Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Greatest Films of 2013

Twenty Twenty Thirteen

Okay, so here’s my top twenty movies list for the year. You won’t find too many blockbusters or huge budget projects in here... although you might notice a couple in my most disappointing five films of the year. As I did with my 2011 list, I’ve included a couple of films which haven’t been officially released yet in this country, but which have been somewhere... whether that’s because they’ve played on the festival circuit or because they’ve had a digital release in other countries and still not played over here. Entry number 13, for instance, is technically a 2012 film but a lot of countries, including our own and the US, have not had a release for this title yet, either at the cinema or on DVD... I can’t imagine another year will go by without it getting some kind of release over here though... hopefully theatrically.

As usual, my list is followed by my six most disappointing movies of 2013. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like the films or that they were in any way bad, although that does apply in a couple of entries. Just that they were... well... disappointing.

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, here are my favourite picks from 2013 in ascending order...

20. The Last Stand
This Arnold Schwarzenneger "come back" movie is very much an underrated gem, except by those who actually got to see it. I know a few people who did and who loved it as much as I did. It makes no pretensions... it’s a big, old 1950s style B-movie western masquerading as a modern action movie but, hey, I like those old movies! For my full review, click here.

19. Jack Reacher
Fortunately I haven’t read any of the Jack Reacher novels or I would be complaining like hell about this movie by now. I felt this was a really great little thriller and it retained the suspense and story of that genre, rather than just head down a pure action route. My full review can be found here.

18. World War Z
I was expecting to hate this film, especially due to it’s long and troubled production history and the fact that, although I’ve not read it, it would be a hard book to do properly and still appeal to the kind of audience needed for a commercial release. I also loved the fact that in the World Health Organisation scenes set in Wales near the end, Peter Capaldi turns up as one of the doctors and is therefore credited on the cast list as “Who Doctor”. Hmmm... that rings a bell somehow. Anyway, my review of this one can be found here.

17. Jeune & Jolie
This story of a teenage prostitute is refreshing in the lack of “camera eye judgement” with which it regards the central protagonist. Not as great as Ozon has got in the past but certainly a solid watch. Check out my full review here.

16. The East 
Not as documentary style as the trailers would have you believe, this movie is still quite gripping with characters who aren’t easy to decode, whatever their interests, in terms of their morality. Unfortunately it kinda clubs you over the head with the old “long spoons” religious parable but, still, a great little eco thriller. My review here.

15. Side Effects
This movie kinda takes you by surprise. What you think is going to be an exploration of the psychiatric institution turns out to be a variation on a classic film noir movie. I’m not going to tell you which one though, or it will give it away. My full review here.

14. Machete Kills!
This movie is not quite what I was expecting for the next part of the Machete series, but I did love the way that the director used the wake of Star Wars and the way the late 1970s bandwagon movies started off as one thing but then got pulled in a certain direction halfway through production, as a point of cinematic history worth plundering and parodying. This film did quite poorly but I’m hoping the DVD sales will be enough to ensure the future of the next movie in the series, Machete Kills Again In Space! My review of this here.

13. Dario Argento's Dracula 3D
This is not the best movie in the world, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from Dario Argento... bad script, bad acting, stupid clunky bit inserted where it makes no sense, beautiful music and gorgeous cinematography. In all these things it ticks the boxes for regular Argento fans who haven’t abandoned him (like me). Plus it has a giant grass hopper thing. Unbelievable. Since I wrote the review I have managed to watch the 3D version (which is also included on the 2D blu ray, for some reason) and the 3D on this one is quite spectacular. My review of this one is here.

12. Mama
What a great and, it has to be said, magical and enchanting little horror movie from Spain. There’s a twist, I personally believe, at the end which is very much dependent on how you decode the opening titles... which causes its own ambiguities and, you know, arguments. My review of this gothic delight is here.

11. Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters 
Absolutely brilliant action thriller which takes the old fairy tale as a starting point for the pre-credits, sequelises it during the opening, and then doesn’t stop delivering a kind of raw and dark version of a Tim Burton style of movie... but with added action and gore. Plus Jeremy Renner is cool in it and... it has Gemma Arterton. She’s a plus to any movie I reckon. My review can be found here.

10. Frances Ha
Beautiful black and white movie which recalls the kinds of Woody Allen movies I used to love as a teenager. The character is essentially on a downward spiral but she never seems to notice this and most of the movie is quite upbeat. My review here.

9. Stoker
I don’t remember a heck of a lot about this movie, other than it was absolutely gorgeous to look at and that I need to see it again. I should probably refresh my own memory of it by reading my full review of it here.

8. Jodorowsky’s Dune
Marvellous documentary movie which will probably get a release over here properly next year. It tells the story of Jodorowsky’s unmade project and is full of tales of the brilliant people collaborating in this venture, who were still not enough to get this film actually made. My full review is here.

7. The Conjuring
Scariest horror movie I’ve seen in years. It helps that all the human characters are all so likeable and people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. Add to that mix a director who genuinely seems to understand the most effective syntax of a horror movie and you’re left with a truly scary movie which I reviewed here.

6. Blue Is The Warmest Colour 
This tale of lesbian love is based on a comic strip and, in some ways, goes to reenforce what I’ve been saying for years now. You can get away with talking about a lot more adult issues and sensitive issues in the world of comics than you ever can in the movies. This straddles the line and presents a compelling watch, although I suspect the original comics were tackling much more of the issues than are presented in this movie. My review here.

5. Gravity
This tale of disastrously unlucky Sandra Bullock floating around in space and trying to get back to Earth took me by surprise. It’s the modern equivalent of an old 1970s disaster movie, but it’s done very well. A review of this one can be found here.

4. Before Midnight.
The third part of Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s Before movies. You will be on the edge of your seat until the very end, to see how the two main protagonists end up at the finish. Hope they make another one in ten years or so. My review is here.

3. The World’s End
The third part of the so called “Cornetto trilogy”, following on from Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, is probably my favourite of the three. At least, it’s the most accessible on the first watch and, like the others, is also quite rewarding on repeat viewings, when little details you didn’t notice the first time around become apparent. My review of it is here.

2. The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears
From the directors of Amer comes another movie which, in almost any other year, would probably have stolen the top spot and, to be honest, my number 1 and 2 spots had a bit of a tussle in my head. This is colourful, surreal and, despite having the pretence of a narrative structure at the start of the film, will probably leave you just as baffled as when you went in. All these are good things. This should get either a cinema or DVD release in a few months time in the UK. My review of it is here.

1. Byzantium
Jordan is not one of my favourite directors but this elegant, gothic tale of the last two surviving female vampires being hunted down by the paternity which inadvertently spawned them is absolutely exquisite and, by the way, did I mention it has the lovely Gemma Arterton in it. You’re not going to want to miss this one. Blood and melancholic reflection by the seaside. My review is here.

Six Most Disappointing Films of 2013

And now we get to my big disappointments of 2013, again in ascending order of rubbishness...

