film review

Classic Bit Review: Peeping Tom (1960)

Who would’ve thought that Peeping Tom (directed by Michael Powell) would be certified as Fresh by film site Rotten Tomatoes and is summarised as “a chilling, methodical look at the psychology of a killer, and a classic work of voyeuristic cinema”. Certainly not audiences in Britain during the time of its release. With such comments as “it turns out to be the sickest and filthiest film I remember seeing…we have had glossy horrors before but never such insinuating, under the skin horrors”   highlighting that British audiences weren’t ready for such an intense voyeuristic experience commentating on issues that hadn’t ever been explored in detail before.

Peeping Tom features a lot of techniques which have arguably pioneered not just horror in general but more specifically the slasher genre which Hollywood easily re-used in the late 80s/early 70s from such films from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Amy Holden Jones’ The Slumber Party Massacre, both of which spawned sequels and numerous spin offs. Despite many believing Hitchcock’s Psycho to be the film that truly defined the genre; Peeping Tom is clearly the film that originally did so. Peeping Tom was released on the 16th of May 1960 and Psycho not released until the 15th of September of that year. Many saw, and still see Psycho as the start of the slasher and psychological thriller. However, all of these could’ve easily been said about Peeping Tom as we are drawn sympathy toward evil as we are given strong hints of the abuse that leading character Michael endured. Powell also creates violence with a lack of imagery as the audience are never shown the victim and the violence is minimal especially compared to Psycho.  So why did Psycho elevate Hitchcock’s career whilst Peeping Tom destroyed Powell’s career as a standing British director?

Both film incorporate the intense voyeurism, the abuse of parents and a killer who isn’t necessarily portrayed as the stereotypical Hollywood villain. Yet, Powell was criticised whilst Hitchcock was praised. Many believe that the fault of Powell’s was letting the British press critique his film instead of letting the public decide. This worked in Hitchcock’s favour as many critics did hate the film but audiences were enthralled and loved it. Peeping Tom is now a cult favourite, as audiences have made up their own minds and now critics have followed. Hitchcock learned a valuable lesson from Powell, suggesting that perhaps if Psycho was released before and with a press screening in Britain that perhaps the roles would be reversed.

Classic Bit Review: Ikiru (1952)

Kurosawa’s first post-Occupation film, Ikiru (1952), was released in October of that year and was a huge hit in Japan both critically and commercially and in the West too. The film follows Takeshi Shimura’s character as he finds out he has a terminal illness and how he deals with it. Ikiru is also called To Live, which highlights the overall theme of the film as it is Shimura learning how to live. The film deals with the problems of bureaucracy and inefficiency of help within a community, the decay of family life and loss of respect for elders.

The film was different to his previous films, as the lead character dies half way through the film and depicts a more contemporary reading of present Japan showing families concerned with wealth and status rather than caring for their elder relatives and giving them respect. Confucianism is a way of life that China embraced, and eventually was embodied by some in Japan. The notion of the central feature of Confucianism, which revolves almost entirely around issues related to the family, morals, and the role of the good ruler. Therefore, respect for elders and family are important within Japan, as Confucianism is very strong in Japan because it affects and was affected by Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. Kurosawa emphasises this in Ikiru, as Shimura’s character is the head of his division and yet is mocked and gossiped about as he disappears from work. The disregard for family life is shown in Ikiru, as his son and daughter in law don’t respect him and constantly refer to his retirement money. The film was a success in Japan as it touched upon present day Japanese issues such as Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). These past ideologies that influenced Japan would have not been able to be depicted in the Occupation, as the past was discouraged and Shintoism and East Asian religions were dissuaded.

The music and the cinematography are outstanding. and the film itself is just beautiful. Shimura stars in his best role I’ve ever seen him in, he has so much dimension as a character varying from the remorseful father to a charitable member of the community. He begins as a bureaucrat whose son, and daughter in law, only want him to retire just to give them money, not respecting or caring about him. His doctors even refuse to tell him the truth, but he soon realises that he is dying. Ironically, it’s only after his diagnosis that he actually begins to enjoy and live his life as he parties with a poet and befriends a young woman. Ikiru both lifts the human spirit whilst crushing it with heartbreaking moments, such as Takashi Shimura singing the song ‘Gondola No Uta’ which makes both the audience and the people around him suddenly sympathetic.

