Friday, 29 April 2011

Review - Since You Went Away (1944 - Dir. John Cromwell)

Not your average American World War II film, this one. It centres on a family where the husband/father has gone away to fight in the war. He is only briefly seen at the start of the film and from then onwards you see how his family copes with the situation. 

The mother (Claudette Colbert) and her two daughters (Jennifer Jones and the surprisingly not irritating in this film, Shirley Temple) grow throughout the film as they cope with losses and the MIA status of the husband. There are quite a few 'Gee Whizz' moments and some cheesy sentimentality, but give it a break, it was made in 1944. Overall, it gets across the emotions of characters dealing with a very stressful situation.

The supporting cast are a lot of fun. Joseph Cotton plays a real ladies man who catches the eye of pretty much every lady in the film. The miserable Colonel (Monty Woolly) who rents a room in their house is also entertaining, especially his encounters with the family dog. Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train) plays Bill, the Colonel's Grandson, who is soon going off to war and becomes involved with the elder daughter is eminently watchable. An amusing 'fun for all the family' game that you can play is 'Who's a goner?' (Not to be confused with that other family favourite, 'Who's Dead?'. That game is mainly for viewers of Dad's Army and Carry On films.) When a new character appears predict whether they will survive or die. Great fun.

The film is long at 163 minutes but it does need that running time to explore their predicament and the story keeps moving throughout. I would have loved to see an English film based on a similar premise. You can't help feeling that it would have been more realistic and bleak. Never mind. I still enjoyed Since You Went Away and would recommend it to anyone who can put up with a smattering of cheesiness.

If you like this you could try:
A Place in the Sun, Gaslight, A Matter of Life and Death, This Happy Breed.

Review - The Silent House (2010 - Dir. Gustavo Hernández)

Made for approximately $6000 this little haunted house film is not too bad. It is based on a real event that happened in Uruguay in the 1940s where a girl and her father go to renovate an old creepy house.

It was filmed in one continuous take in a handheldy style. Well, supposedly. Like Hitchcock's Rope, you can see the joins between takes. The camera points at something completely black and then you're into the next take. I found this brought me out of the film because, as with Rope, you are reminded of the editing process when it happens. If I'm wrong about this and it was filmed in one take I apologise now. However, if you are just using one take you need to make it obvious that there are no hidden cuts to show off your crafty ingenuity.

There are a couple of good jumps and there is a creepy atmosphere. At times, it feels a bit like a haunted house checklist: spooky noises - check, ghostly figures - check, evil looking dolls - check, children's songs being played through an old radio - check, etc. It tries to play with genre staples, such as mirrors, by making you think that something is going to be revealed in one. But it never does. It's good to play with expectations but you have to deliver at some point. 

The twist ending does feel a tad odd compared to what has gone before, it doesn't seem to follow what you have already seen. In fact, the whole film feels like it would have benefitted from more planning at the writing and rehearsal stages. There are quite a few points where the actors are just stumbling about in the dark with torches looking at things in a room with no real motivation. 

Saying all that, I wasn't bored during the film. It was definitely more effective than a CGI saturated blockbuster and all with a tiny fraction of their budgets.

If you like this you could try:
Rec, Subconcious (miniscule budget, may never get released, but quite funny at times), The Haunting (1963)

Monday, 25 April 2011

Review - The Horde (2009 - Dir. Yannick Dahan, Benjamin Rocher)

A French zombie film with the faster paced, running variety of zombie. For my tastes, zombies should shuffle. And groan. Well, at least these don't talk. Or ride mopeds.

It doesn't start too badly, with some half decent gore but, and this is actually a positive, the characters don't know the 'shoot them in the head' rule. This results in some comedy zombie fist fights. The highlight being 'death by fridge' (sadly no gore). 

The film has a slow middle section but does pick up at the end with a preposterous, but great, last stand on top of a car. A bleak ending finishes it off, it just doesn't work as well as other bleak endings as you don't actually care about either character who is left.

Watch the French language version with subtitles, as always, as the dubbed version is terrible. Funny, but terrible.

So, not too bad then. Next time, make the zombies slow and shambling, with a tendency to burst through boarded up windows, please Mr Directors.

If you like this you could try:
Rec, Demons, Demons 2, Dawn of the Dead, Husk.

Intermission - Fashion

In between watching films, I like to chuckle about blouses. 

