Thursday's Reviews

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Just out of interest, have you seen the film? I'd love to discuss it on here; tried searching but got nothing, so I guess it doesn't have a discussion already...
Your post is a few months old so I'll understand if your threshold for talking about it has passed, but I did see the movie and think I liked it more than you did. I say think because I remember enjoying it/not being bored but when I try to remember details about the plot and characters I come up blank... guess it didn't leave much of an impression... this could say something about the movie itself or it could just be that it's a pretty complex film that doesn't necessarily go down easy/something you gotta work hard to appreciate. I get the feeling from your review that you had a similarly ambivalent reaction. Sorry if I'm just projecting.

One thing to consider if you haven't seen any other Oshima films is that he's not trying to create a film that reads so much as a story or character "study" (meaning something that rewards you when you study the characters?) as an aesthetic*. I read a comment of Oshima's from I think the 60s or 70s where he was on a kick to re-imagine Japan by "banishing" greens from his compositions. This may have been referring to In the Realm of Senses.

About the title, it could be that I'm forgetting something significant, but I don't remember much emphasis on the taboo nature of the situation in the film, it seemed more to be about everyone being physically attracted to that one character and the object of their affections being basically sinister and laying some sort of inscrutable trap for them using sexual desire. In that sense it kind of reminds me of certain femme fatale characters like Linda Fiorentino's in The Last Seduction.

There are some similarities and differences both in the movies and in my reactions to them. In Seduction the character's motivation is ultimately readable, in Taboo the character is opaque (I'm pretty sure) even after the plot has been revealed. I don't know if you can say one is better than the other on this basis alone though. If the point is how people can be seduced by surface alone is it necessary or even desirable to even show the mundane self-interest lurking beneath or is it enough just to convey readable malicious intent and deception/self-deception? I guess one gets you wrapped in the characters by revealing more and is therefor more memorable (at least to me) but I'm not sure which approach I admire more. I would have to re-watch Oshima's film before even considering committing to either approach.

You might want to check out Oshima's In the Realm of Senses which is about similar sensual obsessions but from what I've seen of it (about the first half hour) seemed to be a little more engaging. It also was a lot more explicit in the sex dept. I think.

Any of this help a-tall?

*note that these ideas don't have to be mutually exclusive but it's possible that the director wanted to emphasize the latter by reducing or sublimating the former.



By the way, I just looked up the original title Gohatto (御法度) in my kanji dictionary, and the definitions it gives are: law, ordinance; prohibition. Don't know if that clarifies anything.



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Thanks Linespalsy, interesting to hear another pov on this film! I think you are right on many points. 'Opaque' is certainly a good word to describe the film and the main character. It seemed to me that even though the film focussed on this one character, it was never about character exactly, but more about his aesthetic. I wasn't sure that I really liked the film at the time, but appreciated it more while I was writing my review as I felt I was beginning to understand some of the director's intentions.

As you say, plot and character and aesthetic are not mutually exclusive and personally I'd prefer a film with both, but I suppose we've become a bit used to films focussing on the former while neglecting the visual potential of films.

Still, it was interesting, and I wouldn't be averse to watching some more Oshima films to compare.



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Innocence (2004)





Lucile Hadzihalilovic apparently announced that her debut film would be a horror film. Instead, she has created something more subtly disturbing; a boarding school film which behaves like a horror film. The Company of Wolves without the wolves. From the lingering opening shots of bubbling water and echoing gothic tunnels, Hadzihalilovic uses the trappings of a horror film, especially the claustrophobic camera angles, to create an atmosphere of creeping apprehension.

Iris is the newest pupil – or inmate – of a bizarre boarding school for girls, in which girls arrive in coffins, wear coloured ribbons corresponding to their ages and in which the eldest disappear each night for reasons at first kept secret. The school grounds are a mixture of wild, natural woodland and swimming lake, gothic buildings and tunnels and a path lit oddly by electric lights. They are not permitted to leave, or have any contact with the outside world. There are only two teachers, Mademoiselle Edith, the science teacher, and Mademoiselle Eva, the ballet teacher (played by the beautiful Marion Cotillard) and a handful of servants.

The film is essentially a mystery, reminiscent in some ways of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Why are the girls there? What happens when they leave? It is not spoiling the film to say that while some questions are answered, even more are raised. In a way, when some questions are answered it is almost disappointing. In raising so many questions, leaving so many pauses and hinting at so many possibilities, the film leaves it up to the viewer to imagine the outcome.

