Tuesday, 12 December 2017

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: ANCIEN AND THE MAGIC TABLET

 
6/10

Kokone lives parallel lives. When she is awake she is a high school student, who is getting ready for her exams and making the next big step in her life. When she is asleep she is a magical princess, Ancien, who can make any wish come true by typing them into her magical tablet. When these two worlds collide, family secrets are revealed and the past comes knocking at her door.  Kokone has to reconcile her two worlds, and find the place where she truly belongs.

This is first feature length theatrical film of Kenji Kamiyama, who came from directing many TV anime, his previous works being Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East. He worked as a character designer for many projects, and has a unique, recognisable style. His storytelling, however, can be confusing for the unprepared. In a long running series there is plenty of time to fill in the gaps, in a single feature things unexplained can create confusion.

Switching between the real and the magical worlds the story often jumps forward, leaving things unresolved in both realms, just like an impatient reader would skip through pages, missing out important details. The other problem is the target audience. In the movie theatre beside me sat a woman with two kids. The five year old was bored to sobs and the thirteen year old was only vaguely interested. Despite the characters being high school and university students there is too much kindergarten grade magic involved. Wouldn’t a young adult have better things to do than chasing magic tablets and roaming around in a flying motorcycle a la Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

The film is beautifully executed with the characters perfectly fleshed out. But while being incredibly entertaining it struggles with its identity - whether to be a low key family drama or an action blockbuster. The ending throws at you giant robots, Godzilla type monsters and massive destructions. And the finale is too sugar coated and far fetched to be satisfying. 

Boasting great production values and delivering very well written characters ANCIEN’s narrative is too inconsistent and too predictable to be involving.  Catering for a broader audience, the over the top ending, with no high stakes at hand, delivers to no one, making it just another well produced and expensive, but an average anime film.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: RAGE



9/10

A suspect in a double homicide is on the run. Police knows his identity, but it seems the man they are looking for has undergone extensive facial surgery and has changed his name. With the storytelling split between three suspects we get a charismatic hitchhiker, a dock worker and a gay man, all with mysterious pasts… but the story is not about them, it's about people beside them. Three tales of love, suspicion and mistrust. And murder, of course.

Based on a successful novel, RAGE is a perfectly structured piece of work. The only connection between the three sets of characters is the murder we are introduced to in the beginning. There is a father played by Ken Watanabe, who will do anything to save his daughter from her shameful past, but can any man truly love her unless he has something to hide?

A successful businessman hiding his gay persona  is reluctant to fall seriously  in love, but when a mysterious stranger comes along he struggles with trust issues. Will he be able to overcome them and accept who he really is?

And a young boy entrusts his newfound friend with a terrible secret. Is a betrayal of trust, by a friend, more hurtful than the one of a lover? And with what consequences?

It is amazing how a simple murder mystery can bring together so many dramatic elements, so many characters and feel so complete at the same time. What can be achieved in a novel often cannot be translated on to the screen, for many reasons; the short running time is one of them. This is why quality TV nowadays feels at times more satisfying than a film. RAGE has a superb script that divides attention equally between its many characters. There are some fantastic performances on display, many from the acting ensemble  have been nominated for prestigious movie awards. RAGE is hard to watch at times because of some disturbing sequences; it can also be manipulative, throwing melodrama at you, but all is properly measured and is never over the top. 

This is a thinking persons’ movie that succeeds in highlighting serious issues and delivering first class entertainment at the same time. Would you be quicker to accept that the one close to you is a dangerous psychopath, than fully trust him?  RAGE can be a very personal film. I was deeply touched by it, so will you be. 

Monday, 4 December 2017

JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL: GUKOROKU TRACES OF SIN



8/10

Tanaka and Mitsuko are brother and sister who are trying to reconcile their terrible past. When Mitsuko is imprisoned for neglecting her baby daughter, Tanaka throws himself into the investigation of a terrifying murder case. A family of three has been slaughtered a year ago and the culprit is still at large. Interviewing one person after another, looking for a hidden clue that could be a motive for the murder, Tanaka slowly but gradually approaches the terrifying truth...

TRACES OF SIN is a labyrinthine movie that examines many characters who represent many levels of the social ladder in Japanese society. Focusing on the lives of the outcasts and the choices they have to make to adapt, the story slowly unravels the motives behind the crime, leading to some spectacular revelations. 

