Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE BAR


In the past couple of weeks I have been lucky enough to cross off two titles from my most anticipated films of 2017 list, thanks to the local French and Spanish film festivals that have played here in Melbourne. The French Film Festival provided me the opportunity to see Kiyoshi Kurosawa's “Daguerrotype”, whilst just the other night at the Spanish Film Festival I saw Alex de la Iglesia's “The Bar”.

Its a normal morning in a city on the outskirts of Madrid. People go about their daily business like any other day. A group of strangers, unconnected in any way other than in their need to find food or drink at this time of the day, find themselves together in a local food bar. Everything is regular, with the sound of constant conversation heard throughout the place, and no one inside this bar has any idea that this day is going to be anything but normal. A patron pays his bill, stands to leave and exits onto the street outside, where he is immediately gunned down by a single shot from a sniper, the sound echoing throughout the air. Within seconds the streets outside are abandoned and the patrons inside, terrified. When another patron decides to bring the bleeding and presumed dead man back inside on the off chance that they can still help him, he too suffers the same fate of the man he was trying to save. With two dead men now at the base of the front door, it becomes immediately apparent to those still inside that not only are they now trapped in this bar, but they are at the centre of something huge, something that in these moments of madness, they have no chance of understanding. However extreme fear and self preservation does a funny thing to a person and it isn't long before everyone turns on one another, blaming or accusing them for the situation they now find themselves in. Through all the bicker and arguments, suddenly someone realises that the two bodies have disappeared. Where could they have gone, who took them and just what the hell is going on here??

As long and as colourful as that synopsis is, believe it or not, that is only the first ten minutes of “The Bar”, and from here on, the film takes many twists and turns into unexpected terrorities and tonal changes that I wont ruin here. For those though that do like their labels, I would describe “The Bar” as a black comedy/thriller with brief flourishes of horror. Alex de la Iglesia and his regular co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria have come up with an exciting scenario and have taken it in bold and unexpected directions that give the pair a chance to critique current societal values and the way we, as a race, no longer look out for one another, rather we will do anything to survive even at the expense of another.

De la Iglesia has filled the bar with archetypal representations to create a microcosm of modern society, but is smart enough to give them enough colour and character to make it less obvious that this is what he is doing. The characters in the bar consist of a bible quoting homeless man, a gambling addicted loner, an ex-cop, a lingerie salesman, an advertising executive who amusingly also looks like a stereotypical Muslim, a gorgeous woman, an older cranky woman who owns and runs the bar and her long time male worker. They are an interesting and fun mix of people that de la Iglesia is able to define quickly and make them all memorable, by giving each character their moment. Through these characters he is able to hold a very sad mirror towards our world as it is today, especially in regards to how paranoid and scared we all are, where every where we look, we now see a threat , no matter how placid an object or person may actually be. It is a case of suspect or accuse first, ask questions later. De la Iglesia, in his very un-PC way has a ball with this concept, creating tension over a lingerie filled briefcase, and making fun of the fact that the guy with the Muslim like beard must be the most suspicious character, at least at the start.

Whilst Blanca Suarez, is undoubtedly the star of “The Bar” and is incredibly good in her role of Elena, the person who steals the film from right under her nose is Jaime Ordonez, who plays the doomsday spouting homeless man Israel. His character is grotesque but Ordonez commits and goes for it one hundred percent, making every moment with this madman brilliant, and at times, chilling. He is unrecognisable in the role, donning disgusting long matted hair and with a pair of chipped and very unclean teeth; from a visual standpoint he is someone you want to look away from, but the brilliance of Ordonez's performance means that you sit there transfixed to every moment he is on screen. In saying all that, I should point out that everyone gives great performances here, and importantly for an ensemble cast, they all compliment each other perfectly with no one trying to out do anyone else. It was also great to see Alex de la Iglesia working with Terele Pavez yet again, this time in the role of Amparo, the bitchy and always cranky owner of the bar. One recurring moment that I did love was all the male characters attempting to comfort Elena, for the simple fact she is gorgeous and they just want to touch her. It is amusing because a lot of the time de la Iglesia doesn't make a big scene of it, with it happening in the background or even sometimes out of focus.