6. Django Unchained. 
The first half of this movie is amazing. The second half is boring twaddle which doesn’t marry up well with all that preceded it. Go figure. My review here.

5. Passion
Brian De Palma’s new movie is a remake of a recent foreign film... which on its own is disappointing enough. However, it’s also very rich territory for him, in that the story is really suited to the kind of movies he used to make early on in the good part of his career... before rubbish like The Untouchables, Scarface and Bonfire Of The Vanities became part of his CV. It even has his old musical collaborator Pino Donaggio doing the score but, alas, the film is not what is should be. My review of it here.

4. 47 Ronin
I was kinda expecting this adaptation of the classic tale to be really bad as an adaptation. What I didn’t expect was for it to be quite bad on its own terms too. My review here.

3. White House Down
This second of this year’s “Die Hard At The White House” maybe would have seemed okayish, if it hadn’t been preceded by the excellent Olympus Has Fallen earlier in the year, which is far superior to this in pretty much all ways, as far as I’m concerned. My full review here.

 2. Oblivion
Oblivion was a high concept science fiction film which looks and feels absolutely spectacular. Unfortunately, the concept was already done quite recently at the movies and it’s an old 1950s short story concept anyway. Not worth the fuss... but it does look great. A review of this here. 

1. Man of Steel
This isn’t a bad movie. It is, however, a bad Superman movie. This is not what Superman is about, either conceptually or in terms of look. The first time this director has really let me down. He’s lost my trust now. Not looking forward to the sequel. My review here.

So there you go... my highs and lows of 2013. Post your own lists in my comments section so we can all have a read!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Quantum Of Solace

Quantum Destruction

Quantum of Solace
2008 UK/USA/
Directed by Marc Forster
EON Blu Ray Region B

Quantum of Solace marks the last of the EON James Bond films I have to review for a while (I already reviewed the next in the series, Skyfall,  as my first Bond review here).

When I watched this movie again just recently, after five years had passed, I would have to say that it surprised me in that I realised it wasn’t quite as bad as Die Another Day or Octopussy. That being said, those two are the only Bond films I can think of that I’d rather be watching less than this one. Now I really liked World War Z by this same director, so I don’t know why I didn’t pick up on some of the negative things I’ll throw up here in that movie too... but I understand that the editing schedule on this Bond film was quite, let’s say, challenging and I’m guessing maybe some corners were cut where reshoots may have been better? I don’t know... purely speculating here.

There are some really good things in this movie but they are completely destroyed by the negative factors, as far as I’m concerned. Now, if you read my Casino Royale review, you’ll already know I don’t rate Craig as a credible Bond. He just doesn’t quite look or act the part... and that’s such a shame because he is a great actor and he does an excellent job as a toughie here in the Bond films. In fact, I would go so far as to say he plays an incredible modern action hero... just not a credible Bond. Which I think is a shame because I don’t think it’s even his fault. I’m guessing here that the style of the character is being moulded into something deliberately different by the producers? Who knows?

Anyhow, that aside, this movie suffers from a lot of problems. The plot, which picks up from the previous film, just seems generally thin nonsense all the way through. And Bond acts completely and utterly stupidly throughout the majority of the movie.

I find it a little bit of a strain on the credibility of the central protagonist, whether he’s a credible Bond or not, to be able to think a way out of some unbelievably tough traps but at the same time, is unable to keep himself reigned in so he kills every lead he has to the solving of the “spy mystery” element of the story without even stopping to ask them questions. Seriously, why bother to track your leads down if you’re just going to kill them and then, quite by accident, find another clue somewhere else. This seems to me to be really sloppy writing but... I don’t know what those big studio writers have to go through, so maybe this stuff gets re-shaped and gets away from them via studio intervention until the story kinda goes out the window? Again, I’m just guessing here.

And then there’s the editing thing again. I don’t know if it’s the lack of coverage of actual footage or a conscious decision to go with a tougher, more aggressive editing style but the action sequences in this film are confusing to the point where they become an incomprehensible mess for the most part. Peter Hunt was quite successful when he introduced a more aggressive style into the series back in the sixties Bond films but this is just a melange of half shots put together at a pace which seriously jeopardises your ability to read what is going on or, at least, make the metaphorical visual connections to take you into the next shot at the kind of level required to have a coherent reading.

And it’s not just the action scenes that do this in Quantum Of Solace either. There seems to be an abundance of the same sequence shot from multiple different angles and movement speeds in even some quite sedate scenes... to the point where your eye is just flicking around almost randomly on each cut to try to get your bearings in the piece. This is something I didn’t realise could even happen in a movie before but, yep, you can kind of shoot things as such a melange that basic slow shots just don’t work together when they are edited. It’s like the director or editor took the scene five different ways and instead of editing them into something which could easily be understood... just kinda threw everything into the mix and hoped for the best. Now I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here and I’m guessing this stuff was happening purely because of the shortened editing schedule... but that’s how I perceived things anyway.

There are a few nice things about the movie, of course.

Thing one... it has one of the best Bond songs in a while. It’s different but it doesn’t push the envelope too far away from classic Bond like Madonna’s Die Another Day did... and neither is it so dreary that I couldn’t make it through even one playing of the single version like the Oscar winning Skyfall song was. This one is just a pretty good Bond song, Another Way To Die, and it’s just a shame, since this move actually does have a title that comes from an original Ian Fleming Bond story, that the lyricist couldn’t work in the movie title somewhere... even if it had just been a single mention like in the opening title song to The Spy Who Loved Me.

Arnold’s score tries hard but it doesn’t sparkle like his first two outings. It’s nothing special but it does provide a certain amount of musical continuity with Casino Royale and I’d like to see him have another crack at a Bond score sometime (whether that will happen again, I don’t know, but I’d like to think the producers will call on him again, much like they used to go back to John Barry once in a while).

The other good thing in this film is, simply, Gemma Arterton... in a small role in which she makes her presence truly felt before being wasted in a Goldfinger tribute where she is killed by being covered naked in oil (as opposed to gold). Such a shame because I believe she could have made a good recurring character for the series.

The other notable thing I can think of about this movie is that Jeffrey Wright becomes only the second actor in the series to play the Felix Leiter character for a second time. Wonderful performance but, alas, like Craig’s portrayal of Bond, this incarnation of Leiter is nothing like the one in the novels (I think Jack Lord’s performance in Dr. No kinda hit the nail on the head in that respect).

And that’s all I’ve got to say on this one, I’m afraid. Not a great movie but entertaining enough, if you just let it wash over you without trying to read too much into it.

I’m really glad this is my last Bond movie review for a while. Over the last year I’ve reviewed all the  EON Bonds and, I will get around to taking another look at the four non-EON Bond films sometime in the future for this Blog... but for now I’m done with Bond. But you can take a look at all my Bond reviews by clicking on the relevant titles here...