There could have been much gore in the film, but the filmmakers have chosen to “tell” rather than “to show”, focusing on the characters’ emotions instead. This creates far more unsettling moments than buckets of blood ever could.

On the acting front, Satoshi Tsumabuki’s performance of the damaged and secretive Tanaka carries the film forward and serves as a link between the many storylines and flashbacks of the movie. 

TRACES OF SIN is a typically Japanese dramatic storytelling, devoid of action, a slow burner and it takes all your attention to put the pieces together. The film requires concentration and will benefit from multiple viewings, although the slowness with which the story is unfolding may turn away some viewers. Not all the answers are given in the end, but it is an ending that delivers multiple twists that are well worth the time.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

JAPANESE FESTIVAL REVIEW: THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE


8/10


In a city of 10 million people Mika and Shinji keep on stumbling into each other. Is it fate or one of the meaningless coincidences of life? Mika is suffering from internal pain over the suicide of her mother and is obsessed with death. Shinji can barely see with his left eye and it gives him the impression that he can only see and discover half of the world. Can these two “damaged”people make each other complete? 

Director Yuya Ishii has based this movie on a poem, telling the story of two different people who do not belong anywhere. The film is a vivid portrait of modern Tokyo, it is shown as a place of isolation, where even in the midst of a crowd, one’s individuality dissolves. For the characters of the film it is both a terrifying and a liberating feeling.

During Q&A Ishii said that the first focus while working on the film was the sound, which is crucial to his work. In TOKYO images come first. They naturally transition into one another, and the short animated sequences are designed to throw you off balance and mark the conclusions and beginnings of the story parts.

The movie has many elements and ideas, some of them come to a resolution, some of them are just thrown into the mix, but the final result is a somewhat surreal painting, not just of Tokyo,  but of the modern world where the individual is exposed to too much tragedy and struggles to cope with everyday life. 

Mika and Shinji are one of a kind.  What they are both lacking is replenished by their humanity and their extreme sensitivity to the world. And even though both of them hate Tokyo no one understands it better than they do.

TOKYO is not your typical romantic movie. It does not flinch from the darker sides of life that are usually invisible to the naked eye. Dealing with themes of loneliness, death and isolation makes it one of a kind; a strangely uplifting love story.

Yuya Ishii during Q&A after the screening at ACMI,
Melbourne 26/11/2017

Monday, 27 November 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER




7/10


Steven has everything a man could aspire to - he is a successful surgeon, is rich and he has a beautiful wife and two children. But when he strikes an odd friendship with the young son of one of his patients things quickly spin out of control, leading to terrifying results.

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is an eerie piece of cinema that is designed to shock, and when you think you get over it, it throws you off balance once more. 

It starts as a few awkward scenes between an older man and a young boy and, although their conversations seems quite innocent, it is easy to imagine the worst. Needless to say that where it’s all going will challenge expectations. 

Director Yorgos Lanthimos applies his signature style of dialogue, previously seen in his feature LOBSTER. It is intentionally detached and expressionless, but somehow it makes the viewer pay closer attention. The way the characters deliver their lines creates a dreamlike atmosphere, similar to the dark fairy tale world of The Brothers Grimm. 

All the performances are impeccable, but Nicole Kidman is a standout in the role of a pragmatic wife whose maternal instincts easily take a backseat when the circumstances require it. 

The movie gradually builds the atmosphere of subliminal terror until the gut-wrenching finale, which leaves you out of breath, but is ultimately satisfying. Some films project the light by visiting the darkest places. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is such a film.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: JIGSAW


7/10

The city morgue is flooded with new victims. A blood sample of a famous serial killer nicknamed Jigsaw is found under the fingernails of one of the corpses. While the law enforcement officers  are trying to cope with the idea that John Kramer came back from the dead, five people are fighting for their lives in one of the JIGSAW traps. Who is the new killer and who will survive?

If it’s Halloween it must be Saw. For seven years I had seen a Saw movie on the first day of its release, and this time wasn’t an exception. JIGSAW is the 8th instalment in the series that boasts extreme violence and promises a great final twist. The new chapter does not disappoint.

If you were hoping for a breath of fresh air for the franchise, JIGSAW will not deliver that for you, but it is a solid SAW movie the way some remember them. The gore is turned down a notch, and is shot with style. I personally believe that what you don’t see usually leaves a more lasting impression as one's imagination works overtime. 