Like all films by Alex de la Iglesia, “The Bar” moves at a breakneck pace. The first ten minutes are like a bullet train, where we meet the characters, see the situation they are in and then watching them panic and react. By the end of the sequence, you feel exhausted and it felt like it was going to be impossible to stay with the film if the entirety of it moved at this pace. Thankfully though, the film slows down for a bit and gives you and it, time to breathe, before taking off yet again. My biggest criticism of de la Iglesia and his films are that he is so imaginative that he tends to put too much into them, and because of this I usually enjoy his films that are a little more controlled and not as outrageous. That is a ridiculous thing to say because all of Alex de la Iglesia's films are insane; no one makes films like he does, but I tend to prefer those that are a little pared back which I'm happy to say “The Bar” is. Whilst it isn't a long film at all, due to the fast pace of the film and the exhaustion it creates by trying to keep up with it, it does feel longer than it is. I will say that the third act, which takes place in the sewers down below the bar, does outstay its welcome because it becomes a little repetitive by this stage, but for mine this is really the only fault with the film.

Overall, with “The Bar” Alex de la Iglesia has created another one of his excellent black comedies, this time all wrapped up in a thriller too. While the film is loaded full of the darkest comedy that would make most PC viewers blush, it is also one that is not without a social conscience. Unfortunately because the film has a mystery element to it, there are elements of the film that I cannot talk about in my review, especially while the film is still so new, so I apologise if this review seem a little anaemic. After “My Big Night” and now “The Bar”, it appears that de la Iglesia is on a bit of a roll again. Thankfully he has another film due out later in the year, that he has already shot; the remake of the recent Italian film “Perfect Strangers”. Hopefully he keeps his streak going, but either way, “The Bar” ranks right up there with his best and is one that has a lot of re-watch value.


3.5 Stars.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

DAGUERROTYPE


The latest film from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, also boasts the fact that it is one of my top seven most anticipated films of 2017. The main reason for this is because this is the first time that Kurosawa has made a film outside of his native Japan and spoken in a language different to his own. As I have mentioned previously, I am always interested to see if a filmmaker can successfully transpose his ideas and visual style when working in a country they are unfamiliar with. Very recently we saw Paul Verhoeven have great success with “Elle”, his first film shot in French, and now it is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's turn as “Daguerrotype” is also a French film, but will he have the same success as his Dutch counterpart? Let's take a look, shall we?

Daguerrotype” is about a young man, named Jean, who finds employment as a photographer's assistant. What makes this unique though is the photographer, Stephane, makes photographic images via the archaic technique known as daguerreotype photography which is where an image is chemically transferred to a silver plate. As beautiful as the results end up being, the process also causes the model severe discomfort as they are forced to sit still for increased amounts of time. Struggling to come to terms with his wife's recent suicide, Stephane has given up his more lucrative fashion shoots as he becomes more and more obsessed with creating the perfect daguerreotype, with his daughter Marie as the model. Jean is immediately entranced by the beautiful Marie, and when the two plan to leave the chateau, where they are residing together with Stephane, to make a life together, it is the catalyst to an event that will see these three people's lives forever changed.

When “Daguerrotype” first started screening during its festival run, it was greeted with a luke-warm response. While the director himself described the film as a horror film, most reviews for it stated that the film moved at a snail's pace, with very little of the horror promised. Normally I would be a little disheartened by this, but I was still very much spellbound by the film's initial poster (see above) and the fact that even though this was a French film, from the images in the trailer, it was no doubt first and foremost a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film which made me excited. The added fact that until this film I knew nothing about daguerreotype photography, that I ended up finding myself anticipating the film more and more. Thankfully I found out about a screening of the film at the local “French Film Festival” here in Melbourne and I rushed out to see it.

Right from the get-go I was mesmerised by “Daguerrotype”. It had a slow, deliberate build up and it had me immediately hooked. While it is true that the film is light on the horror, I was surprised that the film was much more of a thriller than I was expecting which delighted me. In fact for around two thirds of the film, I felt like I was watching a new classic from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Unfortunately the film peaks far too early, with a truly stunning suspense sequence that stands tall as some of the greatest work Kurosawa has ever put on film. However from this sequence on, the film gradually gets sillier and sillier until it ends on an embarrassing whimper which is so sad, compared to all the greatness that came before it. In the end, “Daguerrotype” is a film that has great parts, but the sum of these parts does not add up to a great movie.