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice  
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Live And Let Die
The Man With The Golden Gun  
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View To A Kill 
The LIving Daylights 
Licence To Kill  
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World Is Not Enough  
Die Another Day 
Casino Royale
Quantum Of Solace

Sunday, 29 December 2013

47 Ronin

Ronin On Empty

47 Ronin
2013 USA
Directed by Carl Rinsch
Playing now at cinemas in the UK.

Warning: There are spoilers here but it’s such a classic tale that’s 
been corrupted, you probably already know how it ends anyway.

Michael Lonsdale:  
“The 47 ronin, do you know it? 47 samurai whose master was betrayed and killed by another lord. They became ronin, masterless samurai, disgraced by another man's treachery. For three years they plotted, pretending to be thieves, mercenaries, even madmen...”

Robert DeNiro: 
“That l didn't have time to do.”

Michael Lonsdale:  
“... And then one night they struck, slipping into the castle of their lord's betrayer, killing him.”

Robert DeNiro: 
“Nice. l like that. My kind of job.”

Michael Lonsdale:  
“There's something more. All of them committed seppuku, ritual suicide, in the courtyard of the castle.”
Ronin, written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet (uncredited and writing as Richard Weisz)

There’s even a word for it in the Japanese language... Chūshingura. Chūshingura is a tale based on the real historical incident of 47 Ronin who plotted revenge for the death of their master and... well, you can read the summarised tale as it is told in John Frankenheimer’s excellent action thriller Ronin above.

There have been numerous versions of this story in literature, film, TV, opera and ballet etc throughout the history of Japanese culture... I wouldn’t be surprised if the final tally, should anyone be brave enough to try to research it, is in triple figures. It’s a simple but epic tale of the force of will of a united group of people teamed together and my only regret, though I really was trying to claw back some time, is that I didn’t get to watch the Takashi Shimura version I bought to watch before Christmas so I could at least compare that version to this new one. Alas, time ran out on me so it’s on a bit of a back burner now... but hopefully that will make it into this year’s reviews at some point.

Anyway, what we have here in this new “American” interpretation of Chūshingura, 47 Ronin, is what happens when an American company tries to do an adaptation. Instead of just the simple tale of 47 men banded together to exact revenge and then commit ritual suicide... we have some kind of bizarre corruption of the story involving magical creatures and demons and shapeshifters and the like.

Not very clever, Hollywood, are you? When it comes to treating a treasured story of Japanese history and then raping it for something that will make it more “box office”. The very idea of this complete lack of respect for the original material does leave a bad taste in my mouth, to be honest, and I really can’t review this movie in terms of where it fits in within previous Chūshingura because, well, because it’s like some kind of ill-judged Frankenstein’s monster when it comes to actually turning in an honest adaptation.

What I can do, however, is tell you just how the film is as a stand alone, typically Hollywood entertainment spectacle, divorced from the pretence of adaptation and, surprisingly... it doesn’t fare any better.

And I really regret having to write that.

A lot of the way this movie falls down is in the editing to be honest. It’s really aggressive and I’m not just talking about the action sequences here which, to be fair, are at least comprehensible in terms of decoding the fight scenes into something that all makes sense... unlike some modern movies these days. No, I’m actually talking about the whole movie being aggressively cut together to the point where it’s quite distracting, even from the very beginning. It can’t keep still. I didn’t notice any shots lasting for longer than seven seconds when I was counting them at various intervals in the movie and, to be honest, the fact that I even was counting them shows you how distracted I was by this MTV style of shot pacing. Dreadful stuff. The movie might... might... have had some good cinematography and some well designed shots in there somewhere... but I’ve got no idea whether it did or it didn’t because of the fact that my eye was being thrown about all over the place to match the pace of the editing.

Now other stuff in the movie was mostly fine. The performances were all pretty convincing... nothing which felt all that great but it was more than serviceable... and the score was okay... what I could hear of it in the mix. Again, a nice support... I’m not sure how it would work as a stand alone listen though.

But when we come to the poor decision of the mythical, hocus pocus elements coming into play....

Well it was a big mistake. It could have worked as an organic whole... but the whole of this element, plus the Keanu Reeves character even (and I’m not knocking Reeves, he’s a solid actor) all seems somehow... well... uncomfortably plugged in at certain points throughout the course of the movie. I reckon this film could easily be recut from the same footage to exclude both the Reeves character and the magical elements and still make perfect sense as a narrative which would, I’m sure, leave the basic story as what it should be. However, it looks like its been added in as an afterthought a little way into production by a bunch of Hollywood number crunchers and, horrible as that sounds, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it someday transpired that this was, indeed, the case.

The ending of the movie seems, at first glance, to be a little braver than you would expect from a big budget American made film but, all the way through while I was sitting watching this sequence and the little “afterword” at the end of the movie, it just felt like this was the producers trying to “get the first defensive punch in” and kinda apologise/justify what they have done here. It just didn’t feel genuine. In fact, to paraphrase a character Mr. Reeves plays in another movie... it felt downright bogus and that’s a shame.

It was also rather bloodless when it came to the violence and that’s a classic case of a studio trying to slip past the censors and, unfortunately, it still seems to be a tactic that works. You can violently chop as many heads off as you like, and they do in this one, as long as you don’t see any blood anywhere. It’s really bad that they are allowed to get away with this because one of the things it teaches the kids who are able to see these movies because of the lower rating, is that violence has no consequence. Personally I think it would be better to let them in and scare them with the consequences of violence than glorify it at this level... but that’s another argument for another time and I believe I’ve probably made my point on this in past reviews.

I went to this movie expecting full well to denounce it as a bad adaptation but, it has to be said, I was hoping to be able to recommend it as a movie in its own right, when you strip it away from the actual piece of history it purports to represent. However, I can’t even do that. 47 Ronin, at least this version of it, is one of the least entertaining movies to have giant dragons and demons in it that I’ve seen for some time. If you do want to see this, see it cheap. The 3D is pretty poor anyway.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Jeune & Jolie

Jolie Good!

Jeune & Jolie 
2013 France
Directed by François Ozon
Just about still playing at cinemas in the UK if you’re quick.

I always find director Françoise Ozon a little hit and miss, truth be told. But even when it’s a bit of a miss, I still tend to appreciate his stuff, on the rare occasions it’s actually advertised enough that I’ll get to hear about it before it passes me by at the cinema. I nearly missed this one and I’m angry that my local Cineworld didn’t bother showing it when it was released back in November. They’re getting worse and worse at showing anything much other than US blockbuster type movies these days.

I didn’t really want to brave a trip out on 27th December to go to London and pay loads more money than I normally would to see a film, to be honest, but I figured if this one was good enough it might make my best movies of 2013 list and I see so few contemporary foreign films nowadays that I really wanted to take in something different to my usual escapist fodder... I was much better at the whole World Cinema scene when I was a student, to be sure.

Now that I’ve done so, I’d have to say that Jeune & Jolie is a pretty good movie. It’s not exactly what I’d classify as a hit or a miss, by my standards anyway. It sits there somewhere in between but it carries itself well with its paired down sense of what a story is and isn’t and, like a small poem where you have to concentrate and look harder because the minimal trickle of words entices you into thinking there’s something more in there that requires your attention, the film holds you in its grip over its short running time and it doesn’t get boring at any point.

