Category Archives: Review

Review: Sake-Bomb

sake_bombA road trip ‘buddy’ film, in which Naoto arrives in Los Angeles from Japan in search of lost love, and his cousin Sebastian is unwillingly put in the position of helping him on this mission, and introducing him to America.

As with all road trip films, the entertainment and friction is caused by the clash of two very different people, and in this case, two different cultures. Naoto is established as a hard-working young man, about to inherit a sake factory from his boss. He is sincere and honest to the core. Played by Gaku Hamada (1) who manages to give his characters an inner strength, despite often seeming more fragile than the world around them. It is very much this character and performance that form the heart of the film.

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Review: I Am Breathing

Aptly titled, I Am Breathing is laced with a soundtrack of Liam’s ventilator. It makes for uncomfortable listening at first, but soon fades into the background as we the audience and those close to him both become accustomed. As Liam says, “It’s amazing how adaptable we are when we have to be. It’s what separates us and defines us as human beings”.
Neil Platt has Motor Neurone Disease and, paralysed from the neck down, spends the final months of his life making sense of his world and the legacy that he will leave behind for his son Oscar. It is a patchwork documentary pulling together memories, the daily struggle of life, and the letter and memory box Neil is working on to leave for his son. In such a delicate and personal situation, this feature length documentary pulls off a very clever balancing act between intimacy and humour. This is shaped in no small way by the narration taken directly from Liam’s blog posts; he downplays the emotional struggle, and depends instead on a sly wit and unerring optimism that seem to bolster those around him. In fact, it is the strength and resilience of all involved that turns the documentary from what would be an incredibly gruelling watch into something entirely more hopeful. The repeated motif of passing on a story between generations, as Liam’s father did for him and as he now does for his own son, makes the future feel almost tangible even though it does not exist for Liam.

In line with the brilliantly handled narrative, the piece is also held together well cinematographically. Directors Emma Davie and Morag McKinnon do not try to portray the unknowable reality of suffering MND, but instead focus on shared time with family and friends about the house. We are close enough to feel as though in the room with Liam, but what we see is a friendly, eminently likeable guy rather than a patient suffering a terminal illness. There is the occasional distressing moment where the physicality of the illness is made abruptly apparent, but the focus is very much on what goes on in Liam’s mind rather than his body.


The documentary tackles a number of big issues, and is also full of information on Motor Neurone Disease, an incurable illness with as yet unknown cause. The result is a fascinating blend of fact and sentiment that paves the way for a better understanding of MND and the impact it has on the lives of everyone affected. And underlying all of this is the hope, clear in Liam and his family, that his story can have a real impact on how people understand the disease, and improve treatments for future generations.

Review by Ruth Singleton

Find out more about the film at the official website.

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Review: Come As You Are (Hasta La Vista)

A comedy in which three guys head out on a road trip across Europe to learn about themselves, escape their parents and – most importantly – lose their virginity. Sure, not a particularly original concept. The difference with this Belgian take is that the main characters all have varying levels of disability; Lars (Gilles de Schryver) has a tumour which is increasing paralysis in his body, Jozef (Tom Audenaert) is blind and Philip (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) is paralysed and uses a motorised wheelchair. Their journey – as with all road trip movies – is fraught with problems that they must overcome, and along the way they all grow up.

The relationships between the three and Claude (Isabelle de Hertogh), the nurse that takes them on the trip, feel real and interesting, if a little simplified in order to keep the film moving at a brisk pace. It is a quick moving and light-feeling film. The jokes aren’t laboured (it’s definitely a gentle humour and not laugh-out-loud kind of film) and the settings lovely. We get a whirlwind tour of Europe, and they manage to drink a large amount of wine on their journey, too.

The film has two main themes; acceptance and life. Our main protagonists are as judgmental of others as the world can be of them, and they must learn to overcome this. Their grasp for freedom is inspiring and something that everyone can relate to; surely we have all wanted to escape our parents and let loose?

Successfully uplifting, but also making some serious points. COME AS YOU ARE is telling us all to live our life and to live it now. A sentiment I agree with.

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Review: For Love’s Sake

“If I knew you were rich I’d have punched you”

You never quite know what you’re going to get with a Takashi Miike film. I knew that this had elements of a musical, which put me in mind of his earlier film THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS (note1). Miike plays with genre conventions almost as much as with that earlier film, with some very clever animated sequences and evocative shots which seem to be inspired by the manga that FOR LOVE’S SAKE is based on (note 2).

At its core, FOR LOVE’S SAKE is the story of a good girl falling for a bad guy, who just isn’t interested. Thankfully, there is more pinned to the story than just this. Many aspects of love are brought in to play; sacrifice, desire, voyeurism, parenthood, selfishness, obsession… it’s certainly not a positive outlook for the most part, and that is refreshing. Any of us who have been through the complexities of love will relate to an aspect to each of the characters, although hopefully not to the same extent that they suffer.

