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Features Live Action Movies

Mother Night

Director – Keith Gordon – 1996 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

*****

In this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a former Nazi propagandist awaits trial in Israel for war crimes – retail VHS review from Home Entertainment, 1997

From his Israeli prison cell where he must compose his memoirs while awaiting trial for his war crimes in black and white, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte in a career-defining performance) recalls in colour flashback his rise to fame in wartime Berlin as a radio propaganda writer/broadcaster for the Third Reich, surviving that regime’s madness by devoting himself to actress wife Helga (Sheryl Lee) and their self-contained Nation Of Two.

Recruited from a park as an undercover American spy by raincoat‑wearing American top brass John Goodman (a small part, but likewise impressive), Campbell has to incorporate coded messages to the Allies in his broadcasts. In 1944, Helga dies. After the War, Campbell winds up alone in a seedy New York apartment where neighbours include fellow widower Alan Arkin and Auschwitz survivor‑turned‑doctor Ayre Gross.

When admiring right wing activists arrive at Campbell’s door, the tale (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) lurches even further into surrealism. Gordon’s direction is flawless throughout.

SOUND Ironically bookended by White Christmas, the sparse but subtle surround mix manages two highly effective moments (the very start, the very end) that work as emotional punctuation marks.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Ran (乱)

Director – Akira Kurosawa – 1985 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 162m

*****

This spectacular samurai period epic is currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

The following review originally appeared in Funimation UK. It was published to coincide with the film’s 2016 restoration. Stray Dog, Rashomon, Yojimbo, I Live In Fear, The Hidden Fortress, Throne Of Blood, The Lower Depths and High And Low, all of which are in the current season’s 22, also get a mention. As does Kagemusha which, curiously, isn’t.

Jeremy Clarke on Akira Kurosawa’s live action epic.

Ran is Akira Kurosawa’s remarkable 1985 free adaptation of King Lear, rereleased in cinemas worldwide in 2016 on the back of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

More than any other Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) is responsible for bringing that country’s movies to the attention of international audiences. His first big exposure abroad came with the jidaigeki or period drama Rashomon (1950) which dramatised the story of a rape victim from different, successive character viewpoints.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Mad Fox a.k.a. Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (Koiya Koi Nasuna Koi)

Director – Tomu Uchida – 1962 – Japan – Cert. PG – 109m

*****

I review The Mad Fox for All The Anime.

The second Tomu Uchida film to receive a Blu-ray release after the black and white Bloody Spear At Mount Fuji (1955) is the colour The Mad Fox a.k.a. Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (1962). This extraordinary and arresting Heian period (794-1185) fantasy drama involves an astrologer, his adopted daughter, her wicked stepmother, the two women’s lovers, the daughter’s identical twin sister and a family of shape-shifting fox spirits. Contrasting heavily with the earlier samurai road movie using Mount Fuji as an excuse to block a road for a picnic, The Mad Fox again invokes the iconic volcano in a far more active role as it threatens to erupt, presaging a time of great chaos. The film, meanwhile, makes judicious use of Toei’s animation wing, lending out staff to provide integrated effects.

The opening five minutes sets the tone, via a lengthy voice-over detailing the plot’s setup to a calm, tranquil music score, while a scroll is unrolled and the camera pans steadily along its portrayed landscape.

I review The Mad Fox for All The Anime.

Trailer:

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Dance Features Live Action Movies

Climax

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2018 – France – Cert. 18 – 97m

*****

Uppers and downers – either way blood flows. Arthouse enfant terrible Noé combines technical skill and singular focus with some of the most spectacular dancing ever put on film to produce a dark and challenging vision of hell on earth – now available on VoD

Cinema at its purest. Bright white on a screen. A woman starts crawling from the top of the screen. Extreme audience disorientation. We realise she’s crawling through snow. She appears to be in a bad way. Traces of blood. The camera follows her forward movement down the screen. Slowly a tree comes into shot from the bottom. We are watching the same overhead camera movement.

A series of vox pops on a television screen with shelves of books on one side and piles of DVDs on the other. Dancers answer questions on why dance is important to them. Would they do anything in order to make it big? What would they do if they weren’t able to dance?

Then the narrative proper begins. It’s 1996. We’re inside a building with a dance floor watching the most amazing dance routines we’ve ever seen.… Read the rest