This one centres on a 17 year old girl’s decision to become a prostitute and Ozon’s lens takes a chance to almost glamourise the lead actress with his voyeuristic way of framing her and concentrating on her physical beauty and the expression of her contemplation of her life, without sensationalising it or exploiting it in the overtly sexual way that many directors might do, either as a strategy or subconsciously.

The really big thing for me about this film is the ambivalence inherent within the camera eye’s stance in making a value call on the main protagonist Isabelle’s career path as a sex worker and the unwillingness of both her character and the film to depict this as either a positive or a negative. What the film does do, however, is point out both the innefectiveness and the hypocrisy of those standing in judgement around the central lead’s “part-time activities”... and this is something I really value. It’s refreshing to find a central character who’s a sex worker but not one trying to justify her own decisions and if some may see Isabelle as something of an emotional cypher, I think that’s a pretty good call.

Personally, I think, since their seems to be no real financial motivation to the character, who keeps the huge amounts of money she makes hidden away from her parents... unspent, that she enjoys something of the life she has made for herself away from her family, to the point where the sexuality becomes something of an addiction (like sex usually does become to most people) and I think it’s pertinent that the character, when she is found out due to one of the negative aspects of her job colliding with the outside world in the form of the police, keeps her old mobile sim card with all her client numbers and contacts for use at a point when she has run the gauntlet of counselling and family misunderstanding. She obviously had every intention of returning to her life of prostitution when all the fuss has died down.

There are two key points in the film which I think are good Rosetta Stone moments when it comes to decoding the character of Isabelle. One is when Charlotte Rampling, playing the widow of one of Isabelle’s regular clients, hires her to understand and almost relive her husband’s final liaison. It’s telling that Isabelle at first mistakes this gesture as a sexual encounter and is willing to jump in there and service the former wife to her former best client. The character is 17 and so is perhaps inexperienced enough at life to be anything other than willing to decode the liaison as a prospect rather than a mental autopsy... or is it that she’s actually a lot more confident than that?

The second of my key moments may shift towards the latter when Isabelle discovers the possibility that her mother might be having an affair. She doesn’t use this as much of a threat but more as a leveller to point out to her mother, and the audience, that she is being judged by standards which are unfairly being applied to her from an outside that clearly has no grasp of her personal confidence as a person to make the kinds of decisions about her life that she wants to. At least that’s the way I read it and I think it’s this confidence to a character who tends to give nothing away throughout the film’s running time (even a scene where she breaks down crying is perhaps best seen as a release of tension combined with survival strategy as opposed to a more pitched reaction) that really cements this film as something a little more stand out than the way it could easily have been moulded by another director.

The camera work is quite beautiful and mixes sweeping movement with curiously static and repetitive establishing shots which lend the piece a certain sense of visual anchoring... which is a nice touch. The performances are all pretty convincing and interesting too. The 1970s fly-on-the-wall approach to the material, despite an abundance in some places of camera motion, allows these performances to shine through in the way they need to in order to pull the audience in and encourage suspension of disbelief.

My one real problem with the movie was the music strategy. The film has hardly anything in it that I noticed at all for the first half, apart from some songs used in a non-diegetic manner. This is an okay choice but then there is musical scoring later on in the film and, while this is a perfectly valid tactic of ratcheting things up to a certain level or changing the tone at some point during a film (Jerry Goldsmith’s score for Coma, for example, exists pretty much in only the last 45 or so minutes of the movie) I felt the scoring here was too thin and not quite up to the task whereas, the soundscape of the earlier sequences without music were already creating a certain audio intensity without needing to throw music in as well... and since I love movie scores it really hurts me to say that.

That minor criticism aside, though, Jeune & Jolie is a pretty good movie if you fancy seeing something French which deals with adult themes (although some of the characters themselves don’t respond in much of an adult manner in some sequences within the film). It’s not one I’d go out of my way to watch again but, certainly, it’s not one I’d run to avoid seeing again if the opportunity arose and it may, you never know, make my years best new release list. I’’m not sure yet but you can find out about that one in a few days, methinks. The film is certainly worth a peek, though, if you feel like a trip to the cinema.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Doctor Who: The Time Of The Doctor

Capaldi Other One, 
It’s Got Jingle Bells On...

Doctor Who: The Time Of The Doctor
UK Airdate: 25th December 2013

Warning: Yes, more spoilerage I’m afraid.

Well that was a bit better.

In fact, it was a lot better. This time around Steven Moffat went back to getting almost everything right about giving us an entertaining Christmas special where everything actually made a bit of sense.  “Almost everything right” did I say? Well, yeah, come on... if you’ve been reading my reviews of the show ever since I started this blog you’ll know I usually have at least a couple of gripes with an episode (at best) and, at worst, a whole load of them.

Fortunately for me, this is definitely an “at best” situation, which means, well you know, like I said... I have a couple of gripes. I’ll save those for a little way down the page though as I’m going to focus on some of the positive stuff here first and, as a “for instance”...

The tone was perfect and just the right mixture of joy tinged with deep and bitter sadness which is the thing you always need to travel through and get a really good Christmas special... Doctor Who or otherwise. The performances of Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman were, as was expected, absolutely brilliant and, as another expected bonus, but a bonus nonetheless... so were the performances of everybody else. Especially that of Orla Brady as Tasha Lem, who is a character who you cotton onto as being kind of interesting and just what the show needed right from the start. Unfortunately she’s dead and dalek channeling before the end of the episode but, hey ho, you can’t have everything.

The story was great and, in addition to having just the right blend of fairytale and tragedy that was required, it actually tied up (hopefully for good) a whole lot of loose ends which had been occurring since Matt Smith first made an appearance. Some things I knew were going to be back... Amy’s crack in the wall, if you didn’t see that one coming then... seriously? And some things I didn’t... but that’s only because the various people in question had been lying to us all on behalf of the BBC and saying they would never ever return to the show... yeah, I’m looking at you Amy Pond/Karen Gillan. Nice to see you but, if I’d have been less trusting, I would have put money on an appearance from you in the last of the Matt Smith episodes.

More importantly though... the Moffster put right something that the fans had been waiting to be addressed for quite a while now... and I’m going to ignore continuity with The Brain Of Morbius for now because, seriously, cut the guy some slack. Hopefully he’ll get to it.

But anyway, what I mean is, he’s addressed the issue of The Doctor only having 12 regenerations. He explains how he’s actually the 13th version of The Doctor (12 regenerations means 13 bodies... makes sense, right?) and the Time Lords (presumably benevolent to him after hiding their planet away in the last episode) have given him a reset with a whole new set of twelve regenerations to get through. So that’s good... let the writers in 50 or so years have another crack at solving that problem again with their own deus ex machina to thrown into that mess.

For now though... he’s throughly reset.

