onderhond blog - onderhond.com http://www.onderhond.com/blog/onderhond The onderhond blog is a collection of gathered thoughts about my work and my personal life. Find out about what drives me as a person and how I get about in my professional life. en-us underdog@operamail.com (Niels Matthijs) <![CDATA[Jamin Winans on The Frame/An Interview]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/jamin-winans-interview-frame

A little over two weeks ago I wrote my review for Jamin Winans' The Frame, soon after I got the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions about his latest film. We talked about working on a budget, the importance of a good score, film distribution woes and why we probably won't see him working in Hollywood anytime soon. That and a lot more of course, so let's jump right in.

Jamin Winans on The Frame

Niels Matthijs: Urban fantasy is a genre that's not too popular in cinema. It seems that big studios consider it too big a risk, while indie filmers have a hard time pulling it off with their limited budgets. What draws you to the genre?

Jamin Winans: Honestly I never identified it as "urban fantasy" before, but I like that title. I've always been a big sci-fi/fantasy fan because it's an opportunity to go crazy with the possibilities of the unknown. I'm someone who believes there's an enormous amount going on that we can't see, haven't discovered yet, or our brains just don't have the capacity to understand. So sci-fi/fantasy is a way to at least try and push into those possibilities.

At the same time my mind (like anyone else's) is planted firmly in very real human struggle. I'm someone who doesn't find sci-fi/fantasy compelling unless it somehow gets at the heart of deeper questions of existence, pain, love, etc...

So "urban fantasy" is a way to come at those big real world questions from a radically different perspective. And hopefully by changing our perspective we can get some sort of wisdom out of that.

Were there any things you left out of The Frame because you figured the budget wouldn't allow you to do it properly?

Nothing thematic, but in early drafts of the script I had planned on more ambitious action sequences. Mainly just more destruction in the sequences that are there. Fortunately I don't miss any of it.

The best films are often the ones where creativity overcomes budgetary limitations. What part of The Frame are you most proud of, taking into account the limited budget you had to work with?

Above all else, the actors. That's often the first thing to go in low-budget "genre" filmmaking, but we pressed hard for the right cast and were truly fortunate to get them. David and Tiffany hold the whole thing together and that's saying a lot because it's a pretty insane piece of material.

That said, I'm really proud of the actual technical camera work that went into the film. We had some very specific rules about what the camera represented and how it behaved. Those rules made shooting and planning a big pain in the ass, but we also did some things I haven't seen before in other films. Had we had more money, we may not have been forced to shoot the unique shots the way we did.

The Frame was obviously made with a clear vision in mind, but it seems you leave it up to the audience to piece everything together. Do you hope they will faithfully reconstruct what you put in there, or do you prefer people to find their own version of the truth?

I do of course have a specific intent with the film, but I know that if I want someone to understand and connect with it on a truly deeper level, I have to leave space for them. A lot of people don't like having that space and don't want to do the mental work, which I get, but this isn't that kind of film. Anyone really wanting something substantial from a story or a piece of art has to put themselves into it, be a part of it.

There are things I hope people walk away with, but in the end, I really do want them to combine the experience of the film with their own life and let it speak to them in their own language.

You spend a lot of time constructing elaborate and unique universes in your films, layered with thick, mysterious atmospheres. Are you afraid people will just submerge themselves in the worlds you construct, ignoring the questions and deeper meanings that are there, or do you embrace such an experience?

In a perfect world we're always making something multi-layered that can be enjoyed at different levels. Most people watch movies to escape from their lives and be transported and I hope our films do that. But for the person like me that wants to go deeper, well then I hope they can and will do that too.

I always feel that most directors underestimate the impact of a good score. They see it as a necessity rather than an opportunity to make their film better. Is that the reason why you wrote the score for The Frame yourself?

I think there's a couple schools of thought around film music. For most, yeah it's an afterthought. We need music because that's what films have, so let's hire a musician.

Then there's the filmmakers that hate scores because they feel like music is manipulative. I understand that point of view and think going without music is great for some movies. That said, everything about making a movie is arguably manipulative from the dialogue spoken to the edits made, so I don't think the blanket rule of "music is bad" makes sense.

To me filmmaking is the ultimate artform because it includes so many other art forms. One of those is music. I've always responded to movies when the music intimately works with the story so that's what I try to create in my own work. I write the scores myself because it's the easiest and fastest way to work, it allows me to integrate the two more intimately, and quite honestly no other musician would put up with my crap.

I think I read somewhere that you wrote most of the score before you even started filming. How did that influence the film?

Working on the scores early on helps me to find the tone of the movie which is really helpful. Tone is closely linked to theme in "The Frame". When I was experimenting with the music early on I ended up creating a piece with an almost breathing quality like a resting giant. That drove a huge part of the aesthetic of the eventual film.

You even go one step further in The Frame, letting the characters connect with each other by having them murmur the film's main theme. Is having music as part of the plot an idea you'd like to keep exploring in your next films, or did it just feel right for The Frame?

It's definitely been a big part of the last several films. Our short film "Spin" is about a DJ who controls the world with turn tables, "Ink" had a character who taps into the beat of the world and to your point the characters hum the theme in "The Frame". So there's definitely a trend there. I think there's a good chance it will continue.

You wrote, composed, edited and directed The Frame. Is there some other aspect of film making you think you could learn to make your films even more personal?

Boy I hope not. It takes me too long to make a movie as it is. And I don't think anyone needs to see me try to act.

I understand you tried out Hollywood for a short while but couldn't really fit in. While I get this need to create films that are very personal to you, aren't you at least a bit curious what it would be like to create a studio film?

Well, I wouldn't say I tried out Hollywood. I reluctantly signed with an agent after Ink, did some general meetings with studios in order to see if there was any way I could get our films funded within the system and still retain final cut. As I expected, very few people in the studio system are making original work (non-franchise material) and virtually no director is getting final cut in Hollywood, let alone a wee fellow like me. So, I've opted to just keep making films the way I always have.

I'm actually not that curious about studio filmmaking. I think that's the ultimate goal of a lot of filmmakers, but it seems like most really creative and talented filmmakers who jump into that system end up making very expensive films that are ultimately less interesting than their indie work and they no longer have a voice. I just have this strong belief that life is short and I don't want to spend any of it making someone else's movie, even if it means I'll be poor the rest of my life.

Would you know what to do if some rich investor came up to you and said "Here's 100 million dollar Mr. Winans, make whatever you like but you have to put every last cent I give you into this film"?

Do you know someone?

Yeah, like any filmmaker, I would be happy to spend the money, but not if it meant I had to make it back. More money means more financial responsibility and that usually means less risk-taking artistically. But if none of that was a concern, then you bet, I would build some insane sets and do things I always dreamed of.

In another interview you said: "our trajectory is to always do something better". Do you start by analyzing your previous film, looking for things to improve, or do you start fresh and take what you learned from your prior experiences to create something new (that will hopefully end up being better)?

"Better" is ultimately very subjective. What I don't want to do is focus on making something the audience will perceive as better. I don't read reviews and generally stay away from audience feedback because I don't want to be influenced by what audiences do or don't like about what I've done.

For me "better" is knowing that I'm pushing myself further, going deeper, and not allowing myself to get comfortable and redundant. I had a teacher say once, "Just write for God and no one else." I think that's good advice.

