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Smrt coveka na Balkanu (2012)
A Serbian Farce
Death of a Man in the Balkans begins with a clearly distraught man turning on a web camera in his apartment. The screen goes black, we hear a gunshot, and we are returned to the point of view of the web camera where the man's body has fallen tantalizingly just out of view. There's a knock on the door, an ordinary looking man - his neighbour - walks in and sees the man's dead body.
So begins a series of farcical exits and entrances, including, but not limited to, neighbours, real estate agents, opportunistic funeral directors, paramedics, police, and amusingly, a pizza delivery man. Each offers their own, unguarded take on the suicide. His neighbours struggle to remember his name, but recall that he was a somewhat well-known composer, the paramedics and police are unenthusiastic and more concerned with their mobile phones than with the dead body. A real estate agent stoically tries to give a lady a tour of this apartment, despite the man's body gracing the living room floor. A pizza delivery man shows up. The composer had ordered it in advance for the assembled crowd.
All this is captured by a switched on web camera, which records unnoticed until the film's last few minutes. Thus the film is presented, convincingly, as one long unbroken shot unfolding in real time. Death of a Man in the Balkans is a funny, entertaining and original look at a man's death and various people's reactions to it. It may not be the best farce out there, but I left feeling satisfied by a film with a great premise, spot-on performances and some very funny dialogue.
"You know, you're just my type..."
Frenzy is a very atypical Hitchcock film. The men aren't charming, the women are neither blonde nor beautiful, lines like "He's been pulling your tits" and "I let you finger me!" are fired off casually, while Hitchcock's black humour descends into borderline tastelessness ("I hear he rapes the women before he strangles them," "Well at least this cloud has a silver lining hahahaha"). That said there still some typical Hitchcock tropes present, mainly the idea of the wrongly accused man, but it's clear that Hitchcock is intent on challenging audiences' perception of him with a more atypical style of direction and scenes of remarkable brutality.
Oh yes there is brutality. Free from Hays Code restrictions, Hitchcock seems to have gone wild with the possibilities of shocking the audience. Nudity, swearing and violence litter the film, but it's the disturbing, excruciating, almost painful rape scene cum asphyxiation that really stands out. Even by today's standards this scene is brutal, so imagine how it would have been in 1972. In fact, along with A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs which emerged around the same time, it must be one of the most disturbing rape scenes in cinematic history, and a point of concern for critics who have often labelled Hitchcock as a misogynist. It's mainly this scene that explains why Frenzy remains Hitchcock's only 18 rated film in the UK.
After this gratuitous scene of exploitation however, Hitchcock seems content with disturbing us in other ways. The next 'event' is a masterpiece of how to show nothing but elicit everything. The murderer escorts an unassuming young woman up to his flat, and lets her in, remarking "You know, you're just my type " As the door closes, the camera slowly backs away, creeps down the stairs, floats out the door and angles across the street as people go about their hectic daily business. It's arguably the most meaningful, disturbing, economic tracking shot ever performed, and shows Hitchcock can genuinely chill without flamboyant rape and asphyxiation scenes.
Frenzy is by no means top tier Hitchcock, but it does contain enough flashes of brilliance to put it close and justify its position as 'the last great Hitchcock film'.
Synchro! Synchro! Synchro!
Waterboys is a zany, sweet comedy about a group of boys who get roped into starting a synchronised swimming team, and then have to get together a routine for an exhibition in a few weeks time! It's fun stuff that aims low and hits hard. There are lots of great sight gags and other slapstick comedy, but there's also an interesting love story and fantastic acting from the boys.
The film rolls along at a great pace, with Yaguchi a talented director treating us to lengthy tracking shots and other technical flourishes. The film never bores and always pleases, and as we head towards the climax, the comedy keeps coming, and the final 'routine' will delight you with its genius. A fun, endlessly rewatchable madcap comedy.
Tonî Takitani (2004)
Tony Takitani is a highly minimalist film. The acting, direction, music, even running time, are all minimal in nature. And yet the film creates and releases more emotion than most films.
It is the sad story of Tony Takitani, a lonely technical illustrator. He has lived a life of loneliness, so removed from emotion and humanity, that he has come to realise that neither serves him any benefit. He is immensely talented at anything that doesn't require emotion. The director, the recently deceased Jun Ichikawa, creates a cold, melancholic film, that moves slowly but still manages to grip you while allowing space for silent contemplation. The camera is framed like a machine on the tripod, sharp colours are noticeably absent, and emotions are kept stoic until the final act, which is a series of cathartic revelations. The film is helped along by Sakamoto's minimalist score of haunting piano keys, and the remarkable subdued acting of Issei Ogata as the title character.
Tony Takitani is a sad film. Someone once said that it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. This film challenges that statement.
Boss Nigger (1975)
They call him Boss.
