Monday, 29 August 2011

Review - The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006 - Dir. Mamoru Hosoda)

Like Summer Wars from the same director, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a very gentle film. I saw this originally a couple of years ago and it was really pleasant to revisit it on Blu-ray. I was surprised by how similar in style it is to his later film. The look of the time travelling sections was obviously a testing ground for the online world of Summer Wars. 

Makoto is your typical teenager with teenager problems. She acquires the ability to leap backwards through time. Now, if that was me I'd be: A) writing down this week's lottery numbers and nipping back in time to put £100 on them, B) telling my boss exactly what I think of them, including some mild swear words perhaps, then popping back in time again, and C) finding out whether Richard Madeley really did thieve all of those alcoholic beverages. Makoto doesn't do any of those. She sorts out minor problems and relationship issues. I did say it was gentle.

The humour is of the smile variety, but it's not supposed to be a hilarious comedy. Fans of people falling over and bumping their head are in for a treat though. Makoto is constantly falling on her backside. She is a really likeable main character. For a teenager, she isn't irritating in the slightest. The other two main characters, Chiaki and Kousuke complete a very loose love triangle. Their relationship is developed well throughout the film and this leads to a real emotional punch when one of the three is in a life threatening situation.

The animation is great, in both the traditional cel-drawn sections and the short CGI sections. The sound effects also deserve a mention. Everyday details, like the sound of a vibrating mobile phone, are accurate, and the surround speakers are well used, particularly in a sequence where Chiaki circles Makoto.

So again, we have another anime that shows that animation doesn't always have to be about talking animals. It can be used to tell a simple story about an ordinary girl's teenage life. Admittedly, you have to be in the mood for a lighter kind of film, but it is a good starting point if you've never seen any anime before.

If you like this you could also try:
Summer Wars, Origin Spirits of the Past - The Movie, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, The Time Traveller - The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Review - Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner (2001 - Dir. Zacharias Kunuk)

This is the first Inuktitut language film and it is based on an Inuit legend. The characters all wear appropriate historical costumes and live as you would expect. This is an epic tale and there's all kinds of shenanigans: bigamy, rape, murder, coveting of neighbour's wives, and ear punching. Yes, people taking it in turns to punch each other's ears until they hit the deck. A quality fight scene if ever there was one.

Natar Ungalaaq stars as the titular Atanarjuat. A charismatic lead and generally a very happy chap. Apart from the unfortunate incident where he has to run completely stark chicken nugget naked across the ice, occasionally falling into freezing cold water. Without access to computer trickery, the filmmakers shot these scenes for real. There must have been some serious chapping.

The plot is quite involved, but suffice to say Atanarjuat doesn't just run across ice in the nip for a laugh. He is being chased by some untrustworthy characters who are trying to kill him, all over the love of the lovely Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu). The scenes of them stealthily stalking Atanarjuat in his tent are really funny. As they're sneaking up, one of them does a comedy fall into the snow. Surprisingly, this wasn't edited out and sent to a hilarious out-takes programme.

And therein lies the problem. The film clocks in at 172 minutes. The story is complicated but not 172 minutes of complicated. Quite a few of the scenes need trimming. It feels like the editor has taken any raw footage and pretty much slapped it into the finished film. There are so many goings on that the length of the film is not too much of a problem. I was never bored, it just goes on for a long time. The actors occasionally look at the camera, again not edited out, and this all gives Atanarjuat an amateur feel. Consequently though, it makes the film seem more like a documentary, as if we're seeing the story really happening.

All of the main characters are well defined. Oki, Atanarjuat's love rival is a right piece of work and his sister Puja is, and I'm not going to mince my words here, a scheming evil tart. Their naughty behaviour makes the ending all the more satisfying. All in all, I enjoyed Atanarjuat and it is worth a look. And yes, I do realise she's called Atuat. You can stop sniggering now.

If you like this you could also try:
Ten Canoes, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Return, Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Review - A Night To Remember (1958 - Dir. Roy Ward Baker)

Right, let's get all this out of the way first. It's in black and white. There are no big stars involved. Kenneth More is a likeable fellow but he's never been a major star. The other 'big name', Honor Blackman, is hardly in the film. All the effects were done with models in a pre-CGI era. If all that puts you off then you're missing out on a treat.