If you're after a business blouse make sure that it complements your suit rather than contrast with it. That would just be crazy. Make sure that your blouse is tucked in for that all important meeting. 
Casual blouse wearers - when going out after a long day at work, accessorise your blouse with maybe a necklace, brooch or even a shawl. 
For blouse hunters, easy pickings are to be found at British Home Stores. Virtually wall to wall blouses. Great stuff.

That's it for fashion tips. Back to the films.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Review - Never Let Me Go (2010 - Dir. Mark Romanek)

There's been nothing on at the cinema for a while so Mrs evlkeith and I decided to plump for this just to see something. The word 'chilling' was in the write-up. Can't be all bad. Even though Keira Knightly is in it.

When I was watching, I was thinking - 'How do you review something so completely average?' The main premise, about cloning, seems drastically underdeveloped. Any conclusions that the film comes up with about human nature, you would say within about two seconds of hearing the premise. I don't mind having questions left unanswered at the end of a film but the question: 'Why don't they just run away?' is too big a question to not answer. It makes the characters' actions seem suspect.

The director has tried to make a beautiful film and at times he has succeeded. A scene with the accursed Knightly on an operating table is particularly well shot and affecting. But at times, the beauty seems forced. An image of a boat on a beach just makes you realise you are watching a film. You can imagine them transporting the boat and using a crane to put it in the most aesthetically pleasing place.

On a positive note, Carey Mulligan is great throughout the film - possibly the only thing that keeps you watching. But then, she was the best Dr Who companion that never was. You do care about her character and she is easily the best thing in the film.

If you like this you could try:
Black Swan, Children of Men, We Are What We Are.

Review - Summer Wars (2009 - Dir. Mamoru Hosoda)

This is an anime from the fellow who brought us The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Based around an extended family and all the fun that entails. 

The film is split into two parts, the real world and a wide-reaching online space. It regularly cuts between the two. The real world looks like traditional hand-drawn cel animation, whereas the online world is clean, mostly white CGI. Summer Wars is a visual treat and the CG is refreshing compared to the endless talking animals we get from Hollywood. Both worlds look gorgeous and the animation, by the always dependable Madhouse, is excellent. 

There is a real warmth to the characters and the central theme of the strength of a family comes across well. The characters all have avatars and there are some great online battles. Some involve a large rabbit lamping other avatars and one final battle involving a traditional Japanese card game! There is one fantastic punch that brings out an audible 'oof!' from the viewer. 

If you haven't seen any anime before and you're after something quite gentle, there are worse places to start.

If you like this you could also try:
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, The Place Promised in our Early Days

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Review - North by Northwest (1959 - Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

To an older generation this film would be classed as mainstream. To a younger generation, who have never seen it, you are missing a treat. Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, well, Cary Grant really, a man mistaken for a secret agent by James Mason and his crew of suit-wearing henchmen. 

Hitchcock is on top form with this film. There are so many great moments. Standouts include a chase sequence in a corn field (culminating in my favourite film explosion), a comedy auction and a climax on a famous American landmark. There are some great double entendres in the film, especially on a train journey with Eva Marie Saint. Also, there is a cheeky end shot to the film. 

I've had this on DVD for quite a few years and have recently bought it on Blu-ray. It was like watching a different film. The colours and the sense of scale are breathtaking, not to mention the excellent score by Bernard Herrmann never sounding better. Younger readers: ignore/embrace some suspect rear projection shots, relax into a slower pace of editing, enjoy the gentle humour and prepare yourself for a classic that still holds up to this day.


If you like this you could try:
To Catch a Thief, Suspicion, Rear Window, Rebecca

Review - City of God (2002 - Dir. Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund)

This is a gritty Brazilian crime caper set in the heart of the City of God, a deprived and often violent area of Rio de Janeiro. The plot follows the lives of young people living in the shadow of drug dealing and organised crime spanning three decades.

At times it is both violent and disturbing but it's the characterisation that pulls the film out of the quagmire of generic grittiness and into a class of its own. Rocket (Alexandre Rodriguez) is a naive natural as he strives to salvage a positive future from the most savage of environments. The supporting characters, such as Li'l Ze (Leandro Firmino da Hora) and Benny (Phellipe Haagensen) are equally well fleshed out, to such an extent that we can understand if not empathise with their often excessive actions. Many of the cast were actually residents in the film's location and this adds to the natural feel of proceedings. 

