Friday, 26 March 2010

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #15

Not that the new title of these posts sings, but anything is better than the rather lame "Random Notes" which I'd been using as a placeholder.

Bronson (2008 - Nicolas Winding Refn) - A strange, dream-like, hazy portrait of the violent criminal who has bounced around inside Britain's jail system for decades and goes by the name of Charles Bronson. Refn brings some odd stylistic devices to the film allowing Bronson (a no holds barred performance by Tom Hardy) to speak directly to two audiences - one is a theatre going crowd who are watching a one man show of Bronson recollecting his prison experiences and the other is the audience watching the film. There's some great ideas and individual scenes, but it never really delivers a consistent level of interest and bogs itself down in Bronson's own retelling of his experiences and state of mind. It does manage to sit comfortably between Refn's "Pusher" trilogy (handheld features that gradually become more intense as the series goes on) and his most recent "Valhalla Rising" which is from a completely different time, place and possibly universe (and is best experienced in a half-conscious state).

Love Letter (1995 - Shunji Iwai) - Director Iwai is more famous for 2001's "All About Lily Chou-Chou" and also helmed one of the short segments of the recent omnibus film "New York, I Love You", but he shows a sure hand right out of the gate with 1995's "Love Letter". Though initially you aren't completely sure who is who, what happened in the past and why two different characters look remarkably similar, there's something about Iwai's scenes and pace that give you that comfortable feeling that everything will fall into place. And it does. Just enough information is provided to keep you involved from scene to scene until you are firmly engaged and pleasantly surprised at each new turn. He uses many parallels between the stories (occasionally it's a bit too coincidental in nature, but that tends to work fine in good melodrama) - not just in events or characters, but also when cutting between them by matching similar actions. Iwai also takes advantage of some lovely snowy and wintry landscapes in Northern Japan and films everything with a soft focus that seems to emphasize the melancholic aspects of the story. Of course, with story elements such as these (the ex-fiancee of a deceased young man begins to corresponds with a former schoolmate of his and discovers that maybe this other woman was his real true love), it would be easy to fall into over the top melodrama. Fortunately Iwai is able to pull it back enough to let the melodrama work. The music occasionally threatens to overwhelm, but Miho Nakayama pulls things off effortlessly in her dual role - not only does she play the more emotional moments with fine subtlety, but she also manages to make her two characters quite distinct. It's not just the clothing and hairstyles that distinguish them, but also mannerisms, expressions and ways of communicating. "Love Letter" is a lovely, bittersweet film that manages to show that there is always the chance to change your life or start one anew. It might be an occasionally painful ride, but if you can manage some hope - even from unlikely sources or coincidences - you've got a chance to get to where you want to be.

Orpheus (1949 - Jean Cocteau) - What a feast for the senses...I guess that goes for all his films I've seen, but this seems to be the perfect blend of the surreal with a classic story. I must admit I'm not overly familiar with the tale of Orpheus (knowing it only superficially until I saw "Black Orpheus" several years ago), so I'm not sure if the real character was as much of a jackass as the one in this telling is. I mean, the guy is really a doofus. It fits with the story, though, which works through the notion of fate already having decided everyone's path and uses overly emotional reactions, slightly stilted ways of speaking and visuals that really jump out at you. Cocteau uses a whole bag of tricks to create some wonderful effects. Whether it's the oddly overexposed horizon as a car enters an estate, the reversed footage when someone falls up, a character walking in front of another who is projected behind him, quick edits that hide the appearance/disappearance of characters, etc., I find them so much more intriguing and even awe-inspiring than if they had been done with computerized visual effects and made to look seamless. Old school filmmaking baby!

Four-Sided Triangle (1953 - Terence Fisher) - A nifty sci-fi concept told in a solid matter of fact way, but it never quite reaches for anything more - not in its approach, not in its consequences, not even in its style. With the great Hammer Horror director Terence Fisher manning the helm, I was hoping for a bit more atmosphere thrown into the whole enterprise, but it was relatively tame. Not bad mind you, not at all - just tame. Two old friends finally create their great invention which allows them to make a perfect copy of anything. The genius of the duo isn't content with duplicating inanimate objects though. Especially when he realizes that there's two of them, but only one of the woman they both love. Though there's some great stuff here (in particular anything inside their lab with all the blinking lights, dials, and tubes of liquids), it waits a bit long to get to the crux of the plot and doesn't quite run with the good concepts and ideas that spring up. Fisher still puts together some mighty good looking scenes though.

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