As in many previous chapters before it, JIGSAW is a puzzle within a puzzle. One refers to the mystery of the five men involved in the JIGSAW game (this time it focuses on their whereabouts) and the second is the identity of the new JIGSAW killer. The film plays with the idea that John Kramer could have come back and goes quite far with  this premise, to say more would be to spoil the twist.

The final revelation is simple but elegant. It is not completely unexpected but trust me, even if you figure out part of the mystery, you will not get everything before the end.


The reliable score of Charles Clouser is a delight and will make great stand alone listening. Spierig Brothers had made a very wholesome SAW movie. It does not defy expectations but delivers on all fronts.

Monday, 25 September 2017

KOREAN MOVIE REVIEW: MEMOIR OF A MURDERER


8/10

Byung-su is an elderly veterinarian who has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He has a caring daughter who does all she can to make his life easier, and a policemen friend whose name Byung-su forgets from time to time. He also goes to a poetry club (in order to keep his mind exercised) where a lonely widow makes advances at him. But there’s one thing that sets Byung-su apart from the other senior citizens of his little town – he is a serial killer. 

When a new wave of killings begin Byung-su starts to suspect that a young man who is dating his daughter is the culprit. Trying to keep the remains of his memories together Byung-su writes extensive journals. But what if his memories are actually real? Losing his grip on reality he goes head to head with the new serial killer in order to protect the only life he cares about in the world – his daughter’s.

Before Dexter came around Koreans had excelled in creating charismatic killers as protagonists of the films  (“Sympathy for the Devil” probably being the most famous example), but there’s little to like in our hero of “MEMOIR OF A MURDERER”. But his current goal is a noble one, thus begins the labyrinthine tale of murder and revenge, as the two “professional” killers try to out-do and out-smart each other, constantly putting  doubt into the viewer’s mind - what is real or what is the product of imagination of Byung-su’s broken psyche?

Based on a bestselling novel in South Korea MEMOIR OF A MURDERER boasts a solid plot, a complicated protagonist and some great performances. Whilst the identity of the killer is always in the open, the movie is cleverly playing with the impact that Byung-su’s illness has on the story, and watching him slipping in and out of dementia in the most crucial moment of the storytelling is both frustrating and terrifying.


The movie’s atmosphere of a sleepy country town, constantly wrapped in fog, creates a perfect sense of danger. The grand finale is a bloodbath and the ending, typical for Korean films (and the reason for me loving them so much), slips into a pure melodrama, with a few genuinely touching, sentimental moments.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

MOVIE REVIEW: mother!



8/10

A husband and wife live as recluses in an old house in the middle of the nowhere. He is fighting his writing block, she is redecorating the house. Time moves slowly, until, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door.

mother! was advertised as a horror movie, boasting a similar premise to Rosemary’s Baby, with a deranged husband and the sect that invade their private life. In fact mother! is something else entirely.

The film’s intriguing beginning immediately suggests it has a touch of the supernatural, but when a strange man (Ed Harris) enters the house in the middle of the night it moves into all too familiar home invasion movie territory. When the intruder’s chatty and not so classy wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up on the front porch the next day things get darkly interesting. As the second half of the film kicks in, it becomes obvious where things are going. From that point on the movie's supposed unpredictability becomes its greatest flaw.

The film has fantastic performances. Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer (seeing her in a new role is particularly great!)  are all in top form. The emotions they are trying to convey are easy to relate to, but it is hard to place them in the context of the plot. There are so many elements in the film that mean or, maybe, don’t mean anything, that pop up into your head long after the credits roll. But as soon as you work out the main idea behind the plot you start figuring out the little clues and it’s a fun game to play. mother! is a film that keeps on giving. And unlike some of David Lynch’s movies there is a structure and a point to it all.

mother!, however, is more frustrating than fascinating, especially for those who came to see a horror film. It is provocative rather than thought provoking. At some point Arnofsky throws the plot-writing manual out of the window, but the disappointment comes when we realize the story he is telling is far too conventional.

I will finish with a riddle:
mother! is not a horror movie, but it is based on the scariest book ever written. It is an international bestseller. I will even give you another clue: it is not written by Stephen King! 

If you solve this riddle you will know the secret of mother!