly-nuanced, clever and believable portrayal of a loving, caring, God-like assistant funeral director, who is also a true hero in his native town of Carthage, TX. However, as the movie progresses, the character goes through a rough transition - there is a test of nerves, as Bernie becomes involved in a friendly relationship with an older, rich woman named Marjorie, known for her heartless behavior. After a few luxurious trips outside the USA, many wonderful days doing God knows what, and lots of money spent in the process, Marjorie starts treating Bernie like her property, a clown of sorts who should always be there by her side. Exhausted and angered, Bernie does what nobody in the world would expect -he shoots the lady dead in a sudden mental rage. For quite some time he tries to persuade the secluded community that she's still alive, but ultimately the truth comes out and the man is arrested.
The film changes its setting, from many peaceful countryside landscapes to the claustrophobic court room scenes. Even though everybody in town believes that Bernie should be freed immediately, there is one person who would do almost anything in order to sent him to jail. Namely, Danny Buck (badass Matthew McConaughey), a local district attorney, who is as hateful as he's perhaps lawful. He tries to convince the slow-witted jury that Bernie, though nice and amazingly calm, needs to do time for the murder he committed.
Apart from Black's performance, the movie's greatest strength are the many laughable interviews with the local townsfolk. Their strong, humorous, and emphatic opinions prove to exemplify the South as we now know it. Bernie is not only an unexpectedly entertaining crime-comedy flick, it's also a comically bizarre and dark mockumentary, where real-life drama merges with legal- thriller-like sequences, supplemented by many wholehearted eccentricities, which only enhance the overall effect. And in the end, it's highly doubtful that anyone will be pleased with the rough verdict, so enormously pleasant is Jack Black's fanciful aura.
While the City Sleeps (1956)
Great social study and a riveting noir
While the City Sleeps is more of a thorough and thought-provoking social study than a genuine noir film. Although it features an intense manhunt for the serial killer, who runs around town killing innocent girl without a known motive, it's only a mean to and end in all this provocative intrigue. Still, apart from that macabre theme, the film concentrates mostly on its character-driven narrative, presenting an ongoing war, so to say, between the people who take part in this ingeniously allegorical story of media manipulation.It's a great example of how selfishness and greed guides our behavior, as we constantly struggle in order to stay ahead of the competition.
When Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick), a respected media mogul, dies and his haughty and incompetent son (Vincent Price) takes over the empire all hell breaks loose. For his own great amusement, he decides to play a little game with the three divisions of the company, creating an enormously competitive and stressful atmosphere in the building. Being a lazy ne'er do well, he proclaims that whoever gets the scoop on the hot serial-murderer topic wins it all and becomes the head of the corporation. As the race begins, the competitors refer to many mischievous methods in order to gain advantage. In the middle of the fight between the three potential candidates - main editor Griffith (George Sanders), wire service director Loving (Thomas Mitchell), photo chief Kritzer (James Craig) - there is an aspiring, hot-headed reporter named Edward Mobley (Dana Andrews). Being associated with Griffith, he finds the whole idea of a race ridiculous, but he's sure as hell that he wants to be the first to catch the killer just to satisfy his ego and prove his skillfulness. Mobley is gradually starting to uncover the whole mysterious and gritty affair, and while he does so, he only infuriates other sides. Through a many hit-and-miss trials, 'The Lipstick Killer' is feeling more pressure to commit crimes every day. Mobley, using his enormous deductive abilities, and basing his assumptions on smart psychological factors, becomes entangled into the murderous rampage, as his loving fiancée becomes the killer's object of interest.
With the most climatic and riveting finale, While the City Sleeps is Fritz Lang's most dazzling newspaper crime-drama. It presents a suspenseful story filled with violent imagery, fast-paced and right-on-spot dialogues, and many amazing performances from the stellar cast. Its social- criticism values are indisputable, and so is the fresh take on the topic of a dominant mother- figure, so frequently used as the killer's motive in many forthcoming pictures.
