Saturday, December 1, 2018

HALLOWEEN (2018)


When people hear that you are a huge fan of movies, usually the next question to come from their lips is “What's your favourite movie?”, and for a very long time my answer has always been William Friedkin's “The Exorcist”. However, I started doubting the validity of this recently as, while I consider that film a bonafide 5-star classic, it is a film that I very rarely watch. Maybe it is the intensity of the film, I'm not sure, but as brilliant as “The Exorcist” is, it is not often that I pop it in the blu-ray player to revisit. The film that I have watched more than any other, and one that I never tire of watching though is John Carpenter's 1978 masterpiece, the original “Halloween”. So now whenever that inevitable question is posed, “Halloween” is my go to response, and honestly I feel much more comfortable with that answer. Anyway, I guess that is a very long winded way of saying that whenever a new “Halloween” film is released, it has a lot to live up to for me. Especially true with this latest entry, as it is a direct sequel from the original film, existing in its own universe where all the other sequels did not happen.

Forty years after the night Michael Myers butchered three of Laurie Strode's closest friends, we are witness to how these events have affected the rest of their lives. Michael, after being captured and incarcerated once again at Smith's Grove Sanitarium, has remained dormant and silent, not uttering a single word. Laurie on the other hand lives her life in constant fear. The events that took place on Halloween night on 1978 have defined her and she has never been able to get past them. She has suffered two failed marriages, and had her only daughter Karen removed from her care (when she was aged twelve), when it was deemed that her survivalist upbringing bordered on child abuse. You see, Laurie refuses to ever be a victim again, and has prepared her entire life to be ready if and when Michael Myers escapes once more. This time she wants to be the hunter, and Michael the hunted. And as luck would have it, she will get her chance, as the bus that was relocating a number of the sanitarium's patients (including Michael) has just crashed, and Michael has escaped and he is heading straight to Haddonfield to once again wreck havoc on whoever gets in his way.

The timeline of the “Halloween” franchise is one of the most convoluted in horror history, and this is actually the second time where a sequel has essentially forgotten all that had come before it and continued on from the initial night of carnage. Where this new film differs from “Halloween H20” though, is that the 1998 film continued on from “Halloween II” where as now only the original “Halloween” is considered canon. The single greatest mistake in the franchise, in my opinion, was the decision to make Michael and Laurie siblings. It made no sense and confuses what makes Michael Myers so great and chilling; that he is pure evil and attacks with no purpose or agenda. Finally with this new film they have rectified this with Michael and Laurie being no longer related, however that said, it doesn't completely clean up the issue of Michael predominately stalking Laurie and her family. What is interesting between “Halloween (2018)” and “Halloween H20” is the way they tackle Laurie's trauma after surviving Michael's attack. In “H20” she is a terrified shell of a woman; a functioning alcoholic who has changed her name in an attempt to move on. The incarnation of Laurie that is seen in “Halloween (2018)” is equally as messed up but instead has been preparing herself and her family to never be in that same situation again. They will be ready for whatever comes their way in the form of weapons and gun training, and turning their house into survivalist's dream home. However this constant focus on “evil” has caused the relationships within Laurie's family to be strained to say the least.

Personally, I found this latest chapter in the “Halloween” saga to be ultimately quite frustrating. There is so much good to be found in the film, but there is also some elements that just do not work or come together well. Firstly, let me focus on the good. Director David Gordon Green has done an outstanding job with the look of Michael Myers with his attention to detail second to none. Michael's mask looks spot on, with its aged look giving an extra level of creepiness to it. What impressed me most though are the little details, especially the small hole in the neck of the mask where Laurie stabbed him with the knitting needle in the original film. Not only that, although it is never focused on, Michael is now also blind in his left eye from the abuse he suffered in the closet from Laurie as she tried to do anything to survive. It is this care with all the details that shows just how much Green respects this character and the original film. The way Michael moves is also very impressive and believable as the same man, only forty years older, as that from the original. The highlight of the film is a truly fantastic sequence, done in one single shot, of Michael walking down a street of Haddonfield and entering the homes and killing it's residents. It is a chilling sequence, in its brutality that also signifies in big bold letters: MICKEY IS BACK!! There is also another brilliant moment where he dispatches a babysitter (who also happens to be the best friend of Laurie's grand-daughter) that feels so reminiscent of the original. Green also brings back the playful and stalking side of Michael Myers, as we get a reprise of the “ghost sheet” although in a different way entirely, as well as the fact that he hides his victims in places to mess with his future victims.

