Blu-Ray Review: Tampopo – Criterion Collection

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country: Japan
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 15

I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Tampopo. I’d heard mention of it, always in a positive sense, so I was keen to see it. I was aware that it was a film about food too, but other than that I hadn’t a clue what I was in for when I put this fantastic new Criterion Blu-Ray into my player. I’m glad I didn’t know much either as this glorious offbeat film blew me away.

The core of the film sees truckers Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) head into a ramen shop late one rainy night. They are unimpressed by the ramen, but Goro is fascinated by the attractive and determined owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). So when she asks Goro to help improve her cooking and bring new life to the shop she inherited from her dead husband, he accepts. He can’t do it alone though, as he’s no expert, so enlists the help of Gun and several other quirky characters he knows and meets in the city.

Alongside this story, the film oftens heads off on various tangents as the camera follows characters walking past our main protagonists. These lead to short scenes/skits surrounding people’s love of food, how it plays a part in their lives and unusual aspects of food etiquette. These are generally led by fresh new characters, but the mysterious Man in the White Suit (Kôji Yakusho), a gangster type with a sexual fetish for food, reappears several times.

In fact, this character opens the film. He and his food-sex loving mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) enter a cinema, followed by an entourage who lay out a gourmet feast. The man then talks directly to us, the audience, about eating during a film and his annoyance at those making too much noise, before waxing lyrical about the ‘short film’ you see in your dying moments.

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Carlos’ Review Round-Up ]

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches.
You can find more of my reviews at Always Good Movies.


Neruda (2016)

Directed by: Pablo Larraín
Country: Chile / Argentina / other

Undoubtedly, Pablo Larraín is the most exciting Chilean filmmaker working today. He has been carving his mark in the contemporary world cinema through beautiful artistic works such as “Tony Manero”, “Post Mortem”, “No”, and “The Club”.
Last year, he filmed a couple of interesting biopics, which regardless the bold approach and peculiar vision, had different impacts on me. If “Jackie” impressed me most through the stylish visuals, “Neruda” strongly hit me with its poetic narrative and passionate conception.

Written by Guillermo Calderón and starring Gael García Bernal and Luis Gnecco in the main roles, the film adopts the qualities of a detective story painted with lyrical hues and bolstered by a cat-and-mouse game taken to philosophical extremes.

In the late 40s, Pablo Neruda (Gnecco), an earthy and provocative poet, throws out passionate words that are food for the poor and strength for the oppressed. In addition to being the voice of the Chilean people, he’s also a proud militant of the communist party and senator, projecting his strong voice against the brutal anti-communist repression led by the president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla (Alfredo Castro).

Forced to abandon his splendid house, a stage for many wild nocturnal parties in the company of intellectuals, aristocrats, and often criminals, Neruda hides in remote rural areas in Argentina, where he tries to escape the astute and relentless inspector Oscar Peluchonneau (Bernal), who tries to hunt him down as he ardently narrates this story. At the same time that Peluchonneau eagerly dreams with the glory of the capture, he often vacillates in his true inner self by showing great admiration and curiosity for the poet’s work and personality. Nonetheless, he focuses on his mission with obstinate determination without exteriorizing what he feels or thinks.

In turn, the incorrigible Neruda is not afraid to expose himself to dangers. He regularly visits bars where he drinks and interacts with women and artists. The ones he can really trust are longtime lover Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán) and the famous Pablo Picasso (Emilio Gutiérrez Caba) who clandestinely takes his words outside.

Obsession remains one of Larrain’s favorite topics and here, he had the chance to explore it with a mix of dark and wry tones, interesting dialogues, and attractively composed settings framed by the lens of his habitual cinematographer Sergio Armstrong.
“Neruda” is a fascinating piece of cinema, an elegiac and exhilarating chant of refined artistry that reaches the sky not only through the faultless performances by Gnecco and Bernal, but also through an engrossing direction.

Frantz (2016)

Directed by: François Ozon
Country: France / Germany

Respected French director François Ozon (“Under the Sand”, “Swimming Pool”, “8 Women”, “In the House”) is back with a post-war romantic drama that leaves us reflecting on life and its disappointments. He co-wrote the script of “Frantz” in collaboration with Philippe Piazzo, based on the 1932 drama “Broken Lullaby” by Ernst Lubitsch.