Hardboiled and edgy noir
The intensity of the action, superb direction, astonishing juxtaposition of the city sequences and scenes in the tranquil, snow-filled countryside, and - probably most of all - the many hardboiled dialogues present Nightfall as a truly expressive film noir. Through a clever use of retrospectives the film introduces the audience to James Vanning (Aldo Ray), whose life story is as tragic as it is suspenseful.
James wanders around town anxiously, looking as though he's waiting for someone the whole time. After his meeting with a lovely lady named Marie (Anne Bancroft) turns into a gritty kidnapping intrigue, all the pieces of the puzzle soon start to fit right in. A pair of thugs is after him, because they think that he hid the money (350,000 dollars to be exact), which they stole during a bank raid. In order to get the information out of him they try torturing him, but James ultimately manages to escape. As he returns to meet the lady, who supposedly gave him away to the criminals, brief retrospections appear on the screen, and entangle us in the whole obscure and dramatic affair. When James and his friend Dr. Gurston (Frank Albertson) were in the middle of a hunting trip they encountered a car crash and quickly realize that they the guys, whom they wanted to help, are nothing but a couple of violent robbers. They kill Dr. for their great amusement, but leave James only unconscious. When he wakes up, he realizes that what they also left behind was a bag with the cash. Soon a thrilling and fast-paced game of cat-and- mouse begins, as both the thugs and a private investigator Fraser (James Gregory) are on his trail. With the help of the previously met lady, James decides to stop the killers and retrieve the money-filled bag, which he left somewhere in the snowy country...
Nightfall is an enormously moody, sombre, and hard-hitting crime drama, which achieves high level of aesthetics through the sudden yet suitable changes of scenery, overcoming some of its screenplay-related faults in the process. The shootout in the secluded, wild place is a great advantage of the film, giving it a totally different perspective than other films in the genre have. It's a low-budget, extremely economical yet successful adaptation of a 1947 novel of the same name.
Human Desire (1954)
It owes much to the fantastic photography
One of the most unpleasant film noir in the genre. But in case of this movie, it's rather a well-deserved compliment for its hot-edginess and hardboiled melodramatic sensations. Human desire aspires to be a hard-hitting, gutsy crime picture that shows not only a story of romance bound to fail from the start, but also makes a series of aggressive comments on the topic of alcoholism and pathology in families.
When Jeff Warren (Glenn Ford) returns home after serving his time in Korea, his only dream is to return back to his steady job as a train engineer. Unfortunately, on his way he meets a vulgar, abusive Carl Buckley (Broderick Crawford). The man is in desperate need of an intervention in order to keep his job, and begs his beautiful wife Vicki (Gloria Grahame) to stand by him during the meeting with his boss. However, due to his alcohol addiction and distorted mind, Carl thinks that she met with Owens so as to flirt with him. On the train back Carl kills the man, and Jeff - who was very close to the whole action - bumps into Vicky and quickly develops feelings for her. She, on the other hand, wants to take advantage of his generosity. Being abused by her raging husband, she finds solace in the arms of a stranger. However, in a small city every rumor spreads faster than the wind. Carl starts drinking more and more, and blackmails Vicky with a letter into staying with him for as long as they'll live. Vicky soon comes up with a devilish plan to get rid of her disgraceful hubby...
The film owes much to the mightily effective and spellbinding photography. It portrays not only America's working class, but also many in-train sequences, which give the film a much-deserved claustrophobic feel. The intensity of the atmosphere goes through the roof as the characters argue and fight inside the small compartments, making their disputes even more dramatic and realistic than they are. Human Desire may not be Fritz Lang's masterpiece, but it surely deserves a view, for it is a violently sombre tale about regular people, who bring about their own demise through a series of tragic misunderstandings.