On the other side of the coin, I also really loved seeing Laurie once more (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis with extreme gusto), and thought the additions to her family were great inclusions. Judy Greer plays Karen, Laurie's estranged daughter and is totally fantastic in the role. You can feel the love for her mother, while also being weary of her in the fact that she does not want her life to be bogged down by her mother's baggage any longer. While Judy Greer gets “the” moment in the film, I really loved Andi Matichak in the role of Allyson, Laurie's grand-daughter. She actually has that sweet innocence that Laurie brought in the original film, and I hope that the future of the franchise will end up focusing more on her.

Now where the film is frustrating is that there is far too much going on in it. The brilliance of John Carpenter's original film is all in its simplicity, and I feel that “Halloween (2018)” needed to be streamlined to have worked at its full. The main problem with the film is that the story is kind of dumb, with a number of uninteresting characters. Unfortunately the majority of the men in the story turn out to be pointless, with a focus on Allyson's boyfriend turning out to be a major time waster and nothing more. Arguably the most interesting character in the film is Dr. Sartain, Michael's current doctor, and someone who Laurie erroneously describes as the “new Loomis”. What makes him potentially so interesting is the fact that this is a man who has studied Michael Myers for forty years and never once got to hear him utter a single word in that time. He has only studied him in controlled circumstances and now he finally gets to see his obsession in full flight, doing what he is famous for. It is an exciting moment for him, as he finally gets the chance to understand what drives him, only to discover that there is nothing to understand: Michael is pure evil. This is all good stuff, but the character of Dr. Sartain and his story is really badly handled making vital plot points unnecessarily confusing. If they cleaned this section up, the film would be so much greater. The other part of the film that I am not totally thrilled with is the podcast opening. While it seems like a ploy to appeal to today's audiences, the whole thing ends up feeling more like an extended excuse for Michael to retrieve his mask.

A highlight of this new “Halloween” film was getting John Carpenter back in some sort of creative capacity. While he did not direct the film, he did contribute to the film's score along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies. I must admit that the first time that I saw the film, I was quite disappointed by the score. I have realised though that this is more due to what I expected the score to sound like rather than the quality of the score itself. I was expecting or hoping it to focus on the music from the original, rather than use that sparingly and use it as more of an inspiration like the score does. While I still do not love the new score, my second screening of the film I was able to appreciate it more for what it was, rather than what I wanted it to be.

Overall, despite a lot of great elements within it, this new “Halloween” was a frustrating experience. I was a huge fan of the attention to detail shown, and pretty much everything to do with Michael Myers himself in the film. He looked and moved great, and when he was stalking and slashing, the movie just worked. It felt like a “Halloween” film and one that co-existed in the world of the original. However, the film was bogged down with too many characters and subplots that took away from the main story more than it added to it. I felt that the film was messy, and at times the editing was choppy and if the film was streamlined more to focus solely on the Strode vs Myers storyline, it would've ended in a better film. That said, the confrontation between them all was quite satisfying although I preferred the ultimate ending of “Halloween H20” more than this one. Still, I do like the film quite a bit, and I hope that it continues with the younger members of the Strode family (leave poor Laurie alone now). I really want to love this film more than I do, but it is still a good “Halloween” movie that I have no problem recommending to fans of the franchise.


3.5 Stars.



Monday, November 26, 2018

KILLING


This was a film that I was preparing to put onto next years most anticipated list, so you can only imagine how surprised and pumped I was when I noticed Shinya Tsukamoto's latest film, “Killing”, was screening at the 22nd edition of the Japanese Film Festival here in Melbourne. It actually screened one day before its cinema release in its home country. There was no way that I was going to miss a chance to see this film on the big screen, as this was also the first chance I have had to see a film directed by Tsukamoto on the big screen since his 2002 feature, “A Snake in June” (which I naturally loved). So did I get blown away once again by Tsukamoto's genius? Take a look down below.

Set in 19th century Japan, a young ronin (masterless samurai) named Mokunoshin, is helping a group of farmers in the lead up to harvest season. He is an incredibly skilled swordsman, but during this time of peace, the skills he has trained his life for are unneeded and so he spends time working the land with those that need his help. During his time at the farm, Mokunoshin has developed a crush on Yu, one of the farmer's daughters, and during his downtime, he likes to spar and train with Yu's brother, teaching him the way of the sword. While he is content with his life, he feels change (and war) coming and knows that his time on the farm will soon come to an end and he must journey out into the world where his sword will be needed. Almost immediately, another older and more experienced ronin arrives at the farm looking for competent swordsmen who would be willing to head to Edo and fight for the Shogun. He is impressed with Mokunoshin's skills, who agrees to leave with the older samurai. However before they are able to set off on their journey together, an altercation with a group of bandits (and the ramifications from it), alter the trajectory of the pair's future, heading them down a path that will change them forever.

