Movie Review – The Beguiled [2017] (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: A remake that capably stands on its own.

REVIEW: Sofia Coppola is a film-maker that I admit, haven’t seen much of her work, apart from Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette. Known for her filmmaking approach to humanizing her subjects with unorthodox methods like gentle pathos, looking through different character points-of-views outside the norm and the use of anachronisms, Coppola has achieved a reputation of being a director that is both rebellious and restrained.

And now, we have her attempting her first remake, based on the 1971 film of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood. With her distinct direction, her talented cast of veterans and rising talent and top-notch crew, composed of collaborators and first-timers, will the film leave the audience beguiled or bewildered?

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Set during the American Civil War in 1863, the film starts off with Amy (Oona Lawrence), a student who is out on a stroll, picking mushrooms. She then stumbles upon an injured Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and offers him help at an all-female Southern boarding school, led by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman).

Reluctant to help, yet bound by morals of human decency (and amusingly, it’s the Christian thing to do), they all decide to help McBurney by locking him into the music room while they tend to him. Soon, mild attractions grow from the older students, from Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) to Alicia (Elle Fanning) and it then simmers to something more prurient, leading to disastrous consequences.

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As for any remake, it is difficult to review one without comparing it to the original. In the case of the latter, the story is told through McBurney’s point of view, which implies the use of the male gaze towards the women. But in the case of the former, the story is told through the point of view of the women.

This assures that the remake has a fresh angle on the story and Coppola makes the most out of it. In one of many surprising moves, the film actually has an alarming sense of humour. Character interactions revolving around the object of affection (in this case, McBurney) are witty, amusing and sometimes hilarious, leading this to be one of Coppola’s most verbose films. Coppola also makes fun of cinematic tropes of the female gaze i.e. McBurney in the role as a handsome gardener and all of the innuendos that come with that trope like pruning and tending.

In the original, the tone was much more lurid and melodramatic, to the point of being Gothic. But in the remake, Coppola aims for more of a low-key vibe, which gives the film a claustrophobic feel as well as shrouds character motivations, giving the film some tension. Major props goes to cinematographer Philippe le Sourd (who shot Wong Kar-wai‘s The Grandmaster), as he captures the claustrophobia with a hazy, shrouded look that gives it a beautiful, yet haunting atmosphere.

When McBurney arrives at the school, the women are basically reminded of what is or could be outside of their world; the possible beauty or horror of it all. And as the slow-burn pacing gradually becomes more tumultuous, the characters reveal how they truly feel and the tension pays off. And thankfully, the film is at a brisk running time of 93 minutes, which gives the story some much-needed brevity.

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The actors certainly hold up on their end, giving calculated performances that lend credibility to Coppola’s vision. Colin Farrell is great as McBurney, the masculine foil, and he conveys the dimensions of his character convincingly, but even better, he switches between them with such ease, it is quite hard to know whether he is sincere or he is devious.

Nicole Kidman gives a typically masterful performance as Farnsworth, who keeps her emotions in check for the safety of her school. What is quite amusing and interesting is that she seems to enjoy her grasp of power over her students, and yet, when McBurney enters the picture, there seems to be a bit of a battle for power between each other. So the audience is left with the conundrum of whether Farnsworth actually has feelings for McBurney or she considers him as an power struggle; something that disrupts her sense of pride. It is twists like this that makes the remake satisfyingly timely and makes it stand on its own.

The supporting cast are all up to the task as well, with Kirsten Dunst as the sorrowful and world-weary teacher, Edwina; Elle Fanning as the rebellious and angsty Alicia, Oona Lawrence as the stalwart Amy; Angourie Rice as the cynical and headstrong Jane (clearly emblematic of Farnsworth) and the pairing of Addison Reicke and Emma Booth as the innocent and impressionable Marie and Emily.

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As for the film’s flaws, the source material is pure pulp, and for Coppola’s understated approach to the material, it does, for the lack of a better word, emasculate it. And considering the setting of the story, it feels a bit strange to see the film set in the Civil War being a bit, well civil.

