Trailer for New Refn!!!!!!!!!

I watched the trailer for The Neon Demon, three times back to back. Initial thoughts: YES! I have followed the story of this film from day one and it has gone through many ups and downs so the fact that it finally got picked up, by Amazon Studios (didn’t see that coming), is awesome and I am hugely excited it is coming to theaters.

So time to speculate! Right out of the gate I am getting more of a Pusher/ OGF vibe from this trailer. I think it will be more dialogue and character driven than maybe his last two outings, but I think the amount of explanation and “story” we get will be limited. I am fully expecting his trademark brilliant cinematography, and for this to be a wild, trippy, and intense ride. I did notice the trailer showed us no Keanu Reeves, and I know he is in the film so still interested to see his character.

Refn has always had a focus and fascination/fear/complication with women, we saw this really come out in OGF, and it looks like he is continuing down this path. I am all for this film based on the trailer alone, well that’s a lie; I am a Refn fan, and I was gonna see this no matter what the trailer looked like.

The Brood Discussion

I call this one a discussion, but there are only minor spoiler elements, although some do exist, in other words if you haven’t seen the movie you may want to hold off if you want everything to be a surprise. I do not go into huge detail about plot elements, but there are a few things mentioned you may want to see for yourself.

I am an avid fan of anything David Cronenberg makes, and I have no reservations in stating that fact. I own all the Cronenberg Criterion editions except Dead Ringers, and that is only because it is out of print. I do own most of his movies and they sit on my shelf, and are a constant re-watch in my wheel house. Needless to say I was excited for The Brood to be released by criterion because I have never seen it; plus, it was a new Cronenberg film to me! It did not disappoint. Watching it for the first time in 2016 did not seem out of place because start to finish I could tell it was a Cronenberg and the finale was perfect; the right amount of horror, blood, disgust, murder, and a last scene haunting visual that leaves you uncomfortable. If you are a fan of his work then this is an edition that is worth your dollars, however if you are new to his films this will be a tough place for you to start, but it won’t be insurmountable.

The main thing I took away from watching The Brood is that I could truly tell this was Cronenberg unrestrained and in his youth. This is not to say he has lost his touch, but time and ageing are inevitable, and his recent films surely pack a punch, but he has somewhat moved away from the horror genre, and delved into more dramatic territory. This film however, is full of the blood, shock, and terror that a young Cronenberg could only deliver; and it was 92 minutes of some of his best. Inevitably it will be overshadowed by his later and more popular films like Scanners and Videodrome, and in some respects rightly so, but to those that really appreciate his talents, this is a must watch gem.

Now to talk about the nitty gritty; and this film has some very gritty elements, and I mean that as a positive. The story behind The Brood and the time in his career in which it took place is just as important as the film itself. He made a few full length features before this film as an underground film maker and one of them is included on the criterion edition, worth your time by the way, and then he made two feature length films which got major release and recognition and helped establish him as an artist. Then The Brood came, a film that was made and produced in Canada, released in Canada and the U.S. and received mediocre box office success, but on video release massed a huge cult following. It also took place in the life of the director as he himself was dealing with divorce and custody battles. Cronenberg has said it is one of his most personal films because of the subject manner and time in his life in which it took place, and all of that comes to screen in the best way possible. It also was made in a time when the director and production team had very little cash, so there is a large amount of very impressive camera and lighting work. Some of the best ideas and tricks in film were a product of the limitations of the time and budget, and you can tell by the time the crew that filmed Shivers and Rabid got to The Brood, they had their tricks refined. Take your time with the night time scenes, as well as the overhead camera angles in the parent’s house, the ingenuity is awesome.

Many of Cronenberg’s films are not the easiest to watch; and many attribute this to the horror, blood, disfigurement, and shock, and those elements are not miscounted, as The Brood has the moments; to me the uneasiness of this film comes from the father. He is a character which never has a real moment of peace, as something is always getting taken out of his hands, or another horrible development is taking place in his unfortunate story. Even the opening scene is one that is full of confrontation, doubt, worry, and sets the tone for the state of the character for the rest of the film. His Journey does not end as the credits roll, and this works as a story element but also keeps the viewer thinking about the film.