When it comes to the visual style of a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, I always find it hard to describe because they always come across as very clean and uncomplicated, but at the same time his films have such a distinct look that its always obvious when Kurosawa is the author of a film. As I mentioned earlier, the trailer gave a great indication that he was able to transpose his visual style to this French film, even though he was unable to work with his regular cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa. Here he is paired with Alexis Kavyrchine, and the two together are able to create images consistent with those of past Kurosawa features while at the same time doing something completely new than anything he has done before. I think the main reason for this is the location of the film and how different the French countryside is compared to the hustle and bustle of city life in Japan. Here Kurosawa gets to play with locations dripping in gothic atmosphere as opposed to the sleek, shiny surfaces of modern Tokyo and it has seemed to really inspire this talented director. In both a recent documentary on Hitchcock and in an interview focusing on himself, Kurosawa has claimed how he is a student of Alfred Hitchcock and that he believes he is inspired or influenced more by him than any other director. Hearing these comments surprised me because although they both worked regularly in the same thriller genre, I saw little comparison between the two. However I can authoritatively state that “Daguerrotype” is a total homage to the “Master of Suspense”. For the first time I can actively see Kurosawa aping Hitchcock's visual style and doing it with aplomb. The aforementioned suspense sequence is so outstandingly done and unlike anything Kurosawa has done previous but he is able to continually ratchet up the suspense using camera movements and editing similar to Hitch without ever outright stealing one of his scenes. I was so impressed by this sequence, and also so sad when what comes after it is so disappointing. As well as this impressive sequence, the film has a number of gorgeous images, most involving either the ghost or Marie, when she is posing for her father. Probably the single most beautiful image in the film is of the life sized daguerreotype of Marie, clothed in a period blue dress, with water cascading down the silver plate (see below; although the still does not do the moving image justice). No surprises that Kurosawa's is at his strongest when focusing on scenes involving the ghost. Rather than the usual Hollywood way of using a ghost to give a jolt or a scare, Kurosawa continues to use the spectres to create an uneasy atmosphere, continually building up suspense, until he gives you that final scare.

Aside from the visual side of the film, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has teamed up with composer Gregoire Hetzel to create a score that is immediately recognisable as an homage to Bernhard Herrmann. Similar to Kurosawa himself, Hetzel has been able to create music that although very similar to Herrmann's output whilst working with Hitchcock, is never an outright steal. He comes up with some beautifully haunting melodies when dealing with the love story, as well as some fantastic and aggressive notes when the film needs to ratchet up the suspense, very similar to what is done in Hitchcock's “Vertigo”. For mine, this is the best use of music I have heard yet in a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, and even though I am not a huge fan of music, I immediately tracked down and bought a copy of the soundtrack for this film, I was that impressed by it.

In terms of the film's negatives, I was never totally thrilled by any of the performances. Tahar Rahim as Jean, has the biggest character arc and has two distinct sides to his personality, but he failed to define them satisfactorily; in fact the performance as a whole is rather flat, particularly in the second half of the film when Jean's true nature is exposed. While Constance Rousseau fits the bill when it comes to the beauty of her character, sadly she has an underwritten role and really has little to do but stand and look pretty. My favourite performance in the film was by Olivier Gourmet who plays Stephane. He is a complex character; very selfish in what he wants and how he achieves these wants, while at the same time being a tragic character as he is haunted, both figuratively and literally, by the ghosts of his past and the suicide of his wife. Stephane is someone who has never come to terms with his grief, nor with his involvement in his wife's suicide, to the point that he is no longer operating in a normal sane state. Gourmet does a great job of showing the pain this guy is going through, whilst at the same time exposing just how mean and manipulative he can be to get what he wants.