It is my third favourite Kurosawa film, after Drunken Angel being my first and Rashomon being my second, but it’s a film that you cannot live without. There’s not much to say but it is a masterpiece that will start with a sour taste in your mouth and end with restored faith in humanity. All I can say is Shimura is timeless, and underrated as an actor, but this film lifts him up into the lead and shows of his talents as oppose to being overshadowed by Toshiro Mifune in most of his roles. Shimura both lifts the spirits of the audience, whilst simultaneously bringing it down in perfect harmony.

Bit Review: The Resident (2011)

Have you ever felt like you were being watched in your own home? Antti Jokinen’s The Resident takes this paranoia to the next level. Part produced by the renowned Hammer Films, in an attempt at reviving the once popular company. The Resident stars Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, with a special cameo from Hammer Alumni and all round people’s favourite Christopher Lee. The film follows Juliet Devereau (Swank) as she searches for a new apartment after breaking up from her boyfriend, Lee Pace, who cheated on her, in her own bed, none the less. Soon, she meets Max (Morgan) who is renovating an apartment and she loves it immediately.

However, this film isn’t the sequel to P.S. I Love You, also starring Morgan and Swank, as it is a thriller which has clear influences from Hitchcock. Almost half way through, we soon find out that Morgan’s character isn’t all he seems and that he is a strong manipulator who is obsessed with Swank. The film should’ve been called P.S. I Stalk You, as it is clear that Swank has her own personal stalker but the main question should be of the identity of Swank’s stalker.

It is tense and you definitely feel paranoid yourself during the film. Don’t watch it by yourself in the dark, as you will start hearing noises and asking yourself if your neighbour is capable of having voyeuristic tendencies. Whilst there are moments of cringe, and just uncomfortable scenes in general, the film itself is enjoyable. It’s a fun, discount version of Rear Window combined with Psycho. It has gore, suspense, sex and everything you’d expect to enjoy a film. It may not be this decade’s best thriller, but it’s an entertaining movie. You needn’t ask for more.

 

Bit Review: The Hateful Eight (2015)

Tarantino’s eight film, (as he narcissistically numbers in the credits), The Hateful Eight in a nutshell is predictably Tarantino-esque and at most times in the film tedious. The script itself was initially overly hyped due to secrecy and the scandal of being leaked, the dramatic temporary hiatus from Tarantino due to this almost led to it not being made; perhaps this would have been best for everyone.

The plot of the film, which is mostly dragged out to almost three hours due over exaggerated and pretentious dialogue, centres around eight characters (plus the driver, so essentially nine) stuck in Minnie’s Haberdashery during a snow storm. These eight characters each have their own backstory and are not what they seem, it’s up to audience to decide if they are interesting or not; but the consensus is split. This film shouldn’t be called The Hateful Eight but actually the Furious Five as three of the eight characters are pointless and non-crucial to the film. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Walter Goggins were simply in the film because Tarantino essentially wanted his friends in these parts. Goggins provides a little bit of humour, and of course Tarantino wanted a refined English gent and his typical rogue cowboy (Roth and Madsen respectively) but they were not essentially to the plot and the characters themselves seemed to be drab and non-engaging. Channing Tatum makes a not so secret ‘surprise’ appearance in the film but he fails to show anything spectacular. The actors aren’t to blame, they played these characters to the best of their abilities but it wasn’t enough to save them from the cardboard-ness the characters themselves. True, there is one scene in which Madsen is crucial but this could’ve easily been swapped by Demián Bichir or another character.

The rest of the so called Hateful Eight were in fact brilliant and attempted to redeem the film. Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell and Demián Bichir played their parts outstandingly and made the characters themselves engaging and an interesting addition. The legend himself Samuel L. Jackson was of course a breath of fresh air, and showed that despite being a blockbuster star that he is in fact an actor first and highlighted his variety of talent. Surprisingly, the best part and most incredibly performance of the film was in fact Jennifer Jason Leigh. Who would’ve thought that a racist, vile and disgusting thing of a human being Daisy Domergue would be the stand out performance in the entire film. Essentially, everything centres around her without even knowing it. It’s scary how treacherous and horrible her character is but she plays it so beautifully and wonderful. Jackson and Leigh are the definite talents that shine on screen.

Music is a crucial element to Tarantino’s films. He is known for ‘borrowing’ music and juxapositioning it with the scenes that unfold, he attempts to do this with The Hateful Eight at times but it’s not as effective as previously done by him. In The Hateful Eight, it is extremely disappointing, the music that he decides to juxtapose just does not work. Thankfully, the majority of music in the film was scored by Ennio Morricone who is of course brilliance itself. His original score (for once Tarantino does not ‘borrow’ music) is enchanting, from the opening music which sets the dark undertone to the beautiful commentary on the landscape. The praise and hype of his score is acceptable and definitely encouraged.

