Sunday, 14 August 2011

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #20

Delinquent Girl Boss: Blossoming Night Dreams (1970 - Kazuhiko Yamaguchi) - How about that title, eh? Doesn't it convey all the elements of a typical Pinky Violence film? Prison, girls, gangs, girls, violence, naked girls, sex. It should all come together in one stylish, genre-defining romp, shouldn't it? Well, not so fast...Oh, it's stylish all right and has many young ladies in prison and in gangs (even better - in prison gangs!), but there's something missing. It's not just that the level of nudity and bloodshed has been tamed to a PG level for most of its running time, but it certainly shows the lengths that this film was willing to go to when a shower scene conveniently places each girl in positions that provide coverage. The violence amps up towards the end of the film, but until that time it's mostly slapping fights or poorly faked tussles. The best the genre has to offer has fun with pushing the boundaries, but this delinquent girl boss never quite reaches those edges. Fortunately, the movie is still somewhat fun because of some performances and its gorgeous style, but not quite as consistently as it should be.

La Bataille Du Rail (1946 - Rene Clement) - Thought those train crashes in "Lawrence Of Arabia", "The General" and "Bridge On The River Kwai" were pretty awesome because of the fact they actually crashed real trains? Well you're right. And now there's another film to add to that list: Clement's almost documentary-like take on the French Resistance struggle against the Germans via the railway system. "La Bataille Du Rail" ("The Battle Of The Rails") shows how a core set of resistance fighters work on the railyards and lines chipping away at the German plans by delaying trains, helping people escape, passing messages along, etc. As the Germans make several final efforts to bring forth some major artillery, the various team members pull together to risk everything to stop its passage. The derailment of one of the trains makes for a spectacular moment as it careens off the tracks and spills its military payload indiscriminately over the countryside. As devastating a crash as it is, it's less jarring then you might think because of Clement's very neo-realist approach to the making of the film using many non-professional actors and avoiding sets. It stays away from the melodrama and lets the situations themselves build the tension. Made shortly after the war had ended, it feels like an important document of the Resistance's role. Not to mention a riveting watch.

Caliber 9 (1972 - Fernando Di Leo) - It's a bit pointless to walk you through the plot points of this early-70s Italian crime romp of a film. It's stylish (throwing in all manner of camera angles), quite broad in its acting, sloppy in its voice dubbing (even the Italian dubbing) and occasionally quite brutal. It's also a whole heck of a lot of fun. It's not that the plot doesn't go anywhere - it's pretty creative in how it surprises you as both a gang and the cops try to figure out whether Ugo, recently released from prison, actually hid a large sum of money before being sent away - it's just that it falls secondary to everything else (even the sets). It's hard to describe Ugo (or anyone else in the film for that matter) as a protagonist since he stays grim faced throughout the story and is essentially an anti-hero. The cops, for their part, are too busy arguing political platforms and ideologies to allow us to warm to them. It's not difficult to warm to Barbara Bouchet though - the stunning blonde actress plays Ugo's girlfriend and plays the role in a way that keeps open the question about whether she is a femme fatale or not. I'm looking forward to diving into the rest of the recent Fernando Di Leo set (4 films from his 70s crime film era) and hopefully discover more solid genre work.

With A Friend Like Harry (2000 - Dominik Moll) - Initially I picked this film up off the shelf of my local video store on a total whim and thought it would make a good entry to my Goin' In Blind series. As it turns out, I already had the title on my Movies To See list and remembered it in conjunction with the people who spoke its praises, so I was forced to disqualify it...It's easy to see why I might have jotted it down on my list, though, as it contains a great deal to recommend. First of all, it's quite the tight little thriller as it builds from the early moments of two old friends "running into" each other towards one of them slowly but surely inserting themselves into the other's life. Secondly, it goes to some dark places and plays with our deepest thoughts about our loved ones. Thirdly, it's a great looking film as director Dominik Moll uses just about every colour in the rainbow to decorate the rooms of the various locations and chooses his lighting setups very carefully. A terrific surprise and highly enjoyable slow-building thriller.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

With Magnificence

I can just imagine the scene...

A busy Takashi Miike is summoned to the high reaches of an office tower and strides purposefully into a boardroom. Japanese and UK producers sit around a long oval table, eyes fixed on the director of some 80 titles in a mere 20 years.

Miike is respectful, but feels out of place in the offices of rigid studio filmmaking. He stands quietly until he is addressed by the head of Toho studios:

"Modern day audiences want nothing more than love stories, j-pop and schoolgirls. We need your help to bring us back to the halycon days of samurai films by the legendary directors of this great country."

"I'd love to help", says Miike, "but I've got 17 films in the pipeline. Then I need to figure out what I'm doing next year."

"Perhaps you don't understand the severity of the problem...". The Toho producer's voice trails off as he starts a short video showing scene after scene of young adults and teenagers from around the world talking about rom coms and teen idol showcases. Miike winces, but stands firm. Until, that is, he hears one young man say:

"Yeah, samurai films are OK, I guess, but they aren't really action films. Not like Michael Bay!"

He bows his head, pauses to gather his thoughts, then raises his eyes to look straight at the man from Toho and says:

"I will accomplish your wish..."

"...with magnificence."

And boy-howdy did he ever with "13 Assassins":

I didn't even have to take any screenshots from the final half hour of the film...