Two black cowboys ride majestically across the American plain. The music is a kind of funk-Morricone, with a singer enthusiastically explaining that "They call him Boss. BOSS N*GGER!" A black woman is being assaulted by a group of white cowboys, our black heroes intervene and save this damsel in distress.
A blaxploitation Western was bound to happen eventually, and its a good thing Fred Williamson got there first. What Boss N*gger lacks in technical proficiency and skill it makes up for in heart and soul. The music is funktacular, especially the catchy theme tune, and the acting from our heroes is wonderful. Boss N*gger also boasts some very funny lines, such as Boss kissing a white woman, before going, "that's just to satisfy your curiosity."
It's slow at parts, but the idea of two black bounty hunters coming to a white town and setting their own rules is appealing, and the film pulls it off. There are also some great shootouts, especially the finale, which is really quite exhilarating, and features a remarkable, almost downbeat ending. This film is by no means a masterpiece, but it is one of the best blaxploitation films I've seen, and an admirable effort on a small budget.
Don't watch this on drugs or you might die
This film is impossible to describe, or review, or assign an arbitrary number out of ten. In fact, calling it a film throws up the very idea of what constitutes a film. It is filmed, yes. As far as I can tell, the actors knew they were being filmed and were probably paid (in drugs maybe), but yet I struggle to define this as a film. It just doesn't seem right.
Hausu is an experience. Quite an experience. You can actually pinpoint the moment where the film-makers got bored and began ingesting large amounts of LSD. It's about the time the floating head appears, followed by the girl-eating piano, and then the malevolent cat spirit that gushes blood, and the carnivorous lamp. This, of course, assumes that the film- makers were clean to begin with. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no doubt in my mind that the film-makers started on some type of cannabis, explaining the nonsensical edits, preeeety colours and crazy scene involving a man and a bucket. Then they moved on to something harder, perhaps skunk. That would explain the talking watermelon (at at least, I think it was a talking watermelon). By the time we get to the 'Hausu' in question, dear readers and viewers, it is clear that we are being directed by hypomanic drug fiends, so tweaked on psychoactive hallucinogens that they've lost all concept of reality, rationality and reason. The orgy of drugs that precipitates throughout the crew eventually spills on to the filmed scenarios, where our hapless (and one can only assume drug-addled) girls are being subjected to a series of criminally insane scenes of violence, comedy and epilepsy-inducing flashes of colours.
The experience eventually ends, rather solemnly I must say, although after at least 20 minutes of non-stop psychotropic hallucinogenia, it acts as a welcome buffer zone as you gravitate back into reality. Hausu is an astonishing experience. I kinda want to watch it on drugs, but I value my life too much. If someone does manage to, and lives, please post a comment describing your experiences. I'm sure many will be fascinated.
Another thoughtful film from Kim Ki-duk
Sandwiched between his two, in my opinion, masterpieces, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring and 3-Iron, Samaria is an interesting pieces that provides a necessary link between them, sharing the themes of the former, and the style of the latter. The theme I'm talking about is the loss of innocence, something that is presented in the harshest possible manner in this film.
Two girls want to travel to Europe, so one acts as a pimp and the other as a prostitute. This seems shocking, and it is to the 'pimp' who becomes increasingly disturbed by their activities. To the 'prostitute' however, it's all a bit of harmless fun that she gets paid for. Eventually something happens, in fact it's no spoiler to say that the 'prostitute' dies. The scene that precipitates this is one of the most harrowing in the film, and shows that Ki-duk can create some subtly played shocks when he needs to. After this, the 'pimp' essentially assumes the role of 'prostitute' for personal reasons, and this is where the film begins to follow the same style as 3-Iron, in the sense of 're- visiting' past experiences and places in a new form. This is augmented when the girl's father begins following the men she sleeps with, confronting them in increasingly violent ways. One reviewer already spoke of the so called 'dinner-table confrontation scene' - it is perhaps one of the best scenes in Ki-duk's extensive library, and leaves a lasting impression.
I must applaud Lee Eol, who plays the father. His performance expresses emotions of confusion, anger and violence with remarkable subtlety and skill. As the film progresses into its final act, Ki-duk covers us with an increasingly dark pall of blue. He then, arguably, offers us two endings to choose from, although it is the latter that is the most affecting and so beautifully summarises the themes of the film. Most Ki- duk films leave me stunned with feelings of amazement. Samaria is no different. The ending is haunting, and true.
Not as good as Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring or 3-Iron, Samaria is still an excellent film that continues to prove why Kim Ki- duk is arguably Korea's greatest director.
Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (2007)
A wonderful surprise
Reading the synopsis of this film, I really expected the worst. Some dumb slapstick comedy about clashing cultures, I thought. This will suck.
But I watched it, and from the first scene I knew I was in for something different. The direction and cinematography of this film are lovely and really evokes the harsh atmosphere of the desert. Likewise, the camera is never intrusive, often kept at a well judged distance, allowing us to see the characters in a much more realistic light.