The doctor is one that, like in many other Cronenberg stories, falls victim to his own work; and it ultimately takes his life. I personally do not see his work as genuine; I think his efforts were to satisfy some desire the character had, which he masked by his semi-professional nature. What lead me to this conclusion in large, was the acting of Oliver Reed. He was absolutely perfect for the roll, and I think his careful nuanced delivery kept the motivation of the character hidden, and laid the ground work for viewers to question his methods. The main character is the one who gets the least screen time of our trio, and that is the mother, expertly played by Ms. Samantha Eggar. It is a known fact that if you run your whole life you may have knee or hip problems, if you stress everyday your hair may fall out, if you lift weights you run the risk of joint and tendon problems; the point is physical actions take a quantifiable toll on our body. This film explores, and many other Cronenberg films do as well, the physical actions on our bodies that are the direct result of emotional, or mental actions. The idea that the mother’s anger was so strong, that it did not from as simple boils, but full formed humanoids that embodied her conscious and subconscious anger is simply genius. It is one of the most original and may be my favorite idea Cronenberg has had, and the birthing scene in the finale, one of the few times I remember looking away from the screen and cringing, glorious!

To bring this thing full circle: if you are a new Cronenberg film buff, start with a different movie, Scanners or some of his later work, however if you are a longtime fan and have not seen this movie, make it a priority.  It is easy to tell it is early in his career and that benefits the film hugely, because he is subtler but also does not hold back, it is raw and youthful. The personal nature of the film and the connection it has to Cronenberg himself is evident, as some of the dialogue and scenes are laser focused on the turmoil of divorce. The one main critique I have of the film is that I want more; I am not done with the story or the concept, and who knows maybe one day he will do a follow up and we will get to see little Candice grown up as a mother on her own strange and special journey.

The Revenant Film Review

The Revenant Film Review

                This is spoiler free, so if you have yet to see this movie you can read this without any story elements being ruined for you.

The Revenant truly shows the power and mass a film can have; and it shows the brute force, hit you in your stomach, kind of punch a film that this damn near perfect can deliver. To start the film is downright beautiful. The shots of nature are amazing and Emmanuel Lubezki should win the Oscar for cinematography hands down. Not only does he put onto film some gorgeous shots of Canada and South America, his framing, movement speed, focus, and perception are all without fault. In a way a big part of the film is what you see, the setting and immersing yourself in this world makes the film that much more potent, and Lubezki does a flawless job.

If you have seen the trailers you have seen all you need to know about the story, although there are definitely some surprises along the way that have not been ruined by the trailers, and I will not ruin them here, but be prepared. The film works so well because in my mind it has three key winning factors. The first being the acting, which I will save for last. The second is the battle of nature and survival; and the final part is the battle each of the character’s fight within themselves.

Nature is a huge part of the film. From the bear attack to the blistering snow and ice. All I will say about the bear attack is that the squeamish should look away, and that you are simply not prepared; it is unlike anything I have ever seen. The film does not show nature as a huge goliath or force to be reckoned with, it is simply there. Not in a boring or forgetful manner, but in an apathetic and removed state. This is not some great battle of man versus nature where nature is throwing everything it has at one man and he has to fight to survive! No this is a cold, unfeeling, realistic natural depiction of the dangers of nature. When you are in a speeding river and coming up on rapids, you do not have time to think or dodge rock; you smash into them and nearly drown. Blizzards are not proceeded by ominous dark clouds giving you time to retreat to shelter, no they come with almost unnatural speed and disperse any sense of warmth, direction, and safety you may have had. Fire is a means of survival, killing and eating animals without taking the time to cook them; that is what it takes to survive in nature. Pushing your notions about what you will do to live on, and what you are capable of to take one more breath.

Both of the characters Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio play have similar struggles and in the end they even have the same goal: to survive. They are both on a journey that will test their limits and they even have to make the same decision: how much of their humanity are they willing to give up in order to survive? They both make different decisions, giving up different amounts of their own humanity and for that their paths end in different places. I will say no more as to avoid spoilers, but be certain, they both give up a fair amount of their own humanity to survive; and out of all the brutal and gruesome things seen in the film these moments where they surrender a part of themselves are the most difficult to witness.

I will address the acting in the film because it is a huge part of what makes it a success, Director Inarritu is truly a modern master at what he does and I am a firm believer in the fact that a good actor is the result of a good director. Well Inarritu is a superb director and the result is timeless performances.  All parties give standout performances, especially Will Poulter, who has some great time on screen. The two heavy hitters are without a doubt Leo and Tom. Without a doubt these are the two best performances either of the actors have ever given. I do have two concerns however. The first deals with Tom Hardy, I am worried he is becoming a bit type cast. I have not even come close to seeing all of his films, but I will say that I feel that he is starting to do roles that are too similar to each other. There were moments in The Revenant where I felt I saw him drawing on past characters and I could see it and identify the previous role. I will say he does enough here to show that he still has room to show us new things, and he really does in this film, but moving forward I would like to see some more unexpected roles in his future.

