Showing posts with label 2003. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2003. Show all posts

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Blues: Feel Like Going Home

Feel Like Going Home is one of seven documentaries produced by Martin Scorsese on the subject of blues music. This particular episode was also directed by the auteur and focuses primarily on the roots of the genre. Narrated in part by Scorsese himself, it follows musician Corey Harris as he interviews fellow musicians and goes in search of the blues birthplace, travelling through the Mississippi Delta and eventually to West Africa from where the music was first snatched away in chains aboard slave ships.

Neither a hard hitting exposé nor critically acclaimed undercover investigation, Scorsese’s film is a sort of coffee table documentary, delighting its audience with some great stories and incredible music. It fails to go deep or uncover anything new but might help to bring the blues to a whole new audience.

The first thing that struck me about this film was its look. Scorsese has a reputation as one of the greatest film makers of his or any age and we are used to his highly polished latter work as well as his grittier, earthier beginnings but this film is unlike anything I’ve seen from Scorsese before. It feels cheap and basic, like one man and a camera, and not a great camera at that. A lot of the footage is grainy and dark and it doesn’t appear to be particularly well made in several places. Even the editing is a little slapdash. Although I tried to put this to one side, I could never quite get over it. I understand that the budget must have been low but I’d expected something a little flashier or at least more polished from Martin Scorsese.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Belleville Rendez-vous

Belleville Rendez-vous, known as The Triplets of Belleville outside of my native United Kingdom, is a 2003 Oscar nominated animated feature, written and directed by the mastermind behind the similarly styled 2010 Oscar nominated The Illusionist. The film tells the surrealist story of a doting grandma who trains her grandson to compete in the Tour de France before he is kidnapped by the mob. Determined to return him to his native France, she tracks him to Belleville (modelled on New York City) where she and her obese dog befriend the Belleville Triplets, a formerly popular music hall act.

As well as reminding me of director Sylvain Chomet’s quite and masterful feature, The Illusionist, the animation is also reminiscent of classic Disney. The still backdrops and wildly grotesque characters remain faithful to the animation found in the likes of Dumbo or Pinocchio but are darker and drawn with the animator’s tongue firmly in cheek. The animation also displays modern touches but these are counteracted by the wonderfully realised mid twentieth century setting. There are even flairs of psychedelia present and side characters such as an overly foppish waiter and henchmen who seem conjoined at their ridiculously overgrown shoulders wouldn’t look out of place in a dehydrated Yellow Submarine.  The surrealist nature of the animation also extends beyond the character and occasionally creeps into inanimate objects too where it is befitting of the plot.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Kill Bill Volume 1

Kill Bill Volume 1 will always have a special place in my heart for two reasons. Firstly it was the first 18 Certificate film I ever saw at the cinema and as a result it was the first Tarantino film I saw at the cinema too. Thinking back, it might have been the first Tarantino film I saw at all although I can’t quite remember if I bought my VHS copy of Pulp Fiction a little earlier. As a seventeen year old who at the time had little interest in movies beyond the latest American Pie I was awe struck by Kill Bill and I’ve seen it several times since. The movie, as it makes clear during the opening credits was the forth film from Quentin Tarantino and followed a six year break since Directing his third film, Jackie Brown. Although originally intended as one feature the movie was split into two separate films due to a four hour run time and Kill Bill Volume 2 followed six months after Volume 1 in 2004.

This is perhaps Tarantino’s most highly stylised film to date and takes in an assortment of styles, genres and techniques. The Director and story weave from genre to genre, picking up pieces of revenge, Hong Kong martial arts, exploitation and Japanese samurai movies as it progresses in a non linear manner through its plot. The film is separated into chapters which themselves often feel like short films. Each chapter takes from a different style, genre or era and occasionally the style will change mid chapter. The plot focuses on the character of The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad who is beaten and shot in the head by her former colleagues. She wakes up four years later to discover her fiancé and unborn daughter are dead and sets about reaping her revenge on those who attacked her and killed her family. Each chapter tells a portion of her revenge tale.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Oldboy is one of those films which I’d heard was excellent but luckily knew nothing more. About three years ago I finally sat down and watched it. I then had to watch it the next day as well. Since those first two watches and subsequent two or three, Oldboy has become one of my favourite films of all time and opened up a now longstanding love affair with Korean cinema. Beginning with Director Park Chan-wook’s other films I began to discover incredible actors such as Song Kang-ho (The Host, Thirst, J.S.A.) which in turn lead me to discover more fantastic Director’s like Lee Jeong-beom (TheMan from Nowhere), Chul-soo Jang (Bedevilled) and Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, The Weird). In essence, Oldboy for me was a small crack of light which opened the door to a bright world of film discovery and in the four years since I first saw it, it remains not only one of the best Korean movies I’ve seen but one of the best full stop.