The special effects were okay again on this one... or at least they certainly weren’t terrible and Murray Gold’s score, whilst seeming to have a lot of tracked cues again (been a while since we heard the tenth Doctor action theme All The Strange, Strange Creatures isn’t it... and completely out of context, all leitmotif aside), was serviceable and, mostly, appropriate to what was going on... if not all that memorable compared to some of the episodes he’s scored.

And so I come to my gripes... you knew they were coming so fair warning to you. Don’t read on if they’re going ot upset you.

Number one gripe is I found the last ten minutes or so a bit, well as I said above, deus ex machiney wheeney... but, a far greater crime than that, I thought that last fifth was... well... kinda dull. But that’s okay... I loved the rest of the episode and often, as in some really good sex, getting there was as rewarding as the actual orgasm itself (although those are always fun too, obviously) and so it’s just a minor gripe, honest guv. I can live with that.

Gripe number two is a minor disappointment too and it concerns the new incarnation of The Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who I have to confess is not and actor I am all that familiar with... since I’ve only seen him in Doctor Who and Torchwood before now. So was it a good performance or was it a bad first impression? Well I’m afraid I’ve got only one answer to that... I have no idea, the sound mix was so bad I couldn’t understand a word he was saying!

Seriously, I couldn’t hear him through all the hullabaloo on the sound mix and that was quite sad. Now it may have been a ploy by the production team because they don’t want to give you too much of a decent impression of him yet before they’re all properly ready... or it might just have been either bad mixing or something which went wrong with the broadcast... who can say? All I know is that I have no idea what Capaldi’s Doctor is like as yet... but at least that gives me something to look forward to in the new year, at least as far as this show is concerned.

So there you have it. A cracking Christmas episode, a bit overdone at the end like a turkey that’s been too long in the oven, and not quite up to the brilliance of the last two Christmas specials... but good enough. Like I said at the start of this review... Moffett got almost everything right, so that was all well and good then.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

You know... 2013 has been quite a bad year for me in NUTS4R2land.

My love life is in ruins, my real-life daytime job is getting more and more stressful (and seemingly less and less relevant), my cousin (and good friend) and his girlfriend moved to Australia and I am seeing various people I love or get on with either getting worn down by the harsh grind of 21st Century living or, in at least one case, perishing altogether. And this has all manifested itself on here in the fact that I’ve only written just over 160 reviews so far this year... which means I’ll be slightly down on my batting average by the 31st December.

So I’m pretty down right now and, truthfully, the last thing I thought I needed to write right now is a Christmas post...

But hold up.

 It’s also a time of taking stock on some of the brighter things that have happened in my life this year. I got involved with some design work (some of it you’ve still not seen yet) for director/writer/actor/producer James Devereaux’s Noirish Project movie and that was kinda fun. I also met up with some of the people who worked on the film (James Devereaux, Liane-Rose Bunce, Jay Harris and Alfie Black) and that was a really lovely experience for me.

Also, I had been nursing a heck of a large rift with a long standing friend of mine which had burned a whole in my heart for about three years or more now and I finally forgave him for something he, possibly inadvertently, did to me. I learned something about myself from that process too and am feeling a little more responsible for my initial reaction to a situation than I at first realised I should do. So even though I am in no way, really, culpable for our falling out for all that time... I hope that he finds some time to forgive me for my state of mind at the time too. Anyway, funnily enough, that all happened on the very same day that I met some of the Noirish Project bunch and so... yeah, that was a good evening.

And then my twitter friend Charlie of Entr'Acte asked me to write a post for him about European scores, which can be found here, and that was a lot more fun than I'd imagined and, also, a real conifdence boost.

So that’s three things, at least, that I can say made the year a little brighter at any rate.

The fourth thing is you lot.

Yeah you... you readers.

Whether you are one of my long standing twitter buddies, a regular reader or are even just visiting this page for the first time, I am absolutely, hugely grateful to you for taking the time to read this. Writing this review blog has been pretty much the only thing, honestly, that has kept me sane all year. So please believe me when I say that, without you lot and the steady reader stats I see, these pages wouldn’t exist.

So with that in mind I’d like to raise a glass to you all and wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thank you for being my readers... it certainly means a lot to me.

Oh, and please have a go at my Annual Movie Christmas Quizwoz here... the one who gets the most right (not expecting anyone to get them all right) wins.

I’ll be back here in the next day or so with the new Doctor Who episode review (looking forward to watching that with family on Boxing Day, which’ll be the first opportunity I get to see it) and the last of my EON Bond reviews should be up here soon too. Next year I’m hoping to rewatch and review the majority, if not all, of the Zatoichi movies, various new releases and, well, as you can guess, there’ll be some fairly bizarre stuff on here too. Some of it may even get me into trouble, you never know. Plus my annual movies and scores of the year lists will be going up within the next couple of weeks too, I hope.

But, as always, thanks for reading. I hope you have a good Christmas period.

All the best,


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Doc Savage: Skull Island

The Kongest Day

Doc Savage: Skull Island
by Will Murray
Altus Press 
ISBN: 78-1618271136

2013 marks the 80th anniversary of two iconic fictional characters... Doc Savage and King Kong. To mark the occasion the current Kenneth Robeson, Will Murray, has written Doc Savage: Skull Island, which gives us a full-on collision between these two fantastical titans. However, this is a little bit different from any Doc Savage novel you’ve ever read and the first signs of this are right there on the front cover before you even open the book because, for the first time, Will Murray is credited as the writer of this novel, rather than masquerading under the old Street And Smith pen name Kenneth Robeson (under which both the Doc Savage and The Avenger stories were originally published).

Now this is a very interesting phenomena in itself because, the only time I can remember a Doc Savage novel being published under any name other than that of Robeson is when famous science fiction writer Philip José Farmer wrote Doc Savage: Escape From Loki back in 1991, which I think is one of the very early volumes in the series of post-Lester Dent additional novels which started off Will Murray on his Doc Savage trajectory.

Now then, the basic story of Escape From Loki was the back story, mentioned in the novels numerous times but never told in detail, of Doc’s exploits in the First World War and how he came to meet his five aids who would go on to assist him in his career of writing wrongs in the 1930s and onwards. It was, therefore, a slightly different version of Doc Savage in that novel and, perhaps it’s because Will Murray has also chosen to cover Doc’s pre-1933 life in this one too, that the cover of this volume features his name only.

And indeed, it’s a very different Clark Savage Jr who we find running around in these pages. The novel is bookended by Doc telling three of his five aids the story of the time when he met the giant ape King Kong. 

Now it’s never been absolutely, specifically spelled out in the original novels but, it doesn’t take much research to figure out that the only building in New York that could have housed Doc Savage’s 86th floor headquarters at the time the tales were first written is the Empire State Building. The mooring mast atop the building also fairly clinches that, from what I can recall from other people’s research over the years. And so this tale starts off in 1933, a few hours after Kong has been killed by the aircraft that took him down in the movie. Doc arrives on the scene at the bottom of his building and immediately takes charge on how to remove the body and get it out of New York... he also feels obligated to do so since the giant ape had saved his life once, and vice versa. This leads us into the story set not very long after the end of the First World War and we see Clark Savage teaming up with his dad (who dies just before the start of the very first Doc adventure, The Man Of Bronze, and springboards that first ever published mystery) on a mission to find his long lost grandfather, Stormalong Savage. And off we go...