The biggest disappointment of “Daguerrotype” though is the narrative and where the film actually goes with the story. As I mentioned above, I was enthralled with the film for the opening two thirds of it. It was a slowly paced story dealing with grief, greed, death and dealing with the past and it was all wrapped up in a beautiful ghost story, with a romance developing on the side. It then reaches the most exquisite suspense scene, the greatest in the film, and then sadly just becomes very silly after that. No longer is daguerreotype photography needed in the plot, so it is suddenly just ignored, while the rest of the film follows a path that has been trodden many times before. The sad part is that it is all so obvious what is going on, and yet Kurosawa seems to believe that he has tricked his audience and thus strings us along for about half an hour too long with scenes, which after the predictable reveal is shown, that are totally pointless to the film or story. In fact when the credits of the film started, an audible groan was let out by a large number of the audience I was in. It was a total let down, after how great the earlier parts of the film were. For the second film in a row, this and “Creepy” (which interestingly was shot after “Daguerrotype” but released before it), Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a film that I thought was to become an instant classic, only to totally mess up the ending.

Overall, I am torn over my viewing of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's “Daguerrotype”. It is a film that when it is good, it is totally amazing and some of the best work done yet by this talented Japanese director, but equally, when it is bad, it is almost embarrassing. Parts of the film; the visual style, music, editing and suspense are fantastic, but the sum of these parts do not add up to a totally successful film. The film is uneven, but for the majority of the film I had a great time with it; it just saddens me that the film did not end up becoming the masterpiece I felt it was going to be whilst I was watching it.


3.5 Stars.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

2016 - IN REVIEW: MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2017

Just like every year that has come before it, there are a plethora of new releases that are slated for release in 2017 that I am eagerly anticipating. From last years list, I'm still really only waiting for Martin Scorsese's “Silence” to be released (which comes out in mid-February here in Australia). On the cards for 2017 are new films from talented directors, the likes of Ridley Scott (“Alien: Covenant”), Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”), David Michod (“War Machine”), Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour”), Darren Aronofsky (“Mother”), Terrence Malick (“Song to Song”), Alfonso Cuaron (“Roma”), Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”), Roman Polanski (“Based on a True Story”), Edgar Wright (“Baby Driver”), Tomas Alfredson (“The Snowman”) and Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”) , to name but a few. All of the above I am looking forward to greatly, but the thing that I am looking forward to more than any other actually isn't a film at all but a television event. I'm talking about none other than the revival of:
 

TWIN PEAKS

Yes it is a cheat to add this to my list, but there was no way I was not going to mention David Lynch's return to the director's chair for the first time in eleven years since “Inland Empire” came out all the way back in 2006. However it is also the first time that Lynch has shot on film since 2001's “Mulholland Drive” which is cause for mass celebration. After “Fire Walk With Me”, Lynch said that he was done with “Twin Peaks” but here we are twenty five years later and he is back. Lynch has directed all eighteen episodes of this new season, and whilst no details about the plot of the show have been revealed, the fact that he got the majority of his original cast back just gets the mouth watering, and that is why it is my most anticipated EVENT of 2017. May 21st can not come soon enough.


This is a film blog, so my inclusion of “Twin Peals” does not count as part of my official list. Instead, the next seven titles below are my most anticipated films of 2017.


A STORM IN THE STARS

This little known title makes the list on the strength of the director's first film alone. Her first film was also the first Saudi Arabian film ever made. “Wadjda”, was the beautifully simple tale of a young rebellious Saudi girl doing whatever she can to buy a bicycle that had caught her eye, including entering in a Quran recitation competition at school. The director is none other than Haifaa Al-Mansour and her second film is the aforementioned “A Storm in the Stars”. The film could've been about anything and I still would have been interested in it, but the fact that it is about, as per imdb, “the love affair between poet Percy Shelley and 18 year old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, which resulted in Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein” is just like the cherry on top. Add in Elle Fanning as the lead and that is why it has made it onto this list.


ANTI-PORNO

I have severely cooled in my appreciation of Japanese director Sion Sono in the past couple of years, but I must admit to being very excited for his latest venture, “Anti-Porno”. The film is a part of Nikkatsu's re-boot of their famed “Roman Porno” label where they have hired a number of directors and given them total freedom to do what they want as long as they fulfil the required quota of nudity needed for the label. Apparently Sono's film is a “feminist take on sexuality” and is also quite the “metaphysical exercise”. The trailer for the film came out only a few days ago and although it had no English subtitles, I was sold by its incredibly bold use of colour, making it look like something Seijun Suzuki would've made in his prime. The fact that the film also only goes 76 minutes intrigues me too, plus it has an awesome poster.