But, all of this basically comes down to audience expectations more than anything else, as it is the same story from a female’s perspective and as for the claustrophobic feel Coppola is going for, any clutter from the outside (apart from McBurney) would probably distract more than compliment the story.

Overall, The Beguiled is a worthy remake that shows Coppola’s gradual ascension as a filmmaker and with a fantastic cast and crew in tow, the film, like the female characters, is not to be messed around with.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Refreshing angle on the source material

Coppola’s maturing direction

Fantastic performances from the ensemble cast

Moody and atmospheric cinematography by Le Sourd

CONS

Too understated for its own good

Left out historical details may annoy some

SCORE: 7/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, Addison Riecke, Emma Howard
Director: Sofia Coppola
Screenwriter: Sofia Coppola, based on the novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the screenplay by Albert Maltz and Irene Kamp

Movie Review – Okja (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Another fantastic entry into Bong Joon Ho’s filmography.

REVIEW: Okja is a film involving a giant mutated pig. What more do you want? But seriously, in order to understand the hype of the film, you have to know the filmmaker Bong Joon Ho.

Bong Joon Ho is an acclaimed Korean filmmaker who has made some incredible films. And the reason he is so acclaimed is his assured directorial hand in mixing genres that usually do not associate with each other and executes them brilliantly. And he also adds a sense of humour, regardless of how inappropriate the tone of the film is.

His impressive resume so far includes films like the strikingly dark comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite, the comic-confronting crime thriller Memories of Murder, the blockbuster monster film The Host (not the film starring Saoirse Ronan, thank goodness), the old-fashioned mystery-noir Mother and the dystopian epic Snowpiercer.

Considering the critical acclaim that Bong has received, having expectations reaching levels other than high is an understandable reaction. Seeing how this was the closing film of Sydney Film Fest 2017, it was likely that Okja would end it with a bang. Does it?

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An Seo Hyun stars as Mija, a young girl who lives in the mountains with her grandfather (Byun Heebong) and is a caretaker and loving companion to Okja, a giant super pig. Life seems simple enough but that eventually changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where image obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend.

With no plan and only her sheer focus, Mija vows to get her back but the journey will be hard going, going through many obstacles like capitalists, fat cats, greedy consumers, demonstrators (led by Paul Dano). Will Mija succeed in bringing her best friend home?

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Just like his earlier films, director Bong deals with a lot of issues and ideas like consumerism, animal rights, the environment and capitalism; all while forming an action-adventure film and a political satire at the same time. Even with all that baggage, it’s a miracle that Okja works as well as it does.

Even though the issues are serious, Bong never backs out from adding a touch of humour into the mix, as he places the targets both the characters and themes and satirizes them with verve. For example, the characters Bostick and Henshall play, who foolishly contribute to their cause by starving themselves to leave a minimal environmental footprint.

But this does not mean Bong doesn’t get straight to the point, as he steers the film into very dark territory, particularly in the final act. This may be the first film that I praise due to the fact that it almost made me throw up.

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All the themes pack a thematic punch as well as an emotional punch, as it adds to the heart of the film, which is the bond between Mija and Okja. The peaceful scenes between the two are executed very well (complete with references to the anime film, My Neighbour Totoro), without being overstated or sappy. There’s even a scene where the family are gathering together to eat and it is reminiscent to one of the scenes in The Host.

There’s a scene where the two take a shortcut back home and it ends up being more than they bargained for. The scene is thrilling, action-packed and skillfully foreshadows what is to come between their relationship.

Speaking of action scenes, they are all gleefully manic, yet intricately composed. There is a scene where Mija arrives in Seoul and single-handedly shakes the corporation, resulting in a fantastic car chase, leading to a shopping center that reaches its beautifully realized climax with the use of “Annie’s Song” by John Denver.

But none of it would be as good as it looks without the cinematography by Darius Khondji, who is clearly embracing the resources of what digital filmmaking can do. The CGI modelling of the creature itself is quite impressive, considering the budget, which is only $50 million.