And, like I said, it’s a very different Doc and I guess Murray must have been somewhat nervous as to how this book was going to be received by the many Doc Savage fans around the world but, frankly, if you’re going to set the novel in this time period then... yes... Doc really is going to be a different character. And that’s really okay.

What Murray does here is a real labour of love and I have to say that you will probably only appreciate this particular novel if you are quite familiar with the Doc Savage character in general. This isn’t one you would want to just jump into as a first read... you will get totally the wrong impression of Doc. And Murray is a lot more subtle and simultaneously bold in his approach to the growing character.

Here’s an example...

The thing is, Doc Savage never kills. We all know that. He never takes a human life and will save from death even the lousiest villain to be re-educated at his crime college rather than let them perish. The fact that they do often perish is usually due to one of his assistants, Monk, getting a little too overenthusiastic or, more commonly, an accidental death due to being in a less than controlled environment (things erupting, falling or exploding etc). Here though, in (and on) Skull Island, Doc is a death dealing machine who will lop off limbs and hack off heads in an efficiently coordinated attack on his enemies... without hesitation. He will even, once rendering them unconscious, finish them off so they don’t cause more trouble later on. Now this might seem a pretty big leap for some fans of the character but it’s really not... Murray uses this opportunity to observe the man that became Doc Savage and shows you him at a time when he is still working things out.

For instance, the rapid super-firer pistols which fire mercy bullets, a soft bullet which breaks on contact with the skin and renders a man unconscious for several hours, is something which he invents for his aides to use throughout the near 200 novels. He is dedicated to never taking a life but, here, we can see the origins of his thought processes on this matter as we see him start developing an annihilator, super-firing machine gun in his spare time on the long journey which eventually brings him to Skull Island. Its a weapon of war but, the principal of the mechanical workings at least are there. This is reenforced later in the yarn when he develops a multi-barreled blow pipe contraction (which presumably looks very much like a set of pan pipes) to fire poison darts. These two contraptions are obviously the origin of his super-firer, anaesthetic pistols.

Another example would be the fact that his father, Clark Savage Sr, is surrounded by Mayan man-servants and can talk this ancient language. Any fan of the books and even the 1975 movie will know exactly what that is all about... and it’s little echoes like these, never spelled out but left for the old timer Doc Savage fans to figure out, that make this book great.

This is, of course, coupled with lots of little celluloid landmarks for the topography of Skull Island as we recognise it from the 1933 King Kong movie and the way Murray rubs the characters and situations together is an absolute joy to read. You get a real sense of how the character we are so familiar with was formed before that very first Doc Savage story, The Man Of Bronze. 

My only real criticisms of this one, and they’re only criticisms if pushed, are that the book maybe rushes the epilogue, where we return back to the 1933 time frame and also the fact that, while on Skull Island, we never got to see the creatures in the pit which were so terrifying to the original preview audiences of King Kong that the footage was immediately excised and has never been found to this day. I would have liked to have seen some reference made to this lost sequence... with Doc fighting a giant spider or something (although I believe the actual spider’s web makes it into this novel as an aside at one point, if I read it right).

I can see how this story will ruffle some Doc fans’ feathers a little but, I really think the things Murray has done here are absolutely wonderful and they do help give a little depth to a character who is, to be fair, an emotional cypher throughout pretty much all of the Robeson tagged novels. We see the man of bronze before the bronze has quite finished coating the personality and little chinks in his amber armour like Doc and his father's tendency to quote and be inspired by cheap, popular genre fiction (Nick Carter, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan etc... all of whom are specifically named in the text) give a possible insight into the forging of the heart of this mighty, bronze behemoth. If you are a longtime fan of Doc then I can only strongly recommend you to give this book a go. It’s not quite the Doc you know but it’s certainly the Doc who will become that character you know and it’s a really well written novel... still written within the style parameter’s of Lester Dent, who was the original Kenneth Robeson, and certainly a page turner you’ll not want to put down for long.

Have no fear... the man of bronze is here.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Quizwoz 2

The Bride Of Quizwoz

Hi all.

It’s that time of year again. This year’s Christmas Quizwoz continues the tradition of having absolutely no prizes and being just for fun. The overall winner (or winners, if it’s a tie) will be shouted out on the answers page when I post it. You have up to and including December 31st to get your answers in to me at nuts4r2@hotmail.com so... good luck! I’ll start on a relatively easy one...

Which franchise, the first movie of which was based on an original novel, has had eight movies, a TV show and even a cartoon series made as part of it?

What is remarkable about the Jessie Royce Landis character in Hichcock's North By Northwest? 

What is James Bond’s family motto and which is the first of the EON James Bond films in which this information is disclosed?

Akira Kurosawa’s movies Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon have what interesting post-release fact in common?

In A Good Day To Die Hard, the Russian taxi driver near the start of the movie sings New York, New York in Frank Sinatra fashion to Bruce Willis. Why is this especially appropriate to the Die Hard franchise?

Which biblical epic features footage from the sequel in it, as the sequel was already being shot while the first film was still being edited?

Which 90s action thriller featured three prior James Bond super-villain actors in the film... who never meet in any scene together. Also, who are the actors and which Bond films were they the main villains in?

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Which two famous characters were teamed up this year in a novel celebrating their 80th anniversarys?

Which actor played a character in a series of films in this century, who is the father of a character he first played in 1981? And what are the two roles in question.

In which two movies does a character being played by Mark Hamill get his hand cut off by a light sabre?

Which Dario Argento movie was originally supposed to be a sequel to his earlier film, The Stendahl Syndrome?

Which Doctor Who monsters first appeared in a single story opposite Patrick Troughton in 1967 and then took 40 years to return to the series when one of their hands was glimpsed in a David Tennant episode?

In Captain America: The First Avenger, there is an oblique reference to another Marvel Comics hero of that era. Who is the character and why is that kinda ironic in the case of this specific movie?

Which famous director, who died in 1986, is alleged to have died from a specific type of cancer, along with a couple of other people, caused by the location in which he shot a movie released seven years earlier? And what was the film which held the deadly location?

Which often controversial director, mostly famous for the films he shot in the 1960s and 1970s, turns up playing a small role in a famous 1950s sci-fi paranoia classic... and what is the name of that movie?

Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Bryan Forbes’ Deadfall (1968) and Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong (2005) all have something very specific and unusual in common. What is that specific thing and, once you’ve figured that one out, which of these is the odd one out and why?

Who is the only “Avengers girl”, from the various British TV shows featuring the adventures of John Steed and his companions, who has not turned up in a James Bond movie?

Which actor played a professor suffering from a sped up version of the disease “acromegaly” in a Clint Eastwood film and, which iconic character actor of the 30s and 40s suffered from and was killed by a side effect of this same disease in real life?