DAGUERROTYPE

Another Japanese filmmaker makes my most anticipated list, although this time for a film he made in France and in French. Whilst the initial response to the film during its festival run has been rather luke-warm, I still am very much looking forward to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's latest, “Daguerrotype” (which had the much cooler sounding working title of “The Woman in the Silver Plate”). Just from the images in the trailer you can tell that this is a Kurosawa film, but I am always interested in how well a director can transpose his ideas and style when filming in a language that is not his own. I thought that after the mis-step of “Journey to the Shore” from a few years back, that Kiyoshi Kurosawa hit back hard with the very entertaining thriller “Creepy” which was him somewhere close to his best. I'm trying to go into this film as cold as possible but the synopsis from imdb “describes “Daguerrotype” like this: “when an assistant to a daguerreotypy photographer falls in love with the latter's daughter the relationship mirrors the art form as love and pain combine”.


THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

Aki Kaurismaki's previous film, “Le Havre” was actually my first film I had seen from this brilliant Finnish auteur. Since the release of that film, I have been able to catch up with (nearly) all of his previous narrative features (sorry, “Hamlet Goes Business”, I promise I will get to you soon) and own them all on blu-ray. Kaurismaki is a director that I just get, I am on his wavelength thanks to his drier than dry comedy and his exact visual style. His films are always a joy to watch, even when most of the characters are miserable in them. “The Other Side of Hope” is the second part of his refugee trilogy which he began with “Le Havre”, and is about a poker playing restaurateur and a former travelling salesman who meet up with a group of refugees newly arrived in Finland. That is a simple sounding plot but knowing Kaurismaki bad stuff with happen and it will be funny too. Actually, “Le Havre” was the director's most optimistic film to date, so he may continue down that path with his latest too. The film is premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and had its trailer released last week which looks exactly how you think it would; beautifully shot and very, very dry. I can not wait to see it.


THE BAR

Another director who has a style that is easily recognisable, but in a much louder and bigger fashion, is Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia. He actually has two films coming out in 2017, but since “Perfect Strangers” is not due until late in the year, I'm going to focus on “The Bar” which, like “The Other Side of Hope”, is also set to premiere at Berlin. The trailer for the film indicates that this is going to be another one of de la Iglesia's black comedy / thriller mish-mashes that he is so good at making and it looks like a total blast. The trailer has no English subtitles (at least the one I saw) but it looks like the whole film will be set inside a coffee shop when a group of morning regulars are trapped within due to a sniper outside picking off anyone that leaves. Tensions arise and they appear to start to turn on each other inside. It looks like a fast paced film that should be a lot of fun.


THE SHAPE OF WATER

One film that I am trying to go absolutely cold into is Guillermo del Toro's new film “The Shape of Water”. However I have found out that the film is about a fishman that has been captured and tested on by the U.S government at the height of the Cold War in 1963. Apparently though, the film is more of a love story than anything else which may seem atypical for a del Toro film but I have enough faith in the man that this is going to be something special, and if not, at least it will be something different. I was rapt that he decided to direct this smaller, potentially more interesting film, than the overblown sequel to his worst film, “Pacific Rim”. I also love the title of this film. Having Michael Shannon in the cast doesn't hurt either. “The Shape of Water” should come out between mid to late 2017.


OKJA

My most anticipated film of 2017 is Bong Joon-Ho's “Okja”, which was initially described to be a monster movie. Since then though the director has come out and said that while yes, there is a monster in the film, do not go into it expecting it to be an aggressive beast like his earlier film “The Host” (which is flat out genius by the way! See it if you have not yet). This is going to be a shy monster with a mulit-national corporation attempting to kidnap (and I'm assuming exploit) the creature. Other than that, little is known about the film but Bong Joon-Ho has never made a bad film to date and he really is an impressive filmmaker, so I have no reason to expect “Okja” to be any different. He also has Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton in the cast so I'm actually expecting this to be pretty special and blow away expectations.



Well, that is it. My enormous round up of the year that was 2016 is finally over. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it and got something out of it, but how about we go back to watching some new films now?