Surprisingly, Sinister is a very satisfying horror flick
Without giving away too much of the plot, I would like to explain why Sinister might arguably be by far one of the most rewarding, and – at the same time – one of the least offensive horrors of the last year. While the fact that the main idea presented in the film is sometimes poorly executed is rather discouraging, I think that Sinister is able to overcome many of its mistakes in a rather successful fashion.
First of all, I loved the way Sinister played with the concept of snuff films, making them one of the scariest and most shocking images seen during the whole movie. They add the much- needed amateurishness, so to say, and show a darker, more sinister side of the picture. Without any hesitation, they attack the audience with obscure recordings of some grizzly murders that look as disturbing and realistic as they definitely should.
Second of all, the amazingly climatic music sets the mood just right for a series of abrupt and unexpected scares. These aren't just some silly cookie cutters, no. It's rather a blend of electronic tunes and an a bunch of raw sounds combined together to intensify the unnerving and sombre ambiance every time something frightening and otherworldly is about to happen.
Third of all, Sinister doesn't overuse the idea of paranormal activity and nightmarish creatures as such. The weird 'thing' (too stay spoiler-free) is there, yes, but it appears only a few times in order to implement the possibility of an some mystic, occultist presence. Even though the film ultimately fails to get rid of most of its clichés, they're not really that striking and don't downgrade the overall experience. Surprisingly, even the ending is as satisfying as it is abrupt and forced.
Unfortunately, the characters are rather superficial and one-dimensional, and their inability to think clearly is the film's biggest problem. For a (un) trained eye the plot might seem predictable after some time, but the people involved in the whole horrendous intrigue can't comprehended that they're in grave danger, and that moving to a house, where people got killed before isn't always a reasonable thing (the blame is on Ethan Hawke's characters, just to be clear).
Sinister gives a reasonable amount of scares (although sometimes I wished for some more), and does so through a successful use of violent snuffs, grim and claustrophobic cinematography, and aforementioned distressing soundtrack. Even though Sinister doesn't really bring anything new to the table, it's both an eerie and enjoyable addition to the horror genre.
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Strangely, a true classic in the genre
Johnny Guitar is arguably the most spellbinding, psycho-sexual, genre-bending western ever made. While it didn't receive critical acclaim when it first came out, since then it has grown to become one of Nicholas Ray's indisputable classics. Through a full-bodied character-driven narrative Johnny Guitar stirs a debate about its many evident Freudian connotations.
The most bizarre thing about this film is the fact that at first it's rather hard to match it to one particular genre. Though the setting, the characters and their outfits fit a typical western perfectly, Johnny Guitar starts of quite unpredictably and stays this way till the very end. It's a radical creation, one that's not afraid to step beyond established boundaries, in order to show its mad, subversive, yet astonishingly creative nature.
When a lone ranger ridiculously named Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden, obviously with a guitar in his hand) steps into a saloon somewhere in the Far West no one comes out of the whole affair unharmed. He's there to find solace and earn a living, but his arrival only foreshadows a dramatic turn of events. Soon an angry mob steps into the canteen, ravishingly mad at its owner, a beautiful yet mysterious woman named Vienna (Joan Crawford), and her four no-goodniks friends – Dancin' Kind and his entourage. After a robust exchange of views the group leaves the place, but promises revenge for the death of their fellow men, killed that day in a stagecoach holdup. Vienna knows that it's the work of her thuggish buddies, but still decides to aid them. However, she doesn't know that the leader of the mob, a psychotic, temperamental, and very persuasive Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), will do everything in order to see Vienna's demise.
In the meantime, Johnny's true identity is revealed, and he's really not what he seems. Behind the tranquil, soft mask of a guitar player hides a dark past, which involves Vienna, a heartfelt romance, and a gun craze. Fortunately for the lady and her tough yet frightened friends, Johnny might be the savior everyone was looking for. In the amazingly climatic finale, the two groups take part in a deadly shootout.