It seems that your cinema exists in a niche of itself. The only other director I could see you being compared to is Shane Carruth. Where in the big picture do you see your films fit in?

Good question. Hopefully they don't fit in anywhere. Hopefully they're seen as unique enough to be their own. If people can't quite describe what they are or fit them into a specific genre, then we've done something right.

Do you still watch a lot of other films and do they inspire you? Or do you find your inspiration elsewhere?

I do still watch a ton of films and love them, but I'm realizing as I say this, they don't inspire my process as much as they used to. I think that's probably natural. In the beginning you riff on things that you like, but as you find your voice you depend less and less on other influences.

Your films are quite niche and you've said no to Hollywood before. Does that mean you dislike Hollywood films, or is it just something you don't see yourself doing but can still respect/enjoy on a different level?

I love a lot of Hollywood films, but fewer and fewer take any chances. I haven't been really excited by a Hollywood film in a really long time.

I think there are great directors and craftsman making movies in that system and they're doing phenomenal work, but they're doing phenomenal work for franchises that require very specific results.

What struck me as awesome when I looked at the Blu-Ray and DVD of The Frame was the Region 0 encoding plus the inclusion of French, German and Spanish subtitles. 20 years ago things like that where advertised boldly to push DVD sales, but in reality DVD did very little to get rid of geolocking people out of watching films. Was this a very conscious strategy?

Yeah, we're very pro self-distribution and make sure we're not tying up our movies with some ancient business strategy of geo-locking. It astounds me that companies are still doing that. We have fans in France, Germany, Spain, Latin America and all over really. If we had the money and resources we would have subtitled the film in every language, but unfortunately we could only afford our three biggest languages.

Ink blew up in the online piracy scene, I'm sure The Frame is encountering similar problems. Still I heard you say you are "pro-access" (a lovely term). Things are slowly improving with services like Netflix and the EU committing themselves to make cross-country distribution rights more transparent, but on a global scale it's still hard to watch films on a try & buy budget. How do you see that changing in the coming years? Will services like Netflix finally take over, or will studios win their power back?

I think access will ultimately win the day. Trying to control how people watch movies and listen to music is futile. If you don't provide access, people will create their own.

I don't necessarily think people expect everything for free, but they do get tired of not having access and they get tired of prices being unreasonably high. You see an amazing trailer for a movie on YouTube, but you have no way to watch it in your small town in Uzbekistan. So you're going to pirate it.

Services like Amazon and iTunes are making it easier and easier for people to watch anywhere in the world which is great, but their digital pricing is based on DVD prices from 15 years ago. Most people don't want to buy a digital file for $15 and a good deal of the world can't afford it.

This is driven by the studios who are still dependent on an old and dying model. The fact is the new digital model isn't nearly as lucrative as the DVD/Blu-ray model and that sucks for content creators and distributors, but it's unavoidable. And by trying to hold onto this old model, studios and distributors are helping to create a larger and larger base of pirates who feel justified not paying. That's not a habit you want to create because it's going to be very hard to reverse.

All I know is that piracy is rampant because the current system is not working. Give your audience easy access at a fair price and I think many many more will pay. We have an $8 digital download of "The Frame" that includes the film, soundtrack, and Art-Of book on www.DoubleEdgeFilms.com. And that's done well.

Tue, 19 May 2015 11:27:32 +0200
<![CDATA[Clint Eastwood/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/clint-eastwood-x10
Clint Eastwood

To me Clint Eastwood is first and foremost an actor, but it's becoming harder and harder to ignore the immense body of directorial work he's done. So far Eastwood directed 35 feature films spanning 45 years. That's more than most directors would hope to ever accomplish in their entire careers. Even though he's well in his eighties now, he's not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.

To say I dislike Eastwood's film would be an understatement. I'm not particularly fond of westerns and his sentimental dramas don't really do it for me either. Eastwood is one of those directors who ended up on my list mostly by accident, by watching a few of his well-respected films combined with some random encounters. Not counting one pleasant surprise, his oeuvre has left me pretty disappointed.

The oldest Eastwood I've seen is High Plains Drifter, one of the first films where he appeared as director. It's a pretty typical western on the surface, though I'm sure western fans will appreciate the deeper layer underneath. If you're like me and you don't like the typical western elements (not in the least Eastwood's character), the film has very few redeeming qualities. The same could be said about Unforgiven, the second Eastwood I've seen. In between he made 11 more films, though none of which I've seen.

In 2003 Eastwood released Mystic River, the film that kickstarted the most recent cycle in his career. It's a very heavy-handed, sentimental and drab Hollywood drama that would go on to become the template for most of his later films. Millon Dollar Baby and Changling suffer from the same shortcomings, while Letters from Iwo Jima and American Sniper carry over the defect to a war-like setting. Jersey Boys (adapted from the musical) doesn't fare much better.

The only Eastwood film I liked so far is Gran Torino. Not that I have extremely fond memories of it, but the main character is just perfect for Eastwood's onscreen persona. It easy to see how the film could be pretty offensive to some (Eastwood's character has been wrongly branded a racist and the film's ending is pretty boastful), but as long as you see the humor of his performance then it's an okay film.

Long story short, Eastwood isn't my kind of director (nor actor for that matter). I find his films old-fashioned, dire, heavy-handed and lifeless. I still have a few Eastwoods lined up, but only because of their status. If you're into westerns than a film like Unforgiven is a good starting point, if you're more into Hollywood drama than Mystic River is the obvious choice.

Best film: Gran Torino (3.5*)
Worst film: High Plains Drifter (0.5*)
Average rating: 1.25 (out of 5)

Mon, 18 May 2015 11:41:49 +0200
<![CDATA[Ronny Yu/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/ronny-yu-x10
Ronny Yu

It's not easy to succeed in Hollywood as a foreign director, but that hasn't stopped a bunch of Hong Kong directors from taking the plunge. Very few made a noticeable impact, even fewer made anything truly worthwhile and just about every single one returned to their homeland to reboot their careers. Ronny Yu is one of those brave men and while his Hollywood work isn't exactly A-grade material, he did direct some memorable films over there.

But like most Hong Kong directors crossing over, Yu started his career in Hong Kong. I can't say I'm very familiar with Yu's early work though, somehow his first couple of films have completely eluded me. Yu started his career in 1979, co-directing a film with Philip Chan. The first somewhat famous title he directed was Xun Cheng Ma [The Postman Fights Back], an action vehicle starring Chow Yun-Fat. All in all he directed 9 films before the '90s, none of which I've seen.

The first Ronny Yu film I did see was Qian Wang 1991 [Great Pretenders], an amusing comedy romp featuring Teddy Robin Kwan and Tony Leung Chiu Wai in a typical (Jing Wong-like trickster setting. He followed it up with Huo Tou Fu Xing [Shogun and the Little Kitchen], a martial arts comedy featuring Yuen Biao, Leon Lai and Man Tat Ng. Funny films if you can stand the typical Hong Kong sense of humor, but probably not the best entry points in Yu's oeuvre.

In the magical year 1993 Yu directed his two breakthrough films. Bai Fa Mo Nu Zhuan I & II [The Bride with the White Hair I & II] are two solid fantasy epics that are sure to appeal to fans of 90s Hong Kong cinema, travelling far beyond the borders of Yu's home turf. Two years later he would repeat his success in a more historically correct setting with Ye Ban Ge Sheng [The Phantom Lover], though that film failed to generate the same international buzz as its predecessors.

