Films seen this week:
Pusher - 1996 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Pusher was Refn's first film and a minor success, it tells the tale of a small time drug pusher operating in Copenhagen who as a result of an unfortunate chain of events finds himself in enormous debt to his providers. His life is at stake while he desperately tries to gather the sum he owes. It is a downward spiral through and through and whilst the outcome is obvious from the start, it is nonetheless a fascinating watch. At first the handheld, gritty style was off putting, but as the film went on I grew to appreciate the films other aspects. It is a story ade up of very familiar elements, yet I still thought it brought a certain freshness to the gangster genre.
Pusher 2: With Blood On My Hands - 2004 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
But despite this, they are two of the best "unplanned sequels" ever made. Pusher 2 takes the story in a very different direction, and is perhaps my least favourite of the three despite the strong central performance from Mads Mikkelsen. However I would not rank it far below the first Pusher as it is a very good follow up and a great film in it's own right.
Pusher 3: I'm The Angel Of Death - 2005 directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Pusher 3 turned out to be my favourite of the trilogy surprisingly enough.
Like the first sequel, it inhabits the same world as the first film and features some of the same characters, but tells a very different story.
This is the tale I found to be the most affecting, and I had definitely warmed to the peculiar style of filmmaking by then, as I was able to notice the great benefits produced by the use of such technology.
Just like the 2 films before it, this one ends with a cut-to-black, leaving the fates of all those involved unknown. This leaves endless possibilties for a follow up film, which could stem from anyone of the stories of these 3 films or could create an entirely new one. Apparently Refn is working on a Pusher 4, but he has so many other projects on the go (including a Logan's Run remake) that I doubt it will be made anytime soon.
All in all the Pusher trilogy is one of the most consistent trilogies in Cinema, and a masterpiece in it's own way. Highly recommended, especially for those impressed by Refn's more recent work as its interesting to look back at his origins in the film making business.
The Cranes Are Flying - 1957 directed by Mkhail Kalatozov
Like many Soviet films The Cranes Are Flying is technically brilliant, some of the shots on display here are awe inspiring, but slightly marred by a preachy message with touches of propaganda.
It's a great film nonetheless, with moving story, wonderful cinematography and excellent performances.
As it's the first film by Kalatozov I have seen, I may write a review sometime soon.
I'd recommend it though, it's definitely worthy of it's Palme D'Or.
Ossessione - 1943 directed by Luchino Visconti
This is the first film of the Neo-Realist movement of Italian cinema.
A movement made famous by the success of films like The Bicycle Thieves and directors like Roberto Rosselini.
However Luchino Visconti remains one of the lesser known Italian directors, not exactly obscure, but not quite on the same level of fame as his contemporaries such as Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci etc. However I'm a massive fan of his work.
Ossessione was not one of his best films, but it's influence is undeniable. I would say it's a must see merely for it's cultural effect alone, but it is also a fine film in it's own right. It was simple, but interesting, particularly in it's portrayal of a long gone Italian lifestyle.
Come And See - 1985 directed by Elem Klimov
Come and See is a Soviet film dealing with the effects of WW2 on Belarus. I tis a very intense film that ranks amongst the best War films I've ever seen, and is the absolute best film dealing with the Eastern European front of WW2.
The camerawork was brilliant (and almost entirely composed of steadi-cam shots), the cinematography beautiful (reminiscent of Tarkosky's work), the content was overwhelmingly bleak, a downward spiral of atrocities, violence and insanity that is unrelenting in it's descent.
Harrowing in every respect, yet it ultimately transcends it's propagandistic origins and becomes one of the most compelling anti war films ever made. It's a must see.
Thor - 2011 directed by Kenneth Branagh
Thor is no exception, it was a massive success and received fairly positive reviews, yet I just thought it was generic, cartoonish and bland.
None of the performances stood out in any way, the story was predictable, the directing uninspired (so many Dutch angles...) and the special effects overdone.
It all had a very drawn out feeling, like not much of a story was spread out over the run time. All in all it felt like the first half of a film. And not a particularly good film at that.