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The acting from the ensemble cast are all either fun, unhinged or thankfully, genuine. An Seo Hyun, who impressed in the 2010 remake The Housemaid, is the solid rock of the film that keeps the film grounded, as she convincingly conveys both the tough, determined side and the paternal side of her character. The former is shown perfectly during a funny scene where Mija tries to enter the government floor entrance.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jake Gyllenhaal gleefully hams it up figuratively as well as literally. Tilda Swinton vamps it up as well as camps it up as the primary antagonist, Lucy Mirando, and she nails it, as usual while Paul Dano, in an example of off-kilter casting as with Gyllenhaal, is surprisingly cool as the leader of the animal rights group.

The smaller roles from the conflicted Steven Yeun, the fiery Lily Collins, the comically dedicated duo of Devon Bostick and Daniel Henshall, the fatherly Byun Heebong, the weaselly Choi Woo Shik, the subtly menacing, scheming Giancarlo Esposito and the overworked and nasally Shirley Henderson all immensely contribute to the fun.

Like Okja itself, the film tends to lumber a lot, veering in many directions and tones, sometimes going on-the-snout with its themes, and like Gyllenhaal’s character, its rebellious and off-kilter filmmaking may turn people off. But like a roller-coaster, it is exhilarating stuff, and it rarely ever abides to filmmaking conventions and tropes. Okja was a film that had everything I hoped for and I wish more films like this would get made, regardless of where it comes from.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastically rebellious direction from Bong Joon Ho

Mixing of genres and ideas is done really well

The ensemble cast is great

Action scenes are very thrilling

CONS

The filmmaking and Gyllenhaal’s performance will polarize

SCORE: 9/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo Shik
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson

Movie Review – Kung Fu Yoga

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EXPECTATIONS: An insufferable experience from the once-great Jackie Chan.

REVIEW: Before I get into this review, let’s get the b-word out of the way. I am a fan of Jackie Chan. Ever since I saw one of his films on SBS, I became a huge fan of his due to his incredible dexterity, his creative fight choreography, his amazing stuntwork and his likable aw-shucks persona.

But like every action hero, the thing that defeats them is age, but Chan has always compensated with more creative fight choreography, a sharper focus on acting and and branching out from his likable persona.

But ever since 2009, he’s hit a major snag that has rendered his reputation from being extremely likable to something a lot more polarizing i.e. he became a supporter of Communist China.

Since then, the quality of his films have dropped massively, with very little effort involved from everyone including fight choreography, ill-disciplined use of the high budget and the incredibly childish sense of humour that seems to be present to pander to the China market.

And last but not least, the jingoism and xenophobia is incredibly blatant that it is quite easy to be thrown out of the film. Cases in point: Skiptrace, Shinjuku Incident, Chinese Zodiac, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers; the list goes on.

And now, we have Kung Fu Yoga, an action/adventure that seems to be a throwback to the Armour of God films, with all the globetrotting and action you would expect. But can this film break the negative trend or will it sink into it?

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Jackie Chan plays Jack (who else?), a world-renowned archaeology professor, and his team are on a grand quest to locate a lost ancient Indian treasure when they are ambushed by a team of mercenaries and left for dead. Using his vast knowledge of history and kung fu (what else?), Jack leads his team on a race around the world to beat the mercenaries to the treasure and save an ancient culture.

Now that is a simple enough plot that is easy to follow. But boy, is it terribly told. The introduction to the film is incredibly emblematic of this flaw. It involves a five-minute backstory all told in terribly rendered CGI that could have only come from a PS2 game but what is bewildering is that it has absolutely no effect or relevance to the plot whatsoever!

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But hey, who cares about the plot in a Jackie Chan film? All we want is the action! Is the action good in Kung Fu Yoga? Nope, not at all. The choreography looks sloppy, uninspired and worst of all, boring. The stunts obviously look wire-assisted, the CGI implemented looks absolutely atrocious and the sets look incredibly cheap. Nothing in the action scenes thrill or amuse and it just ends up being tedious. When a major highlight in an action scene involves a horrific looking CGI lion in a car, believe me, you’re in trouble.