Will someone please give Leo and damn Oscar already! I know it is a running joke of sorts, but really if you look at the work this man has produced he deserves it. If you include The Revenant, he deserves two. His performance is sublime, flawless, engrossing, heartfelt, powerful, believable, and nuanced. I will do my best to not sound like a snob here, but his performance might be too good. What I mean by that is he has almost no dialogue in the film, and his real acting is done with his eyes, face, and intense moments of vulnerability and openness with the camera. This man can do more with one look into a camera lens than some men can do with an entire monologue. I think most people are missing how great his performance is, it is artful; he is truly showing how acting is an art form. I have some validity because as I was walking out I heard people saying that Tom Hardy was better, he did all the talking and Leo barely said anything. We are moving more and more to a spoon fed culture, and Inarritu certainly does not hold the audiences hand through the film, but provides some general direction. Leo is does not even give you time to realize he has started; the entire time you have to play catch up following him. There were a few moments where he is sitting in silence, reflecting on what has passed in the film, and there is no tear, it is not a moment that deserves tears; but it is painfully sad and disparaging. I felt an emptiness in my gut, and then he turns to the camera and it all sets in, his despair is so deep, his loss so great, he cannot speak or cry or scream. He is tormented by the fight to survive. He does not want to give up, he is tormented because he is fighting to survive, but at what cost? He has so little of himself left, he has been changed so much, endured so much pain, the word is almost meaningless, and yet his will is unwavering. He cannot identify what he is and he does not know if this frightens him or comforts him. Then the camera breaks to the next shot giving you time to barely process what has happened in those few shorts moments of insight. All of this done with no words, just the bloodied face of Leo, surrounding his deep blue eyes delivering more information about his sole than words ever were capable. This is the type of performance he gives through the whole film, and it is one that will stand the test of time. Bravo, sir.

MAD MAX: Fury Road Review

Mad Max Fury Road: Review (No Spoilers)

                Attention all other post apocalyptic films! This is how you scare the fuck out of your audience about the end of the world; not flesh eating undead, not volcanoes erupting, tidal waves, and fault lines crumbling. This is the most terrifying vision of the end of the world, nothing but fire, guzzoline, and madness! The fourth installment of George Miller’s classic trilogy is so full of visceral ferocity you never have a second to breathe. All you can do is feel the heat off the engines dry out your eyes, the screech of the super charger wail on your eardrum, the pungent aroma of exhaust fumes choke your nostrils, and the dry empty wasteland drench your palate in dust and death. No matter what you have read, or what trailers you have seen; you are not prepared for the behemoth that is Fury Road.

Tom Hardy is the perfect choice for Max. He captures the spirit Mel Gibson had when he played the character, as well as makes the role his own for the new series. He is the tough, a survivor, and any ethical rules that existed in the old world are far gone. He is no hero, no criminal, he is only a man, and the wrong people pissed him off. Hardy does a perfect job of giving us a deep and complex character with using almost no dialogue, I think he had maybe ten lines in over two hours of film, but his mannerisms and expressions say it all. Hugh Keays-Byrne does a fantastic job of giving us a Mad Max antagonist. Immortan Joe is weird, unknown, a faux-religious figure, merciless, full of rage and his access to Bullet Farm, The Citadel and Gas Town make him formidable.  Nicholas Hoult is a crazy, lovely treat as the lost and wandering Nux. The real standout is Charlize Theron. Her talent was something I never doubted, Young Adult and The Road are two great examples, but here she is beyond awesome. Her moments of quiet are only temporary relief from her of power, intellect, and ferocity. Some of the looks she has in this film are simply spine chilling. The whole cast is a treat to watch, and the old gang seem like they are all here, the classic Mad Max characters: ones we only get to see for a few moments before they are violently killed off, the outrageous, the gluttonous, the sadistic, the imposing, the frightful, the heartfelt, and then there are the characters we have no words for (I am looking at you faceless, flame guitar wielding, bungee guy).