A Night To Remember is a historical film about the sinking of the Titanic, based on the book by Walter Lord. The filmmakers knew that the ship was the star and the actual sinking is given plenty of screen time. The characters who you meet are representative of the people who sailed on the Titanic. The first class passengers are beyond belief, moaning about being cold and the life belts being uncomfortable whilst other people, mainly the steerage passengers, are drowning. It gives you a taste of how the classes were segregated at that time.

There are lots of British stiff upper lips, but this only adds to the emotional impact of the film: the husband who puts his wife and children in the lifeboats, knowing that it will be the last time he sees them, the young couple who decide to stay together and brave the cold sea, the ship's designer and captain going down with the ship, all of these add up to a surprisingly touching experience.

The special effects showing the ship going down are surprisingly effective. It is notoriously difficult to make water look realistic when using models and they partially got around this by using a very large model and shooting at high speeds so that the ship would appear slower and have more weight. You do forget that you are watching effects after a while and become engrossed in the story.

To finish with, I really need to compare this to the other Titanic film, namely TitanicJames Cameron (the director of Titanic) didn't realise that he already had a fantastic story and a captivating starThe story of the sinking of the Titanic is so strong you don't need a fictional love story that takes up most of the running time. If you want to make a something romantic, make it as a separate film. Plus, if you watch A Night To Remember you don't have to put up with Celine Dion's warblings. That's got to be a bonus.

If you like this you could also try:
The Hindenburg, Ice Cold In Alex, The Admirable Crichton.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Review - Tango and Cash (1989 - Dir. Andrey Konchalovskiy)

The first instalment of our Buddy Movie Season and we're starting with a prime slice of late 80s cheese. Tango and Cash fits nicely into the category of 'It's so bad, it's good'. Well, good might be stretching it a touch, but it is a laugh.

Tango (Sylvester Stallone) and Cash (Kurt Russell) are two cops working in separate parts of L.A. All is going well with their crime-fighting ways, until they are framed for a murder they didn't commit. Sentenced to a stretch in a low security prison, it turns out that they're actually sent to a high security prison with a loads of perps they helped bang in the slammer. Chuckle chuckle. Hilarity ensues. There's not really that much prison action in it. Not enough to be included in the recent 80s Prison Season

The cast all cheese it up like there's an emmenthal shortage. Stallone is terrible, but that's part of the charm. There's an appearance from Deep Space Nine's Marc Alaimo without his Gul Dukat make-up. The worst offender in it is Brion James (Blade Runner). His English accent is just shocking. His attempts to swear are one of the highlights of the whole film. Why do all English characters in American films have to either posh or cockneys? It would have been way better if they'd got an actor from Barnsley to play the same part. 

Tango and Cash is such a product of the 80s: Tango is involved in stocks and shares, his sister (Teri Hatcher) randomly plays some synthesised drums during a saucy dance routine, Kurt Russell's haircut, the badly dated music that keeps reminding you that you're having fun and weirdly, most of the rooms are filled with mist. I can't remember the 80s weather being that full of pea-soupers, but in Tango and Cash you could lose your bearings in most of the rooms. Very strange.

I know that most of the above is not strictly positive, but I do quite like Tango and Cash. You're never bored and there's lots to chortle at. Plus you get to see one of the biggest chins in screen history on the bottom of Robert Z'Dar's face. Oh, and Kurt Russell in drag.

If you like this you could also try:
Red Heat, Big Trouble in Little China, Robocop, Lock up, Drive, Monolith.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Review - Hardcover (UK) / I,Madman (US) (1989 - Dir. Tibor Takács)

I can see how the meeting between Randall William Cook and the studio suits went for this film: "Now, Randall, can I call you Randy? Great. Now, Randy, I know you're not very happy about your stop-motion effects not being used in The Thing, so you can be the main villain in this new film we've got planned called I, Madman. What, you want to do some effects too? Okay, you betcha, we'll shoehorn an unnecessary weird dog creature into the script. Is that cool? Er... look, I'm going to have to say 'no' to the fifty naked Brazilian dancing girls, playing volleyball on a huge bouncy castle whilst simultaneously eating hotdogs, dripping with mustard, in a very suggestive manner. You're really pushing it now Randy."
Possibly not strictly how it went. 