A drunken man called Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is awaiting collection from a Police Station. His friend arrives to take him home to his young daughter whose birthday it is. While the friend makes a quick call from a payphone, Dae-su disappears and isn’t heard of again for nearly fifteen years. During those fifteen years he is locked up in a small room without an explanation or any idea of when or if he will get out. While locked up he is framed for his wife’s murder and his daughter is adopted in Sweden. A decade and a half later Dae-su is released, again without explanation but is told he has until July 5th to work out why he was locked up or his new friend Mi-do (Kang Hye-jung) will be killed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Return of the King

The third and final chapter of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King broke records both financially and critically. It became only the second film to surpass $1 Billion at the box office and received a record equalling eleven Academy Awards having won in every category it was nominated for. It also became only the second sequel to win Best Picture and the first to win when its predecessor hadn’t. Much like The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, I loved the film upon its initial release and also like the first two; my affinity has waned in the subsequent years. Personally I don’t think it is much better than the other two films and have a feeling that its huge awards haul has more to do with the series as a whole than the individual film.

While Frodo, Sam and Gollum edge ever closer to Mordor, Gondor’s capital Minas Tirith comes under attack from an even larger Orc force than was present at the battle of Helms Deep. Gandalf sends word to Rohan and an old alliance is rekindled as the two nations of men stand side by side one final time. Even with help, Gondor looks set to fall unless Aragorn is able to muster fresh troops and Frodo is able to destroy the Ring.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Room

In 2003 an unknown filmmaker called Tommy Wiseau wrote, produced, directed and stared in the independent film The Room. Although thousands of independent movies are released every year, Tommy’s was different. The Room was perhaps the worst film ever made and has since gained cult status, growing with popularity all the time as it is discovered by new people. If you search for The Room on YouTube you will find clips with views in their millions and about two years after first being told about the film, I finally watched the entire thing today. Although I’d seen the clips and had heard the stories, nothing could quite prepare me for the ninety-nine minutes I saw. I have never seen a film that was as bad as The Room but I have seen plenty which I have enjoyed less and although billed as a drama, I laughed as much as I have during any film this year.

The plot centres around three people in a love triangle. Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) is a fairly successful banker living with his fiancé Lisa (Juliette Danielle) who is a bit of a bitch. Jonny piles his unusual love on her and they seem very happy together but she has eyes for his best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa begins an affair with Mark who is at first worried about destroying his friendship with Johnny but soon finds Lisa too irresistible to ignore. Lisa’s mother get’s cancer but this is swiftly ignored and never mentioned again. Johnny begins to get depressed and becomes even more incoherent that usual. Then he pets a dog and plays football in a tuxedo. Mark becomes increasingly agitated and as a result his beard sometimes disappears only to come back in the next scene. The film comes to a head at Johnny’s birthday party where Lisa invites all of Johnny’s friends. Johnny tells her that this was a good idea but is still suspicious about his fiancé and best friend…

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Tale of Two Sisters

Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird & I Saw the Devil) directs this tale of two sisters who are put in a mental institution after the death of their mother. When the sisters are bought back home by their father, they not only have to deal with their difficult new stepmother but also strange goings on inside the house.

The film confused the hell out of me and despite just watching it and then reading the plot synopsis online; I’m not entirely convinced I’ve fully understood it! I think it is a film that would benefit from a second viewing. You are never really sure what is real, what is imagined and what is misdirection and it takes a lot of effort to stay with what’s going on. The confusion isn’t aided by a fairly drawn out and slow first act in which very little happens. The third act more than makes up for the slow and dull beginning however. It is frantic and edgy and had my head spinning.