The action, o the action! It is everything from the simple chaos of the first film, the crazy vehicles and crashes of the second and third, and then there are several scenes, that… put it this way, I was giddy. I have never been giddy in my life, but I was for parts of this; that’s how jaw dropping, over the top, explosive, awe inspiring, and just fucking mad parts of this film were. Miller and company deserve a standing ovation simply for the sheer technical brilliance of filming this many things on one screen at once, and little to no CGI, that’s right old school filmmaker means practical effects, yay for us! If you are a diehard fan of the series like myself, the fan service is there in droves. I won’t spoil anything here, but if you know your Mad Max, you will have lots of little moments throughout the whole film where you connect the dots to the first three. Being a fan, I was very worried about the time gap between films, but it’s all there. If you have never seen a Mad Max, you will enjoy the film, but some things, like the post apocalyptic language, may be a bit much at first, but just go with it, in the end it’s all about seeing how close you can get to the red line before you blow the engine. Miller somehow blows the engine and keeps revving all the way to the finish line. The engines are loud, the stunts are stupefying, the guzzoline free flowing, the violence constant, the desperation palpable, and the wasteland harbors no mercy. Max is back!

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

A discussion

                There are many films that do not use dialogue as their main vehicle for advancing the plot, revealing character details, exposing emotions, or exploring emotion and motivations. These films use the silent gazes of their characters, the music score, the scenery, complex silence, and narration to accomplish what most films rely on dialogue to complete. Of all the films to walk this path, this is by far my favorite. This is a film that upon first viewing entered my top 5 list, and as never left. It is a film that I know by heart, scene by scene, but even still, causes me to laugh, wonder, ponder, and weep. On the surface it is a simple film and plot, one that can be summed up in a few sentences, and one that has been told before; however this telling is the most enthralling and heartfelt to grace the screen.  It has a score that enhances the film, it has profound and grounded acting from some of the best modern actors, and a tone that is never easy to define, consisting of multiple layers. It is a film that is honest and open, but not easily explained or defined; there is a surface, but beneath that surface is so much more, and it does not burst through, but instead slowly creeps into your heart.

The film opens softly, with the score immediately giving us the identity of the film. It is a simple and soft score, and one that weaves its way in and out of the film, coming and going like the wind caressing the cheek. It has a haunting beauty. Its sound is pleasant and peaceful, but it has a hidden melancholy, a deeper brooding and sadness that stems from its carefully spaced notes. Its volume is never overpowering, choosing to let its absence and unwavering structure speak to the highest volume. The simple and striking piano notes hit with notable elegance, and give the impact similar to the eyes of the titular character. Not hurried, but moving, not glaring but focused; examining the room, but looking into the hearts of the people filling the room. Its long and strong string tones perpetuate the silence and the uneasy nature of many of the scenes. The small twinkling of the chimes and bells spark as the momentary glimmers of reprieve, in the dark and doomed existence of the many characters.  The grand feeling the score creates, is just as impressive as the open beauty of the natural landscape we are graced with time and time again; but each of those beauties carry the undertones of an expected and unhappy end. It is a score that is recognizable instantly, and one that is able to reignite all the emotions you had while watching the film when you hear those notes start to play.

The beauty of the film is also a visual one, as many scenes show us the natural beauty of mother earth untouched. Clouds range from bright white, to dark blankets harbingering the rain. The sky is shown in a pure blue, softly defining the horizon. We are also given the black night sky, unmarred by lighting equipment; scenes taking place at night are lit by candles or lanterns, and the dark encases everything else. Fields of grain lean and straighten in the steady winds, and snow falls straight and even, only allowing the tallest blades of grass to grasp the sunlight. It is a reminder of the desolation of the open frontier, the vastness of the old west, and a eulogy to the land we have now filled with cities and roadways. Like all the characters in the film, the character of nature is one that has more building beneath the surface than one can see upon first glance, and if you take the time and effort to look deeper, you can see the desolation and purity, and its fleeting existence.

-“Get down on your knees.”

-“Why?”

-“Well, you ought to pray. I’m gonna kill you.”

As these words are spoken by Jesse, to the train employee, whose face is covered in blood from a head wound, it is clear in his eyes he means every syllable with all the fire and rampage in his heart. It also speaks to the convoluted and disorganized nature that is Jesse James. We see him murder one of his close friends, a shot in the back no less. He torments and beats a young boy, trying to gather information, but covers his mouth so the boy cannot speak. He holds a knife to the throat of one of the few people close to him towards the end of his life. He gives the names of his enemies to snakes, and the violently cuts their heads off with a pocket knife. He is an outlaw, a train robber, a violent natured man, and a murderer. He does not display any of these qualities with notions of grandeur, or boasts of his deeds, but quiet and determined looks that set fire to any who dare look back at him. An animal is said to be most dangerous when they are cornered and fearing for their life, Jesse was this dangerous all the time.

