Sunday, 30 September 2012


Year: 2012

Director: Rian Johnson
Screenplay: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, Piper Perabo, Jeff Daniels
Running Time: 118 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, thriller, time travel
In the year 2044 time travel is still thirty years aways from being a reality. However, mobsters in the future use the technology to send their victims back in time to 2044 where they are immediately executed by hit-men known as "Loopers". If a Looper survives long enough he too is sent back in time to 2044 to be killed by his younger self, this is called "closing the loop", and if a Looper fails to kill his future self for whatever reason then the consequences for both of them are severe. Joe (Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper and a drug addict who has ambitions for a better life in France. However, one day Joe discovers that it is his turn to close the loop when his future self (Willis) is sent back for him to kill. However the older Joe escapes and soon younger Joe is on his trail desperate to kill him and make things right. Joe's boss, Abe (Daniels), a gangster from the future living in the past, sends every man he has to dispose of both versions of Joe.
This is an intriguing time travel film which has a fascinating take on the idea of the the temporal paradox which has been a mainstay of time travel stories right from the start. There are obvious influences of The Terminator (1984) and 12 Monkeys (1996), which also starred Bruce Willis. The future Joe hopes to change the past to influence the future. There is also the intesting concept of how you would react if you came face to face with either your younger self or your older self. One of the key scenes in the film being a discussion between the future and the present versions of Joe in a diner, where the older Joe refuses to discuss the complexities of time travel on the grounds that it makes your head hurt. Another key scene occurs when another Looper doesn't kill his future self and ends up being captured and tortured. The torture is depicted as the future version runs, old scars start appearing, his facial features become increasingly disigured and limbs start disappearing and his personality starts changing as the memories of the torture begin to assert themselves.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with prosthetics to make him more convincing as a young Bruce Willis, carries the film with a great performance marrying toughness, cockiness and emerging sensitivity, while Bruce Willis is as lost and confused as he was in 12 Monkeys but this time with a horrible moral dilemma to contend with. Emily Blunt is also impressive as the young single mother on whose farm young Joe takes refuge.

This is a dark film with a shocking twist that probably very few mainstream film-makers would have the courage to pull off. It also features an impressive depiction of a depressing, post-economic crash, noirish world. With recent films such as Moon (2009), Inception (2010) and Source Code (2011), intelligent science-fiction is in great shape at the moment and this is one of the best examples of the genre.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis in Looper

Friday, 28 September 2012


Year: 1970

Director: Antony Balch
Screenplay: Antony Balch, John Eliot, Martin Locke, Maureen Owen, Alfred Mazure and Elliott Stein
Starring: Valentine Dyall, Maria Frost, Sue Bond and Yvonne Quenet
Running Time: 91 minutes
Genre: Comedy, fantasy, sex
This film definitely lives up to it's title. Basically it is seven short stories dealing with various aspects of sex narrated by an Egyptian mummy (Dyall). The stories include a photographer who goes to extreme lengths to make sure that her models really capture pain, an elderly man who is preparing for his young wife's first child only to discover that the baby is not what he expected, a strange man who really loves lizards and the adventures of a glamorous secret agent in a spoof of 1960s spy movies.
Antony Balch was kind of a curious figure on the British cultural scene in the 1960s who is probably best known for his experimental short films that he made with Beat writer William S. Burroughs, Towers Open Fire (1963) and The Cut-Ups (1967). This was his feature debut. The film is very much a product of it's time and sometimes feels like a time capsule of the late sixties (it was filmed in 1969). It is worth bearing in mind that by modern standards the film is horribly politically incorrect and if it wasn't so ineptly made it would probably be extremely offensive. The acting is pretty bad, most of the cast being primarily models instead of actors. The script is bad and the film is full of nonsensical interludes and weird visuals. For the most part it falls into the "so bad it is actually hilarious", however there are moments where Balch shows genuine cinematic talent, and the film deserves points for being genuinely unpredictable, and it is a real oddity.
It was a huge success in it's day and ran on the grindhouse cinema circuit in London pretty much constantly throughout the 1970s in variously edited versions. The film was also released as Secrets of Sex.