So, when you have terrible action scenes in a Jackie Chan film, all you have is, well, a whiff of something you’re sure not to like. There’s the xenophobia and jingoism present throughout i.e. how there are no Indians that can find an Indian artifact in India, and can solve the puzzle inscribed on the artifact. In Indian. Or how the film actually has the guts to provide a ham-fisted moral lesson from the Chinese to Indians, about something they read from an Indian artifact! And the character actually says “Stop teaching me about my own country!”

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And there’s also the blatant plagiarism that the film steals from eg. Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Fast and the Furious films, Tomb Raider and the James Bond films. And there are many details that took me off guard. Like, why is there the use of bells in a university? How do you distract wolves with kung fu stances and snowball throwing? Why is it that a gunshot does not echo throughout the ice cave to signal that someone is in the cave? How is it that the ice cave, which is believed to be in the middle of nowhere, have two people come out of the cave through a staircase? With handrails?

Asking all of these, and many other questions, just made me realize that the film didn’t entertain or distract me from any of those flaws. The actors are no great shakes in their performances and most of them were clearly hired for market appeal rather than thespian chops. Or even charisma.

Even for those who are talented, like Eric Tsang, they disappear faster than Jackie Chan’s reputation in Hong Kong. And the tone is all over the place; the film is clearly aiming for family-friendly (or so it says) humour, and yet there are instances of adult language and violence involving deadly animals.

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Now the end credits is actually the best part of the film. And not because it meant the film was over. I personally hated the way they remixed the original song, but the dance number looked very nice and is well choreographed, by Farah Khan no less.

Kung Fu Yoga is a massive disappointment for fans of Jackie Chan, fans of cinema, Indian fans, Indian people in general and is just a complete embarrassment for all involved. Even the Indians didn’t like the film when the film was released there. That tells you what you need to know.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Okay dance number in the end

Eric Tsang in a very small role

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 2/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Disha Patani, Aarif Lee Rahman, Sonu Sood, Lay Zhang, Mu Qimiya, Zhang Guoli, Eric Tsang, Amyra Dastur, Coco Jiang
Director: Stanley Tong
Screenwriter: Stanley Tong

Movie Review – Happy End (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Haven’t seen enough Haneke films to have any.

REVIEW: Michael Haneke is a bit of a misanthrope, isn’t he? Granted, I haven’t seen all of his films, but the few that I have seen, he seems to have a very critical view on society and human nature. And compared to mainstream fare, he makes films where there is plenty of space for the audience to contemplate and ponder what is happening on-screen with little to no spoon-feeding whatsoever.

Knowing this, it becomes clear that Haneke makes films that can be quite frustrating, yet intricate pieces of work that one admires more than enjoys. But thankfully, he does have a very dark sense of humour that provides a nice counterbalance to the gloomy mood he goes for.

Case in point, his latest film, Happy End. With all of his frequent collaborators in place like Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, cinematographer Christian Berger and others; and coming back to familiar thematic territory, will the film conclude like the title suggests? For the audience, I mean?

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The film starts off with a series of Snapchat videos, detailing scenes of playfulness and lingering dread; involving acts such as animal cruelty, voyeurism, talks of suicide and bouts of self-loathing. Awkward laughs ensue.

From there, we follow a rich family, whom all have several problems lingering on their minds. Isabelle Huppert plays Anne Laurent (a name that pops ups in a lot of Haneke’s films), who has been handed the responsibility of managing a family construction business, previously owned by her aging father, Georges (again, in a lot of Haneke’s films), who is suffering from dementia. She is also getting engaged to a British lawyer, Lawrence.

Her son, Pierre, sets off a catastrophic incident at the construction site due to negligence and it sets off a huge lawsuit. Anne is worried of his deadbeat attitude and tries to straighten him up and fly right so he can take over the family business. Her brother, Thomas has problems of his own and must now look after the 13-year-old daughter, Eve,  of his previous marriage and accept her into their creepy, problematic family.