Which incredibly famous actor was fired by (or left the employment of, depending on who tells the story) Akira Kurosawa after less than one day working on a film. Also, what was the title of the film and who replaced the lead actor after this incident had occurred?

And there you have it. Hope this one wasn’t too tricksy for you but I wanted to make it relatively internet proof... at least to a degree. Again, answers to the email address at the top (which I only really use for these quizzes) and good luck.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Casino Royale

Card Bored

Casino Royale
2006 UK/Czech Republic/USA/Germany/Bahamas
Directed by Martin Campbell
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

Well I always feel a little bit conflicted whenever I watch this film.

It is, of course, the third time that Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale has been adapted - once on TV in 1954 and then again for a big screen spoof version in 1967. This 2006 version, the first to be produced by EON, is the one that troubles me the most because, while it’s certainly a very good film, for me it just doesn’t quite live up to being “a James Bond film” and, given that it’s got a truly delightful script, I find myself even more disappointed by it.

So let’s put the positives up there first... all the actors are great in it, even Daniel Craig (yeah, I’ll get to him in a minute) and the dialogue is pretty good. As are the sets, costumes, lighting, editing... frankly, this movie works really well in a lot of ways. But there are also a lot of things which drag it down to an un-Bondian level too.

Okay, so my biggest disappointment is Daniel Craig and that’s a really unfair thing to say, to be honest, because he’s a fantastic actor and he does really well with the script he’s given. In fact, he couldn’t have done any better... it’s a brilliant performance. However, some roles require the actors to look the part too and Craig doesn’t look like James Bond in any way shape of form. His hair colour is way too light for Bond, for starters. Why the heck didn’t the producers just insist he dye it for the role? I know it’s just a colour but, you know, every little helps. Secondly, I know he pumped up for the part but, honestly, this guy looks like he’s built like a rugby player... and that just seems wrong. I mean, yeah, he absolutely looks like he could handle the situations thrown at him... just not as Bond. He looks too much like a thug and, yes, while I can freely admit, and have argued the point in the past, that Bond is really just a government employed thug... he’s never really looked like one. To be fair to the writers, this is kinda addressed in the script when Judy Dench calls him a blunt instrument and that’s exactly what Bond is... but visually maybe he shouldn’t be.

Now I’m really not having a go at Craig. I even think he may be able to play, not just a brilliant action hero as he does here... but also a good James Bond. But the approach is wrong in this, I think. Not necessarily his fault. For all I know it’s the producers’ doing. And, yeah, I know I’m very much in a minority on this one. I think Craig is absolutely great in this movie... but he’s not inhabiting Bond, just playing a part. And to me that makes Craig as much of an inappropriate choice for the role of Ian Fleming’s well loved character as, oh, I don’t know, right off the top of my head...? Roger Moore. Well, okay, maybe not quite as silly a choice as Roger Moore but, certainly, in the same ball park. He’s definitely my second least favourite of the EON actors in the role... and I really like this guy. So that’s really annoying.

The other big problem I’ve got is that it’s purporting to be an adaptation of the original novel but it misses on so many levels. Now it gets a couple of things right, to be sure. The torture scene, albeit minus the tennis racket, is the most accurate version (although the fifties TV version of a different torture scene seemed somehow more horrific) and there is at least some kind of card game in it. And Bond falls in love. So there you go... that’s three things they got right.

However, they added loads of action scenes, which I don’t blame them for, and it isn’t the first time, but it makes for an adaptation which hits the wrong tone for the book (actually, it’s a weak novel compared to the next couple of novels in the series but, even so, if you state your intention to put Casino Royale up on the screen, then you should maybe make it as sedate as the novel, surely?).

A really big knock, for me, is that they replace Bond’s regular card game, Baccarat Chemin De Fer, with bloody Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. Honestly? How insulting to the character and spirit of Bond can you get? Really stupid. They even run action scenes between the card games. Casino Royale was all about the card game. That was the whole intrigue of the thing.

So for all this, although a blonde American Bond played by Barry Nelson opposite a British “Clarence” Leiter (not Felix Leiter as in the book and in this adaptation here) is way off base, the 1954 version scores big time over this one as being, so far, the straightest adaptation of Casino Royale around. It’s a target this production couldn’t beat and, frankly, it didn’t even look like they were trying to.

One almost Bondian thing, and equally irritating in its “close but no cigar” prowess, is the wonderful composer David Arnold’s score for the movie. The title song really isn’t good but at least it’s on the right track and it has a strong melody line to pilfer, which Arnold enthusiastically utilises in the score. It’s really got some big Barry Bond statements in there but, unbelievably, it’s sadly lacking the full statement of Monty Norman’s original Bond theme until right as the end credits are rolling. Now I know this movie was being seen as a reboot and the theory was that the character earns the theme throughout the movie (there are a couple of small instances where the baseline, at least, is referred to for a short time) but what this actually means is that you have a non-Bond score on something that is already failing to convince me it’s a James Bond film... so this really doesn’t help matters. The gun barrel prelude doesn’t, for the first time since the series started, make it’s traditional appearance before the opening sequence, and this is just another nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned (one which has been repeated in the series recently and with similar failure).

So there you have it. Great sequences of suspense, intrigue and action. Great actors and actresses (Eve Green’s turn as Vesper is astonishingly good) too. But, for all this, a truly un-Bondian non-event. I wasn’t too impressed by this effort, to be sure but... worse was to come...

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Blind Menace

The Phantom Blind

The Blind Menace
1960 Japan
Directed by Kazuo Mori
Anime Eigo DVD Region 1

Two years before the big screen incarnation of the Zatoichi character started in a franchise that would last, in various forms, to this day, there was Suginoichi, The Blind Menace. A young actor who’s star was rising a little less speedily than you might, in hindsight, have imagined, took on the role of Suginoichi, a blind masseur who schemes and cleverly manipulates those around him as a skilled hero might... except that he is anything but a hero and his machinations lead him through the paths of theft, extortion, blackmail, rape and murder.

Starting with a number of scenes depicting Suginoichi and his best friend in childhood, the character grows up on a fairly astute transition shot (for the time) and turns into the young actor I mentioned... the not quite yet, but soon to be legendary... Shintarô Katsu.

Katsu, of course, is the man who played Zatoichi for the first 26 of the movies and 100 episodes, too, of the Zatoichi TV show (wish AnimeEigo would release series’ 2 - 4 now). Here is a film role which he throws himself into with relish, studying blind people and utilising that in a performance which is ulitimately very similar to the Zatoichi role he perfected two years later. A kind of cross between a comic, pantomime, almost slapstick, blind man... and with the inner workings betraying a more serious side. In the Zatoichi films that serious side manifests as a warm heart, astonishing hearing and his skill with his sword cane. Here the warm heart is absent and, where that would later develop in Zatoichi, here Suginoichi’s interior is all animal cunning and, again, great skill... not with a sword cane but with his ability to see how any situation can be worked for his own advantage.