'97 was the year that Yu began to actively woo Hollywood. At first tentatively, with Hong Kong/USA cross-over film Warriors of Virtue, later he would move on to direct two high-profile horror franchise sequels (Bride of Chucky and Freddy vs Jason) while delivering a weird Guy Ritchie clone (The 51st State) in between. While not great films, they possess a baseline quality that make them quite enjoyable still.

It wouldn't be until Yu's return to Hong Kong in 2006 that he would finally direct his masterpiece. Huo Yuanjia [Fearless] is a grand martial arts epic recounting the life of its titular character. The film did well, not in the least because Jet Li announced it as his last Wushu film. It would take Yu another 7 years to direct a follow-up, but sadly that one failed to really excite audiences. Yang Jia Jiang [Saving General Yang] is a decent enough film, but a little below Yu's usual quality standard.

Ronny Yu isn't a great director, nor the kind of director who has a clear signature style. But he can handle big budgets remarkably well and even when he's given weak source material he is able to make something fun with it. While Huo Yuanjia is pretty much his only stand-out film so far, I haven't really seen a weak film by Yu either. Though I presume you need a soft spot for Hong Kong's legendary sense of humor to appreciate his older work.

Best film: Huo Yuanjia [Fearless] (4.5*)
Worst film: Qian Wang 1991 [Great Pretenders] (3.0*)
Average rating: 3.3 (out of 5)

Fri, 15 May 2015 12:20:02 +0200
<![CDATA[Lost River/Ryan Gosling]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/lost-river-review-ryan-gosling

Ryan Gosling is hot property these days, yet the fact that he just finished his first feature film would come as a big surprise to most people. Somehow Lost River failed to generate the kind of buzz expected from a film with Gosling's name attached to it. After watching Gosling's firstborn though, it's actually not that hard to see why it failed. Even if it's by far the best film I've seen coming out of America in quite a while, it's not what you call a potential crowd pleaser.

screen capture of Lost River

I'm not sure exactly why, but somehow I wasn't too thrilled by the prospect of watching Lost River, which is probably why it ended up on the bottom of the pile. The idea of Gosling directing a film was definitely intriguing enough and the fact that he'd chosen to make a mystery should have peaked my interest. It could have helped had I known Benoît Debie was hired as DP, but I only noticed during the opening credits. And it might be that I expected this film to turn out more like Refn's latest films (while not bad, I think their potential greatly exceeds the final result), but even that feels like reaching.

Long story short, I was wrong to have almost discarded Lost River without giving it a fair chance. Even though the link with Refn's later work is definitely there, Gosling goes his own way while borrowing little bits and pieces from elsewhere. Influences may range from David Lynch to The Wizard of Gore and even something as exotic as Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, but in the end Gosling managed to create his own little universe that stands perfectly well on its own.

Lost River is set against a background of a region in decay. Jobs are scarce, poverty reigns and people are moving to better places. Not so Billy, who tries to cling to the house she occupies with her two kids. When the money finally dries up, she accepts an offer to work in a mysterious bar that does horror-themed performances. Meanwhile her son Bones is getting into trouble with Bully, the self-appointed ruler of the region who drives around terrorizing people and setting houses on fire. To escape this dreary existence Bones hooks up with Rat, the girl next door, who tells him a legend of an underwater city that resides nearby.

screen capture of Lost River

Call me patriotic, but with Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, Calvaire, Spring Break) on board visual excellence is pretty much guaranteed. And Debie delivers in spades here. The framing is beautiful, the lighting exquisite and there are some very bold color choices that go a long way in giving the film its otherworldly atmosphere. The darker, gloomier scenes in particular are of stunning beauty, making it that much easier to pull people into the unfolding mystery.

The score (by Johnny Jewel, of Drive fame) has a very similar, ethereal quality. While the 80s influences are unmistakeably there, it seems that we are finally moving beyond merely emulating that typical 80s sound and exploring new territory with it. The score has a pretty Lynchian feel to it, constantly moving to the foreground and demanding the audience's attention. In combination with the visuals it makes for a very compelling yet demanding atmosphere that hurls the film forward.

Gosling managed to secure a pretty impressive cast, which may be one of the perks of his current golden status. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) and Iain De Caestecker (In Fear, Filth) shine as Billy and Bones, Saoirse Ronan, Ben Mendelsohn and Matt Smith act as a more than solid addition to the primary cast. Even Eva Mendes made a worthwhile appearance as leader of the horror troupe, rounding off a pretty interesting cast.

screen capture of Lost River

Lost River is a film more about atmosphere and emotion than it is about plot and story. Gosling creates a world that is very much like our own, but still feels very distant and alien. While there's a clear climax, the film doesn't have a real conclusion and many of the film's ideas aren't explored to their fullest. If you're okay with that though, the film offers one of the dreamiest and eeriest film universes I've encountered in quite a while, rising above and beyond as one of the most enveloping mysteries I've seen since Lynch stopped directing feature films.

Lost River's reception was pretty poor, but that was only to be expected. The film's way too strange and peculiar to appeal to a broad audience, yet Gosling's name will attract many people who wouldn't normally sit down to watch a film like this. I went in with low expectations but I was blown away. Lost River is an audiovisual trip through an intriguing world, it's a feverish nightmare presented as a soothing dream, but above all it's a film from a director who has a voice of his own. Hopefully Lost River won't be the last we hear of Gosling as a director because his potential is seemingly endless.

Wed, 13 May 2015 11:30:08 +0200
<![CDATA[Snatch./Guy Ritchie]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/snatch-review-guy-ritchie

It's one thing to surprise the world with a superb first feature film, following it up with an equally impressive second one is much harder still. That's exactly what Guy Ritchie managed to do with Snatch though. Three years after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels Ritchie released his second film, which would go on to become an ultimate fan favorite. Upon watching it again this week, it's not all that hard to see why. Through the years Snatch has lost little (if any) of its appeal.

screen capture of Snatch.

Compared to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch is a little darker and grittier. It's still very much a crime comedy dressed up with outrageous characters and overflowing with foul language, but it comes across as a little less naive. There are several key moments that strip away the laughter, baring a nastier side of Ritchie, though these moments are never more than glimpses hidden away in a puddle of goofy silliness.

For me, the film's main appeal lies with the delivery of the dialogues. Ritchie is a decent writer and there are definitely some funny monologues and conversations here, but without the thick, British accents it still wouldn't amount to much. From Pitt's pikey accent and Statham's overstated accentuation to Ewen Bremner's tangled excuse for a language, the delivery of the lines is crucial to the comedy and nobody has mastered the art of delivery direction like Ritchie.

The plot is once again pretty convoluted, but all in all it's easy enough to keep track of what's going on. At the center there's a big ass diamond, circling around the stone are 4 or 5 groups of criminals trying to get their hands on the gem. Things get a little messier when the different groups' paths intersect, especially when this unearths a couple of feuds and old grievances, but Ritchie keeps a good overview of the action as to not make things more confusing then they actually are.

screen capture of Snatch.

Snatch turned out to be a rather dark and gloomy-looking film. Even though Ritchie's characters are very colorful, the color palette he applies isn't. Lots of greys, blues and dark greens make up the world of Snatch. The framing and editing on the other hand are energetic and playful, breaching the dullness of the color palette. Ritchie has a lot of visual flair and doesn't hold back, even when most of the film is just endless conversation.