Crank - 2006 directed by Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
Sometimes I really do surprise myself, I did not expect much from this film as it appeared to be yet another run of the mill Jason Statham action film. But I was mistaken, I enjoyed it enormously.
It features Statham's finest performance, his dead pan dialogue and strong English accent fit the film perfectly, the film's meta style was incredibly entertaining and above all it delivered non stop action of the kind very rarely found in action films, there were no interludes for character development, no back story, no time is wasted on anything that isn't action
The Crank films have reputation for being in utterly bad taste and trying very hard to offend the audience ta every possible turn, but surprisingly I enjoyed this.
All in all I'd say I haven't enjoyed an action film this much for ages, it is easily one of the best of the decade, if not the best.
Crank 2: High Voltage - 2009 directed byMark Neveldine, Brian Taylor
This sequel takes things even further than the original Crank, and consequently doesn't entirely live up to it's predecessor. It is still great fun of course, but I found this one's shock factor was even higher than the previous film, so my enjoyment was somewhat lessened.
However Neveldine and Taylor have proved to be true maverick directors of the kind rarely encountered these days, constantly coming up with new and interestign techniques even if they are often used in a most crass manner.
I greatly look forwards to their reinterpretation of Ghost Rider, which can only be an improvement on the original film.
With the Crank films, I think I have found my ultimate guilty pleasure. I honestly can't recommend them to everyone as they are pretty much designed to offend you in some way or another, but if you're looking for a good action film that does not take itself seriously, then you could do a lot worse than the Crank films.
George Harrison: Living In The Material World - 2011 directed by Martin Scorsese
Scorsese's latest music themed documentary covers the life of George Harrison, one of the Beatles and a notable solo musician.
It is a 3 hour long documentary, and as usual Scorsese had access to all kinds of unseen before footage, photos, and documents, as well as having the opportunity to interview some of Harrison's closest friends.
It is a very well put together film, although I can imagine it would be rather confusing for those without at least a minimum of background knowledge on the subject.
However I could not help but feel it could have been better, I felt Harrison was glorified a bit too much while his shortcomings were mentioned occasionally but never dwelt upon. Of course it would not have been a good idea to dwell too much on the darker side of his nature, but I think a more interesting balance could have been obtained.
That said, George Harrison was a very interestign man and a very talented artists, and this film does provide a lot of insight into his character, so it is a success and I would recommend it.
Live Flesh (Carne Tremula) - 1997 directed by Pedro Almodovar.
I continue my exploration of the Spanish directors work with Carne Tremula, one of his lesser known films.
This film had a very original and compelling storyline, unlike anything I'd ever seen before yet also rather simple.
The performances were all fantastic, and Almodovar directs with his usual skill and as always treats the material with utmost respect and tact even though it touches on some rather controversial issues.
It didn't have as much of an impact on me as his other films at first, but by the end of the film my opinion of it improved considerably as it is a film that gets better as it goes along. I thought the pacing at the beginning was a bit off, and thus it was hard to get into the film, but towards the end I found myself really enjoying it as it descended into some kind of Greek tragedy with an unexpected conclusion.
Midnight Express - 1978 directed by Alan Parker
But I was left waiting for the greatness of the film to start, and it never really did. It is by no means a bad film, but on the other hand it is little more than a run of the mill prison film. The main aspect in which it differs from other such films is that it concerns a character imprisoned in a country that is entirely foreign to him.
Brad Davis was rather average as the main character, leaving John Hurt to steal the show.
Some of the shots of Istanbul were fantastic, and the story was affecting enough, but it just never really got started in my opinion. And the synthesiser score has not aged well at all. It's a fairly middling entry to the prison genre and not one of Alan Parker's best films, but I would still recommend it as it is worth a watch.
Halloween - 1978 directed by John Carpenter
John Carpenter's Halloween is the ultimate halloween film and I had never seen it before despite my liking of Carpenter's work.
I had not seen a single Halloween film, whether a sequel, prequel or remake before, so I did not quite know what to expect.