As you would expect, the film has a lot of visual flair. Colour and light are used in very evocative ways; with more than a nod to music video styles (note 3). I’m not a fan of musicals, but the conventions are played with here, and the musical scenes are highlights of the film, and have the affect of making the violence seem even worse than perhaps it would – such a juxtaposition is jarring and I found it effective.

The cast are all excellent, and play against each other well. The characters aren’t really all that deep, but they are interesting and well thought-out.

Perhaps not one to be counted with Takashi Miike’s very best films, and a tad overlong, FOR LOVE’S SAKE is an entertaining and clever film, and is definitely worth watching. If you’re a fan of his other work, then I would recommend adding this to your collection without any hesitation. If you’re new to his work, then it’s certainly a good enough place to start.

EXTRAS
Include a making-of documentary, music video version and trailer

ON SALE NOW

Notes:
1) A brilliant, bonkers and highly entertaining film. I highly recommend it.
2) I’ve not read it, so would not know for certain.
3) If you like films with a strong visual flair, then this is right up your street.

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Review: The Look of Love

THE LOOK OF LOVE… sexy? Sleazy? Funny? Serious? This film tries to be everything and does none of it well. Based on the life of entrepreneur Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) a man who rose to success from humble Liverpudlian roots to become the richest man on Soho’s streets by discovering just how much sex really does sell.
Coogan is irritatingly sober and only gives hints of the quirky humor that we have come to expect from the the chameleon 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE and Alan Partridge actor. We can enjoy little bites of genius Coogan comedy but it is not enough to satisfy the appetite of a fan. His portrayal of the man who is adored by many but liked by few and who selfishly controls the lives of his friends, wives and children through neglect, sex and drugs is on the whole a convincing one, but it is not enough to bring life to the plot.
The quantity of naked flesh in this film mirrors the themes of Paul’s life itself by questioning how much is too much, and when does art become pornography? The line is blurred in both senses and the quantity with which it is delivered to the screen takes away all of the gloss, glamour and excitmente of the erotic world and leaves you bored and entirely un-sympathetic to the characters.
The supporting cast do little to carry the movie long, however there is an intriguing and surprising performance by comedian Chris Addison as one of Paul’s employes, he is natural and funny and stars effortlessly against bigger names. Imogen Poots is another name to mention, she plays Paul’s spoilt daughter, desperate for the adoration of success but with none of the physical or intellectual assets, her character is hard to like and her singing much much worse.
No amount of celebrity cameos (of which there are many) can save this film from its bargain bin destiny. Michael Winterbottom disappoints the audience by turning an otherwise interesting story into a long and anticlimactic orgy of lifeless acting and plastic boobs.

Written by Katy Brooks

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Review: I’m So Excited

I’m So Excited is the new film from Pedro Almodovar, who most recently brought us The Skin I Live In, which was a very dark, stylish thriller. His new film is very much the opposite; awash with bright colours, latin temperaments and full of comedy, music and sex.

A plane is en-route and in the air when the pilots discover a problem which means that landing will be extremely dangerous. The crew respond in a variety of ways, mainly getting drunk, and then performing a full dance routine to the song ‘I’m So Excited’ to cheer the passengers up. They decide that the best course of action will be to give their passengers a cocktail which includes mescaline. It’s not long before various people have coupled off and become a little more amorous.

Behind the fizz, fervour and frivolity is a dark edge, though, with death also being an important presence throughout the film.

Each of the passengers has an outrageous backstory which we are given the chance to explore. The performances are appropriately dramatic, and the cast perfectly put together. Almodovar certainly has a touch for casting!

Some of the jokes are a little blunt, and there is certainly a heavy reliance on gay stereotypes – although in the almost cartoonish world of the film, this works rather well.

Short, sweet and fun. I’m So Excited is a film that will cheer you up, and add some colour to your life.

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Review: Iron Man 3

I have enjoyed both Iron Man films, even though the second had its problems. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed all of the Marvel films so far, and Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for us in the UK) was one of the best films of 2012, and really can’t be topped as a summer blockbuster.

Iron Man 3 had the difficult task of bringing us back down after the heady highlight of Avengers, and it achieves this by bringing down our hero, Tony Stark. Having fought with gods and wormholes, he is struggling to make sense of everything, and is even suffering from anxiety attacks.

This time the threat is coming from a new terrorist, the Mandarin, who is played wonderfully by Sir Ben Kingsley. A perfect choice of foe, the Mandarin can represent many real-world problems, and serves excellently to bring the Marvel films back to Earth. Kingsley is very good in the role, with a performance that will stay with you for a while.

We also have Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian, leader of a ‘think tank’ with a grudge against Tony Stark. He doesn’t get a great deal of screen time, but is suitable creepy when needed.