Johnny Guitar is a tender, high camp, sometimes a bit too melodramatic, but still strangely unforgettable western with a lot of romance and sexual tension, all wrapped up in a nice, bold, politically relevant package. Emma is jealous of Vienna's easiness with men, becomes obsessed, and is finally ready to finish off her old rival. Now she finally got her motive, and she's ready to do some damage, unaware of the repulsion her behavior causes. Vienna is her counterpart, a strong and independent lady who is loved by all men and loathed by women. Johnny Guitar is probably the most unusual western ever, where female characters are in the center, and the duel between them is the film's most effective sequence. The tension, the sexual drive, and their anger combined make men look too small to be even significant in the end.
A gore-tastic Japanese flick
Jigoku is a bizarrely sinister film, one that has become an instant classic in the horror genre. It's known around the world as the first film that used gore to such a significant degree. In all of its bloodshed glory, Jigoku is also a frightening cautionary tale, which - through its brutally vivid imagery – introduces the important religious matters, such as the afterlife and what it really means to repay one's sins in hell.
Two students – the first (Tamura) is the incarnation of pure evil; the second (Shiro) is a friendly guy, who just can't get rid of his devil friend – run over a drunkard somewhere during the night. They flee the scene in a screwy fashion, leaving the man for dead. Unfortunately for them, it so happens that the dead man was a yakuza, and his mom was very close when the incident occurred, and she was able to remember the car's license plate numbers. Shiro tries to lead a peaceful life with his loving girlfriend, but is ultimately unable to due to a strange and horrible turn of events. First of all, only a day after the accident his girl is killed as the taxi they both were in crashes into a lamppost. Secondly, the old lady bound for revenge – along with the dead yakuza's grieving girlfriend Kiyochi – track the two students down.
Shiro receives a letter, which informs him about his mother's poor state, and so he decides to travel to the retirement house in order to spend some time with her. Tamura is following his every move like a ghost, like a devil who doesn't let go and curses you with his presence. His evil aura drags everyone around into a state of deep existential angst. When in the retirement community, Shiro falls in love with a girl who is strangely similar to his late girlfriend. After the death of his mother and a huge wrangle caused by the discovery of a few unexpected love affairs (Shiro's father for one), the revengeful old lady and her accomplice arrive at the scene. From this point on, things get odder with every following minute. Kiyochi falls of a bridge after she attempts to kill Shiro. A few moments later, Tamura is shot dead in the exact same place, and lands lifelessly few hundred meters below. The final sequence of the first act takes places during one of the evening feasts. The dinner turns into a disquieting bloodbath so to say, when all of the guest and strangers die one after another, some of them poisoned, other strangled.
Now it's time for act two, the one where all things gory start to happen. All of the sinners the audience has seen before are now in hell. And it looks exactly how people picture it. It's a dark and horrifying place, full of burning fire, with huge, bowls where people are being boiled, and with angels of death all around announcing punishments and tortures. Shiro is trying to reunite with his love and their unborn baby, and – in the meantime – every other character gets his or her comeuppance. In the most grizzly and violent manner people are sliced, mutilated, and so on. Finally they realize how harsh a punishment for a sin can really be.
Watching Jigoku proves to be a disturbing experience to say the least, but its religious values are irrefutable. Blood and gore serves its purpose when all those sick-and-twisted people, whose sins were previously exposed, are united in pain and anguish, unable to change their lamentable fate. Even though Jigoku might seem too bizarre and ludicrous for some viewers, it's a highly recommended view for all the horror fans and Japan lovers alike.
What joy Gozu brings
Being a cryptic psychosexual journey, Gozu delivers one of the most surreal and mind-boggling journeys one will ever encounter. As bizarre as the film truly is, Takashi Miike was able to make a surprisingly compelling and satisfying flick out of a genre-bending, perverse, and totally unpredictable horror-comedy. It's a film that digs deep into the imagination of the viewer and stays there for a long time, tackling all that's sick-and-twisted without any hesitation.