Shinya Tsukamoto is firing on all cylinders with “Killing”; I absolutely loved this film and think it is right up there with his best. Thankfully going into seeing the film, I really did not know a whole lot about it, other than it was a samurai film. This immediately springs to mind expectations of the genre of grand battles, violence, swords and blood. “Killing” has all of these things, and yet it is very definitely a Tsukamoto film. The film at its base level, is a very entertaining samurai yarn, but Tsukamoto has so much more he wants to say and does it beautifully and economically to give these points such power. The main theme of the film is just how hard it is to actually kill a human being, and also what it actually does to a person when they do cross that line.

The film opens on a very powerful pre-credits scene showcasing the making of the ultimate iconography of the samurai: his sword. It is a brief scene, but feels very raw almost like it represents the base instincts of a human being which is survival. From there we are then witness to an almost playful scene of Mokunoshin sparring with his friend. Immediately it is apparent that this man is brilliant with a sword, possessing all the skills needed to be successful in a fray. However what we do not know at this time, is that he lacks the temperament to commit to taking the life of someone. This is the main crux of the film in that you can have all the skill in the world but if you do not have it in you to kill, that sword is as good as a stick. What is interesting though, is that Mokunoshin is unaware of this fact within himself, or at the very least is trying to look past it.

The way Tsukamoto depicts the reality of violence is quite interesting in itself. Early on in the film when we witness Mokunoshin sparring and training, the battle sequences are quite long, full of intricate moves and it is easy to witness everything that is going on. However, when the samurai are confronted with a true life or death battle, Tsukamoto handles the scene completely different. These moments are quick, the camera shakes regularly, and what is happening is often confusing. Here he beautifully depicts the reality of violence and the consequences of it. It all happens very fast, its dirty and bloody, and each swing of someone's sword, could cost an arm or a leg, or a life. There is nothing cool about violence, or the “awesome” move you use to disable an opponent; you cause very real damage to another person, and the effects this has on a person can be just as damaging as the blow itself.

It is this battle that changes the whole trajectory of the film and its character's lives. There is a fantastic moment with the two samurai walking up a path and stopping just before a cave. From here Chu Ishikawa's kicks in, and gives the moment a feel like these characters are about to descend into hell, and that description isn't too far off the mark, although it is more of a mental hell than a physical one. From this moment on, the film is a grim affair right up to it's very powerful finale. Before I move on, I must really make mention of Ishikawa's use of music in “Killing”. I loved every second of it and it compliments the film perfectly. While I have liked almost all of Ishikawa's music in Shinya Tsukamoto's films, this one is pretty special. If you are familiar with the pairs work together, you would be aware that this is a bittersweet moment, as sadly Chu Ishikawa passed away last December, so this will be the last of Tsukamoto's films that he will work on. He always added so much to his movies, and will be sorely missed.

Tsukamoto has put together a fantastic cast for his latest film. Sosuke Ikematsu plays the baby-faced and na├»ve ronin, Mokunoshin. Has transformation within the film is stunning, as he goes from quite a happy, almost playful man and turns into a depressed shell of his former self by the end. Ikematsu is also very convincing with sword in hand too. Shinya Tsukamoto himself plays the older and more battle ready samurai, and again is fantastic. He gives his character a strength and power to him. His movements are slight and subtle but have significant meaning. Tsukamoto actually looks quite thin and aged in the film, and yet when in battle or showing strength to his junior, he comes across with intent. Yu Aoi plays Yu, who could be considered the “love interest” of the film, and for mine she is one of the most memorable female characters in a Tsukamoto film yet. While she is mostly an observer to the story unfolding, rather than a participant (with the exception of one ugly scene), her screen time is memorable. It is also interesting to witness the change in her character too, as she is initially filled with a bloodlust but this turns into a pleading to stop the violent insanity when she realises just exactly what it is doing to the man she loves.