The film expertly conveys this danger through the tales and fear of its surrounding characters.  All of his friends and associates watch their backs and hide any outside conversations and partnerships for fear of Jesse finding out and wreaking his revenge. When he enters a conversation or sits at a table the other members of the interaction fidget, and do that nervous laugh we all do when we are uncomfortable, to mask our desire to leave the room. He only has to give a look, for people to be silent, or move where he wants them to. The words, when spoken by him, “Let’s take a ride” impose a fear that is inescapable. The characters constantly turn on their horse trying to keep up with Jesse’s position, and attempt to slyly deduce the destination through careful questions that will not arouse his suspicion. He never removes his gun-belt, is never without his guns, and one hand can always be seen resting on the butt of a pistol on his side. His dangerous and violent nature was just as much of an enigma to himself, as it was a source of fear to those who surrounded him.

-“You ought to pity me too.”

More relevant, however, is the violent and tortured nature of the mind and soul of Jesse James. His mind constantly moving and working about all the people who could be misleading him, or betraying him, and he displayed insecurity in his own existence. This inner turmoil could not be more eloquently conveyed by Brad Pitt. The focus of his tired blue eyes, the white undertones of his skin from insomnia, and the constant but sure look of a man who does not know if he should live, die, or kill. The way in which Pitt rolls a cigar around, exercising his fingers, but never letting the cigar go out, is a small touch, but one that further shows the shifting mind of the character. His gait often purposeful, a symbol of his power and ferocity, the way in which he does not look at other people, but into them, studying their intentions; all these things help us to understand the hurricane that is ravaging inside the character, but letting none of the damage spill out, except for in small bursts of unstoppable emotion. It is clear the character suffered from depression, and Pitt conveys the inner demons without any unnecessary exposition, explanation, or expression. His minimalist approach allows his performance to shine through, and better serves the film as a whole, and allows the viewer to discover and develop these emotions on their own.

The real and true power of his performance is not any one thing he does, but the emotional reaction he causes in the viewer as Ford raises his pistol, in the most defining moment of both their lives. The notes from the score start, and Jesse begins his walk to the picture, exchanging a glance with Robert. The simple and unspoken look here is one of betrayal, surprise, acceptance, grief, pain, and gratitude. There is no simple explanation as to why he allows the events to unfold the way they do, and the last look he gives Robert in the reflection of the picture, show that till the end, Jesse was still not sure of all that was happening in his life, and he was not sure how to move forward or how to be happy. It is a moment that causes tears to well, even as we consider all the wrong this man has done, there is the uncomfortable fact that we do not want to see him gone, that we will miss him, that we will grieve him, that the world will be smaller without him, and that we pity him.

-“I was surprised by what happen. They didn’t applaud.”

Robert Ford is a character that truly pushes the boundaries of what it means to betray someone. He spent most of his childhood admiring and dreaming of Jesse James, the character, and when he meets the man, he becomes lost. The James in those novels was in his youth and naivety, not stopping long enough to think on his actions. The man he meets only resembles the man in the myth. He spends time in Jesse’s home, with his family, eating at his table, and traveling at his side, and in the end he chose to kill him. Casey Affleck was not high on my radar, but after this film, I have paid close attention to all he has done, and he still continues to impress (see “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”). His change and character development are impressive to say the least. We get to see him display a young man meeting his childhood hero, and all the smirks, smiles, and laughs that go along with that pleasure. We watch as he continually grows confused and disoriented, marred by a harsh world that demands he grow up quick, and the realization that his dream has become a broken man, studying his own deficiencies. The most powerful moments of his performance are the ending scenes, as we seem him older and scarred by his famous act. His walk is full of remorse, his eyes have no luster, and his smile is all but gone and forced when it is required to be present. We get only glimpses of the years of torment he has undergone since his celebrity began: his stage career failing, his brother’s suicide, the hateful mail, and a woman struggling to love him because he is struggling to reconcile his existence. There is no happiness or lasting relief for Robert Ford, his past act haunts him, right until the moment of his death.

