Astérix: Le Domaine Des Dieux (Asterix: The Mansions Of The Gods) (Astier, Clichy 2016): Although I used to read the Asterix books when I was a kid, this is the first of the many film adaptations that I’ve seen. First things first – it assumes that viewers know who all the major characters are, which instantly excludes the uninitiated, though I’m wondering whether any newcomers would even be attracted in the first place. Mansion Of The Gods does capture the tone and style of Goscinny and Uderzo’s books, so there’s that, if you are or were a fan. However, the film was a bit too hectic and rushed for my liking, and the standard of the English language dubbing – by a number of notable comedians including Jack Whitehall, Nick Frost, Greg Davies, Harry Enfield and Catherine Tate – is poor. (**)

A Bigger Splash (Guadagnino, 2016): A rewatch at the end of 2016 of a film that I thoroughly enjoyed first time round (my initial, longer review’s here). I’m happy to say that it’s even better than I remember; I think it has been severely underrated and it deserves its high placing on my ‘favourite films of 2016’ list. (****½)

tumblr_mc6iv5uksy1qazanuo1_1280Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955): What begins as a superior, twisty noir (Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer being the gumshoe in this one) gradually turns into something otherworldly and quite unexpected in Robert Aldrich’s mid-50s anomaly. It starts intriguingly, with a panicked Cloris Leachman (in her film debut) flagging Hammer down in the middle of the road, and it keeps an air of mystery throughout, with a considerable degree of hardness informing the story – whether it’s the detective’s violence or attitude toward others, the fate of several characters (not many timely rescues to be found) or the simple, effective and unsettling shots of walking, stalking feet making their way towards a victim. But surely the most interesting aspect is the way that Kiss Me Deadly‘s plot is gradually informed more and more by the nuclear paranoia of the age, and it builds to a quite shocking ending – a disturbing sequence that has been referenced in different ways by Steven Spielberg (in Raiders Of The Lost Ark) and Quentin Tarantino (in Pulp Fiction). It’s beautifully shot by Ernest Laszlo and Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled original dialogue – adapted here by Buzz Bezzerides – is another highlight. (****½)

Into The Inferno (Herzog, 2016): The second new Werner Herzog documentary to be released in recent months is a fascinating study of volcanic activity and different cultural understandings of volcanoes around the world. Herzog is working in tandem here with scientist and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, an engaging presenter and expert whose enthusiasm for the subject is matched by the director; they have known each other for several years. Werner’s heavily-accented proclamations about magma are terrific to listen to, as you’d expect, and they’re usually accompanied by impressively hellish images of fiery belches or gas clouds, and scored with portentous classical music that suggests this natural phenomena is the bastard harbinger of the end of the world (well, I suppose that’s how you’d think of a volcano if you happened to live near one, anyway). Herzog even finds time for a brief and fascinating dispatch from North Korea – a fine bonus. However it’s his inexhaustible interest in other humans (particularly those living in extreme conditions or eking out unusual existences) that drives the documentary and keeps it firmly in line with the rest of his filmography. (***½)

p11-schilling-your-a-20160901Kimi No Na Wa (Your Name) (Shinkai, 2016): A superb body-swap anime, although despite the popularity of such films in Japan I was still surprised to discover that it was the biggest cinematic draw in the country last year (making more than twice the money of its nearest competitor, to boot). Your Name drew me in much more than I was expecting it to – in fact, unlike many other animated films, I find myself still thinking about it a few days later. Admittedly I found some of the early scenes (and thus the plot, initially) a little hard to follow, but I have a feeling that’s more to do with my unfamiliarity with the pace, structure and storytelling methods of modern Japanese animation, as opposed to any specific narrative mistakes or deliberate awkwardness on the part of the writer-director; not unsurmountable, though, by any means. It’s witty, thoughtful, moving and subtle in its consideration of (or oblique references to) man-made and natural disasters that have befallen Japan, namely the devastation caused by the Fukushima tsunami/meltdown and the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This one turned out to be my favourite animated film of 2016, in the end, and tips its hat to Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle with a lovely extended scene atop a crater, a fact I only discovered after watching the Ghibli film by chance the very next day. (****)