As I have mentioned repeatedly, I am a huge fan of Shinya Tsukamoto's films. I love the fact that he is truly an independent filmmaker where he functions in a large number of roles from actor, director, producer and writer. You know that the film you are witness to is the complete vision of one man, and while that doesn't always mean that the film will be a success, at least you know that it has not been watered down by suits who have no artistic spirit at all. This freedom Tsukamoto has, ultimately comes at a cost when it comes to his budgets and he often works with less money than I am sure he prefers. However he always uses this perceived negative and turns it into a positive. At the start of this review I mentioned that a samurai film brings expectations of large battles, blood and violence, and Tsukamoto is brilliant with “Killing” by appearing to head towards just that before pulling the carpet out from under us and working on a much smaller, but no less powerful, canvas. Instead of the big battles, sword swinging, blood and honour, we get a tale about the effects of violence on both the victim and perpetrator. The damage it can do obviously to a body, but also to the mind of the survivor. It looks at how hard it is to actually kill a man; how bloody and dirty an act it is, even when you have the skills to do so. The cycle of violence is also explored in how violence begets violence, and how ultimately it all ends up being so pointless. The amazing thing about all of this, Tsukamoto is able to tell and expose all of this in only eighty minutes, and it never feels like he is preaching or schooling the audience.

It goes without saying that I loved “Killing”. It is a samurai film with great meaning that has been told expertly and economically. While it is an examination of violence, it is also, at times, a very violent and bloody film, but in staying true to the movie's themes, the violence is never glorified. I should make mention that it was an absolute joy to have been able to see the film on the big screen too. It added so much to the experience, with Chu Ishikawa's amazing music pumping through the quality cinema speakers. Personally I think this is one of Shinya Tsukamoto's very best films, and think any fans of this director will get a lot out of “Killing”, and I can not wait to watch it again.


4.5 Stars.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

THE WILD PEAR TREE - MIFF 2018


The Wild Pear Tree” is the latest three hour epic from the Turkish film making genius, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Similar in form to his previous film, “Winter Sleep”, it is once again a very dialogue heavy human drama, this time about a young man returning home to his childhood town to attempt to get his first novel published. Prior to my screening of the film, I had read that the film was a tough watch, mainly due to its length, but personally I found that not to be the case at all. While I agree that focusing on a film for that amount of time can be challenging, I was immediately drawn into the characters plight, thanks to Ceylan's sensitive and intimate direction.

After completing his collegiate studies in the city, Sinan returns to his hometown of Cannakale to attempt to get his first novel published, while also trying to find work as a primary school teacher. Upon his immediate arrival, Sinan is politely harassed by a local claiming that Sinan's father borrowed gold off of him and has yet to return it. In the coming days and weeks, this is something that he hears regularly as his father has a gambling addiction, particularly when it comes to the horses. This addiction causes tension within the family, at its simplest, on a day to day basis when bills do not end up getting paid, and food is unable to be bought. However, the tension between Sinan and his father, Idris, seems more explosive as Sinan shows outright contempt towards the man who brought him up and supported him his whole life. As Sinan struggles to find financing for his novel to be published and getting a job much harder than he expected, he starts to realise that maybe he is more like his father than he once thought, and that the lifestyle of Cannakale is forever in his blood.

This is such a magnificent film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan. While the running time is definitely intimidating, I must say that I was mesmerised by the film right from the opening minute and was never bored at all. With both this and “Winter Sleep”, Ceylan has proven that he is a master of time, space, pacing and coming up with the most amazing scenes of conversation between characters that you are forever invested in. These scenes are much longer than the norm and yet the audience hangs on every word the characters are saying. After watching the behind the scenes footage of Ceylan filming “Winter Sleep”, it shows just how meticulous he is with his actors and of every line of dialogue, both in the way it is said and in what the dialogue ultimately means. He will take his time and only move on until he feels each scene is perfect and most importantly that it is a reflection of reality. Every moment has to be truthful. Once again, he has displayed this skill ad nauseam in “The Wild Pear Tree”. A broad and fair description of the film would be to state that it is a series of long conversations between Sinan and a number of other people discussing numerous topics that fully form his character for both the audience and himself. The many topics range from love, friendship, religion, beliefs, politics, money and art, and through these conversations we understand exactly who Sinan is. This is a very dialogue heavy film, but it is amazing just how natural all these conversations feel and how invested you become in them. Each word seems to have a point, as does each conversation. There was only one that I felt could've been removed, and stopped the film in its tracks a little (which I will mention a little later on), but in isolation, the scene itself is brilliant.

