Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Confessions - Third Window Films

When a young female teacher uncovers the truth about the murder of her daughter a chain of events is set in motion that will have devastating effects on everyone involved.

The film begins with an opening monologue from the teacher, Yuko Moriguchi, which is delivered to her pupils as they cat-call, text and treat her with less respect than they do each other.  The classroom is a zoo and the animals have taken control.  Moriguchi remains calm and never raises her voice as she tells the story of the murder of her young daughter.  Slowly, surely, the class begins to pay attention as she reveals that the murderers are in the room.  Towards the end of her tale she reveals that she has extracted blood from her HIV positive former partner and injected it into the milk of the perpetrators.  It is a shocking revelation made more so by how poised the person responsible is while delivering it.

In a world where awards were given based on talent and not on the amount of money being spent by publicists then Takako Matsu would be looking forward to her shelves heaving under the weight of Oscars, BAFTAs and Globes.  Her performance during this period of the film is incredible.  It will leave you reeling.  Matsu is little known here in the West but anyone who sees "Confessions" will never forget her.

Following on from this stunning opening act the film follows the intertwined lives of everyone involved with a particular emphasis on the Leopold and Loeb like murderers.  Lives unravel, revenge is served hot and cold, hopes and dreams are dashed, lives are cut short and a truly apocalyptic ending literally explodes across the screen to bring things to a terrible end.

There are hints of the twisted, lost, teens of "Battle Royale" and the dark, troubled teens of "Heathers" here but, in truth, "Confessions" is unlike any other film dealing with adolescence I have ever seen.  Questions are posed about the nature of family in the modern world and what impact the combined influences of economic meltdown, family breakdown and mass media will have on young people.  No answers, certainly no easy answers, are offered and instead director Tetsuya Nakashima simply allows the story to unfold before us and then leaves us to think about what we have experienced.

One of the adolescent murderers has been left to raise himself following his abandonment by his academic mother while the other is suffocated by a mother who can see no wrong in him even when confronted with the truth of his actions.  Dark reflections of each other and both cope with their newly found HIV positive status in violently different ways; much like Brandon and Phillip in Hitchcocks own Leopold and Lobe tale; "Rope".

Nakashima has previously delivered two very different films (Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko) which also deal with similar themes but neither has the sort of darkness that is present in "Confessions".  It is a difficult and challenging film to watch but the rewards are myriad; great performances, strong, original, intelligent storytelling and some beautiful imagery being just three examples.

"Confessions" is showing at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh from 29th March until 31st March.

Images in this article supplied by Third Window Films

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Elizabeth Taylor




Elizabeth Taylor has, today, passed away.

While for many she is famous for her multiple marriages others will remember her as one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on the silver screen and, at her best, one of the great actresses.

"Cleopatra", "National Velvet" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" are all worthy of a place on any "must see" or "classic" list and her work in them rightly affords Taylor a place in the movie hall of fame.

MyFilms send their sincere condolences to her friends and family and share with her millions of fans a sense of sadness and loss.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Confessions of a Dog - Third Window Films

When asked why he had made a film that serves as a damning indictment of the level of corruption in the Japanese police force director Gen Takahashi's response was short and to the point; "Because" he said "I hate the police."

For young men, like me, who grew up in less than affluent homes and who have spent a fair bit of time at football grounds across the country Takahashis explanation is one that makes perfect sense.  Few of us would be able to motivate ourselves to turn to the police even when we were in need of the service they are meant to provide.  Faith in the officers of the law is not something I have an abundance of.  I'm fairly sure that there are many, many fine men and women who are police officers but I am equally sure that as an organisation it is corrupt in ways that few of us could comprehend.

According to Takahashi, who is also a freelance journalist operating outside of the constraints of the mainstream media (an organisation he holds responsible, in part, for the corruption inside the Japanese police force) he has ample evidence to support the claims he makes in "Confessions of a Dog".  That the film was banned in Japan stands as a testament to the veracity of the directors work.