The soundtrack is a collection of pretty well-know pop tracks, complemented by some high octane electronic derivatives (mostly drum 'n bass-like music that resides in the background). I'm not a fan of 10CC, Oasis or even Massive Attack, but Ritchie integrates the music well with the rest of the film. While it's not an exceptional soundtrack in any way, it does the job.

The cast is where the film truly shines. Ritchie assembled an amazing group of actors, with Jason Statham, Vinnie Jones and Brat Pitt spearheading the film. True star of the film is Alan Ford (as Brick Top) though. He truly comes off as a menacing, filth-spewing, heartless gangster. A man to be feared. If that wasn't enough, Ritchie also had a superb secondary cast to his disposal, with great roles for Benicio Del Toro, Jason Flemyng, Lennie James and a hilarious Ewen Bremner cameo. And quite remarkably, there almost no women on the pay roll, safe for some very small parts. You don't see that very often.

screen capture of Snatch.

Snatch is a very manly film. Testosterone levels are through the roof, cussing is elevated to an art form, there are some big ass guns, a couple of rough fist fights and plenty of macho behavior. At the same time, the characters are all pretty big losers, acting dumb, saying stupid things and getting themselves knee-deep into trouble. It's this friction that makes Snatch such an entertaining experience. Because of that Snatch turned out to be a pretty talky film, which might clash with people's expectations, but since that's where its strength lies it's hardly an issue.

Ritchie perfected his signature style in this film. Lots of visual trickery, a solid soundtrack, spiffy dialogues, a convoluted plot and a big cast full of colorful characters. All of that combined with thick British accents makes for a superb piece of entertainment. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like testosterone-fuelled crime comedies than Snatch is one of the modern classics you simply cannot skip. Just don't expect anything subtle.

Tue, 12 May 2015 11:06:55 +0200
<![CDATA[Comet/Sam Esmail]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/comet-review-sam-esmail

Going into a film with no expectations and coming out pleasantly surprised is one of those things you long for as a film fan. I didn't have a single clue what Comet was about, I only knew it featured Justin Long and that it had a rather unique poster/title/genre combination. Sometimes that's all you need to know to make that gamble. Most of the time these bets turn out to be a great disappointment, but not so in this case. Director Sam Esmail delivers.

screen capture of Comet

Esmail is a relative newcomer in the film business. He got involved with a couple of short films and wrote the script for Mockingbird (a rather generic looking horror film if there ever was one), but Comet is his first serious venture into the world of feature film making. As writer/director for Comet he took on a lot of responsibility and went out of his way to turn his first ever feature film into something special. The result is a divisive romance unlike anything else you've seen.

American cinema isn't exactly known for producing quality romance films. They're either cheesy Hollywood romcoms or hipster indie romances with very little in between. There are a few exceptions, like Linklater's Sunset series, but even that one is set in Europe. Comet could be lumped together with other indie hipster romances, but there's definitely a lot more going here. From the elaborate plot structure to the beautiful visuals, this is not your average low-key indie flick.

The story revolves around the troubled romance between Dell and Kimberly. The film focuses on five key moments in their relationship, baring the hardships that prevents them from sharing their lives together in an orderly fashion. Esmail jumps between these key moments seemingly at will, gradually developing an intriguing pattern of emotions while crafting two very well-rounded characters. it's a pretty limited setup, but it's all you need for a sizzling romance.

screen capture of Comet

Visually Comet is a real treat. First of all there's the exquisite framing, with characters often residing in the furthest corners of the screen, creating a very unique, spatial effect. There's also a very deliberate use of color that helps to differentiate between the different key moments while also relating heavily to the characters' emotional state. Add the snappy editing and some Punch-Drunk Love-like scene transitions and you have a film where form and function integrate perfectly to create a lush overall effect.

The soundtrack is bit more timid in nature. It lives mostly in the background, though it is noticeably present throughout most of the film. It's not so much that individual pieces stand out or demand attention, but the soundtrack as a whole does weigh on the film, creating a smooth, warm and stylish atmosphere. There's a slight build-up as the film progresses and becomes more and more dramatic/romantic, but it's more of an impression rather than something you'll notice consciously.

There's a very small secondary cast, but I wonder if any of them had more than two lines of text. Comet is really about Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and nothing else. Luckily the both of them do a great job, especially considering the fact that their characters can be a little much (read annoying). They both have rather explicit quirks and the dialogues feel quite scripted at times (they're both a little too ad rem), but as a couple they're ultimately charming and in the end it's not all that hard to feel for them.

screen capture of Comet

For a romance, Comet can be quite hard to follow at times. Not only does Esmail jump between different moments in time, he sneakily blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. There's a disguised dream sequence halfway through and some smaller details that don't quite conform with reality. The final scene for example shows a conversation at dawn, when suddenly two suns rise up from behind the mountains. Esmail never really emphasizes (or explains) these anatopisms, but it's impossible to ignore them. While this might put some people off, these are the moments that really define the film.

Comet is quite the calling card for Esmail. It may be his first feature film, but it feels very polished and firmly directed. It's not an easy sell as it tries to combine a simple romance with a heavy load of cinematic trickery, something that is sure to alienate a part of its core audience, but if you're up for a novel take on romance films, Comet is definitely worth watching. I for one am already looking forward to Esmail's next film.

Thu, 07 May 2015 11:05:51 +0200
<![CDATA[The Frame/Jamin Winans]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/the-frame-review-jamin-winans

When I discovered Ink a little over 5 years ago, I saw a nifty little film brewing with potential. Ever since I've been waiting for Jamin Winans' next film, hoping to find reassurance that Ink wasn't just a one off and that Winans was a keeper. It took him a while, but his next feature film has finally arrived. As it turns out The Frame was really worth the wait, presenting itself as a more mature and accomplished film without losing its streaks of originality.

screen capture of The Frame

Jamin Winans is the kind of director that likes to do as much on his own as humanly possible. For The Frame he took the writing, composing, editing and directing all upon himself. It puts him in a group of directors (Shinya Tsukamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Shane Carruth, ...) who have a very distinct and unique flair running throughout their films. Their work isn't always as accessibly or universally loved, but by eliminating some of the hurdles between what's in their brain and the final output there are a lot less compromises that end up dragging down their films. I believe it makes for a purer kind of cinema.

Just like Ink, The Frame construct a world that is uniquely linked to its director. Sure enough, you can draw parallels to Enemy, Reconstruction, Abre los Ojos, Lost Highway and a bunch of other well-known mystery films, but only when you start singling out specific moments or elements in The Frame's universe. The world in its entirety is unlike anything you'll find in other films, and that's exactly how an urban fantasy like this should set itself apart.

The Frame follows the lives of Alex and Sam. Alex is a member of a gang of thieves which pulls off elaborate heists, Sam is an emergency medical worker who finds herself in dangerous situations on a regular basis. The odd thing is that both are watching the lives of the other through a show on TV. Until one day when they find themselves staring at each other through the TV screen. Completely baffled by what is going on, they start an investigation in order to find the cause of this strange disturbance.

screen capture of The Frame

Visually, The Frame is a little less bold compared to Ink. It's still very deliberately styled and there's enough visual trickery left to wow the audience, but Winans clearly didn't need to worry as much about hiding his budgetary limitations underneath a thick layer of visual make-up. It gives The Frame a more accomplished look, but at the same time it also loses some of its vitality. The film looks amazing in its own right though, with strong framing, beautiful use of color and some very cool special effects, so there's really no need to complain.