A temperamental and violent yakuza Ozaki (Shô Aikawa) is deemed mentally unstable after he makes a weird remark about a small dog outside of a restaurant, calling him 'yakuza attack dog'. What's more, he kills him brutally in front of the whole gang and upsets the boss (Renji Ishibashi). Soon after that, one of his fellow comrades Minami (Hideki Sone) is assigned to drive Ozaki to Nagoya and get rid of him in a mysterious place ingeniously called 'disposal site'. At first, he has second thoughts about the assignment, because of the long-lasting bond that's formed between the two men. However, even before he can make the final decision, Minami needs to make a short stop in a nearly-desrted, run-down suburb of Nagoya in order to make a quick phone call. This is when things begin to take a stupendously strange turn. Namely, Ozaki's body disappears from the car, and that's only the beginning of the whole chain of mysterious, mostly inexplicable events. After a superfluous confrontation with a few weird coffee-shop regulars, Minami runs into a guy named Nose (Shôhei Hino), who explains - in a rather secretive manner - that he might actually be able to help the man find his lost friend. In the meantime, the protagonist checks into a nearby inn for the night, encountering there an eccentric old lady with a quaint gift (her breasts are the source of huge amounts of milk), who is also prone to torturing her mentally ill brother-helper. As Minami runs around town searching for Ozaki the reality that surrounds him gradually begins to change into a surreal, dream-like realm, where nothing can be explained in a proper manner. After a disturbing nightly meeting with a man equipped with a cow's head (hence the title), Minami finally finds a clue that might lead him to Ozaki. Still, what he's about to discover is really beyond imagination...
While Gozu aspires to be a deeply distressing and incomprehensible film, it surely brings out everything that's best and brightest about Miike's depraved mind. It's a fantastical journey that doesn't stop to perplex till the very end, misleading the audiences with its existentially-challenging themes. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who's never before seen a Miike film, but for all the other hardcore fans it's a must-see. Gozu is a splendid ride, a shocking and confusing one, and even though the narrative is a showcase of improvisation and chaos, Gozu still maintains an amazingly high level of awesomeness.
Appointment with Danger (1950)
Uneven, yet still fairly thrilling
Appointment with Danger - Alan Ladd's last encounter with his beloved noir genre - is an erratic hit-and-miss showcase, which strikes as a picture both fairly suspenseful and too underdeveloped in its narrative structure. Though it has its pleasurable moments of ravishing intensity, Appointment with Danger is a rather forgettable flick that creates a disadvantage out of its overly routine approach to the subject.
The film focuses on Al Goddard (Alan Ladd), a special investigator for the US post office, who is called in to investigate a mysterious murder of his fellow co-worker. What starts off as a rather superficial intrigue with a lovely nun in the middle of the whole action, soon turns into a deadly intrigue concerning a group of greedy, handy thugs and a huge sum of money. In order to reveal their plan, Goddard poses as a witty crook who also wants to put his hands on the cash. While trying to infiltrate the gang and discover what the scheme is about, he communicates with the police and takes care of the nun, who is now in grave danger, as she's the only suspect in the aforementioned murder case. During the last, most decisive moments of the intrigue something goes wrong, and Goddard is forced to rely only on his own cunning. The movie concludes with an intense and climatic shootout in a quiet industrial district.
The most fascinating thing about this film is its cast. Apart from Alan Ladd as the protagonist, Lewis Allen cast Jack Webb and Harry Morgan as the ruthless murderers. The future stars of the TV series Dragnet bring a lot of joy to the cinephile's heart with their dark and nasty portrayals of two guileful schemers.
Overall, Appointment with Danger might not be film noir finest example, yet it still aspires to be a reasonably thrilling picture, which makes a good use of its stellar cast and moody cinematography. Though unsuccessful, it will please all the genre fans.