The Hateful Eight feels like he tried for hard for rewards and prestige. This sums his movies up essentially now as he is no longer the arthouse director that cinephiles and film lovers marvelled in owe at, whether Tarantino likes it or not; he is now a big director who has sold his soul to Hollywood. The praise and prestige put on this film is shocking because it essentially doesn’t grab audiences nor their attention throughout most of it.

Ultimately, the film is character driven. This isn’t usually a bad thing, but when not all the characters are interesting nor captivating. It’s unclear whether Tarantino was trying to honour the old Western movies or just do his own take, but Django Unchained was a superior take on the genre. This film is a hard film to watch, it takes almost an hour for the story to progress and the transitions themselves are not concise nor clear. The Hateful Eight isn’t the worst film, and the cinematography of the landscape is delightful, but it is a huge disappointment and sadly shows what can happen to promising indie directors when they are welcomed into Hollywood. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Tarantino’s movies, but The Hateful Eight seems too much of a studio movie for this once auteur.

 

 

Classic Bit Review: Sanshiro Sugata Pt I (1943)

Akira Kurosawa’s debut picture, Sanshiro Sugata, debuted during the Second World War. Sanshiro Sugata was Kurosawa’s first feature film that was greenlit to shoot and did not have any immediate cuts to the script. Prior to even starting with the idea of Sanshiro Sugata, Kurosawa had written another script a few years’ prior and he had trouble with the Japanese film industry itself. By 1943, Kurosawa was established as a credible screenwriter and assistant director thereforeif he himself had trouble trying to find a script for his directorial debut, as the strict censorship due to the war  already affected his decisions as a filmmaker.

 Sanshiro Sugata is a combination of two different genres, jidaigeki and gendaigeki. Both genres are considered safe choices for filmmakers during this time as they promote nationalistic Japanese views and are anti-western films. Film censors in Japan during this time are more likely to accept films that promote Japanese ideals rather than Western morals, therefore a film that highlights Japan’s history would correct the influence from films that aren’t Japanese. Sanshiro Sugata follows a Japanese protagonist, with the same name, who already has strength and power butlearn to become patient, honourable and make sacrifices for the greater good. Sanshiro isn’t a rich man, and has flaws and traits that make an everyday character for the Japanese public. He begins as an everyday man who goes to a respectable Judo Dojo to learn to train to be the greatest, but upon joining they are suddenly defeated in battle by Gennosuke Higaki. Selfishly, he leaves his Dojo to follow the man. He eventually returns to the Dojo and the Dojo master reprimands him. 

Sanshiro (played by Susumu Fujita), who is determined to prove that he is honourable, jumps into a pond and only has a stake to keep him above the icy water. It’s during this time that he begins to transition into the character he needs to be. As he stares at a single pure blossom, he begins to realise that he has been selfish and there is more to life than becoming a champion. He finally leaves the pond, and begins his repentance and punishment. The film ends with Sanshiro finally battling Higaki, and he demands a battle to the death, but Sanshiro refuses to kill him and moves on.

The film features a lot of characteristics deemed desirable for people during the war to serve as propaganda. However, the film still features some of Kurosawa’s traits such as the use of weather and editing techniques such as cut on motion and wipes. Despite it being short, and the lighting is off in most of the exterior shots, the film is enjoyable and fun to watch. The loyalty and honour that Sanshiro develops feels deserved as the audience goes along with him, and the budding romance between Sanshiro and Sayo (Yukiko Todoroki) is subtle but adorable. 

The film was cut almost twenty minutes therefore it is safe to assume that the lost footage was part of Kurosawa’s creativity and hindered his work. Kurosawa had many restrictions before and after filming Sanshiro Sugata, but the film was a success and he was approached to do a propaganda film for the war effort, The Most Beautiful. If you like martial arts movies, or are a fan of Kurosawa, then definitely watch this as it’s a treat. 

Classic Bit Review: I Live In Fear (1955)

Perhaps regarded as the worst Kurosawa film in his impressive catalogue, and also known as Record of a Living Being or 生きものの記録. The film follows the family patriarch, played by Toshiro Mifune, who suffers a mental breakdown post World War II and post Atomic Bombings. In efforts to save his family from the catastrophic effects of the bombs, he attempts to move his family, both his legitimate family and his mistress, to Brazil. However, his family take him to a family court in which Takashi Shimura plays the mediator who must decide if Mifune is really crazy or just being cautionary.