Fifty shades of blue:  Bizarre

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Judo Saga

Year:  1943
Director:  Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay:  Akira Kurosawa and Tomita Tsuneo, based on the novel Sanshiro Sugata by Tomita Tsuneo
Starring:  Denjiro Okochi,  Susumu Fujita, Yukiko Todoroki, Takashi Shimura
Running Time:  79 minutes (cut from 97 minutes)
Genre:  Martial arts, period drama,

This film is probably most notable as being the directorial debut of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  Set in 1882, the film tells the story of headstrong, young Sanshiro Sugata (Fujita) who heads out to study martial arts but finds himself caught between two rival schools, one teaching the traditional jujitsu and the other teaching the more modern judo.

The film is stylish and well made, if slow-moving.  It features many themes and techniques that would recur time and again over Kurosawa's career, such as the relationship between pupil and master, and between tradition and modernism, and techniques such as wipes, changing camera speeds and the use of weather patterns to reveal character moods.  It was a huge success in it's day and spawned a sequel, also directed by Kurosawa, which was released in 1945.  The film has been remade five times.  It was cut by seventeen minutes by the Japanese censors for "failing to comply with the Government's wartime entertainment policies".  The missing footage has never been recovered.

The film is not among Kurosawa's best, but it still has much to recommend it.  Certainly his mastery of cinema was evident right from the start.

Sanshiro Sugata (Susumu Fujita) is holding on in Judo Saga  

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Year:  1986
Director:  Derek Jarman
Screenplay:  Derek Jarman and Suso Cecchi d'Amico, from a story by Nicholas Ward-Jackson
Starring:  Nigel Terry, Sean Bean, Tilda Swinton, Spencer Leigh, Michael Gough
Running Time:  93 minutes
Genre:  Biography, drama

Towards the end of his life, celebrated Seventeenth Century painter Michelangelo da Caravaggio (Terry) reflects on his eventful life, from his youth as a violent hustler and street artist to his rise to fame under the patronage of Cardinal Del Monte (Gough).  Caravaggio becomes known for his skill as an artist and notorious for his habit of using people from the street as models for his mostly religious paintings, as well as his habit of sleeping with many of his models, both men and women.  His reflections focus on his relationships with thuggish street fighter Ranuccio (Bean) and Ranuccio's girlfriend Lena (Swinton), who both become his models and his muse. 

Acclaimed British director Derek Jarman worked for seven years to make a film of the life of the legendary painter Caravaggio, and the original idea was something much closer to the conventional movie biopic to be shot on location in Italy with a fairly large budget.  However, the budget fell through at the last minute and Jarman was forced to scale back his plans quite considerably.  The film ended up being shot entirely in a studio in London.  Possibly as a result of this, the film never aims at an authentic recreation of 17th Century Italy.  Instead it kind of exists in a surreal twilight zone somewhere between the world of Caravaggio and the world of 1980s London.  There are numorous deliberate anachronisms in the film: characters wear items of modern dress, merchants do their accounts on pocket calculators, an art critic writes venomous reviews on a portable typewriter and Ranuccio works on a motorbike among others.  However the film is visually startling.  The look of the film attempts to replicate the look and feel of Caravggio's paintings with striking success.  It creates it's own world that is both dreamlike and strongly vibrant and physical.  The performances are very good, if occasionally overly theatrical.  This film marks the movie debut of Tilda Swinton, who went on to do several more films with Jarman, as did Sean Bean.  Derek Jarman was a painter himself and the film presents a striking account of the art world.  Rarely do biopics of an artist focus so strongly on the actual painting of the works themselves.  This film is probably Derak Jarman's finest film and certainly his most accessible.  It's well worth checking out.

Nigel Terry and Sean Bean fight it out in Caravaggio      

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Possession

Year:  2012
Director:  Ole Bornedal
Screenplay:  Juliet Snowden and Stiles White, based on the Los Angeles Times article "Jinx in a Box" by Leslie Gornstein
Starring:  Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick, Madison Davenport
Running Time:  91 minutes
Genre:  Horror, supernatural

This film is based on the allegedly true story of the so-called "Dybbuk box" which is an old wine-chest which is said to be haunted.  Basketball coach Clyde Brenek (Morgan) and jewellery designer Stephanie Brenek (Sedgwick) are in the process of getting divorced.  The couple have two young children, Em (Calis) and Hannah (Davenport).  During a weekend with their father, Em asks him to buy her a strangely carved wooden box.  That night she manages to open the box, with difficulty and finds that it is full of strange old objects.  Before long Em starts hearing voices and manifesting disturbing changes in personality and violent behaviour, as well as bizarre supernatural phenomenon.  Clyde soon becomes convinced that there is a force in the box that is trying to take control of his daughter.