Another of Ceylan's many gifts is that he is able to give us complex and potentially unlikable (and definitely prickly) characters, that we still end up caring about. To be honest, I found the main character of “The Wild Pear Tree”, Sinan, to be an arrogant prick for the most part. This arrogance is something that flares up regularly when he interacts with the locals as he sees himself as somewhat better than the people living in the same town he, himself, grew up in. Now that he has got himself an education, and what he assumes is a better future, you can feel he has some sort of superiority complex to the townspeople. This is ironic as the novel that Siman has written (which he has titled “The Wild Pear Tree”), he describes as a celebration of the simple lifestyle of Cannakale and of the people that work and live there. While Cannakale is known for being the gateway of the Gallipoli battle in WWI, and the Trojan Horse from the battle of Troy, Sinan believes that the little people and normal folk going about their daily business should not be forgotten either and should be documented as well. However it is this lifestyle that Sinan feels above and better than, so it would be fair to say that his writing is doomed to failure because it does not come from a sincere place. Like I said above, his arrogance is so frustrating that you want to slap him and make him respect the people he is talking to, and yet we are always invested in his plight.

The man cast to portray Sinan is Dogu Demirkol, and he gives a phenomenal performance, full of many complexities but always based in a reality. He is true to this character and lets him be unlikable at times. The most amazing thing about this is Demirkol is actually a stand up comic but his comedic origins are never hinted at in the movie and his performance. He totally embodies Sinan. In fact the entire cast is amazing in “The Wild Pear Tree”. I honestly do not remember anyone putting a foot wrong, or a scene feeling off because of a performance. The other actor I really do want to make mention of though is Murat Cemcir, who plays Sinan's father Idris. The father is another flawed character but Cemcir gives a beautifully humanistic performance and never once judges his character. He makes mistakes, a lot of them in fact, but he is a man that loves his family and particularly his son who just cannot seem to find his way out of his addiction. While his life is tough at times, Idris always seems to see the positive side of it, constantly smiling and at times chuckling. As the film goes along, it is very obvious (at least to the audience) just how similar Sinan is to his father in a lot of ways, and this is part of the journey Sinan must take and learn to accept.

The Wild Pear Tree” is Nuri Bilge Ceylan's eighth feature film and at this point of his career it is obvious that the man is also quite the visual stylist. While his earlier films were modest from a visual standpoint, something changed when he partnered with cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki on his fourth film, “Climates” from 2006. This is the pair's fifth collaboration and their images continue to be something to behold. From their use of the widescreen to show off Turkey's amazingly vivid landscapes, as well as their perfect use of close ups, the images created by these two men are world class and this continues with “The Wild Pear Tree”. This time around they work with a lovely autumnal colour pallet filled with yellows, oranges, browns and greens. There are also a few scenes that take place during winter which obviously reminds of the work and snow-caped images from Ceylan's previous feature, “Winter Sleep”. This is a seriously good looking film and easily identifiable as a film from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

With a running time of 188 minutes, you would think that surely there must be some bad in the film, but really there is not. Every scene feels like it belongs, and every word important. There are so many wonderful conversations and scenes that take place in the film but a couple of my favourites were the early scene between Sinan and Hatice, a female friend, that ends in a kiss, and a long scene where Sinan converses with a published author from the town. This scene ends on a hilarious and hysterical note too. Very early in this review I did mention that I thought maybe one scene could have been removed and that it stopped the film in its tracks a little. The scene in question is when Sinan talks to two imams about religion, faith and particularly Islam. What is funny about the scene is that the imams differ quite a bit in age which also affects their beliefs even though they are practising the same religion. On it's own, the scene is brilliant. Beautifully written and performed, very interesting subject matter and like I just mentioned, it is a scene that is also quite humorous. It is also an incredibly long scene, and I felt that at that moment on in the film, it slowed the momentum down of Sinan's ultimate journey. Also the fact that Sinan himself isn't a huge devotee to religion, I felt that in the story's context, it seemed less important than the rest of the film. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely loved the scene, but it was the only time I thought this “could” go, not necessarily that it “should” go.

Overall, “The Wild Pear Tree” is another magnificent film from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Full of complexities and characters of all shades, it has been expertly written, directed, acted, shot and edited. While the main character is somewhat unlikable, his journey back home is a powerful one, as he comes to terms with the fact that he may not be as far removed from his father and the town he grew up in as he originally thought. While I understand that the film's extended running time can be intimidating, my advice is if you get the chance to see “The Wild Pear Tree”, do not miss out on it. It is a fantastic film experience.


4 Stars.