The film is not an enjoyable experience, it feels unpolished and not at all in line with Kurosawa’s style. The use of Mifune in makeup, and his acting as an older man is comedic but it doesn’t fit into the setting. He seems like a caricature in a dramatic piece. Perhaps with Shimura in this role, as he is a more mature and a better fit in the role. The film feels unfinished and almost rushed, this combined with the date of its release doesn’t give much for audiences. The film was released only ten years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people hadn’t had a chance to properly grieve or even process the trauma of those events due to censorship from the US Occupation. The film was later praised for this, but it was a lost sentiment as the film didn’t eloquently present this emotion as much as it should.

The film was originally supposed to be a comedy, but due to the death of Kurosawa’s friend and collaborator, Fumio Hayasaka, it was changed to a drama. As a huge Kurosawa fan, I appreciate the message and sentiment but the film doesn’t reflect his genius or style. The most memorable part of the film is the pondering of whether or not the people who are pretending that they aren’t afraid are the crazy ones or perhaps the patriarch who openly proclaims his fears. Definitely watch if you are a Kurosawa fan, but be prepared.

Bit Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

A Wonder Woman movie is something that seemed impossible a few years ago. The era of female superheroes movies such as Elektra (2005) and Catwoman (2004) stumped the progression of female superhero movies. Wonder Women (2017), perhaps the most famous female superhero of all time only has had success in comics and animated movies, and the only live action adaption that was remotely successful was the TV series, of the same name, (1975 – 1979) starring Linda Carter. A failed pilot a few years ago, and a script by Joss Whedon seemed to be the closest that fans would get to a movie.
 
That was until Patty Jenkins had found the perfect Wonder Woman in Gal Gadot. The film which initially faced criticism before even being released from audience members both DC and Marvel fans. However, Wonder Woman is unlike any other DC film before it. The film has something for everyone, it has the historical aspect of the First World War for history buffs, the mythological and fantasy bits, the smart wit and power of females for feminist and female empowerment and the use of equal representation in the film to provide inspiration for everyone.
 
I was unsure of Gal Gadot’s casting when it was first announced as I believed Wonder Woman, Aka Diana of Themyscira, was supposed to be a more athletic and taller woman. However, after her cameo in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) I was suddenly turned around and excited for the film. She is the perfect casting, beautiful, smart and bad-ass. Chris Pine plays Steve Trevor and he is just as incredible as her, making me question who is the best American Soldier named Steve, Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers (Captain America) and Steve Trevor. The ensemble are fantastic too, as the comic sidekicks are bad-ass in their own right, and the love and comradery from their group of misfits is heartwarming and shows that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, that in the end we are humans and should stand together.
 
I found myself wanting more as I finished, during the two hour run I was not bored once and found myself at a loss when it ended. I was devastated their wasn’t a post credit scene, but that just left me wanting more. I hope that their will be an extended director’s cut when the film is released. The main Wonder Woman theme by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is just perfect and encapsulates everything of Wonder Woman. I cannot wait for the sequel, and The Justice League movie and I hope this is a start for female superhero films. With Joss Whedon’s own Batgirl predicted to start pre-production soon it raises hope for fans of the comics and and a source of inspiration for young woman who want a role model in the form of a superhero. Now, let’s hope the Gotham Sirens is gonna happen. It’s time for a trio of hardcore and cool women from Gotham city to take over the screens. I think we’re overdue for a sultry Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn possible romance.

Bit Review: The Counselor (2013)

The Counselor tells the story of a man nicknamed The Counselor (Michael Fassbender) who gets in over his head with a drug deal. The film features many themes such as Death, Greed, Sex, Good vs Evil etc. The visuals of the film are stunning at times. The use of establishing shots to show the beautiful landscape of Mexico or the show the imagery of long highways. Scott also uses extreme close ups for his characters to highlight the tremendous talent in this film including everyone’s favourite ‘Michael Fassbender’. The audio was disappointing for me in this film. The music and the sound of films are usually the highlight for me, such as the outstanding soundtrack for Seven Psychopaths or even the audio for Inception. The sound was minimal and basic and not in an intriguing way but an awkward one, but the acting of a few individuals redeem this. Fassbender was his classic, talented self, and the focus on his face was outstanding.

