Saturday, 16 April 2011

Linda Linda Linda - Filmhouse - 5/2/11

I was in a band once.

I was.

Oh, you can laugh and crack jokes but the fact remains that I was in a band.

We wrote our own songs, we didn't do covers, we played gigs.

What did I do?




I mean, I say "singer" but that is stretching things a little...what I actually did was to honk like a seal doing an impersonation of Morrissey if Morrissey was tone-deaf (no jokes about Morrissey actually being tone-deaf please).

It was fun.

I had all the delusions that everyone else who has been in a band has...stardom, fame, women, front cover of the NME, spokesman for a generation.

It all ended quite badly and I haven't spoken to anyone in the band for over 15 years.

I'm a man who knows how to hold a grudge.

"Linda Linda Linda" is a Japanese film that captures perfectly what it is like to be young and in a band.  It's not achingly cool, it's not knowing, it isn't "dark", there aren't "layers"'s just a film about four girls who form a band and who play at the end of term show.

It's uplifting and it is, at times, hilarious.

The title comes from the name of a song played by Japanese punks "The Blue Hearts" which is the song the girls decide to cover as part of their set.  It's a fabulous pop-punk song and when sung by adolescent girls it is given a glorious shot of emotion.

The girls in the band are not stereotypes...yes, one of the girls is a Korean who struggles with Japanese but she isn't geeky or awkward, there isn't a Spice Girls parade of sporty, ginger, baby, scary or dopey!  What you get instead is four girls dealing with the reality of being teenagers and chasing a simple dream.

Quite possibly the best film about being a teenager I have ever seen.

Waste Land - Filmhouse - 5/3/11

These are difficult and challenging times.

War, revolution, violence, depression, recession, repression.

Soaring unemployment.

Cuts, cuts and more cuts.

There isn't a lot of good news.

Cinema offers an escape from can also reflect that reality.

"Waste Land" paints a picture of a reality that is, on the surface, more depressing and challenging than the one we in the "developed" world are experiencing but then reminds us that there is hope.


Artist Vik Muniz was born in Brazil but was offered a chance to study in New York.

He became a very successful artist and a very wealthy man.

"Waste Land" follows Muniz as he returns to Brazil to work with the catadores of Jardim Gramacho, the worlds largest land fill site.  The catadores are pickers...they spend long hours on the Gramacho picking out recyclable materials which are then sold on to large corporations who can then use them in their manufacturing work.  The pickers are, in the main, poor and working in terrible conditions.

As the people behind the "picker" are revealed we learn of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends of struggles, heartaches and pain.  Slowly they begin to work with Muniz to create art from the garbage they live in and on.  Ultimately they are offered a way out of the life they know and hope bursts into a world which had seemed hopeless.

The art created by Muniz is stunning, moving and powerful.

The stories of the catadores are equally stunning, moving and powerful.

This isn't an environmental film (despite the strong message that many in the environmental movement will pounce on for their own ends) this is a film about people with a message for people who are struggling all over the world.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cure - Filmhouse - 4/3/11

The first in this years Japan Foundation season is a bona fide cult classic.

Unavailable on DVD in the UK this serial killer, horror, thriller from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa was the first in what was to become a glut of J-Horror to flood the UK market and to spawn myriad remakes and re-imaginings.  While that period (starting in 1998, one year after "Cure" with "Ringu") brought a handful of brilliant films including "Ringu", "Ju-On", "Dark Water" and "Audition" alongside some films that didn't feature girls with long dark hair like "Gohatto", "Ichi the Killer" and "Zatoichi" it soon became formulaic as J-Horror and East Asian cinema ate least it did here in the UK as uninspired media types bought the same film over and over again (give thanks to Third Window Films for bucking that trend!).

"Cure" is deliciously dark, deranged and demented while never straying too far away from being convincing.  A trail of dead bodies all killed in the same gruesome manner, but all at the hands of otherwise normal and completely unconnected people, begin to pile up in Tokyo leaving the police completely baffled.

Each body is mutilated with a bloody x carved into the chest and each of the perpetrators is found in close proximity to the victim but utterly unaware of why they have committed the crime.

When the police discover the link that ties the murders together it is a young drifter with a neat line in amnesia and all round weird things shift  from serial killer flick to supernatural/horror and things move from horrible to weird.

Kurosawa manages to juggle the various elements of the story beautifully and each of his characters is given room to develop where other directors may well have sacrificed character for cliche and fake blood.  Perhaps this is because the film is based on a novel written by Kurosawa himself and so his relationship with the characters is more intimate than it would have been in the hands of someone else.