Once again Winans is responsible for the score of his film and that pays off big time. Timing and atmosphere match perfectly with what's happening on screen. The score also takes a very central place in the storyline, relying on an acapella version of the film's theme song to link both realities together. Winans puts a lot of focus on the music and while not everyone may appreciate that, I think he pulls it off wonderfully, greatly adding to the mysterious atmosphere.

The acting is one of the film's few weaker points. Not that the actors are bad per se, but they clearly struggle with the mysterious nature of their parts. At times Carranza and Mualem look a little too bewildered and it isn't just their characters wondering what the hell is going on. It's not a consistent problem as some scenes turned out well enough, but when Winans plays his trump cards his cast has a lot of trouble keeping up with the film.

screen capture of The Frame

The Frame's build-up is deliberate and requires a little patience. The first hour is spent slowly revealing the setup, with the two main characters trying to figure out what exactly they're up against. After that the pace picks up, but don't expect clear and concise answers. Winans shows rather than tells, hints are dropped left and right but most of the puzzling is left to the audience. It's a good way to keep the mystery going, but without a clear explanation at the end some people are going to be left feeling a little disappointed. Personally I love an ending like that.

There aren't many directors who can pull of urban fantasy like Winans can, even when he only has a rather limited budget to work with. The Frame is a stylish mystery, a film that oozes atmosphere and that kept me glued to my seat from start to finish. It's not for everyone, but if you like your cinema off the beaten track than you owe it to yourself to give The Frame a fair chance. (American) Cinema could use more directors like Winans and since he doesn't enjoy studio support he needs a loyal fanbase to survive.

Mon, 04 May 2015 11:05:48 +0200
<![CDATA[Beruseruku: Ougon Jidai-hen III - Kourin/Toshiyuki Kubooka]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/berserk-golden-arc-III-review
Beruseruku: Ougon Jidai-hen III - Kourin poster

I never really cared much for the Berserk franchise. The TV series was pretty poorly realized and the manga didn't do much for me either. But when it was announced that Studio 4°C would make a series of three films spanning one of the existing story arcs, I didn't hesitate for a second. Studio 4°C has an impeccable track record and whatever they put out, I watch.

The first two films in the trilogy were fine. Not up to the usual 4°C standard, but still a whole lot better than what I expected from a Berserk movie series. Beruseruku: Ougon Jidai-hen III - Kourin (Berserk Golden Age Arc III: Descent) is the third and final installment and a slight upgrade over the two previous films. Studio 4°C's signature is definitely there, it's just that the Berserk saga itself gets in the way sometimes.

Especially the first part of the film can get a little tedious. There's a lot of shallow drama and endless gushes of unnecessary sentiment. They probably intended it as meaningful character development, or a way to make the story more involving, but it simply isn't working. Luckily there are some action scenes interspersed throughout the first hour, so that at least kept me engaged. The second part came as a pretty big surprise. I knew Berserk was kind of violent, but all hell breaks loose when the stage is finally set. Big monsters, ample gore, rape, tentacles, people travelling through the universe. In no time the film blows up to Akira-like proportions. Might not be for everyone (quite an understatement), but I liked it a lot.

Especially when the quality of the animation is this high. It's pretty much impossible to distinguish between 3D and traditional animation these days (style-wise that is, some shots are just too complex and fluid to pull off with traditional animation), but Studio 4°C didn't simply stop there. Several sequences are drawn in a different, rawer and more edgy style. It's at these times that the film really comes to life. The dub is great too and as far as I know there isn't an English dub available, so that's at least one pitfall you don't need to avoid.

Beruseruku: Ougon Jidai-hen III - Kourin can be tough to chew, especially during the first part of the film, but once it gets going it's pretty much unstoppable. The drama is worthless, the plot very much in your face, but the action kicks ass and the animation is top notch. It's probably a bit too violent for some, but if you like older animes like Wicked City or Demon City you shouldn't need to worry. It's not 4°C at its best, but it's better than most of the current anime (film) series out there. If you plan to watch it though, make sure you see the first two instalments before this one as this is really the ending of a complete arc, so it doesn't stand all that well on its own.

Thu, 30 Apr 2015 11:32:40 +0200
<![CDATA[Hyoryuu-Gai/Takashi Miike]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/city-lost-souls-review-miike

For some directors 15 years isn't such a long period of time, for others it's like another universe entirely. Takashi Miike belongs firmly in the latter category. Travelling back 15 years in his oeuvre is like watching a different director at work, which is why I approached Hyoryuu-Gai (The City of Lost Souls) with the proper caution. It's one of those films I hadn't revisited in a long time and remembered very little about, safe some very specific moments.

screen capture of The City of Lost Souls

Hyoryuu-Gai was part of the first batch of Miike films I watched. Back then Miike was making a name for himself by releasing hard to coin, low-budget films that had no regard for reigning film conventions. Whatever ideas he had he simply put into his films, regardless of the means he had to his disposal. And back then, Miike had some pretty wacky ideas, something that quickly becomes apparent while you're watching Hyoryuu-Gai.

The film is a great example of all the things that made Miike stand out back in the days. Crazy characters, lots of different nationalities, Yakuza influences, great drive and a couple of scenes that made no sense at all, but lifted the film well above the limitations of its modest means. When people talk about Hyoryuu-Gai you'll hear them go on about cock fights, helicopter jumps and a memorable game of ping pong. None of those are vital to the actual plot, but they are the moments people tend to remember.

The film follows Mario, a Brazilian criminal who needed to flee from his own country and ended up in Japan. Together with Kei, a Chinese stowaway, he tries to make things work in the underbelly of Tokyo. When he happens upon an underground drug transaction Mario sees a chance for a better life, but the Yakuza isn't just going to let him escape with their loot. Mario is once again knee-deep in trouble and escape is the only viable option to survive.

screen capture of The City of Lost Souls

Like most older Miike films, the cinematography ranges from dynamic and fun to purely functional and ugly. There are moments that betray Miike's keen sense of style, but overall the visuals aged pretty badly. The CG is really below par, then again that's what you get when you do a martial arts/bullet time scene between two chickens on a shoe-string budget. Miike overreaches on several occasions, but it's really hard to fault him for it when it's exactly these moments that make his early films so much fun to watch.

The soundtrack is pretty uninspired, mostly stuff that roars on in the background. Miike's films have never really excelled in that department though, so it was only to be expected. What stands out the most is the variety of languages on display. The combination of (Brazilian) Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese makes for an exotic mix of sounds. It's a pet peeve I guess, but I always like watching this kind of blending of nationalities.

The acting too is quite mediocre. I guess I should be happy that Miike was able to attract Michelle Reis for the part of Kei, very often foreign roles are reserved for people they seemingly just pulled off the road. Teah does a pretty poor job as Mario, Marcio Rosario doesn't fare better as the TV show host. At least the Japanese cast is a bit better, with a good performance of Koji Kikkawa and fun cameos for Akaji Maro, Akira Emoto and Ren Osugi.

screen capture of The City of Lost Souls

The main problem with a lot of these older Miike films is that they've been bested by Miike himself (and a couple of others directors) as time passed by. Back when they were first released they brought something new to the table. The fact that these films were limited by their budget was fine, because they offered something you couldn't find anywhere else. By now that typical crazy Miike stuff has been done with bigger budgets, nicer visuals and a better cast, making it harder to look past the sometimes crappy execution.