This may be a hard film for some to take in; it has a slow and steady pace, and not much is said, most is implied and up to the viewer to discover and explain. However the introverted, studied nature of its character is what makes the film’s tone and pace work so well. Its beauty is impressive, its violence quick and grotesque, and its bleakness encompassing. There is no happy ending for any of the characters, and the ending is far from satisfying. Why the hell do I love this film so much if it is so depressing? It is artfully acted, beautifully shot, perfectly scored, and simply impressive. The film grabs you early and never lets you go, not with action, dialogue, plot, or character, but with thought. Each time I watch this film I discover new thoughts and feelings about who Jesse James was, the man who found it hard to take in creation, and had trouble accepting his place in the world. I feel differently about the tormented soul that was Robert Ford, and the harsh way in which he must accept his actions. There are more questions asked than answered, more emotions brought up than subsided, and there is no rest from the weariness of its characters. That is what makes this so special and so important, that it is a film that dares to ask very tough and unpleasant questions, and it takes the time to dig deep into a historical icon, and ask that we examine who he was, not who we want him to be. When thinking about the film as a whole, about the characters of Jesse James, Charley Ford, and Robert Ford, Nietzsche seems appropriate, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

Samurai Trilogy Discussion

Samurai Trilogy Discussion

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

The first film in this trilogy opens with a very subtle bang; so subtle you may not have realized you heard it in the back of your mind. The conflict in this film is not one of wars and violence, love and betrayal, but conflict of conviction and of the mind. It is a film that has some questions, and because the main character is changing and evolving, and is unsure of himself; answers are not given. This is a compliment not a criticism; the film does a great job of telling an engaging story and creating memorable characters, but these characters are not as simple as they appear, and the film has more going on than what is seen at face value. I have yet to see the second two films in the trilogy, so take this first part on with that knowledge. I am going to give my quick thoughts about the three films individually, and then do a conclusion when I have seen all three films.

  The most impressive thing to me right from the start was the landscapes and backdrops; very colorful and ornate in a way that make the viewer aware of their beauty. The story constantly weaves the characters in and out of the towns and cities and into nature, allowing for plenty of beautiful natural shots. The acting by Mifune has been praised by plenty, and I will join them in their song. He is at his best here, full of complex emotions deep down, and wild and mad on the outside. Some may call the story simple or his acting over the top but I have to disagree. First, the time at which the film was made must be considered, the acting style taken in that context is not over the top, but simply some of the best. Second, on the surface yes it is a straightforward story, but there are plenty of subtle clues littered throughout the film that let us know some of the deeper feelings the characters are struggling with.

For example, take the ending of the film. Miyamoto admits to Otsu how much he loves her, and even submits to her will and allows her to come with him. We all know he is going to walk away without her as she prepares to leave; this is not surprising anyone if you have seen a samurai film before. Before he leaves however there are two shots of reeds being pulled by the current of the stream. It is a beautiful image to symbolize his need to move on and shred any roots he had as Takezo, and to truly become Miyamoto.  He takes the time to carve, “forgive me” in the railing of the bridge. This is especially touching if we consider how Otsu has been hurt before by a man going off and promising to return to her. He takes the time to let her know he understands how this will hurt her, and wants her to know he is sorry and asking for her forgiveness.

His time onscreen as Miyamoto is limited in the first installment, but in the short time we can already witness his transformation. He walks more firmly and more slowly; speaks with more conviction but less volume; has deeper thoughts and emotions, but keeps them within himself. Even when he is admitting his love for Otsu, it is with a calm and forward resolve. The animal that everyone was trying to kill has been tamed and reborn by the monk. Part of what created the animal was his desire for fame, and his arrogance on the battlefield, and perhaps his lack of direct family, but I believe a large majority of it was due to the loss of his friend. He is a man of absolute conviction, and I think it hurt him to see his friend not only abandon him, but his wife back at the village as well. In his eyes, he still cares for his friend, but he cannot ignore the wrongs of Matahachi. When he did get back to the village, only to be betrayed by Matahachi’s mother, I think it cemented these feelings.

When he was hanging from the tree his spirit was not broken by physical exhaustion, but by the exhaustion of his ability to be able to count the people who cared for him, and people he cared for in return. That is why when Otsu let him down it made such a strong impression on him, and why when she showed her hands to him, he began to cry. They were not tears of sadness, but an expression of joy, celebration, and relief; someone in the world cared for his life. The priest was not counting on Otsu to let him down, but when she did he was able to adapt and change is plan accordingly, and locking him in the castle to study, he had a reason for him to get out, a goal at the end simply besides his own life, Otsu. The priest even admits to Otsu he knows little about love, which is a bit of play on words; he knows little about the physical interactions of love between two people, but he is a studied monk, and knows the concepts and ideals of love better than most. It is a combination of studying, mediation, and love that changed Takezo into Miyamoto; I have a feeling the journey he is about to start at the end of the first film will change Miyamoto into the legendary samurai that is the stuff of legends.