The real strength of the Iron Man films has never been with the suit of armour, but with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, and in this more than any other, he gets centre stage. This time, however, not as a platform to be a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, but as someone suffering and trying to find his place in a world that has changed around him.

Having said that, the film is full of humour – in characters and situations. I laughed more during this, than for most comedies. Iron Man 3 doesn’t forget its comic book origins, or play it too straight.

The action scenes are exciting and innovative – due in part to the new suit, which has the ability to fly around in separate pieces. There are also action sequences which Stark has to survive without the suit. These are fun, and important in terms of the film’s themes, although ultimately I wanted to see more of the suit!

I highly recommend Iron Man 3. If the rest of the blockbusters are this good, then we are set for an excellent year…

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Review: For Ellen

Paul Dano plays Joby. With black-painted, chipped nails and a whisky beard on his chin, Joby is a rock star who is telling the world, and himself, that he is about to make it. Each day he wears the same leather jacket, the same fingerless gloves and the same jewellery. He will check that his hair is right, and his chin properly fluffed before doing anything important. We meet him as he is driving through ice and snow in order to sign papers which will end his marriage with Claire, and split their possessions.

Their relationship has reached a point so low that they are communicating through lawyers, and Claire – much to Joby’s frustration – refuses to answer his questions correctly. The sticking point of the entire process is Ellen, their daughter. Although he has never visited her, Joby refuses to give her up completely.

The story is that of Joby fighting for a chance to see his daughter, and accepting his place in her life. It is touching, and well told. The relationship between Joby and Ellen had to work in order to hold the film together, and thankfully it does. The awkward stretch of two people reaching out to each other feels real, despite the young age of Ellen.

Beyond this, the film is exploring how our lives are determined by the identities that we choose and how we present ourselves to the world. Joby is so caught up in being a rockstar, that he gave up more important things. It is how he defines himself – at one point even yelling down the phone that he is ‘Joby Taylor’ lead singer and is clear that as far as he is concerned, his role and personality are one. Throughout the film, the identity that he has created for himself is eroded. The only times he is true to himself, is when he gets drunk and lost in music at a bar, or when he makes rash decisions when upset.

The only character not yet playing a self-designated role is young Ellen, and it is this harsh difference with the adults around her that pushes the message of the film into real clarity.

Paul Dano is wonderful, and makes the role of Joby Taylor a deep and meaningful one, when it could have been very two-dimensional. Jon Heder is also excellent as Fred Butler, Joby’s lawyer. He is just as constrained in life by the way he wishes to present himself, and will play at being more like Joby (holding a cigarette without actually smoking, for example) without stepping outside of his safe boundaries.

The use of music and sound is very clever. As mentioned above, music is used as a means of expression for the characters in the film, and this is true of the soundtrack generally. Beyond this, there are moments when simple sound and background noise is used not just to convey the emotions of the characters, but to explore the themes being investigated.

A great film, with lots to say. Great performances, and some clever directing make For Ellen stand out as a film worth watching. It seems that the only way we can truly be ourselves is to lose ourselves, and I recommend losing yourself in this film.

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Review: No

No is Pablo Larraín’s final film in a trilogy that has thus far explored the origins of General Augusto Pinochet’s Chilean dictatorship through to its most violent moments. No completes the story by addressing the deposition of Pinochet in this brilliantly conceived film inspired by actual events.

Gael García Bernal performs with quiet intensity the role of advertising executive René Saavedra, the central figure. He is invited to spearhead the campaign to vote against Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite, to convince a country shaped by fear and a violent past that there is hope for the future. And despite resistance from many of his colleagues, he decides to focus not on the suffering endured under Pinochet, but instead on the hope of future happiness; ‘Happiness is coming if you vote No’.

This lighthearted approach affords Larraín more than a little room for comedy. It is dark but often subtle, acknowledging both the weight of the subject matter and René’s confidence in his upbeat, sometimes almost tacky advertising tools. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Luis Gnecco, one of Chile’s most popular comedic actors, was cast in a major role.

However, there is plenty of material to counterbalance the positivity generated by Gael García Bernal’s portrayal of the film’s self-possessed hero. Encouraged by Director of Photography Sergio Armstrong, Larraín decided to use a 1983 U-matic video camera to shoot his footage, so that it could be easily integrated with real-life footage shot at the time. Not only that, but many of the cast are people who were involved with the 1988 campaign. The result is a sense of immediacy and true passion for the subject. There are even cameo roles for the two men at the forefront of the real ‘No’ campaign, ironically portrayed as Pinochet supporters. However, the obvious downside to this method of filming is that it lacks the sharp focus that would have helped anchor the characters to the country they fought for. The scenes jump rapidly from city-based to beautiful Chilean panoramas, but the nature of the film and the constant close-up shots loses a lot of this diversity.