Haiti No Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) (Miyazaki, 2004): I don’t actually like this one as much as the (relatively few) other Miayazaki films I’ve seen, partly because it collapses into a bit of a what-the-fuck-is-going-on mess at the end (or an absurd flight of fancy on top of an already absurd flight of fancy, if you’re feeling generous). The usual high standard of Ghibli’s animation – wedded to the director’s wild vision – ensures that this story of a young girl turned into an old woman is great to look at, though, and the English language dubbing – featuring the likes of Lauren Bacall and Christian Bale – is better than usual. There are lots of interesting ideas, here – I guess you could describe it as a steampunk movie, and the spirit of Jules Verne hangs over the whole thing, but it’s also an anti-war film; unfortunately the strength of the director’s message gets lost from time to time amid all the fantastical elements. (In fact, his comments made to the press at the time of Howl’s‘ release are much clearer in terms of setting out a pacifist agenda or stance than the film itself.) I’m starting to feel like I’ve had my fill of Miyazaki’s style, for the time being at least, and that I should further explore the films of Isao Takahata – whose work I am beginning to realise I prefer – instead. (***)

divines-2Divines (Benyamina, 2016): Uda Benyamina’s Paris-set debut is a drama about a pair of teenage girls who leave school and – faced with little prospects in terms of work – go to work for a local drug dealer (also a young woman, which is unusual; the other French films I’ve seen that are set in the banlieues depict a very male-dominated adult society). The setting, the age of the protagonists and the characters’ rejection of McJobs will instantly ensure that Divines draws comparisons with Céline Sciamma’s excellent Girlhood – one of my favourite films of 2015 – but I’m afraid it lacks the earlier film’s style and has far fewer memorable moments; unfortunately, the transitions between scenes that are tonally different to one another are nowhere near as smooth as they are in Sciamma’s film, either. Still, this in itself is a promising debut, about the kind of characters – teenage Muslim girls – that have generally been underrepresented in European cinema, though the French film industry seems much better than many other countries at getting pictures like this onto the international stage (in this particular case a deal with Netflix certainly helps, and it means more people will see this than if it had just had a straightforward cinema release). Oulaya Amamra is very good in the main role as Dounia, one of the two teenagers who enter a life of crime in pursuit of money, and is undoubtedly one to watch. The film takes a romantic turn that I didn’t buy at all, and the light, knockabout nature of some scenes feels completely at odds to me with the brutal violence that is incorporated to up the stakes near the end, but in the interests of fairness I have no idea what life might be like for real-life Parisian equivalents of these characters, and Divines may well reflect their reality better than I am assuming it does. (***)

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015): The third time I’ve watched this entry into the world’s greatest nerf herding saga, and I just wanted to see how it stacks up next to Rogue One, which I caught a week or so earlier. I’m undecided as to which of the two is the better film, but hey, it’s OK, I’ve realised that I don’t actually need to have an opinion on the matter. I like them both for different reasons, though the usual caveat applies to such statements: if you branded a glitter-strewn dog turd in a polystyrene cup with the Star Wars logo and cranked out a blast of John Williams’s durrr-durrr-duh-duh-duh-durrrrr-durrrrr while I stared at it for two hours straight, then I’d probably enjoy that experience too. (****)

1467278364197L’Attesa (The Wait) (Messina, 2016): And now for something completely different. Piero Messina’s debut is a deliberately (sometimes wearyingly) slow Euro drama, in which Juliette Binoche’s wealthy, grieving mother refuses to disclose news of the death of her son to Lou de Laâge’s visiting girlfriend, who remains oblivious for much of the film. It won’t be to everyone’s liking – primarily because of the pace, or rather the lack of patience some may have with regards to its slowness – and you spend the entire film waiting for the incident that you know is going to happen to happen (while Binoche’s character waits for the right moment in which to break the news and de Laâge’s waits for her beau to arrive); however there’s plenty of people-watching and dynamic-shifting to enjoy, if you like that kind of thing, and it’s all very confidently-directed and extremely well-acted by the two leads. I mean, watching a very subtle Binoche here – still at the top of her game – is never anything other than a total pleasure, while I can think of no higher praise for relative newcomer de Laâge than saying that she never once seems out of place or inferior to her celebrated co-star. My one problem – and it’s a fairly major one – is that I found the whole scenario a bit difficult to believe in. What kind of intelligent, switched on person would stay with a grieving mother (dressed all in black for the most part) without figuring out that something was up within two or three hours? And what bereaved parent could actually hide their true emotions and this monumental news from a house guest for more than an evening, even if they had their reasons for doing so? So, I’m not sure about the general conceit, but other than that, it’s a classy affair. (***½)

Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (Bergman, 1957): A well-respected classic from Ingmar Bergman, though I realise now that I didn’t know much about it beforehand, aside from the fact it contains famous scenes in which Max von Sydow’s wandering knight Antonius Block – returning to Sweden after the Crusades – plays a high-stakes game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) (memorably lampooned in Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey). The game is just a small part of what is a thoughtful and magnificently-crafted treatise on the uneasy relationship between art and Christianity during the Middle Ages, and the silence of God in the face of evil, but the film also manages to be playful and witty at times, too – no mean feat considering the looming threat of the Black Death over all and sundry – a Cold War allegory from a country with a vested interest in global matters? – as well as the inescapable nature of the figure of the Grim Reaper. The film is filled with intriguing characters, from the central chess players to Gunnar Björnstrand’s nihilistic squire Jöns, the innocent, abused actor Jof (Nils Poppe), and his hopeful wife Mia (Bibi Andersson). The ensemble cast is superb. Gunnar Fischer’s vivid, expressionistic cinematography is a marvel. (*****)

13 Responses to “Recent Viewing #16”

  1. Todd B

    In a nutshell: I liked The Force Awakens, I did not like Rogue One, I thought The Seventh Seal was cool, and Kiss Me Deadly was indeed a wild noir ride. And of the others, which I haven’t seen, you piqued my interest with A Bigger Splash, and I’ll try to track that one down. And yes, I got your Monty Python reference!

    • Stu

      I didn’t expect the end of Kiss Me Deadly at all. Do you know any other noirs that have a kind of fantastical/sci-fi element like this? It works very well! How come you didn’t like Rogue One? It wasn’t because they exhumed a certain actor’s corpse and reanimated it using several medieval spells and potions, was it?

      • Todd B

        Rogue One’s rampant zombieism was a small part of it, yes, but mostly I just flat-out didn’t care for the two leads…I thought they lacked personality and were quite unlikable, and they basically ruined what was otherwise a good film. But that’s just me, of course.

        As for ‘fantastic/sci-fi’ noir, there’s only two I can think of that come close, and they’re not really that close at all: D.O.A. with its radiation poisoning angle, and Panic in the Streets with its hunted killer stricken with bubonic plague story. Maybe Nightmare Alley, with its sideshow carnival backdrop? Otherwise, I’m stumped.

        • Stu

          A fountain of noir knowledge! I like the sound of Panic In The Streets. And I know what you mean about the two leads; it’s all very serious and po-faced, and they’re nowhere near as memorable as the original characters (or the characters introduced in TFA).

  2. Three Rows Back

    Another varied and quality list mate. Seen a few of these; glad you enjoyed Star Wars! Can’t remember if I’ve seen a review of Rogue One from you. You seen it?

    • Stu

      Cheers mate. Yeah I think it’s on the previous ‘recent viewing’ entry; I’m off to see it again tomorrow, sandwiched in-between La La Land and Manchester By The Sea. If I could have timed it right I’d go and see Silence instead, but looking forward to a rewatch anyway.

  3. Mark Walker

    Damn, man! You’ve just reminded me that The Seventh Seal is one that I’m still embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen yet. I own it. But still never seen it. I’m ashamed of myself. 😦

    • Stu

      It was less heavy than I was expecting it to be; parts of it could even be considered as comedy, though overall it certainly isn’t. It was the first time I’ve watched it, and only the second Bergman film I’ve seen, after Persona. I’m going to give Scenes From A Marriage a watch soon, though.

  4. Todd B

    If I can throw my two krona’s worth into the mix, I’d recommend ‘The Virgin Spring’…my favorite film of Bergman’s (though I haven’t come close to seeing all of the films he’s directed).

    • Stu

      Thanks Todd, and sorry for the late reply; I have no genuine excuse, it’s just slackness on my part. I will try and check out The Virgin Spring but I’ve seen two by Bergman this month (the other being Scenes From A Marriage) and need a break!


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