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple

I am enjoying the series as a whole, and so far the second film is my favorite. Having not seen the third film, the second is more of a continuation than a sequel, and if the third film continues this trend, and I think it will, you could really watch all three back to back. It picks up right where the first film left off, some time has passed and our samurai is a bit older, but we are immersed right back into his world and we feel as if we haven’t missed a thing. The second film made several impressions on me: the costume design is simply gorgeous, the landscapes and backdrops continue to be stunning, the music is epic and awesome, and Inagaki really used lighting to benefit the story. I enjoyed this more than the first, because it was more intricate. The first film had many subtle details and hints to uncover, but the emotions and relationships here are intertwined and strained in very interesting and honest ways.

Mifune is still at his best here, and he does a great job of giving as a swordsman, not a samurai. He is one the way to becoming a samurai, but Mifune holds back and revs up in the appropriate manner to show us his character is still just a brutally strong, and skilled swordsman. Newcomer to the trilogy, Koji Tsuruta, as Kojiro Sasaki, is a real benefit to the film. He is confident without being cocky, and even ads in some very dry humor from time to time, which was appreciated. I will say I have read a bit on what to expect in the final installment, and I am glad to see Sasaki will be returning because I do like his character, and story wise he is the only character presented that could pose a real challenge to Miyamoto.

We get a very good look at Miyamoto in this film, a deeper and more open view to what drives and motivates this great man.  Although we get to see these things, what we see is not easily described or understood, he is a complex character. All around him, he is being constantly reminded of and forced to face his past. He starts off meeting a young orphan, who is a version of the man Miyamoto used to be, full of fight, naïve, and yet to understand the life he has chosen to follow. He eventually meets a geisha, who reminds him of Otsu, and he is forced to face his fear of affection, and he leaves that relationship with a better understanding of who he is, and what people are important to him. The most revealing and exposing thing we learn about Miyamoto, and subsequently he learns about himself, is the value of victory without taking a life. In the beginning he is met with a chance encounter with an old teacher, who states he is too strong, but leaves Miyamoto to ponder his words without explanation. He spends the entire film taking life, and thinking of himself as a skilled swordsman, and it is not until the final encounter that he realizes the meaning of the old master’s words. His choice to claim victory, and not take a life, finally gave him momentary peace, although it would not last, and he continues his long walk of solitude.

The lighting lent itself well to the moods of the scenes in the film. The final battle was especially dark, showing the anger and darkness in the heart of Miyamoto, and we saw things brighten up when he was around Otsu. In addition to the scenery, there are many shots displaying natural beauty, one in particular we saw a similar version of in the first film.  In the first film we saw reeds in the water, in this we see a strong river flowing around rocks, creating white water and more noise than the reeds in the stream. As Miyamoto is growing stronger he is becoming more solid, more steadfast, and less easily moved. However, this means when things to come against him, they will crash in a more chaotic fashion.

As much as we want to see Otsu and Miyamoto live happily ever after, we know this cannot be and the two characters know it cannot be, well not in this installment at least. I think Otsu is so deeply in love with him, that she rejected him on the river side because she was afraid of being just a random act, not an act of love. Additionally, she turned him down for the fact that he just threw himself on her suddenly and not in a very romantic way, a little subtlety goes a long way.   I am excited to see the conclusion, and so far I can see why the series is treasured, and I am enjoying all the epic qualities of the films so far.

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island

So good to know where the idea for catching flies in chopsticks for Karate Kid came from, assuming this film didn’t borrow that idea from a previous one. Moving on, as I am writing about the third and final film, I will also be interjecting some of my final thoughts about the trilogy as a whole. The ending in my mind was perfect; the final shot of the sole boat crossing the water could not have been done any better. The final battle was as epic and tense as all the buildup led us to believe it would be. The two lovers never quite reach that state of bliss, but I think they finally understand how their love works and they both come to acceptance of that fact. All loose ends were tied up, and as a trilogy, it was entertaining, moving, epic, tense, and beautiful; I was very pleased and I am glad it is now in my collection.