Bizarrely this is almost a 'feel good' film for the genre with terrible events shown in stark reality but with ever present seeds of hope sprinkled liberally throughout. Not one for the fainthearted but a rewarding experience nonetheless.

If you like this you could also try:
Amores Perros, Tsotsi, Gomorrah

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Review - Serenity (2005 - Dir. Joss Whedon)

Watch the first season of Firefly before watching this film, if you haven’t seen it already. Serenity will be much more rewarding if you do.

After Firefly was cancelled midway through its first season, a small following said goodbye to one of the best TV series ever. Miraculously, Joss Whedon (writer/director) got the chance to give us a more satisfactory conclusion in the form of Serenity.

The cast is uniformly excellent (Nathan Fillion is great in everything he does), the dialogue snappy and witty, believable special effects, involving story with revelations that tie up the TV series, rousing music (the piece over the opening credits sends a shiver down my spine every time - play loud!) Why it didn’t win loads of Oscars, I’ll never know. Well, maybe it’s because the powers that be only grudgingly give awards to science fiction. Serenity in years to come will be fondly remembered and watched, just like The Thing (1982). Who actually still watches Ghandi now? (Ghandi won the best picture award in 1982.) Minor rant over.

One of the best things about this film is the sense of danger. It feels like any one of the characters could be killed at any point. In some polls Serenity has placed above Star Wars. Watch it and decide for yourself.


If you like this you could also try:
Firefly (TV), Buffy (TV), Angel (TV), Dollhouse (TV), Hellboy, Tremors, Slither

Review - Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970 - Dir. Werner Herzog )

Friends bought this for me at Christmas as part of a Werner Herzog box set. I am now slightly concerned about what kind of a guy they think I am. 

An incredibly funny film at times but also very difficult to watch, or recommend, due to some scenes of animal cruelty. 

This German film is about a community of dwarfs who gradually get more and more out of control, resulting in food fights, burning flowers and tormenting two blind dwarfs. The funniest part is them attacking a car with plates, food and a typewriter. Whilst one character, Hombre, giggles. Constantly. 

The director intended the film to show the violence and chaos that is hidden in society. The film does succeed on this level but does this really warrant scenes of chicken throwing? Worryingly though, this is a perfect film for this blog. Obscure and a real test of endurance.

If you like this (yeah, right) you could also try:
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Eraserhead, Fata Morgana, Heart Of Glass.

Ratings system explained.

Our ratings system is a true ratings system. It is not a system that many film studios would want to use for promotional purposes. An average film gets an average score of 5, which is perfectly okay for a rental or if you can buy it cheaply.
10          Classic - Buy at all costs. Now.
9, 8, 7    Great - Worth buying, on Blu-ray if possible.
6, 5, 4    Average - Rent it. Or get it cheap.
3, 2, 1    Poor - Don’t bother unless you are desperate.
0            Useless - The film equivalent of show tunes.   

Review - City of the Living Dead (1980 - Dir. Lucio Fulci)

The first of a loose trilogy of zombie films made by the late great Lucio Fulci (followed up by The Beyond and House by the Cemetery). This film has recently enjoyed its 30th birthday and is still going strong (I wonder if recent horror offerings will do the same). 

It is hard to put your finger on why it is so likeable. Is it the pairing of Christopher George and Catriona MacColl, who really don't have to do a lot of acting? For evidence, watch the maggot scene. Is it the excessive non-CGI gore effects? One scene of the much abused, in Fulci films, Daniela Doria  chucking up her intestines can make you feel a tad queasy. Plus, for the entrance fee, you also get a drill through the head scene! Is it the atmosphere and the strange disjointed plot? Is it the final shot that provokes much chin stroking bafflement? I don't think we will ever know the thinking behind it, if there was any. It's probably a combination of all these things that make an enjoyable late Friday night kind of film. Bear in mind that this is just the starter, compared to the main course that is The Beyond...

If you like this you could also try:
The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery, A Bay of Blood, Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, Dawn of the Dead.

Welcome to obscurendure!

Obscurendure aims to bring you the best and worst in films. We will review a range of films, both current and classic, with an emphasis on obscurities. If you're tired of the recent dirge coming from Hollywood, this could point you in new and interesting directions. We aim to update regularly with fresh material. On to our first review...