Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 - the ones I loved (part the second)

Here's the second part of The Fourth Wall's ten movies that make this year's hall of fame. It's worth mentioning that there are a few movies that I haven't seen that may have been destined for the list - The Artist, Margaret and Weekend - and some that are worth a nod of appreciation - Take Shelter, Kaboom, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Animal Kingdom, Red State, Meek's Cutoff, NEDS and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.

Snowtown - Justin Kurzel, Australia
why? - For the largely non-professional cast, the year's best score, the line 'come and say hello to Barry', Daniel Henshall's chilling performance, being a directorial debut and for being the most gut wrenching true crime movie since Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer.

Pina 3D - Wim Wenders, Germany
why? - The breathtaking dancing, the superb music, the striking locations, the expert use of 3D technology, for blending a musical with a documentary and for making contemporary dance accessible to a wide audience.

A Separation - Asghar Farhadi, Iran
why? - For continuing the current wave of important Iranian films, it's deconstruction of class, gender, religious, political, moral and ethical issues, the uniformly impressive performances, it's emotional ambiguity and for eschewing an easy conclusion.

Poetry - Chang-dong Lee, South Korea
why? - Jeong-hie Yun's stunning performance and the lead character's age, the class issues, the social mores, its unsentimental attitude, for making poetry bearable onscreen, Lee's immaculate direction and for treating the audience with the intelligence the film itself contains.

The Turin Horse - Bela Tarr, Hungary
why? - Because every single moment is monumental yet minimal, the recurring aural motif, the horse, the wind, the repetition, the starkness of the imagery, the uniqueness of its vision and for not caring one iota about commercial sensibilities.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 - the ones I loved (part the first)

I wouldn't say that 2011 has been a vintage year in the cinema, with some of the most hyped/most loved films leaving me underwhelmed, but there has been enough to warrant a 'best of' list. So, in no particular order here's the first five of the ten that have made The Fourth Wall hall of fame for 2011.

13 Assassins - Takeshi Miike, Japan
why? - The gradual build up, for 'total massacre', for one of modern cinema's great screen villains, the stampede of burning cattle and the relentless second half of the film - one gigantic, superbly choreographed fight sequence.

Le Quattro Volte - Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy
why? - The goats, the dog, the van and the block of wood, the gentle assurance of its direction, its contemplative qualities, it's virtually wordless narrative and for being spiritual but not religious.

Kill List - Ben Wheatley, UK
why? - For messing with genre conventions, for the black humour, for the hammer scene, for 'right, let's go kill this MP then', for the narrative ambiguity, for the ending, for the gripping lead performances.

Melancholia - Lars Von Trier, USA
why? - The unforgettable imagery, Kirsten Dunst's best performance, for Charlotte Rampling's ice queen, the excruciating post-wedding party, its metaphoric qualities, for not being Antichrist and for being beautiful despite its apocalyptic theme.

Drive - Nicholas Winding Refn, USA
why? - For sparking the #gayforgosling hashtag, it's Point Blank aura, its use of LA, for looking and sounding like it could have been made at any time since the 70s, Refn's bravura direction, the soundtrack and the sheer cinematic wow-factor.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Watched - no 28 - Tatsumi (Eric Khoo, 2011)

Japanese mangaka artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi's memoir A Drifting Life, the winner of two Eisner Awards in 2010, forms the basis for Singaporean film-maker Eric Khoo's animated take on his life story and gekiga style short stories. Gekiga was a term coined by Tatsumi to differentiate his adult oriented, hard hitting cartoon strips from the more youth friendly manga offerings that traditionally dominate the market. Animated in Indonesia and chosen as Singapore's entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Oscars, Tatsumi intersperses scenes from Tatsumi's life with five of his resolutely tough tales of life in Japan since WWII. The five tales – Hell, Beloved Monkey, Just a Man, Good-Bye and Occupation – drawn in Tatsumi's style, contain a startling mix of murder, alienation, incest, lust and tragedy and an obligatory sting in the tale for the individual protagonists.

Tatsumi's youth in Osaka and subsequent rise to prominence as one of Japan's foremost mangaka covers the initial post-war period through the to the resurgence of the country as both an economic and political force. The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's post-war rebuilding (both physical and mental) and changing social conditions and mores clearly influence the short stories and are reflected in Tatsumi's own family life, aspirations and inner struggles. Tatsumi's voice-over narration provides an aural guide to compliment the visual snapshots of the celebrated artist's life and the denouement sees the man himself, in the flesh, still hard at work in his studio at the grand old age of 76.This visually stunning, enlightening film is well worth catching up with whether you're familiar with the man and his work or not.