Katsu, of course, does this really well and the film was enough of a hit that it inspired the more heroic slant on the character and the Zatoichi series became, of course, popular box office gold, owing no small debt to the lead performer’s lovable and dominating (yet humble) personality, which made him a greater known name in Japan than various iconic Japanese actors who are more famous in the West - the likes of Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Tatsuya Nakadai, for example (three personal favourites, although Katsu’s performances are infectious but, I plan on rewatching and reviewing the entire Zatoichi series next year so... I’ll leave all that until then).

The film is directed by Kazuo Mori, himself a director who would become an old hand on the Zatoichi series of films and, right from the start, with his long tracking sequences and ability to stay with a character in a continuous, fluid shot rather than chop everything into smaller sections, he pulls you in with the way he captures details and the expressions of the performers. The camerawork is typical of this director and this kind of film and it gives an almost voyeuristic feel to it on some level, as things are revealed to the audience which suddenly reveal something more about the clever treachery of the character as he spins his little webs. The character Katsu is playing here is certainly no lovable rogue and his actions are without remorse and unconscionable. He plays the part so well and I was impressed but wonder a little how this performance catapulted him into the other side of the coin with the Zatoichi character. I know I’m bringing with me the baggage of seeing him play the Zatoichi character around about fifty times but audiences at the time didn’t have that luggage to carry with them.

Well, anyway, however it happened, it certainly might not have occurred without the preparatory groundwork Katsu did here with this character... so this is quite an important movie.

Fans of chambera might not neccessarily be drawn to this movie. Certainly, it’s not an action picture and has none of the poetic choreography of violence that, say, a Sleepy Eyes Of Death movie might have. Nor does it allign itself with the brutal, naturalistic view of a Kurosawa period piece either. What it does have, however, is a group of very good actors, the almost but not quite over-the-top personality of Shintarô Katsu and a fiendish dose of high cynicism running through the picture like a tainted vein. This is the kind of character that Zatoichi might have been when he was a young yakuza but it’s much harder to imagine Ichi as a ruthless plotter who takes no prisoners... however, when Katsu puts his mind to it, nothing seems unbelievable for too long... with such a talented individual committed to making you believe in him.

And that’s about it on The Blind Menace, I think. For some reason, although I liked the movie a lot, I am struggling to pinpoint exactly why. Perhaps it’s the near perfect tone achieved in the film that I found so arreeable but, whatever it is, it’s certainly got a strong recomendation from me. If you’re a fan of Katsu and especially his role in the Zatoichi movies, then you really owe it to yourself to check this one out. If you’re not familiar with the great man’s works then this is a fine first in the world of the blind masseur, a role which Katsu would cherish and perfect for almost three decades. This is where it begins...

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Die Another Day

Frosty Reception

Die Another Day
2002 UK/USA
Directed by Lee Tamahori
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C

I looked at this again the other week and thought to myself, once more, that it was such a shame that the remarkable Bond actor Pierce Brosnan had to exit the series with such a terrible movie. I am looking back on it now and I’m still stunned as to why half of the decisions on this film were made.

Okay, so lets get started on this mess.

Unlike the previous three Brosnan films, all of which had very strong pre-credits sequences, Die Another Day starts off with what seems to me like an overly dull, couldn’t-care-less series of action sequences, ultimately involving hovercrafts in a jungle setting. It still doesn’t hold my interest and as Bond is caught by his enemies at the end of this sequence (which is a first for the series I think), we go into a truly nasty opening credits sequence which actually functions as part of the narrative (again a first) and tells the story of Bond being tortured for over a year. It’s kinda ugly and, well, kinda unremarkable really. And just to add insult to injury, there’s an opening song by Madonna with truly unhelpful sound dropouts (done deliberately) which is okay, perhaps, as a song in its own right, but truly not really a Bond song. I don’t know what they were thinking when they accepted this as their song on the film but I don’t think the good of the movie came into it. Probably more about dollars and pounds.

This was the 40th anniversary film for the series and there are a lot of references to Bond’s past movie exploits in it, but it all seems to have been put together in a really clumsy manner and it seems more about getting everything in than truly paying homage to the film’s distinguished ancestry. They even throw in the ornithology book that Ian Fleming looked at to get the name of his super spy but, they’re not exactly subtle in doing it.

Everything about this film seems unbelievably over the top and, even the one saving grace of a fine set of actors doing their best with the material they have, does not go nearly far enough towards saving this picture. Even Brosnan himself, still completely in character, has to deliver lines of dialogue which are really just a big long series of polished one-liners. The dialogue and sexual innuendo had been creeping up quite a lot in the last couple of films but they still kept it to manageable and somewhat Bondian levels. Here they over indulge themselves and the consequence is that you can’t take anything anyone says with any degree of seriousness. It’s all just a knowing quip as far as the script goes.

The thing which really helps ruin this film, though, is the over the top science fiction aspect to it. There’s often been an element of sci-fi in Bond but in this one he has an invisible car. I’ll say that again so you can let that meander around in your brain for a while and figure out a reaction...

Bond has an invisible car!

Yeah, I know, I know. It’s all based on stealth technology, I’m sure, but I really don’t think this has a place here and the special effects are such that you really can’t see the thing. Seriously, whether this stuff was in the realms of possibility or not at the time, the inclusion of this kind element just knocks the film’s credibility for six and really doesn’t do it any favours. He’s not Wonder Woman with her invisible jet... he’s James Bond.  And, by the way, an invisible jet is easy to get away with when you’re a character existing in a world which allows for both men and Gods. Here it’s all scientified and, basically, just mocks itself.

And, of course, in addition to this... Bond can stop his heart at will.

No seriously. Want me to repeat that one too?

Bond can stop his own heart just by thinking about it.

He uses this technique to create a distraction when he’s trying to escape his own people. But it’s preposterous... and it’s not how it should be. He’s not Derek Flint. Derek Flint was a spoof character and, as such, can live in a world where he is so far advanced he can stop his own heart. James Bond is not that character and it’s yet another blow to the believability of this movie. I really don’t know why the writers and producers thought they could get away with this stuff. I remember coming home from the cinema at the time and thinking, “Wow. I’d almost rather be watching Octopussy than that.” Seriously, it is that bad.

Which is a shame really because there’s a lot of talent both on and off the screen in this one but... they just can’t conquer a preposterous script, I’m afraid. And I really could have done without the terrible joke scene near the end were it appears Bond and Miss Moneypenny are finally “getting it on”. Awful, embarrassing stuff.

Of course, one of the main talents in the crew is composer David Arnold, who really knocked it out of the park with some of the best music in the Bond series in the last two films. Here, he really does try but the music seems a little less stimulating than before and even though he throws the Bond Is Back musical phrase in there and also the famous bass line from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the music is mostly a dull affair and this is reflected in the compact disc stand alone listen too, as far as I’m concerned.

And that’s about it, I’m afraid. I really haven’t got a whole lot left to say about this one. Die Another Day is a terrible Bond movie and both Brosnan and his audience deserved much better than this shabby treatment. One to avoid if you want to remember Brosnan as one of the better Bond actors.

EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2