The title is deliberately chosen. The film has attracted some criticism for its potential to appeal to paedophiles – in other words there is occasional nudity. But surely pre-pubescent girls stripping off to swim is entirely innocent – it is only our adult perceptions and fears that turn this into something sinister. Innocence itself is explored in the behaviour of the girls – the youngest girls form innocent but jealous attachments to the eldest. A jealous orange ribboned girl throws rocks at Iris towards the start of the film, and for a while you wonder whether the film is going to turn into a Lord of the Flies style scenario. The innocence in the film is the innocence of nature, it is sometimes cruel and not always good.

It is the style, atmosphere and the mystery which make this film what it is; I don’t know how well it would stand up to a second viewing, but with so many unanswered questions it needs one nonetheless. In a film like this it is hard to tell whether things unexplained are deliberate or are flaws in the plotting, but the way missing girls were replaced was never really made clear which bothered me slightly.

Boarding school drama, horror film, gothic fantasy, mystery, allegory for girlhood, exploration of innocence, an exercise in style and misdirection – Innocence is all of these.

4.5/5



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Candy (2006)






Candy is a miserable, yet poetic, Australian film about two people whose lives are defined by drugs. The Candy of the title is a beautiful young art student (Abbie Cornish), but it is also the cocaine and heroin which is at first a pleasure, then an addiction, then a nightmare for her and her lover, Dan (Heath Ledger).

Any film about drugs walks a fine line between glamorising drug abuse and preaching against it, but Candy manages to strike the right balance. There is an honesty and realism about the portrayal of the good, bad and ugly sides of addiction, as the film spins from the giddy young couple in love to the realities of prostitution and crime to pay for their habit, through failed attempts at getting clean which allows you to believe in it as a story, not as a commentary about drugs.

The performances are strong, especially from the two leads. Notable amongst the supporting cast are Candy’s overbearing, disapproving mother and the excellent Geoffrey Rush in a more ambiguous role as the couple’s friend/dealer.

I liked the scene near the start where Candy overdoses whilst in the bath. Dan is distraught, trying to revive her, and watching it, you half expect this to be the end. But it is only the beginning, and you realise that if that experience doesn’t scare them off drugs, none of their other experiences will either. Yet you feel for the characters, you want them to succeed, to get free and get clean and make decent lives for themselves, even as you know they are spiralling out of control. The chemistry between Cornish and Ledger is convincing enough to make you believe in their romance, which is the heart of the drama.

There are harrowing scenes in this film, and frank discussion about prostitution. It is not always easy to watch, and sometimes it is a little drawn out, but it is filmed in a way which blends realism with poetry, and the beautiful moments make the ugly ones bearable. Although perhaps that’s what Candy and Dan think about the drugs, too.

3.5/5



Thanks for the great review It is one of those movies that I have watched and, felt exhausted at the end it is harrowing in parts I will watch it again after some time has passed
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Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.
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I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
It is one of those movies that I have watched and, felt exhausted at the end it is harrowing in parts
I liked that although it was harrowing in parts, it is always believable rather than manipulative.



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Scarface (1983)






“Nothing exceeds like excess.”

Is Scarface the ultimate eighties movie? As trashy and flashy as a Duran Duran video, Brian De Palma’s remake of Howard Hawks’ 1932 gangster classic certainly captures the fabled ‘greed is good’ mantra of the eighties. Following the story of Cuban immigrant Tony Montana as he builds a drugs empire from scratch, we see the lures and the lurid horror of capitalism and the pursuit of the idea ‘the world is yours’.

It is this pinpointing of the eighties zeitgeist which makes this remake successful in its own right, even when the ideas, characters and even images are not original; and it is true that in some respects it hasn’t much to add to the 1932 film besides bright red blood, neon lights and a patchy synth soundtrack. While some of the music is quite good, there are excruciating moments in the score where a shooting on screen is accompanied by overly dramatic punctuation from the accompanying synthesizers.

But can you accuse Scarface of being overly dramatic? Isn’t that the point? It is a grand operatic, violently melodramatic soap opera. It is supposed to be over the top, in the way that Tony’s hideously vulgar furniture for his empire once he has made it is supposed to be over the top. It is unfailingly enjoyable, but also more knowing than it at first appears.

At first I dismissed Scarface as lacking the polish of a Scorsese and the irony of a Tarantino – but it is not without the beginnings of both of these. Hints of self-referential post-modernism creep in when a stoned Tony tells a busy restaurant of aghast diners “You need me, I’m the bad guy!”