Th film follows an Egyptian band, in Israel to play at the opening of an Arab centre, who end up in the wrong town. They are invited by the bored locals to stay the night, and we follow select groups of them as they experience the night. This part of the film is essentially shot in real time, meaning that dialogue is highly important. Nonetheless, speaking is kept to a minimum, and the words are well judged. The director is far more concerned about the silent moments, and indeed it is these that most stick with us.
The elderly Tawfiq leads the band. He is proud, yet hides sadness behind his stoic eyes. Gabai's performance is heartbreakingly beautiful, as he conveys so much with so little. This is subtle drama at its purest. Comedy comes from the youngest member of the band, the suave ladies' man, Haled. He accompanies a loveshy man on a date, and his scenes in the roller-disco make for some beautiful comedy. Other members of the band find themselves at the house of an unwelcoming family, and there is a funny subplot involving a phonebooth too.
As the night progresses, the film becomes more and more moving, especially when Gabai is on the screen. Each character is given a perfect amount of time on screen and the film never feels pushed or move. As the credits rolled over the final scene, I felt incredibly happy and moved. It's a beautiful scene, and a beautiful film. I strongly recommend it. Cynics (like I was) will be won over.
All God's Children Can Dance (2008)
Watch Tony Takitani instead
In 2004, veteran Japanese director Jun Ichikawa took one of the best short stories in Murakami's collection, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, and crafted a masterpiece of a film, perfectly capturing the themes of loneliness and isolation, with a great score, acting and cinematography. I strongly recommend it to everyone.
How woeful it is then that newbie American director Robert Logevall, has taken, in my opinion, the worst story in Murakami's collection, after the quake, and turned it into a dull, aimless film that manages to be both vacuous and pretentious. We follow Kengo (Jason Lew), a mixed race man, who has been told all his life that he is the Son of God by his vaguely disturbed mother (Joan Chen), as he negotiates his relationship with his girlfriend (Sonja Kinski) and boss (Tzi Ma). Kengo has lost his faith in God and his belief in his implied divinity. One day he sees a man he believes is his father. He follows him.
It's Jason Lew's first role, so his falterings as a lead are understandable, but I found him irritating and smug as his character, and uncomfortable to watch. Sonja Kinski is decent in her first role, but really it's Chen and Ma that give the only good performances in this film. The former with wonderful emotion, and the latter with remarkable subtlety and understatement. Both keep afloat a film that fails to explore any interesting themes it brings up (Oedipal complexes, religion), nor manages to deliver any interesting scenes whatsoever. The narration that aims high for philosophy but spews out drivel doesn't help, neither does the over ambiguous ending that fails to capture the existentialism of the story and just seems stupid.
It's not all bad. There's some nice cinematography, Chen and Ma's performances are genuinely wonderful, and the soundtrack by STS9, is lovely. But this is an unremarkable film, with little to recommend, even to Murakami fans. Watch Tony Takitani instead, and hold your breath for the eventual Norwegian Wood adaptation.
This is not scary; this is not interesting
Reports of this film's brilliance appear to have been greatly exaggerated, and unless the other reviewers were watching a different movie, I fail to see how anyone can find this film anything other than dull, unscary, uncreepy, overlong, and at times, unbearably irritating. I'm not some schlocky horror fanatic. I love j-horrors and euro-horrors over American horrors any day, but I feel the need to warn any potential viewers about this film before they invest two hours of their life in it.
It could have been so great. A reporter is investigating a series of bizarre deaths and occurrences, which seem ostensibly unlinked, but a series of unnerving tropes appears to connect them - dead pigeons, thudding noises, the presence of strangely tied knots... Our reporter goes from person to person, interviewing them, filming them and then passing on. Three important characters are among this jumble of people, a young, shy psychic girl, an immensely irritating, insane psychic man, and a crazy old woman and her boy, whose importance is not revealed until later on.
The problem is that the film is not even remotely interesting, which makes its two hour running time unforgivable. It's also not even remotely scary or creepy. Supposedly scary scenes, like shots of ghoulish faces are done incredibly poorly, shown twice, or worse, we are told when they are about to happen. Other techniques, such as telling us that a family just interviewed "died five days later" simply don't make me care, let alone mildly creeped.
The film does pick up a bit towards the end, as our reporter, cameraman, psychic and cursed woman go to a village in order to 'remove' the curse which is linking all these deaths. However, by that time, I was in a state of catatonic boredom, and couldn't care less, so all the fairly creepy camera-work and shocks were wasted on me. The "final tape" is quite good, but once again, I'd given up caring and just wanted this film to end.
Boring and dull, not scary and not creepy, I would advise you keep away from Noroi. It has promising moments, but this is a film that was poorly made and not worth your time.