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For those who are both new and familiar to Haneke’s work, Happy End is an encapsulation of all of Haneke’s tropes: euthanasia, voyeurism, psychosexuality, creepy children, misanthropy, it’s all here. And even though, Haneke going through his old bag of tricks may signal a sign of self-parody, it never feels that way mainly because, it still feels uniquely his film.

Static wide shots, courtesy of cinematographer Christian Berger, are put to great use that either give off a sense of dread or pay off in amusing ways. Like a scene that seems to tip off Cache, it involves Pierre trying to apologize to the family of the worker who was struck by the work accident, leading to a violent conclusion. Faces of the characters aren’t always seen, even during long takes, which implies that even very little is shown in face value.

Scenes with the use of Snapchat and FaceBook (which are eerily similar to scenes in Mike NicholsCloser) also give off a glimpse of human nature that is ironically more revealing than seeing a person face to face, and again, it yields surprising laughs and bouts of tension. And even when the characters gradually reveal their feelings, it never feels heartwarming nor emotionally satisfying. It just feels creepy and awkward, in a good way.

Revelations and feelings are revealed in either the most matter-of-fact manner (one of them is an amusing twist on the occurrences in Amour); or in a blatant and sudden fashion, like a scene involving drunken/gymnastic karaoke or a scene involving a quick jolt of violence that quite honestly, had me gasping during the screening. And it shows that the characters all feel like they’re owed something, despite living the wealthy life. And that may be the scariest thing in the film.

And like most of Haneke’s films, Happy End intentionally does not end like the title implies, but with a few shocks, twists and sudden bouts of violence. And an incredible final shot that blew the minds of the audience into hysterics.

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The ensemble cast all give typically stellar performances, from Isabelle Huppert, who is solid as the daughter who tries to keep the family in control to Matthieu Kassovitz, who is refreshingly understated as the brother who tries to be fatherly while keeping a dark secret. And of course there’s Jean-Louis Trintignant, who plays Georges. Racist, rude and going on dementia, Jean-Louis seems to be having a ball in the role.

But best of all, praise must go to Fantine Harduin, who plays Eve, the 13-year old daughter of Kassovitz’s character from another marriage. Scarily knowledgeable with computer technology and filled with understated resentment (much like the film), Harduin is a new talent worth looking out for.

As for its flaws, there’s nothing truly new or groundbreaking from Haneke here. And the story involving Huppert’s character is oddly the least interesting subplot in the film, in comparison to the subplot involving Trintignant’s character and Harduin’s character.

Also, the pacing in the first and second act may be a bit too glacial, even by Haneke standards, but when most of the pieces (some are loose, like Pierre’s fascination with African migrants) come together in the final act, it delivers a great pay-off that will fester in one’s mind for a long time.

Yes, the film does feel like a greatest hits album for Haneke, but with his incredibly assured direction, fine performances, grounded storytelling and a great sense of dark humour, Happy End may not end like the title implies, but for the audience, it defini– well, that’s another story.

Who knew that the scariest thing in Happy End is not voyeurism, not euthanasia, not psychosexuality, not animal cruelty but white privilege?

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Quickie Review

PROS

Haneke’s assured, static direction

Great performances

Great sense of humour

CONS

Nothing new or truly noteworthy

Storytelling is a bit off

SCORE: 8/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Fantine Harduin, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Aurelia Petit, Toby Jones, Hille Perl, Hassam Ghancy, Nabiha Akkari, Joud Geistlich
Director: Michael Haneke
Screenwriter: Michael Haneke

Movie Review – The Forest of Lost Souls (Sydney Film Fest 2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: Artistically fulfilling, yet cinematically unrewarding.

REVIEW: Out of all the genres in cinema, horror is, in my opinion, is the best outlet for creativity within storytelling. Whether in a metaphorical sense, a symbolic sense or just nuts-and-bolts mainstream filmmaking, horror can engage, thrill, scare and surprise, regardless of what it looks like on the outside.