 

I generally found the film exciting most of the time but I found it to personally drag at times. My favourite moment of this film was when Fassbender realises that he cannot change the past but must accept his fate. His facial acting is brilliant and the way he can change from one extreme to another, is why Fassbender is a rare gem in the movie business and truly an incredible actor. He is a chameleon and it’s a rare quality that makes him unique and stand out. This is a different step for Scott (aside from American Gangster) but an exciting and ambitious new take. I would recommend if you love Thriller films are if you liked Body of Lies or American Gangster. If you are a fan of Fassbender, then you definitely need to see this. His character has the vulnerability of Brandon from Shame, the wit from Bobby Sands in Hunger and a mixture of Fassbender himself.

 

I found myself disappointed with the direction of Penelope Cruz. Her role was a safe choice I believe, as she wasn’t anything spectacular and was definitely overshadowed. Scott only seemed to use Cruz as a way to boost his all-star cast. Cameron Diaz pushed her usual boundary for a great attempt but her fluctuation between accents is a little hard on the ears and cringe-worthy at times. Javier Bardem was outrageous but superb as ever. Whilst Brad Pitt shows he can act, albeit overshadowed by the master classes of Fassbender and Bardem. Breaking Bad fans will enjoy the cameo of Dean Norris (Hank Schrader) who ironically plays a guy buying drugs. The film has humour in it and heart, but if you aren’t a big thriller fan, then perhaps The Counselor isn’t for you. If you love great acting, and car porn then this film is for you.

 

the-counselor-cameron-diaz

Classic Bit Review: Drunken Angel (1948)

Drunken Angel, aka 酔いどれ天使 Yoidore tenshi, is a drama film directed by legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The film stars his two favourite actors Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. Drunken Angel is the first film collaboration between Mifune and Kurosawa, but most definitely not the last.

The films Kurosawa made prior to this were often not reflecting his style of filmmaking. Despite being an Occupation film, where the US occupied Japan from 1945 to 1952, it features many of Kurosawa’s traits such as using weather as a part of the story, and the master and disciple relationship between the leads. 

The film follows a doctor, Sanada played by Shimura, who is an excellent curer of Tuberculosis, but he is a drunk. His life takes a drastic turn as he treats a small time gangster, Matsunaga played by Mifune, for a gun wound but soon sees symptoms of T.B. Matsunaga is too proud of first to see the doctor again until his situation worsens. Sanada gives him an ultimatum that he should give up booze and women or die, so he almost successfully does so until his big boss returns to town. Once everyone finds out he has T.B. he is essentially downgraded and degraded by the people of the town, so in a drastic turn to confront his former boss who steals his girl as well, he ends in a knife fight which ultimately takes his life. The only people who grieves for him are his former doctor who formed a bond with him, and a girl from a local tavern who proclaimed her love for him almost tempting him to run away with her. 

The film is beautifully shot and the music is brilliant in providing a contrast to the mood of the scene. The cuts are quick but exciting. The film has almost a more America in the 1920s feel to it due to the costumes and the dancehall. The film is arguably the first Yakuza in Japanese cinema, and provides a strong inspiration for other films of this genre.

Drunken Angel, referring the drunken doctor who helps people and the good hearted Yakuza who’s drinking led to his demise. This wasn’t my first Kurosawa film but it’s definitely my favourite. whilst Stray Dog and Rashomon are two of my other favourites, Drunken Angel is my favourite as I think we finally see Kurosawa as the master that he is. Definitely a recommended watch for Japanese Cinema fans and overall movie buffs. 

Bit Review: Elvis & Nixon (2016)

Elvis & Nixon sees Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey play these two legendary figures in a fictionalised story of how the famous photo came about. Shannon as the zany and conservative Elvis whilst Spacey plays Nixon who is challenged by Elvis’ attraction. The film is highly entertaining a lot of fun. The director uses different filters during montages to give a real feel for the 70s of course with the horrendous facial hair.

The only thing that was disappointing was the lack of Nixon and Elvis together, but the film wasn’t long only running at 86 minutes but other than that, it’s a pretty good film. Directed by Liza Johnson in her fourth feature film, and hopefully we’ll see more from Johnson. The supporting cast of course contributed to the charm, Evan Peters, Colin Hanks and Johnny Knoxville were surprisingly funny. Peters especially seems to be excellent as being the surprising comic relief, with his latest roles in X-men as Quicksilver and with Elvis & Nixon. Peters is a huge young talent who is definitely making his way in Hollywood. Alex Pettyfer was bearable but overshadowed by the rest of the talents in the film. So if you’re looking for a fun movie with an excellent cast and incredible soundtrack, then definitely watch Elvis & Nixon.