This is a decent slice of supernatural possession horror.  There isn't much here that will surprise fans of the genre, and the film is very obviously influenced by The Exorcist (1973) but there are a few good jolts and the film creates a creepy, downbeat atmosphere, anchoring the supernatural events among the all too real horrors of divorce.  It also manages to be fairly subtle for the most part which makes it all the more effective.  The performances are good throughout, particularly from Natasha Calis as the tormented Em.  While, as I said, there is nothing particularly new here there is still enough to make it worth watching, just don't expect anything spectacularly amazing.

What's in the box?  Natasha Calis in The Possession      


Year:  2012
Director: Pete Travis
Screenplay:  Alex Garland, based on the comic book character created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
Starring:  Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Heady
Running Tme:  95 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, horror

In a post-apocalyptic world, much of the planet Earth is an irradiated wasteland dubbed "Cursed Earth", the majority of the population live in vast, overcrowded Mega-Cities.  The law is enforced by an urban police force known as "Judges" who have the authority to act as judge, jury and instant executioner.  The largest of the Mega-Cities is Mega-City One which covers most of the eastern part of North America, and the toughest Judge in Mega-City One is Judge Dredd (Urban).  Dredd is assigned to instruct and assess a rookie Judge named Cassandra Anderson (Thirlby) who has powerful psychic abilities.  Their first case involves a gruesome triple homicide at one of the most crime-ridden towerblocks in the city.  Dredd and Anderson quickly connect the murders to the thriving trade in an illegal new drug called "Slo-Mo" which causes it's users to experience time at a fraction of normal speed.  It turns out that the entire towerblock is controlled by the psychotic gang leader Ma-Ma (Heady).  Before long Dredd and Anderson find themselves in a desperate struggle for survival when they become sealed in the towerblock with an entire army of heavily armed criminals set against them.

Judge Dredd first appeared in the pages of British science-fiction comic book 2000 AD in 1977.  The character first appeared on screen in the 1995 in the movie Judge Dredd with Sylvester Stallone in the title role.  The movie had a fairly mixed reception from critics and fans, with a lot of the criticism being about how the movie deviated from the comics.  For example, one of the distinctive elements of the character in the comics is that he is never shown without his helment on obscuring most of his face.  In the Stallone movie, the helmet is taken off within the first twenty minutes and stays off.  In Dredd, the helmet stays on for the entire movie.  For reasons other than an obscured face, Dredd is a difficult character to translate to film.  In the comics he is fascistic, humourless, dour and completely fixated on enforcing the law.  It's to the film's credit that Dredd is transferred pretty much wholesale from the page to the screen, with no backstory or clever witticisms.  Urban turns in a great performance, having to deliver a performance with only the lower half of his face visible, and a great, growling voice.  As a result most of the character development and emotional heart of the movie is given to the tough yet sympathetic trainee Judge Anderson, and Olivia Thirlby does a great job.  Also memorable is Lena Heady as the brutal ganglord Ma-Ma.  The film was made with a comparatively tiny budget for a comic book movie and so confines most of it's action to the interior of the towerblock, which provides an element of claustrophobia as well as great running gun battles through the corridors.  Mega-City One itself is contemporary Johannesburg with a few CGI additions.  The film includes a number of beautifully surreal slow-motion sequences with heightened colour to represent to effects of the Slo-Mo drug, which work beautifully in 3D.  However nothing gets in the way of the film's bone-crunching, brain-frying violence, and this film is extremely violent.

The film brought to mind the excessive, graphically violent science-fiction action movies of the early 1990s such as the original Total Recall, RoboCop 2 and Predator 2, and that really is no bad thing.    

Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) lays down the law in Dredd