Case in point, David Cronenberg‘s The Fly. With a Cronenberg film involving a mutant fly, you expect the body horror and blood and gore. But underneath all of that is a tragic love story and the ramifications that one would face when a loved one is going through terminal sickness and how it affects the relationship. The best horror films tend to be symbolic of great importance and that is the reason they earn their status.

In the case of The Forest of Lost Souls,  it does feels very similar to the other Portuguese horror film, The Eyes of My Mother, due to the same slight running time, the black and white cinematography and the fact that they both combine grindhouse tropes with an arthouse aesthetic. Whereas The Eyes of My Mother deals with themes of loss and loneliness, The Forest of Lost Souls deals with coming-of-age, finding one’s place in the world and differing views of death.

With all of that in mind, will The Forest of Lost Souls succeed in both providing sufficient entertainment for horror fans as well as giving some food for thought for those looking for something different?

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A young woman, Carolina, and an old man, Ricardo, fatefully meet in a forest, which is famous for being a place where people decide to commit suicide. They decide to briefly postpone killing themselves in order to explore the forest and also to continue talking to one another, as Ricardo and Carolina find themselves intrigued by one another.

However as they go further into the forest it becomes clear that one of the pair has other reasons for being in the forest and is not who they would have the other believe them to be and is actually more than meets the eye.

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The Forest of Lost Souls is thankfully a very distinct, brisk, unconventional horror film that delivers a huge impact despite the limited resources and short running time would lead you to believe.

The obvious draw of the film is the black and white cinematography by Francisco Lobo and it is a fantastic complement to the surreal and dreamlike world that director Jose Pedro Lopes was going for. Similar to the black and white sequences in Lars Von Trier‘s Antichrist, it adds a surprising amount of tension and weirdness that it can easily put the audience at unease.

The element of surrealism is also counterbalance by the grounded nature of the story, which is a major factor of what makes the film scary. Based on a real place called Aokigahara (aka The Suicide Forest or Sea of Trees), people venture into the forest to commit suicide. But in the case of The Forest of Lost Souls, it serves as a eerie backdrop for what is essentially an origin story for the antagonist of the film. And it is executed so well that it feels grounded and it could possibly happen in real life. The fact that the film doesn’t cop out in its conclusion makes it linger disturbingly in one’s mind.

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The use of modern technology and social media is also dealt with rather well; especially with how it is incredibly easy to interact (which is a nice way of putting it) with other people as well as how we present ourselves to the world. It is the kind of effort that Lopes commits to his film that makes it more substantial that one would surmise, even with the short running time.

But does the meat-and-potatoes tropes of horror pack a punch? Yes, it certainly does. The violence and kills are sudden, understated and tastefully done; and that is thanks to the tension wrung from the cinematography, the bizarrely retro score by Emanuel Gracio and the assured direction by Lopes. Some of the shots where the antagonist is lurking behind people or in the background is reminiscent of John Carpenter‘s Halloween.

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The acting is also noteworthy with the subtlety and ingenuity of the performances. Daniela Love is great as the impulsive and knowledgeable teen, Carolina, while Jorge Mota is compelling as the conflicted family man, Ricardo. The two share an understated and natural chemistry with one another and it makes the first act of the film very serene. But of course, there’s more lurking beneath the surface when one of them has more than a few demons up their sleeve. The supporting cast are all fine but it is Love that stands out from the rest (no pun intended).

As for its flaws, the first act may be a bit slow and the abrupt change in tone in the second act may turn off viewers, as it almost turns into an entirely different film. But considering the flaws, The Forest of Lost Souls is a worthwhile horror experience thanks to its grounded story, Lopes‘ assured direction, Lobo‘s beautifully surreal cinematography, Gracio‘s retro creepy musical score and Love‘s standout lead performance.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Good performances (especially from Daniella Love)

Assured direction from Lopes

A creepy retro score from Gracio

Beautifully surreal cinematography from Lobos

Grounded storytelling adds to the tension

CONS

Slow pacing in the first act

Abrupt tone change in the second act

SCORE: 8/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Daniela Love, Jorge Mota, Mafalda Banquart, Ligia Roque, Lilia Lopes, Tiago Jacome
Director: Jose Pedro Lopes
Screenwriter: Jose Pedro Lopes

Movie Review – Dead or Alive

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EXPECTATIONS: Something downright gonzo from maverick director Takashi Miike.