It doesn't ruin a film like Hyoryuu-Gai, but it does take away part of the appeal. There's still plenty of fun to be had with this film though. It's filled with weird characters, a strong dosage of cool and plenty of off-the-wall moments that show a complete and utter lack of respect for mainstream film conventions. It's all very enjoyable, but you have to cope with a mediocre cast, bad CG and some drastic pacing issues. It's clearly not for everyone and those that are looking for something out of the ordinary might do better to check out some more recent Miikes first, that said I still had a hell of a time with Hyoryuu-Gai.

Tue, 28 Apr 2015 11:16:59 +0200
<![CDATA[Jeux d'Enfants/Yann Samuell]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/jeux-denfants-review-samuell

Timing is everything. When Yann Samuell released Jeux d'Enfants (Love Me If You Dare) the world just wasn't ready for it. There were too many parallels between Samuell's first and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie and with only two years between both films Jeux d'Enfants lacked the punch to supersede Amélie. I still ended up liking it a lot, though it kind of slipped away as time passed by. Turns out it's still a pretty great film, even though it hasn't aged as well as Jeunet's landmark.

screen capture of Jeux d'Enfants

Jeux d'Enfants was the start of pretty bumpy career for Samuell. It would take him five years to direct his second feature (the American remake of Korean sweetheart My Sassy Girl), after that his career would only go downhill, grinding to a complete halt when The Great Ghost Rescue bombed spectacularly. It's a real shame because Jeux d'Enfants did show a lot of promise, things could've gone differently for Samuell if only his timing had been a little better.

Even so, the comparisons with Amélie run only skin deep. The first part of Jeux d'Enfants does take place in an Amé,lie-like universe, featuring candy-colored cinematography, plenty of voice-overs stating irrelevant details and an overdose of child-like mischief and wonder ... Jeunet is never far off during the first thirty minutes. But halfway through Jeux d'Enfants takes a grim and relentless turn, doing away with the atmosphere of the first part pretty quickly.

The film opens with Julien and Sophie at a crucial moment in their lives. To make Sophie feel better after being bullied by some kids at school, Julien offers her his most prized possession: a carousel box he got from his mother. Sophie appreciates the gesture but can't accept Julien's selfless gift. She proposes a game of truth or dare so Julien can win the box back fair and square. It's the start of a tradition that will end up ruining both their lives.

screen capture of Jeux d'Enfants

The cinematography is fun, colorful and expressive. Lots of playful camera movements, coupled with strong use of color and lighting make for a nice-looking film. A good 10 years after its original release though some cracks are starting to show. The film looks a little too grim at times and the camera work isn't always as fluid as it should be. Small details that hardly impact the experience, but it should be noted that Amélie didn't suffer the same aging woes at al.

The original score is nice, not too memorable but pleasant and agreeable. There are some sweet, dreamy tracks that give the film a warm glow, while also providing a nice contrast during the second half. Then there are several different versions of Piaf's La Vie en Rose (Cotillard would play Piaf 4 years after the release of Jeux d'Enfants) that are featured throughout the film, becoming increasingly ironic as the film progresses. All in all it's a quality soundtrack, though Samuell could've pushed it just a little further.

Guillaume Canet (Vidocq) and Marion Cotillard (Innocence) take up the lead roles, assisted by Thibault Verhaeghe and Joséphine Lebas-Joly as their younger selves. The four of them do a good job, though Canet and Cotillard obviously had the toughest part keeping the audience engaged as their characters become increasingly unpleasant. The secondary cast is decent too, though it's clear the budget didn't allow for any big names in any of the supportive roles.

screen capture of Jeux d'Enfants

While the first half of the film is quite cuddly and sweet, the game between Julien and Sophie takes on grotesque proportions as they grow older. Afraid to act on the feelings they have towards each other, they hide behind their silly truth of dare challenges. It's at this moment when Jeux d'Enfants starts to pull away from Jeunet's influences, serving a much darker and grimmer slice of romance. The second half is where the film really starts to shine, ending on a poetic note that wasn't unlike the ending of Sorrentino's Le Conseguenze dell'Amore

Even though the film has aged a little, there's still lots to like here. The 30 minute introduction has suffered the worst, but once the film switches to the adult versions of Julien and Sophie it finds its balance, exploring an angle that's quite unique to this film. Jeux d'Enfants looks good, the soundtrack's nice and the actors do a good job. Sadly it has become one of the forgotten films of 00's, a destiny it didn't really deserve.

Tue, 21 Apr 2015 11:13:04 +0200
<![CDATA[Alleluia/Fabrice Du Welz]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/alleluia-review-fabrice-du-welz

Eleven years ago Fabrice Du Welz made a big impression with his first feature film. Back then the Belgian film scene wasn't exactly know for its edgy films (C'est Arrivé Près de chez Vous being a notable exception), Calvaire started to turn things around. Ever since Du Welz has been carrying the mark of up-and coming-director, though that didn't really translate itself into a rich and varied oeuvre. Du Welz' output has been rather sparse, but that's just a typical case of quality over quantity. Alléluia is his latest offering and a more than worthy successor to his earlier films.

screen capture of Alléluia.

Even though Fabrice Du Welz (Vinyan) could be branded a horror film director, he loves to work outside the typical boundaries of the genre, never letting himself be confined its rules and limitations. Calvaire offered a strong dose of black comedy, Vinyan explored the horrors of losing one's child. Alléluia offers a similar deviation, focusing on the twisted relationship between two damaged people who stay together more out of fear of being alone than out of love and kinship.

The film is loosely based on the story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, an American couple whose lives led them down a similarly cruel path during the late '40s. The word 'loosely' is key here though, as the story merely seems to have sparked the idea for this film. Instead Alléluia follows the life of Gloria, a middle-aged mother abandoned by her husband, left alone to take care of their child. Afraid she will shut herself off from the outside world, a friend of Gloria urges her to join a dating site.

There she finds Michel, a nice-looking chap who shows all the signs of being prime husband material. Gloria takes the plunge and after a nice evening out they end up in bed together. Things are looking up for Gloria, but the next day Michel disappears after lending some money from her. Gloria tracks him down and finds him in the arms of another woman. But rather than sink back into her life of loneliness she decides to stand by Michel, helping him to deal with his issues.

screen capture of Alléluia

Du Welz' first two films were shot by Benoît Debie (Irréversible, Enter the Void), one of this generation's most ravishing cinematographers. For Alléluia he switched to Manuel Dacosse, a very promising alternative. Dacosse is known for his work on Amer and L'Étrange Couleur des Larmes de ton Corps, two unique films that stand out because of their strong visuals, though somewhat let down by poor editing choices. Luckily there's none of that here. Powerful close-ups, excellent use of the dim and grim surroundings, strong lighting and some first-class visual muscle during the film's key scenes. Dacosse turned out to be a worthy replacement.

The soundtrack too plays a big part in the film's menacing atmosphere. It starts of rather gentle and soothing, only to grow darker and viler as the film treads into increasingly twisted territory. Pulsating, distorted rhythms add drive to the key moments, underlining the mental stress and psychological unease of our central duo. It's a soundtrack that doesn't hide itself in the background, but demands to be heard and isn't afraid to add something to the whole. Good stuff.