Pacino puts in a bravura performance as the anti-heroic Montana, although I have to say I was never completely convinced by his Cuban accent. Scarface is the story of one man’s rise and fall, the qualities of ruthlessness and greed which get him to the top become his downfall as he alienates (or kills) those close to him and violates the golden rule ‘don’t get high on your own supply’.

4/5



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
The Edge of Heaven (Auf der Anderen Seite)


Last night I saw The Edge of Heaven (Auf der Anderen Seite), from Head-On (Gegen die Wand) director Fatih Akin. As you can see, Gegen die Wand is in my top 10 film list, so comparisons with the earlier film are inevitable.

First off, The Edge of Heaven is not as energetic or as focussed as Gegen die Wand. There are rather too many main characters with the focus shifting between them. And while there are some beautifully shot sequences, it is never quite as stunning or as brutal. In many ways, the two films share common themes and ideas - both deal with the tensions between German and Turkish culture and cultural identity; in both, accidental murders are the catalysts for journeys of self-discovery to Turkey; accidental meetings and near misses shape destinies as much as deliberate choices.

And, like Gegen die Wand - Head On, the translation of the film's title is irksome. 'The Edge of Heaven' doesn't convey a tenth of the ideas of the film that the German title, literally translated as 'On the Other Side' does. There are lots of different sides here - Germany and Turkey, inside prison and outside in freedom, male and female, parent and child, right and wrong - and some of the sides are blurred at times.

What is the film about? Essentially, it is in three parts. The first is about Nejat, who travels to Turkey to look for the daughter of his father's prostitute lover after her death. The second concerns the relationship between two women, Turkish political prisoner Ayten, and German student Charlotte. The third revisits some characters we have seen already in the film. But there are many connections between all the characters, which they themselves do not always realise.

The film has been criticised for its reliance on coincidence - but I felt that this was not so much a lazy plot contrivance but more a deliberate mirroring effect
WARNING: "The Edge of Heaven" spoilers below
the Yeter's coffin going to Turkey and later, Lotte's coffin coming back was a poignant image, and even raised a wry laugh in the cinema.


It is a good, absorbing and emotionally affecting drama, well written, acted and directed and well worth seeing if you can catch it. I am certainly going to be looking out for more of Akin's films in the future.

4/5




I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Control





Anton Corbjin's film about Joy Division singer Ian Curtis who killed himself at the age of 23 in 1980 after a brief but brilliant career in the music industry.

Gorgeous cinematography, good acting especially from the supporting cast. The first part had a wonderful lightness of touch and humour, the band's manager in particular was hilarious and Tony Wilson was spot on, although this did conjure up shades of 24 Hour Party People at times. And, of course, a great soundtrack.

But the film suffers from two fatal flaws.

First, the typical problem of making a biopic of an unpleasant or annoying person is that the film is also going to be unpleasant or annoying. With a colourful anti-hero this might not be the case, but Curtis in this film comes across as weak, moody and utterly selfish. By the point that he says to Wilson that everybody hates him, I found myself thinking that yes, I hated him a little bit, too.

Second, perhaps inevitable considering it was adapted from a book by Curtis' long suffering wife called 'Touching From a Distance', it was a bit distant. Curtis himself was a bit of a blank. Perhaps this was a problem with the performance. Sam Riley does not look or sing all that much like Ian Curtis, and despite being the main character, doesn’t do much but stare moodily into the distance, which is arty but not particularly illuminating. Not until near the end did we hear anything much from his perspective, so it was difficult to really get any kind of grasp of the inner turmoil that would drive him to suicide. This made it difficult to sympathise much with him, or to engage with the film on a closer level.

In the end it was not so much tragic as just grubbily sad...although with the choice of shooting in black and white, perhaps the evocation of 50's kitchen sink dramas about people who marry too young is deliberate. I felt sad that this film made me lose some respect for Curtis whose music I have always admired, but based as it was on facts, this can hardly be held against it.

Still trying to decide whether I liked this, so no decisive rating as yet.



Agreed for the most part, I didn't think it was particularly brilliant either. The one thing I did think was brilliant was the music and performances. I thought Riley did a fantastic job there...everything else seemed rather uninteresting compared to that.



I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
True, when they were on stage there was a terrific energy that just seeped away all the time he was dithering between his wife and his girlfriend...perhaps I was a bit harsh about his singing...



I'm not sure we can take this film as "based on facts", it's his wife's story basically, so I wouldn't be surprised if she "exaggerated" her part in it a tad. It also explains the zero input on his inner turmoil, at least none that I found believable, apart from the bit about the stress of performing. :\