REVIEW: Takashi Miike, back in the V-cinema era, was a complete madman. Not in a human state, but in his creative state, the images and ideas he comes up with can only come from a man who is completely bonkers.

This is the man who directed a film which had to have barf bags in some of the cinema screenings. This is the man who filmed a TV episode for a horror anthology that had been banned for being too disturbing. This is the man who filmed the most amazing cockfight ever seen on screen. Okay, the last one is debatable but the point is, this is a man whose filmography cannot be seen without one thinking with befuddlement and interest.

With a man who has made so many gonzo works (including Fudoh: The Next Generation, Audition, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q etc.) Dead or Alive would rank somewhere near the middle in the gonzo scale. With V-cinema stalwarts Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi as the leads in an old-school cop vs. criminal story, you know Miike has got something up his sleeve.

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Dead or Alive starts off with the most energetic and craziest 10 minutes that few have rivaled to this day. Already, we see people getting blown to bits, a woman jumping to her death, corrupt cops snorting a LONG line of cocaine, sex scenes of a homosexual nature and more gonzo goodness.

That basically is the litmus level telling whether the film is right for you. But despite all of the bizarre flourishes, the story is surprisingly reserved, consisting of your typical cops and robbers conflict, with themes like loyalty, brotherhood and justice.

One of the best touches of the film is the bizarre sense of humour towards genre tropes. Films of this type usually glamourizes the criminals in favour of sympathy or empathy toward the characters. But in the case of Dead or Alive, criminals are portrayed as they are: scums of the earth.

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There’s a stupefying scene where Aikawa’s character asks one of his informants for information, but as the scene plays out, the informant is getting ready for a bestiality shoot, including the actress and dog. And one other scene that is even more graphic, a mob boss is seen torturing a woman by forcing her to swim in a pool of her own feces. It is scenes like this (including the introduction and the ending) that makes the film a cult-classic pleasure.

But is there substance to back the film up? Surprisingly, there is ample evidence of it. The lead characters, Ryuuichi and Jojima, are given plenty of backstory; like how one is trying to save his terminally ill daughter while the other is trying to reconcile with his estranged brother. They both have clearly defined motives and are thankfully portrayed with enough sympathy and empathy by Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuichi. They are both clearly aware of the film’s intentions and are clearly having fun with their archetypal roles, elevating them with both charisma and acting chops.

The supporting cast are all film with Miike collaborators like Ren Osugi, Renji Ishibashi and others are all great with their roles, as they both honour and turn their roles on its head with gusto.

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In the case of flaws, there are many that need to be mentioned and considered. Firstly, the film’s pacing is quite haphazard, considering the frenetic nature of the introduction and conclusion. For some, the film’s second act is a slow crawl compared to all of its madness.

Secondly, the treatment of women in the film is quite disturbing and will definitely turn people off. It can be seen as a commentary towards Miike fans who enjoy his brand of bonkers gonzo violence or it can be seen as a commentary on misogyny. Either way, the message is clear: misogyny is an unspeakable and irredeemable evil. And lastly, the humour can be quite polarizing. For some, it can be seen as hilarious while others will see it as either silly and even offensive.

But if one were to describe Dead of Alive in singular words, it would be as it goes: Gonzo. Unforgettable. Crazy. Silly. Bizarre. And those words encapsulate what Dead or Alive is, in a nutshell. For those who are daring, this is the film that will blow you away, whether you’ll like it or not. I guarantee it.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Great leading performances

Fantastically bizarre sense of humour

Enough substance towards the characters

CONS

Irregular pacing

Humour will turn some people off

Treatment towards women

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Riki Takeuchi, Sho Aikawa, Renji Ishibashi, Susume Terajima, Ren Osugi
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriters: Ichiro Ryu