Lola Dueñas takes up the role of Gloria and she does so with great devotion. It's not an easy part, her character suffers both physically and mentally and her actions and choices can at times be hard (if not impossible) to grasp, but Dueñas makes it work. She finds a great adversary in Laurent Lucas, who shows he can handle both hapless loser (Calvaire) and calculated maniac. They form a terrifying couple, pulling the audience through some of the harder scenes with deceptive ease.

screen capture of Alléluia

The first 15 minutes of the film are pretty tame and betray little of what is to come, from there on out the film starts its inevitable decent into madness. Gloria's role is crucial as she undergoes the biggest transformation, not merely clinging to Michel's madness but overtaking it in order to try and control the situation. It's no surprise that things don't end well for just about everyone involved, still Du Welz manages to take it well beyond the expected.

And yet, no matter how grim and dark things may become, there's still a pitch-black layer of comedy present that makes Alléluia all the more devilish. The reference to Calvaire (where Lucas is forcibly turned into Gloria, the innkeeper's wife) is terrific, the song next to the corps quite bizarre, but it's the uncontrollable laughter of Gloria when Michel spins his missionary story that really got to me. It's a nasty and vile scene, but at the same time it's very hard not to laugh.

Alléluia is definitely a film that grew on me. The crescendo is skilfully executed and even continued after the film had finished. While the start is a little slow, it's essential to the build-up and even though it never becomes as extreme or over-the-top as other films, there's a tangible darkness that leaves the kind of deep and strong impression most horror films can only dream of. With this film Du Welz fortifies his status as one of the best and most unique directors to come out of Belgium, though I'm pretty sure not everyone will appreciate the slice of madness that is served here. If you're up for it though, it's a damn tasty treat.

Tue, 14 Apr 2015 11:47:12 +0200
<![CDATA[Kawaki./Tetsuya Nakashima]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/world-of-kanako-review-nakashima

After enjoying an unexpected amount of success with Kokuhaku, director Tetsuya Nakashima must've felt the pressure to make a worth-while follow-up. It took him almost twice the time than what he spent on his previous films, but he finally managed to release Kawaki. (The World of Kanako). I've been following Nakashima for quite some time now and he has never disappointed me before, so needless to say expectations for his latest were quite high. Luckily he spent that extra time well and delivered a film that was absolutely worth waiting for.

screen capture of Kawaki.

Tetsuya Nakashima (Pako to Maho no Ehon) is not exactly a stranger to international success. In 2004 he released Shimotsuma Monogatari, a film that did pretty well for itself overseas but was ultimately destined to appeal to a very specific niche. While Kiraware Matsuko no Issho enjoyed similar positive attention, Kokuhaku differentiated itself in the sense that it finally broke free of that niche and reached a much broader audience, captivating both arthouse and genre fans alike.

My educated guess is that Kawaki. will have a hard time repeating that. Not only because it's rawer and weirder, alienating typical arthouse crowds once again, but also because it dramatically distances itself from Nakashima's earlier films. Gone are the bright colors and magical touches, instead we find grinding revenge and blood-drenched characters at Kawaki.'s core. It's quite the switch, but Nakashima's trademark traits still shine through underneath it all.

The story revolves around Kanako's dad (Akikazu) who is trying to reconstruct the circumstances of his daughter's disappearance. Akikazu lost sight of Kananko after a painful divorce, even so her disappearance worries him deeply and he starts a personal investigation. It doesn't take him very long to discover that his daughter wasn't as sweet and innocent as she appeared to be and Akikazu is slowly pulled into a story of deceit, revenge and apathy. Still he perseveres, certain his daughter is still alive somewhere.

screen capture of Kawaki.

Nakashima has always been a very visual director, with Kawaki. he does everything in his power to maintain that status. Mad editing, superb camera angles, slo-mos, rich and detailed settings. But also some very impressive close-ups and more dynamic camera work. There's even room for a couple short animation sequences, handled by none other than Studio 4°C (the only option if you want things done right). From start to finish the film's an absolute looker, though it might be a bit much for some people. The pacing is excruciating and it really is a two hour visual assault. You won't hear me complain though.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention. Nakashima is known to use (alternative) pop music liberally throughout his films and Kawaki. is no exception. No Radiohead this time, but there's some alternative rock present. Nakashima branched out though, as there is also some J-Pop and even a pretty decent dubstep track to make things a bit more interesting. The original score is also awesome, coming from the hands of Japanese soundtrack legend Yoko Kanno (Tokyo.sora). It's a varied selection of quality tracks applied with a great sense of rhythm and style, as one may expect in a Nakashima film.

One of the perks of international success is that it's a lot easier to land a decent cast. Koji Yakusho (Kiyosu Kaigi) takes up the role of Akikazu, Fumi Nikaido (Watashi no Otoko), Jun Kunimura, Jo Odagiri and Ai Hashimoto all feature in solid secondary roles. They all deliver excellent performances. But it's newcomer Nana Komatsu who impresses the most as the mysterious Kanako. Not an easy character and considering it was her first serious role I'm pretty sure we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the years to come.

screen capture of Kawaki.

While Kawaki. does little more than recount the search for a lost person, Nakashima doesn't make it very easy for his audience. The film starts at a maddening pace, does little in the way of explaining itself and jumps through time as if it's living in some alternative space/time dimension. You can't so much as blink in fear of missing something crucial. Halfway through things settle down just a little as the connections between the characters become clearer, but that's when the film reveals some of its viler plot points, making sure there's no chance of catching a breath.

There is a clear possibility of oversaturation though. Kawaki. isn't subtle and doesn't offer much in the way of breathers. It's crazy, weird, harsh and fast-paced, piling body upon body and putting Akikazu through increasingly rough hardships. It's once again a film that will appeal to a certain niche, only a different one from Nakashima's earlier films. That said, I absolutely loved it. Nakashima can't seem to make a bad film, no matter the direction he ventures in. I hope he manages to one-up himself once more in the future, but Kawaki. is definitely on par with his earlier work and that means it's a damn great flick.

Mon, 13 Apr 2015 11:42:49 +0200
<![CDATA[Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain/Jean-Pierre Jeunet]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/amelie-review-jeunet

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain became an instant classic when it saw its release in the early '00s. Back then, it grew from sleeper hit to full-blown arthouse killer in little over a year. It is one of those films that slowly faded away over time though. You realize its special, but that warm, fuzzy feeling diminishes the longer you postpone the inevitable rewatch. So I was in fact quite curious to see what my impression would be almost 10 years after I last saw it.

screen capture of Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain

After the disastrous release of Alien 4, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Micmacs à Tire-larigot) went right back to the drawing board to set a couple of things straight. He had already shown the world he was a great director (Delicatessen, La Cité des Enfants Perdus), but people forget easily and Alien 4 was the kind of film that could ruin someone's career. So he worked hard on his comeback, and what a comeback that was. For many people, Amélie is the best film he ever made (and even one of the best films overall).

And truth be told, it probably is his most complete, accomplished film. There are so many small details, so many creative ideas and nifty little surprises and they're all handled so meticulously that it borders on the feverishly neurotic. The pacing is perfect, nothing feels out of place or superfluous and scattered throughout the film there are ample pay-offs that keep you wanting to see more. Amélie is probably one of the most consistent, "perfect" films I've ever seen.