The horror element is more psychological than jumpy and there are very few visual scares. The film uses sound to good effect though to help raise and maintain tension. Kim Ji-woon’s directorial style is plastered all over the place. The film is incredibly stylish and uses some wonderfully beautiful and technically brilliant camera angles and sweeps. It is worth watching just for Kim’s technical ability behind the camera.

Another reason I’d recommend the film is because of the fantastic performances. In particular those of Im Su-Jeong (I’m a Cyborg…) as one of the sisters and Yeom Jeong-ah as the mother in law. Both performances are excellent and helped to keep me gripped while I was struggling with the plot.

Unsurprisingly, as with so many other Asian horror movies of its time, the film was remade in America with the title The Uninvited. That film lacks the gore and horror of the original and currently holds a 4.5/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When will Hollywood learn?

This film is by no means a masterpiece but features a confusing story which should keep you gripped. The acting is great and the direction, superb.     


Thursday, 5 April 2012


Zatoichi is a 2003 Samurai action/comedy/drama written, starring and directed by Takeshi Kitano. Kitano, probably best known in the west for his game show Takeshi’s Castle and appearance in Battle Royale plays the title role of Zatoichi, a blind Samurai who comes to the aid of a town being ravaged by gang war. In the town, Zatoichi befriends a local farmer and helps two Geisha to enact revenge on the gang leaders who killed their family.   

The opening scene, which is darkly comic and features copious amounts of blood letting, sets the tone for the rest of the film. The film contains the kind of cartoon like yet realistic blood splattering that Quentin Tarantino used to such great effect in Kill Bill. It is always over the top and unnecessary but very entertaining. The film also features some quite surreal comic moments which includes the occasional appearance of a local fat man running around a house in his underwear, holding a spear and screaming as though he is going into battle. The fight scenes, as well as being wonderfully well choreographed are also often humorous.

So far, so good. For me the film falls down when the comedy and violence are left behind in favour of the rival gangs’ story. I couldn’t get into it and found it overlong and tedious. I wasn’t invested enough in any of the characters outside of Zatoichi and the film suffers when he isn’t on screen. I thought that parts of the plot were overly complex and the twist about who was really in charge was obvious.

Overall I’d say that I enjoyed the film but only up to a point. I’d watch a sequel but I’d like more Zatoichi and less of the faltering side story. The fights look great and the film is very funny but it was too long and often boring.   


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Good Bye, Lenin!

I first attempted to watch this film eight years ago when it was shown to us on my first day of University. Unfortunately that day there was a problem with the projector and the film cut out half way through. Here I am, eight years later having finally finished it with a review.

I think that the idea behind the film is brilliant. It is 1989 in East Berlin and a hard line Communist mother watches as her son is arrested for taking part in a reunification rally. Upon seeing his arrest, the mother has a heart attack and falls into a coma. Eight months pass by during which the Berlin Wall falls and capitalism sweeps through East Berlin, which is now reunified with the west. When the mother eventually wakes up she is in a very fragile state and her son is told that any excitement or surprises could kill her. He then has to try to maintain the lie that East Berlin is still under control from Moscow in an attempt to keep his mother alive.

The film is quite funny in places and interesting throughout. I felt that about fifteen minutes could have been cut from the middle third as it sags slightly there but then it builds up to a tremendous final half hour. Some of the lengths the son goes to, to maintain the lie are extraordinary but two in particular stand out. He uses his budding film director friend to make up eight months of news and also borrows an ex-Cosmonaught turned taxi driver for an emotional and loving scene.

The acting is very naturalistic. The whole cast seem very at ease and almost unaware that the camera is on them. East Berlin (one of my favourite places) looks great. We don’t see much of it but what we do see are the brutal Communist buildings that give it its signature look.

Part of what remains of the wall today. Taken by me in 2010

Overall, Good Bye, Lenin! Is an interesting film with some funny moments and a lot of heart. There is enough politics in there for people who are interested in the reunification but not too much so that it would overpower it for those who are not.

Aditional - For a review of the Oscar winning The Lives of Others, which has shares a time and place with this film, click here.