Telling the story of a police officer, Takeda (played by the awesome Shun Sugata), who is promoted quickly through the ranks thanks to his willingness to follow orders alongside his ability to ignore the obvious corruption that surrounds him Takahashi delivers a sprawling cinematic masterpiece that can genuinely be hailed as visceral, brilliant and unique.  From such a simple starting point he has constructed a layered expose of the sort of dishonesty and disregard for justice that renders the Japanese police impotent if there is even a shred of truth in what is portrayed. 

Officers on the beat construct situations where they will be able to make arrests in order to make themselves look good; a bicycle is left, by the officers, unattended in order to ensure an arrest for theft.  While, technically, a crime is committed and a perpetrator is apprehended one cannot escape the fact that no such crime could have taken place without the police. 

Further up the foodchain senior officers are involved in the supply of drugs and use their powers to protect their interests.  At the same time they present a display for the benefit of the public...regularly arresting those who have crossed them, those who are no longer of value to them or simply those who have been chosen as sacrificial lambs.  The illusion of justice.

This premise lies at the heart of Takahashis work...the police are as responsible as the criminals for crime. 

The biggest crooks on the screen are not the drug dealers, the pimps or the low level hoods on the street but the officers on the beat, their superiors and the media who fail to properly challenge what they know is happening.  A secret world of violence, corruption and collusion has built up inside the police force who wear their uniforms in place of the tattoos of the Yakuza.  For many young men the police force offers the chance of a career when they have failed at school...they quickly realise that the route to a better salary and a promotion is to follow orders and do the very things they are meant to be preventing.  It is a depressing story precisely because we know that there is, at least, an element of truth in it and that we suspect the same actions are being repeated in our own police force.

Running alongside all of this is reporter Kusama (Junichi Kawamoto) who acts as the moral heart of the film.  With the information he has about the extent of the corruption in the force he could cause the entire system to collapse in on itself.  Isolated and mocked by others in the media he is forced to wrestle with his conscience and decide what, if anything he should do.  Kusama is the closest thing "Confessions of a Dog" has to a hero; he is not without flaw or fear but the enormity of what he has discovered and what the consequences of going public could mean weigh heavily on his shoulders.

While their will, inevitably, be comparisons with Western directors and films like Scorcese, Coppola and the likes of "The Godfather" or "The Departed" it is worth noting that this is not a case of East immitating West.  Takahashi has crafted a film that is uniquely his and uniquely Japanese.  None of the things we associate with gangster chic in the West are present; no car chases and explosions, no glamour, no reliance on a period soundtrack and in their place a film that turns its eye on the issue that lie at its heart and then refuses to blink for three hours.

The destruction of good men by forces greater than they are and the lack of a fairytale ending combine to leave you stunned and breathless at the conclusion...a moment of cinema that is Shakespearean in its poetry and ability to say something about the human condition.  This is a film quite unlike anything else you will see this year...or in any other year.  We should be thankful that a film-maker like Takahashi exists and that he was brave enough to deliver a film like this.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

I Am Number Four - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 12/3/11


"Twilight" but with aliens?

The thing about this is that I can't quite decide whether this was hideous or a tiny bit fabulous.

I mean, the whole thing is utter bunkum...handsome alien "boy" arrives on earth along with several others after their home planet is destroyed by horrible, ugly, aliens.  He has, naturally, some superpowers and a weird amulet around his neck.  He is protected by another alien, equally handsome but a bit older, who doesn't have superpowers (something to do with his status on the home planet or something) and he constantly on the move to avoid being detected by some of the ugly aliens who have arrived on earth to kill him and his friends.

When he arrives in "Paradise" he meets and falls in love with former "it" girl turned moody photographer and befriends a boy who is obsessed with aliens and who suspects his father may have been abducted by some.  He also manages to hack off the star quarterback at the school and generally makes himself far too visible for a "boy" who is meant to be keeping a low profile.