The film follows the exploits of a dreamy, otherworldly girl (Amélie) on a quest to improve the lives of the people that surround her. Through a series of weird and comical schemes she tries to edge those she loves in a direction where she hopes they'll find happiness. In reality she is simply compensating for the emptiness that resides inside her. When she finally meets a boy that could give her life meaning, Amélie finds herself strangely unable to get her own life back on track.

screen capture of Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain

Lush and detailed doesn't even start to describe the visual splendor that is crammed in every single frame of the film. Rich and extravagant settings (they even physically cleaned up Paris for some of the shoots), majestic camera work, beautiful and warm green and red hues and some very neat editing tricks make Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain into one of the most stunning visual experiences ever put on film.

The soundtrack by Yann Tiersen is just as memorable and went on to live a life of its own, becoming so popular that its reach extended far beyond the confines of the film's universe. Some of the songs also made it into other films (Good Bye Lenin! springs to mind), but they never approached the same effect or atmosphere as they did in Amélie. Tiersen's music is a perfect match for the idyllic vision Jeunet paints of Paris and the two will be forever inseparable from each other.

A final factor in the film's success is Audrey Tautou's performance. I'm not a big fan of her, but it's impossible to argue the impact she has had on this film. It became such a defining role for Tautou that she would have a hard time shedding the Amé,lie character in the years to come. The rest of the cast is great too, with fine performances of Mathieu Kassovitz, Jamel Debbouze and Jeunet regular Dominique Pinon, but in the end they are all overshadowed by Tautou.

screen capture of Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain

So if everything's great and magical about this film, why is it not higher on my list of favorites? Well, It's not that easy to pinpoint, but there's a slight discrepancy between the woolly cuteness of Amélie's character and the cheekier, slightly darker humor that is layered on top of the film. And it's exactly that part that doesn't really stick after the film's finished, leaving something that's just a little too rosy and lovey-dovey for my taste. In a sense it's hard to fault the film for it because the cheeky, juicy bits are actually there, they just don't linger as they are overpowered by the naiveté of Tautou's character.

It's a very tiny quibble that never detracts while watching the film, but it's a feeling that keeps creeping up on me as time goes by. I almost feel bad for bringing it up because there is so much to love here, but ultimately it's why I prefer Jeunet's Delicatessen over this one and it does effect the way I think back on Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. Apart from that, Jeunet delivers 120 minutes of fine-tuned awe and wonder, a required viewing for everyone who gets serious about cinema.

Wed, 08 Apr 2015 11:59:03 +0200
<![CDATA[Let Us Prey/Brian O'Malley]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/let-us-prey-review-o-malley
Le Us Prey poster

Don't. Don't go in expecting an elaborate plot, nifty narrative twists or stellar dramatic performances. Originality is not something that's high on O'Malley's list of priorities. Let Us Prey is a pure genre effort, 100% horror film and not ashamed to fully commit itself to that. Just deal with the shortcomings of the genre and what remains is a pretty cool horror flick that finds itself close to becoming a modern genre classic.

The collaboration between Ireland and the UK has proven a great source for quality horror films these past few years. Just think Citadel and Outcast. I feel Let Us Prey could rightfully claim its place amongst that elite gang, although it stops just short of reaching the same heights. The potential is definitely there though and horror fans will find plenty to enjoy.

The film follows a fateful night in a remote little commune. A dark figure rises up from the cliffs in the sea and strolls into town. He is hit by a car, but his body disappears into thin air. When he is finally caught and brought into the police station, his file reveals that the man died years ago. Not only that, this strange individual also knows exactly what buttons to push to irritate the people around him, landing him in jail even though he's done little wrong.

Visually O'Malley has things covered. From the very first frames Let Us Prey emits a very dark, gloomy yet stylish vibe. Strong use of lighting and shadows, well-timed slow motion sequences and effective camera work set it apart from its peers. The soundtrack doesn't let down either, adding to the menacing and grim atmosphere. This audiovisual mastery, together with some strong performances of Liam Cunningham (Harry Brown) and Pollyanna McIntosh (The Woman) form a solid basis for some very stylish horror antics.

The only problem with Let Us Prey is its somewhat dull and lifeless setting. Most of the film is located in the town's police station. A boring, rundown facility that loses its appeal halfway through. It's a shame because the little of the town and its surroundings we do get to see shows a lot more promise for a horror film like this.

The first part of Let Us Prey is pretty mysterious, with people trying to find out who the mysterious newcomer is. The second part brings the true horror. When O'Malley switches gears it quickly becomes clear that Let Us Prey has more to offer than just a moody atmosphere. Things run out of hand pretty fast and O'Malley doesn't shy back from showing a few gruesome kills. While the finale comes quick and hard, I did feel the horror part of the film could've continued for just a while longer.

Let Us Prey is a nifty little horror flick, packed with mystery, creepy characters and gruesome kills. The film looks great, sounds great and does pretty much everything right. It's a shame the setting is somewhat dull and underused, that's really the only thing holding it back a little. Hopefully O'Malley gets a second chance because he shows a lot of promise with his first feature film.

Tue, 07 Apr 2015 11:48:54 +0200
<![CDATA[Omoide no Mani/Hiromasa Yonebayashi]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/when-marnie-was-there-review-yonebayashi
When Marnie Was There poster

You can't help but feel a little bad for Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Kari-gurashi no Arietti was the first feature film he ever directed, and while not one of Ghibli's absolute best it was a more than accomplished film that promised Yonebayashi a bright future under the wings of Miyazaki and Takahata. But then, out of nowhere, they both announced their retirement. To make things even worse Ghibli decided soon after that Omoide no Mani would be their last feature film (at least for now).

Now Yonebayashi's second feature is not only the successor of two of Japan's most lauded animators/directors, it may also be Studio Ghibli's feature film swan song. Clearly Omoide no Mani (When Marnie Was There) wasn't equipped to shoulder that much responsibility. It's somewhat of a niche film (or at least not as broadly accessible as Ghibli's other work) and it carries the marks of a director still looking for his own tone of voice. It's a good film, but not what you'd hope for when faced with the idea that this might be Ghibli's last.

Omoide no Mani seems to be aimed at a younger, female audience. Not that it's overly childish, but the setting with the abandoned marsh house, the secret diary and the play dates between Marnie and Anna feel like a blend of classic Ghilbi and classic fairytale material. There is still plenty to like for adults, but the core of the film felt a little flimsy at times, leaving me just a tiny bit bored and wanting. The middle part in particular could've used some extra spice.

It's still a true to heart Ghibli film though, so there's a basic level of quality that is just impossible to ignore. The animation is magnificent, the voice acting is right on the mark and the hot, summery, outdoors vacation vibe embedded in its roots the perfect cure for a rotten, rainy spring day. Add a young, female protagonist and the traditional break away from city life and lifelong fans will feel right at home. The CG isn't always seamless and the city scenes feel a little dull compared to the country side, but that too is vintage Ghibli.

If Omoide no Mani had lived on to become a filler film in the Ghibli catalogue then I think it would've slipped by without a hitch. But with Kaze Tachinu and Kaguyahime no Monogatari still fresh in mind, knowing this might very well be the final Ghibli film, people are going to watch this one yearning for something more substantial. Just a few weeks ago Yonebayashi announced that he has left Studio Ghibli, so hopefully he will find a new home to further develop his talent. He has everything to make it on his own and given the time he could become one of Japan's top animation directors. Omoide no Mani is a fine film, but in this case that simply wasn't good enough.

Mon, 06 Apr 2015 11:07:47 +0200