But the pay-off is worthwhile. No beautifully maintains a sense of claustrophobia, of uncertainty, and of the monumental changes in public belief at such an important time in Chile’s history. It is a fascinating account, combining sobering detail with inspirational moments. Larraín has certainly achieved the authenticity that he set out to capture.

No is released on 8th Feb, and is playing across Picturehouse Cinemas on Tuesday 12 Feb.

Reviewed by Ruth Singleton

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Review: Crocodile & Arirang


Korean auteur, Kim Ki Duk has been dividing and delighting audiences for sixteen years. This new double disc set from Terracotta Distribution brings together Kim’s directorial debut; 1996’s Crocodile, and his self-reflective docu-drama, Arirang, released earlier this year. With Kim having just won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival for his latest feature, Pieta, now is a great time to take another look at two of the director’s career highlights.
Volatile anti-hero, Crocodile is the titular character of Kim’s earliest feature. He lives with his make-shift family, a pint-sized young peddler and an elderly vagrant, beside the Han River in Seoul. In order to make money, Crocodile waits for hopeless souls to throw themselves off a bridge located on the same river, and once they’ve plunged to their doom, he robs their corpses. One night he spots a beautiful young woman in the water and is prompted by his companions to go to her rescue and, seemingly uncharacteristically, he does. This unfortunate woman, Hyun-Jung, becomes the newest member of the unconventional family group, choosing to remain in their riverside dwelling despite repeated sexual attacks from Crocodile. Over time, bonds are formed between the homeless individuals, seeming to provide them with some hope and happiness. Yet tragedy looms as Crocodile’s explosive temper and violent tendencies lead him to become embroiled in dangerous criminal activity.
Made on a relatively low budget, Crocodile lacks some of the visual beauty synonymous with Kim’s later work. However, its gritty style suits the tone of the story, and the director makes the most of what he has available, employing some stunning shots of the river from both above and below. Some of the most beautiful moments in the film happen under the surface of the water, particularly the haunting final scene, which sets that environment in stark contrast to the cruel world above.
The notion of contrast is also intrinsic to the narrative. Violence is juxtaposed with serenity, compassion with brutality. As despicable a character as Crocodile may seem, Kim does not portray him as a purely one dimensional villain. As Hyun-Jung begins to have an influence on the family group, Crocodile starts to soften ever so slightly, there are points where, despite his earlier appalling behaviour, we believe that he genuinely cares for those around him. However, he is an inherently violent man and his struggle to overcome his nature is ultimately in vain.
Crocodile is an affecting and sometimes disturbing film. Its depictions of violence are particularly brutal, and the treatment of the sole female character makes it easy to see why accusations of misogyny are often levelled at the director. Yet, this a strong debut, a great introduction to Kim’s work and a precursor of the remarkable works Kim has since accomplished.

ARIRANG is a boundary blurring docu-drama with its sole focus on Kim’s two year period of self-enforced exile from film making, and mainstream society. Through drunken rants, heated exchanges with himself, excruciating renditions of folk songs, and many more strange antics, Kim lays himself bare. Or does he? At times the director seems to be playing with the audience, he refers to himself as an actor and forces us to question whether any of what we’ve seen is genuine.
A near fatal accident involving his lead actress on the set of 2008 feature, DREAM, was the catalyst for Kim’s solitary retreat. And it is obvious that the guilt he suffered as a result of the near tragedy was great. Through ARIRANG we see him question the value of filmmaking, he debates whether his desire to make films is worth putting others at risk. However, it is obvious that his inability to make films over this period of exile was very frustrating for Kim, and through a need for cinematic expression he took to filming himself – a project in isolation through which no others would come to harm.
ARIRANG also highlights another area of Kim’s frustration; that of his relationship with the Korean film industry. Over his prolific career, Kim’s films have always been better received by the overseas market than in his native Korean. Where he has received a host of awards in Europe, including the Silver Bear at Berlin Film Festival and, most recently, the Golden Lion at Venice, his films have often been met with animosity and poor box office takings in the domestic market. Kim rages against the Korean film industry and its rejection of his work, however, it seems at points that he almost enjoys his outsider status. We learn that he has always been marginalised, even as a factory worker he never became totally integrated into the working community. Given the setting in which ARIRANG takes place, it could be argues that Kim has a penchant for isolation.
ARIRANG is frustrating, fascinating and beguiling all at the same time. Some may find it self-indulgent, but I found it a captivating insight into the mind of one of Korea’s most notorious directors, and a film like none other I’ve seen before. Although probably not the best film for those unfamiliar with Kim’s work to start out with, it makes a fantastic companion piece for CROCODILE, demonstrating how the director has progressed and how he maintains his passion to create intriguing and controversial cinema.

Reviewed by @Charlobot

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