This, of the three, was the most traditional of samurai films. It had our samurai doing small acts to display his talent, he was quiet and withdrawn, and did things that did not make sense to most of the characters surrounding him in the story. However, this is not a negative, I feel all these element work well, because we saw the journey of how he reached his current state. This film helps to further display his understanding, that winning and strength are not the only keys to victory. The tear at the end, was more than appropriate. He lost his greatest rival, his best competitor, and his greatest challenge, what was their left for the great Miyamoto to do but weep? It was one of the reasons I believe he chose to postpone the duel for a year. He wanted to focus his mind, on that one thing for a whole year, he wanted to hone his body and his spirit, but he also knew that no matter the outcome, both men would not be the same after the duel. I was sad to see Akemi die, but in the back of my mind knew it was coming; she was a character full of hardships from the very first film, and it was inevitable that her fate would lead to an untimely death.

This trilogy, for me, captured the life of a man in film. It would be easy, except for the time, to watch all three back to back. It was a samurai action flick, a love triangle drama, and existential discovery film all rolled into three great installments. The scenery and cinematography has some truly stunning moments, the pinnacle being the final duel, and the acting by Mifune was nearly perfect. I have no real critiques of the films, there were little things here and there, but nothing I feel that is big enough to be a detriment to the trilogy. I have heard previous viewers mention the films to be too dark, but the Criterion blu-ray was clear and bright for all the nighttime scenes. Others have also mentioned the portrayal of the women as nothing more than objects, but I find that argument hard to justify. I actually consider Otsu and Akemi to be two very strong women, both exhibited deep commitment, fortitude, and strength. The other side of that is the era in which the film was made must be taken into consideration, just as with the style of acting. The final part of that is a difference of cultures, Japanese culture, especially surrounding love, is very complicated, and I won’t pretend I know all the details of how it works, but I have picked up enough from watching other films, that nothing in this trilogy struck me as inappropriate or sexist.

If you are a fan of samurai films, and have the time and resources to get your hands on this collection, go for it! It has more than enough to set it apart from being just another samurai film. It epic scope, score, and scenery are worth the price of admission. The journey of Miyamoto is one that has cemented itself in history, and this trilogy does a just job of bringing that journey to life. For me, the most striking image is the face of Miyamoto right before he goes in for the final killing blow. It is full of determination, focus, calm, strength, conviction, death, and respect. It is important for us to take the time to consider everything that is going through his mind, as he seems to know he is about to land the killing blow, and the director gives us this opportunity, as he recognized it was important for the spirit of the trilogy for the audience to have that moment, and he recognized Miyamoto deserved that moment. It is moments like this, that are scattered throughout the trilogy, that help to make it epic, help to make it grand, and help it to remain on my mind, days after I have finished watching the final frames leave the screen.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell Review

Why Don’t You Play in Hell-Review

Unrestrained cinema. That is the best way to describe the trippy, crazy, bloody, mindfuck that is Shion Sono’s 2013 film. The rules are thrown out the window, and nothing is what you expect. This is the best film I have seen in a while, and also possibly the weirdest film I have ever seen; I am in the process of trying to watch every other film he has made, I liked it that much. This film is not for the faint of heart, it’s very bloody and lots of people get maimed or killed, but the context is not violent in a realistic sense. The whole film is like a characterchure on steroids trying to blend into a crowd.

The framing and camera angles alone are a delight for any fan of cinema. He takes wild and unexpected angles on the simplest things, and he is not afraid to switch perspective, distance, or framing on you on the fly and in succession. The score is of the wall, mainly focused on a TV jingle that is the perverted main theme of the film in a way. The dialogue is robust and absurd, but never wasteful or meaningless, but be prepared for a lot of it, think Inglorious Basterds. Speaking of Tarantino, there may be those that try and draw parallels between the two directors, and while I can see why you would want to start down that road, it is the wrong road. Tarantino has rules, styles, and goals; Sono has none of those things in this film. The film really lacks an actual plot in a very direct sense of the word. Yes there are physical elements of a lot, and a beginning middle and end in the timeline of events, but there is no real story of events happening, no tale to tell, and no real purpose gained from watching the film. All this may sound contrary, but believe me the ride is far too much fun not to take.

I am keeping this short and sweet so as to not ruin anything for those who have not seen the film, and if you have not, go and find a copy and watch it with some friends. The film has a fair bit of humor, and it is not serious at all, so watching it with friends would make it more enjoyable, at least it did for me. This film made a great impression on me, one that I will hold onto for some time, and I am really looking forward to watching more in this director’s library. I would say throw caution to the wind, keep your mind open, and get ready for the wildest ride to hit the screen in recent memory.