Things build to a climax with a huge fight between the "boy", one of the other superpowered aliens (a "girl") who arrives on a motorbike, skin tight clothes and with an Australian accent and the band of ugly aliens who want to kill them.  They win, of course, and head off into the sunset determined to find their peers in order to protect themselves and the earth.

I say "boy" and "girl" because, as with most Hollywood "teen" films the "teens" are played by people in their late twenties and behave like people in their late-twenties pretending to be teenagers.  That isn't the biggest problem with "I Am Number Four"...that honor goes to the script which is clunky and charmless.  That is a shame because the story, while nonsense, is, potentially, fun and loaded with sequel possibilities.  Another problem is that it takes almost two thirds of the film before anything even remotely resembling being exciting happens...that is the big battle which, I'm afraid, isn't worth waiting over an hour and a bit for.

The performances are no less cliched and wooden than those in "Twilight" and unlike the likes of the odious "R-Pat" (more like cow pat...ba-boom-tish!) they appear to be having fun and enjoying things.  With more time spent on the script and a greater urgency on the action front the, inevitable, sequel to this may be a lot more fun.


Tiny bit fabulous?

I'm going to plump for a tiny bit fabulous...but only a tiny, tiny bit.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Battle Los Angeles - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 11/3/11

Have you ever thought about a career in the military?


Neither had I...until I saw "Battle Los Angeles".

It is clear from this that being a US Marine is the best job in the world.

Of course it is fraught with danger and it takes a certain type of person to be able to go to a country you couldn't locate on a map in order to then kill people you have more in common with than not just because a politician tells you it is the right thing to do BUT...there are big guns and way cool explosions too.

Additionally you will also be the earths first line of defence should aliens from another planet arrive with hostile intent.

Somebody should have taken one of the Marines really big guns and used it to force director Jonathan Liebesman (who also brought us the classic "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Beginnings"...urgh) and writer Chris Bertolini to deliver a movie that wasn't; a recruitment ad for the Marines and a mash-up of "Independence Day", "Signs", "Speed" (I'm not joking) and a million other films that weren't very good.  Think about what would have happened to you at school if you had delivered, as an original piece, a script or essay that told a story about an alien invasion ("Independence Day") from aliens who want access to our water supply ("Signs") and where some soldiers ride a bus to the freeway only to find the ramp gone ("Speed").  You would have been hauled over the coals for plagiarism faster than you could say "THIEF".

Like the awful "Inception" this also suffers from a soundtrack that is so LOUD that it is, at times, impossible to hear what anyone is saying.  However, that may be a blessing in disguise as one characters main contribution to events is to declare that "I'm a veterinarian"...before using this skill-set to perform an autopsy on an alien.

Quite what an actor like Aaron Eckhart was doing in this tosh is anyones guess but he should be ashamed.  Paying the bills is one thing but to do that by performing in a movie that would be perfect for Bill O'Reilly and Anne Coulter on a date is quite another.

Horrible, right wing, derivative, dull piffle.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Rite - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 4/3/11

Have you ever seen "The Exorcist"?

Of course you have.

It's a wonderful film.

Beautifully shot, terrific performances, big questions about faith, the meaning of life, loss of innocence, who are we, what does it mean to be good, is there a God, is there evil in the world and it stands as a metaphor for the USA at the time of its production.

If you haven't seen it you should.

A young girl falls foul of demonic possession after she plays with a ouija board and what follows is truly horrific and terrifying.  Slowly but surely innocence is replaced by vulgarity and wickedness.  The impact on the girls mother, a famous Hollywood actress, is equally shocking as she physically and emotionally collapses...unable to understand what is happening to her daughter and then ultimately turning to a Catholic priest for help.

The priest is experiencing a crisis of faith.  He is haunted by his failings as a son and by the knowledge that he no longer possesses the faith necessary to serve God, the Church or those who look to him for spiritual support.  When he is eventually convinced that what is happening to the girl is more than a psychotic episode he is forced to confront the fact that evil is real and that only faith can save him and the girl.