Watched - no 27 - The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)

Bela Tarr's latest is unlike any other film you're likely to see this year; appearing to be more sculpted than directed, shot in striking monochrome and with little in the way of plot, dialogue or character development. The starting point for Tarr's gruelling but unforgettable exercise into 'the heaviness of human existence' ,as he describes it himself, is drawn from an encounter in 1889 between Nietzsche and a frustrated farmer whipping his recalcitrant horse. The German philosopher intervened and subsequently fell into a state of mental torpor that would last until his death in 1900. Tarr imagines the life of the horse, its owner and his daughter on a small farmstead outside of Turin over the following six days. This minimalist but monumental portrayal of the daily grind of the subjects - ritualistic, suffocating and relentless, highlighted by the repeated use of a mournful, cello led aural motif - unfolds in only 30 shots over nearly two and a half hours, stunningly composed by Tarr and masterfully captured by DOP Fred Kelemen.

The ceaseless howl of the wind from a never ending, increasingly oppressive storm raging around them, which leaves them isolated and stripped of the most basic of necessities for life – water - lead the isolated farmer, his daughter and their ailing horse to first attempt an escape from and then dutifully accept what appears to be their approaching fate – death, represented at the film's climax by a literal dying of the light. The Turin Horse, with its precisely composed imagery, existential atmosphere and blatant disregard for commercial success, is a momentous slap in the face to the banality of much of contemporary cinema. Staggeringly impressive.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Rogue Cinema review - December

My last review for, before taking a sabbatical to concentrate on a major project, is of Jose Padilha's Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Click on the link below, have a read and then watch the film - it's a bit of a corker.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Around the World in Eighty Movies - number 6

Country: Austria
Title: Der Siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent)
Director: Michael Haneke
Cast: Birgit Doll, Dieter Berner, Leni Tanzer, Udo Samel
Year: 1989
Running time:104 minutes
Genre: Drama
Notable for: Being the first part of Haneke's 'glaciation trilogy'

After a stint as a film critic and years directing movies for television, the German born Austrian film-maker Michael Haneke made his big screen debut in 1989 with The Seventh Continent. Though his second feature, Benny's Video (1992) (the second part of the loosely aligned 'glaciation trilogy' which was completed in 1994 by 71 Fragments of A Chronology of Chance) created more of an impression on the film-making world, The Seventh Continent contains all of the elements that have since positioned Haneke as one of the most important, and divisive, directors currently working. The icy precision, narrative ambiguity, complex depiction of screen violence, bleak view of contemporary life, disconcerting framing and stately pacing that mark all of Haneke's films combine to relate the tale of a comfortably middle class Austrian family and their unexplained decision to commit suicide after systematically destroying everything they own.

Reportedly inspired by a real life incident, The Seventh Continent hints at the family's extreme behaviour as being driven by a nihilistic hatred of the spiritually empty isolation and futility of life in a late capitalist, consumerist society. As always with Haneke though, there is plenty left to consider, both onscreen and off.

To Die For... - Samira Ahmed

My favourite film is the ultimate 80s power-shouldered fantasy about making it on Wall Street and yet also a deeply sweet movie about feminism and class. Working class secretary Tess McGill is nearly 30, and battling sexism every step of the way trying to make it as an investment banker. Backed by her wisecracking best friend (Joan Cusack), she fights off an evil Queen (Sigourney Weaver) and captivates a lost knight (Harrison Ford) along the way, using the armour of wit (“I have a head for business and a bod for sin, anything wrong with that?”), intelligence and borrowed clothes. With its feisty leading ladies Working Girl combines the feminist charm of 30s screwball comedies with a darker sense of the forces of privilege at work. I love that it’s packed with soon to be famous actors in tiny parts: Notably Kevin Spacey as a coked-up, sleazy banker. The famous pullout at the end is lifted from a Kurosawa film, placing our heroine as merely a worker bee in a giant hive. Still, set almost entirely in the world of Wall Street offices, the film is not just a fascinating period piece, but captures the magic of making it in New York City.
Samira Ahmed
Samira Ahmed is a freelance journalist, writer and broadcaster at the BBC, where she has presented Radio 4's PM, The World Tonight and Sunday as well as presenting two of the 2011 proms for BBC4. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and on The Spectator's arts blog Night & Day.