He does make a severely creepy doctor/author though, one of the unsung villains of the late 80s. Dr Kessler goes round hacking features off unsuspecting members of the public and sewing them on to his self-inflicted facial wounds. General antisocial behaviour, that kind of thing. His antics are documented in two books read by our heroine Virginia (Jenny Wright - Near Dark) that gradually find a way of creeping into her reality. Her unbelieving cop boyfriend, Richard (Clayton Rohner - The Relic), rounds off our package of cuddly characters.

This is a very atmospheric film and the lighting and feel recall Dario Argento's Inferno. There are some genuine scares: Dr Kessler lurking around the bottom of stairs, Dr Kessler standing menacingly in the gloom at the end of a long corridor, Dr Kessler slamming a hypodermic needle into his victim's arm, Dr Kessler... oh, you get the idea, he's a scary fellow. He is also very photogenic in a disturbing way; there are loads of brilliant images involving our facially curtailed doctor.
Jenny Wright is a bit drippy as Virginia and Richard is basically a lovely haircut. This doesn't detract from the film too much, as they form a strong contrast for Dr Kessler and his unsavoury actions.
Now, we get to the dog creature. It pops up in the opening minutes and then again in the bonkers finale. It does smell suspiciously of someone trying to cram some stop-motion effects into a film that didn't need it. They were possibly trying to appeal to the audience that enjoyed The Gate from the same director. It's still a laugh when it starts charging about and the effects are well done. There is a slight blurring to some of its movements, that looks great. We really need more stop-motion in current films; smoothed out with CGI it would probably be more convincing than pure CGI creatures.
Sadly, this is only available on VHS or Region 1 DVD. Definitely worth getting hold of it, if you can. It's a diamond in the rough of Direct-To-Video horror.

If you like this you could also try:
The Gate, Phantasm, Inferno, Waxwork.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Review - Sarah's Key (2010 - Dir. Gilles Paquet-Brenner)

Sarah's Key starts out so intriguingly that you're willing it to be a really good film. Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas - I've Loved You So Long) is investigating the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup of Jews in France in 1942 for a magazine article. She soon finds out that an apartment that she is renovating with her husband, passed down from his grandparents, is linked to the atrocity. 

Probably like many people, I hadn't even heard of Vel' d'Hiv'. The audience's perspective is most likely represented by the two younger journalists working at the magazine. It's a shame that they are both so irritating. But don't worry, they're hardly in the film. The rest of the cast is excellent though. It's Kristin Scott Thomas. What do you expect?

The opening half of the film is split between the investigation happening now and a flashback to the life of a young girl, Sarah (Mélusine Mayance), involved in the roundup. When the family is taken from their home, Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret cupboard to keep him safe and promises to come back for him. This section is the strongest part of the film and it takes a dip when the flashback reaches the end of the war. There is far too much of the story of Julia's pregnancy, her relationship with her husband and seemingly endless scenes of tracking people down and questioning them. With such serious subject matter, I found myself feeling quite guilty for being bored. 
Even though there isn't a stunning revelation at the end, Sarah's Key still manages to finish on a satisfying note. I initially thought it was going to be overly sentimental but Aidan Quinn's reaction in a pivotal scene just managed to pull it round for me. I do think that having watched Stephen Poliakoff's work, I have been spoilt. The way that he tells World War Two stories in his dramas is subtle, gripping and unexpected. Sadly, Sarah's Key didn't work quite as well. Definite potential though, that could have been improved by some judicial editing in the latter half.

If you like this you could try:
Shooting the Past, Glorious 39, Perfect Strangers, Joe's Palace, I've Loved You So Long.

Intermission - Water Safety

A passerby came up to me the other day in the street and said, "Evlkeith, I've got a four year old daughter and a two year old son. The problem is that they keep arsing about around our garden pond. I keep telling them to stop arsing about, but they just don't listen. I'm really worried about them arsing about and falling in. Can you help?"