It is one of the best Horror films I've seen, alongside the likes of The Shining, The Evil Dead and Psycho, John Carpenter quickly establishes a heavy atmosphere of dread and maintains it throughout the entire film with his chilling score (which ranks amongst his better synthesised pieces) and his very clever directing, which always avoids showing to much or explaining the motives behind the killings, yet still puts the viewer in a position of knowledge as we know who the killer is, and can easily guess what he will do next, but the characters walk unknowingly to their deaths. I believe that Horror is the easiest genre to make, but a truly effective Horror film is rare, and fortunately Halloween is one of them.
The acting was quite terrible, and the film has visibly aged, but it still retains it's power to scare without being overly disturbing.
The City Of Lost Children - 1995 directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro
Whilst I enjoyed the whole world this film creates, a strange kind of dystopian landscape with heavy steampunk influences, the film did not manage to capture my interest. The plot was meandering and lacked a strong sense of direction so unfortunately most of the interesting and original ideas go to waste.
Ron Perlman was good in his role, but the supporting cast were the main strenght of the film, with Dominique Pinon giving a stunning performance a as large array of characters. Judith Vittet was also quite exceptional as the young girl Miette.
However despite all the positive aspects, I was not very impressed by the film as a whole.
Lars And The Real Girl - 2007 directed by Craig Gillespie
The easiest way to describe this film would be that it is about a lonely man who falls in love with a sex doll.
At first this description did put me off the film,but upon watching it I realised that the film was about so much more, and certainly was not a comedy.
I was really surprised at how much I ended up liking the film, it was far from the typical Indie american film, and I thought that was a good thing.
Ryan Gosling was exceptional, far better than in Drive, which is the only other performance I have seen of his. I look forward to seeing more of his work.
Ultimately Lars and The Real Girl is a surprisingly cathartic film, that manages to be a feel-good film of sorts while still retaining a certain amount of realism. It was nice to see a more heartwarming film for a change.
The Damned - 1969 directed by Luchino Visconti
I will give the film credit for it's choice of subject matter which was very original and touched upon themes I had never even seen mentioned in film before, but ultimately I cannot recommend this one as it is an unfortunate example of a very talented director making a poor film, which is always a sad sight to see.
Time for some links:
Anomalous Material has an excellent list of the Top Ten Best PTA Characters
Bonjour Tristesse reviews Rubber (2010), a film I've been meaning to see for a while now.
Andy Buckle celebrates Halloween with this post on Memorable Horror Film Moments.
Joel Burman reviews a film from Swedish director Bo Wilderberg, whose films I really must watch, called The Man from Mallorca.
CS reviews The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, a film I have heard much about, but have never been interested in watching.
Lesya reviews The Symphony, a film I had never even heard of before, but that sounds like something I would enjoy.
Nate has reviewed both The Colour Of Pomegranates, which I watched recently, and Napoleon, which is one of my favourite films, and done so very well indeed.
Limette's blog celebrates it's 1st Birthday!
Stevee writes about the Rating systems and how they can affect films.
Groggy Dunder reviews the original Death Wish.
My directors project is progressing, albeit very slowly, but unfortunately I will not be writing a post on Stan Brakhage like I had said I would at the end of the latest post due to the fact that I disliked his film so much that I was unable to finish it. Instead I will be writing about the first Pier Paolo Pasolini film I have seen, Teorema.
I have also started to watch some of Maya Deren's short experimental films and am greatly enjoying them, when I have finished all of them I will write a post on her work as well, which should prove very interesting.
I have also recently decided to catch up on some of the more acclaimed TV series I may have missed over the years, and having recently watched The Office UK, which I loved, will now be starting Breaking Bad, which I hear is great. Any recommendations would be welcome as I have not watched any TV for years so don't really know were to start.
And finally, I should be seeing Tintin anytime soon, which I greatly look forward to as the book were childhood favourites and the talent involved in the film is astounding. But the negative reviews it's been getting (especially on The Guardian) have made me rather wary, has anyone seen it? If so what did you think of it?
That's all for this week, it has been a rather productive one with a very varied group of films. I hope this week will be as interesting.