The priest is supported in performing the exorcism by an older, experienced priest who we know has already confronted evil thanks to an astonishing opening scene when we are introduced to this priest as he supervises an archaeological dig in Iraq.  This priest leads the exorcism and guides the younger, doubt ridden, priest through the ritual.

It isn't just that "The Exorcist" is filled with horrifying images and shocking scenes that makes it one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, horror films of all time that makes it special; it is the fact that it is driven by serious questions and themes, features fabulous performances from everyone involved and has a script that is the equal of many more, supposedly, serious films that make it one of the the greatest films in any genre.

I have watched "The Exorcist" more times than any other film.

Each time it leaves me speechless.

It is, simply, brilliant.

It's power to shock, stun and provoke never diminishes.

It is a film about faith.

It is a film about family.

It is a film about the transition from childhood innocence to the awful state of adolescence and adulthood.

Read Mark Kermodes fabulous book on the film and then watch it again...you will be thrilled and delighted as much as you are shocked and scared.


"The Rite"?


A steaming, stinking, awful turd of a film that is unworthy of your time.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Animal Kingdom - Cineworld, Edinburgh - 28/2/11





Operator:  Hello, "dial-a-cliche" can I help?

MyFilm:  Yes, hello, my name is Mozzer.  I write film reviews and I've just been to see Australian crime thriller "Animal Kingdom".

Operator:  Yes?

MyFilm:  Well, the thing is, I try really hard not to read other reviews of films I'm writing about so that what I write is absolutely, 100%, my thoughts on things.

Operator:  Yes, so how can "dial-a-cliche" help Mozzer?

MyFilm:  Right.  So, the problem is that I'm fairly sure that every other reviewer will have enjoyed "Animal Kingdom" because it was, well, to be honest, bloody fantastic.  Have you seen it?

Operator:  No, no I haven't.  Good was it?

MyFilm:  Oh, you have no idea.  This was the sort of film that can wash away the foul stench of a million James Cameron movies or the ghastly sight of yet another Waylans movie cluttering up the screens of your local cinema.

Operator:  Sounds good.  What was it about?

MyFilm:  Oh, right.  Well, it's a Godfather style tale of a crime family but stripped bare.  No fancy cars, big houses and tailor made suits.  Just a, seemingly, normal Australian family who happen to be bank robbers and drug dealers.  They go to the shops, they are married, they hang out together but they are public enemy number one in the eyes of the police.

Operator:  So, it's another crime movie?

MyFilm:  No, no it's much more than that.  The crime element is important because it carries the film but this is really a film about family, love and the ties that bind us to other people.  So, for example, the key character is a teenage boy, J, who is forced into the arms of his grandmother after his mother dies from a heroin overdose.  His grandmother is the matriarch of a family of violent and dangerous bank robbers and drug dealers.  She wraps a loving arm around J but at the same time does nothing to prevent him being dragged into a violent and dangerous world with his uncles.  The whole idea of "blood is thicker than water" and "loyalty" is laid bare here.

Operator:  Thought provoking stuff Mozzer.  I don't understand how we can help though.

MyFilm:  Well, I just wanted a load of cliches I could throw into the review because I'm a bit tired to be honest and I can't be bothered writing about how following on from Warwick Thorntons incredible "Samson and Delilah" at about the same time last year this is further evidence of a renaissance in Australian cinema and signals a shift away from the sweet and tender comedies of "Strictly Ballroom" and "Muriels Wedding" say to something more dramatic and visceral.

Operator:  OK.  Well, let me see what we've got for you...um, hold on...how about this; "Animal Kingdom" is a dark and gritty contemporary crime drama that will have you gasping for breath.

MyFilm:  Brilliant.  Thanks a lot.

Operator:  Not a problem.  Thanks for calling "dial-a-cliche"

MyFilm:  Bye.

Operator:  Bye.