Having a degree in child psychology, this is an easy one. You need to put the fear of God into them. More precisely, the fear of death. Tell them that if they persist in their showing off, foolishness and unwary behaviour then The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water will come for them in a manky, dark brown, hooded cloak, and drag them under the water into the deepest pits of hell. That should sort them out. Remember that The Spirit has no power over sensible children.

If this doesn't work, go and watch telly and leave them to it. You've informed them of the risks and they'll have to take the consequences.

NB obscurendure accepts no responsibility for the unwise use of these seventies parenting techniques.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Review - Lupin The Third: The Secret of Mamo (1978 - Dir. Sōji Yoshikawa)

I absolutely love The Castle of Cagliostro which features the sneaky thief Lupin (I will review it at some point, possibly for a special occasion). I saw this and it was nice and cheap, so I decided to give it a go. 

The first half an hour is fairly breathless. Lupin goes from one chase to another. The sequence featuring a huge lorry chasing Lupin and his mate Jigen in a tiny little car is a standout moment. Then it all goes very slow and dull. It descends into chatting about clones, friends falling out and Lupin letching about. Being generous, you could call Lupin a 'ladies' man'. Being less generous, a 'pervert'. Tonally, his escapades with the improbably proportioned Fujiko don't sit well with the rest of the film. This aspect of Lupin was toned down for The Castle of Cagliostro. Good.

The villain, Mamo, is a crackingly disturbing piece of design. His initial reveal reminded me of the final reveal in Don't Look Now. I didn't have quite as strong as a reaction as I did to that scene, but he is a dirty, slinky, little, lilac-suited freak with lady curls in his long white hair. It's a shame he doesn't get up to too much villaining about. He just gets to talk a lot. And float a bit.

Still, there is something relaxing about this style of animation from the late 70s. It has a charm that CGI generally lacks. The music is pretty great too. Couldn't find the main theme from Secret of Mamo but this version should give you an idea: Lupin The Third Theme. So, if you want a film to watch when you're feeling tired, you can watch the first half hour then fall asleep. Perfect.

If you like this you could also try:
The Castle of Cagliostro, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Tekkonkinkreet.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Review - Lock Up (1989 - Dir. John Flynn)

And so we come to the final instalment of The 80s Prison Season. Phew. I've decided to finish with Lock Up because it's got one of the most corrupt Warden/Guard combos in film history. Plus, I had to end on a severely cheesy note and this contains more cheese than a Cheese String (not hard considering they're made from barely edible plastic that's been rubbed between pensioners' toes).

Sylvester Stallone plays Frank Leone, a Vauxhall Conference league criminal, who is doing porridge in a low security prison. Not for long though, because he mysteriously gets transferred to a high security facility run by Warden Drumgoole (Donald Sutherland). It transpires that Frank escaped from the Warden's previous prison and wrecked his career. Drumgoole is mildly tetchy about these occurrences to say the least. 

Easily the best thing about the film, Drumgoole and his two main guard cohorts break many human rights and obviously enjoy it. They nearly gas Frank in a delousing chamber. They deprive Frank of sleep and then batter him with truncheons for a bit. They allow the death of Frank's friend at the hands of Mr Big, Chink Weber (Sonny Landham - Predator). They threaten to rape and murder Frank's girlfriend just to goad him into trying to escape. As you can see, you wouldn't recommend them for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Stallone is as you'd expect. He gives an absolutely cringeworthy speech mid-way through and is involved in most of the cheesier moments, the American football game being a prime example. For all its cheese, there are some darker moments. Someone gets killed in a weights room, obviously, but not Death By Shank. It is a harsher death than you would expect, due to the tone of the rest of the film. 

Lock Up has loads of the features from the Prison Checklist and is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, if only for the sadistic guard performances. 

If you want to try and work out what the next two seasons are, here are a couple of clues. Both seasons have direct links to Lock Up through the actors. One of them is John Amos who played the harsh but ultimately fair Captain Meissner. Hmm, intriguing.

If you like this you could also try:
An Innocent Man, Bad Boys, Tango and Cash.