Koji Yakusho delivers a brilliant performance as the put upon detective charged with solving the case and his role in the films chilling finale is crucial.  Unlike many Japanese stars Yakusho will be familiar to Western audiences thanks to his performances in "Babel" and "Memoirs of a Geisha".

There is no doubt that "Cure" is a very dark film and one that will leave you feeling unsettled long after the final credits role but it is also beautifully shot, wonderfully scripted and brilliantly directed...what more do you want from any film?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Cold Fish - Third Window Films

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Unless the truth is then filtered by director Sion Sono.

What Sono delivers with "Cold Fish" is a deeply disturbing, shocking, amusing and twisted slice of cinema that will leave you utterly breathless when the final credits roll.

Based on the true story of Gen Sekine, a dog breeder from Urawa, who murdered and disposed of the bodies of four people with the help of his wife.  Sekine poisoned his victims after a disagreement over money in the early 1990's.  After poisoning their victims they took the bodies to a dog breeding ground where they cut them up, burned them and then scattered the remains.  An employee from Sekine's pet shop was also arrested for helping the couple dispose of the bodies.

"Cold Fish" presents the tale through the eyes of miserable Shamoto, a fish breeder and fish shop owner who is loathed by both his beautiful second wife and his wild child teenage daughter.  His life is empty and hollow...Shamoto seems to be similarly empty and hollow.  He is, absolutely, ordinary.  When his daughter is caught shoplifting he is brought into contact with fellow fish shop owner Murata who acts as peacemaker between the daughter and the store manager.  This simple act of kindness brings Murata and Shamoto into close proximity and soon his daughter is a live-in help at Muratas store and his wife is having an affair with him.

When Murata summons Shamoto to a business meeting it isn't because he values the downtrodden mans opionion but because he wants him to witness a murder.  Using poison Murata wipes out a business rival and then drags Shamoto into a world of violence, sex and darkness that may well be unmatched in cinema.  Murata and his wife take Shamoto and the dead body deep into the woods to a ramshackle residence where the husband and wife team slice, dice, burn and dump the dead body...lauging, joking and becoming aroused along the way.

From this point on Sono takes us deep into a twisted hell on earth that will leave even the most hardened of film lovers flinching and wincing right up until the bloody, brutal and blacker than black finale.  Make no mistake about it this is visceral cinema.  What sets it apart from the likes of the grubby shocking for the sake of being shocking "A Serbian Film" is that Sono has crafted characters who are believable and, particularly in the case of Shamoto, likeable.  Additionally Sono refuses to play by the "rules" films like this...redemption and a happy ending are not to be found which makes this a more satisfying film.

"Cold Fish" is not for everyone.  It is upsetting and genuinely shocking in places...even for those who may have spent many a long hour watching extreme Asian cinema or the gore soaked video nasties of the eighties.  However, this is also a rewarding film with incredible performances from all the performers and direction from Sono that marks him out as a man to watch.

"Cold Fish" is showing at cinemas across the UK please visit Third Window Films for details of a screening near you.

Images used in this review were obtained from Third Window Films

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - Cineworld, Edinburgh, 12/3/11

Sinister forces are at work in the world.

Your freedom to choose is defined not by the choices you make but the freedom you have to make those choices.

Look around you.

Are you free?

Are you a number?

How much choice do you really have?

It's not paranoia if you know they are out to get you.

Matt Damon plays a handsome, man-of-the-people, politician on the brink of making it to the US Senate.  Unfortunately his man-of-the-people schtick extends to "mooning" innocent passers by on drunken nights out and so he is thwarted at the eleventh hour.  Before making his concession speech he has a brief encounter with a beautiful woman in the mens room that turns his life upside down.

Unfortunately for Damon he was never meant to meet this woman and if the forces who control our lives have anything to do with it he never will again.  When Damon uncovers the fact that men in hats are, in fact, agents/angels acting on behalf of an unseen "higher power" his life is plunged further into chaos.

Determined to meet the woman of his dreams again he is aided by a rogue agent/angel and a battle of will and wills begins that will lead to happily ever after or misery.

With a glaringly obvious religious/spiritual slant that might leave you feeling like you've been hit in the face with a copy of the Watchtower "The Adjustment Bureau" never quite manages to move from preachy to philosophical.  Despite that it features another strong performance from Matt Damon and it is an enjoyable, feel good movie that is worth a bit of your time and attention.