The story, set in 1919, immediately after the end of the WWI, takes place in Quedlinburg, Germany, shifting into Paris for the final act.
Paula Beer, in a meteoric ascension, was deservedly awarded at Venice for her role as Anna, a beautiful young German woman whose pacifist fiancé was killed in battle. Pierre Niney is Adrian, a sensitive French violinist who travels to a wounded Germany to visit the grave and family of his close friend Frantz Hoffmeister, Anna’s fiancé. He not only becomes close to Frantz’s parents, bringing some light to their gloomy lives, but also casts a strange spell on Anna, who was feeling extremely depressed and lonely. The reality, however, is not what it seems, and the drama becomes more and more profound as the secrets are unveiled.

The plot is decent yet not totally surprising and the systematic slow pace can be an issue for some. However, the poetic and somewhat nostalgic tones grabbed me until the end.
The nationalistic roars from both sides have a negative effect on these tormented characters, making them uncomfortable. They just intend to forget everything, let the pain go, and live their lives with no more rancor or guilt.

“Frantz” was impeccably acted and beautifully photographed by Pascal Marti, most of the time in an attractive black-and-white. Its visual aesthetics, interior settings, and the WWI-related topic made me think of Haneke’s “White Ribbon”, which was more incisive and less lenient than the present.

As usual, Ozon was solid behind the camera in a classic (re)tale about remorse, forgiveness, and passion. Even with a couple of awkward moments, “Frantz” provides substantial cinematic pleasure.

Graduation (2016)

Directed by: Cristian Mungiu
Country: Romania / France / Belgium

Acclaimed Romanian writer/director/producer Cristian Mungiu called the world’s attention through observant contemporary dramas like “Occident” (2002), “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007), and “Beyond the Hills” (2012). He has a background in English literature and his work for the big screen focuses on quality rather than quantity.
His fifth film, “Graduation”, is a pungent drama whose story, set in a small Romanian town, touches themes such as corruption and influence peddling, education, family, and obsession, at the same time that looks at a problematic Romania with mordacious dissatisfaction.

The film has an intriguing start when someone throws a stone at the window of the Aldeas’ house, breaking the glass and provoking more curiosity than indignation in Romeo (Adrian Titieni), the head of the family and a respected doctor, his vulnerable wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and their teenage daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus).
The latter admits to her father she’s a bit anxious for a crucial scholarship exam that will permit her to study at the London’s famous Cambridge University. However, her anxiety is nothing compared to her father’s. He lived abroad himself after graduating, but decided to return to Romania for the impossible mission of getting ‘things’ changed. Disappointment and failure are at the base of his overwhelming obsession with Eliza’s future.

The communication between Romeo and his daughter is uncomplicated, but with Magda things are not so smooth since he has been unfaithful to her with Sandra (Malina Manovici), a 35-year-old single mother, former patient, and teacher at Eliza’s school.
Pressure and nervous tension surround him at all times, but Romeo is pretty confident that Eliza, a brilliant student, is going to make it. However, a day before the exam and on her way to school, Eliza was violently attacked by a stranger who attempted to rape her. Emotionally disturbed and with a wounded arm, is Eliza psychologically and physically ready to do the exam?

For the first time in his life, the desperate Romeo has to sacrifice his good reputation and put his honesty behind, using his connections and medical influence to guarantee a decent future for his daughter. Shouldn’t he be worried about her emotional state instead? This dilemma haunts us throughout the film and we can’t help feeling sorry for them.
Climaxing in a spiral of anguish and deception, the well-acted drama culminates its insightful analysis with disconcerting irony.

Mungiu remains faithful to a style that combines realism and emotional depth allied with an impressive cinematic dexterity. Dispensing a musical score, he privileges handheld shots in detriment of a more static approach, yet the camera movements never translate into abrupt or awkward images.
“Graduation” might not be his best work to date, but it’s certainly an urgent, denouncing, and intelligent eye opener that tells much about a ruined country in terms of moral values. Here, besides brandishing a powerful critical voice, the director also reinforces his admirable filmmaking credentials.

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Friday One Sheet: The Bad Batch and ITC Benguiat

Stylish and over-saturated, like the desert prison in the film, these character posters for Ana Lily Amirpour’s hipster curio The Bad Batch are pretty badass. It is curious to me to see the resurgence of 1980s typeset ITC Benguiat, a hallmark of Steven King soft covers, choose-you-own-adventure books, and most recently the handsome title sequence of Stranger Things, make an appearance here. If anything, this movie itself feels to me more of a throwback to a more 1990s sensibility, but I digress. Indeed with elements of the photo, be in Suki Waterhouse’s pistol, Jason Mamoa’s cleaver, or Keanu Reeves microphone, extending over the matting, the whole effect is that of a battered paperback on the revolving carousel of a school library. I hope somebody puts out a novelization and uses these images as covers. Viva Benguiat!

The other two character posters are here.

An advert inside of Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film, OKJA, asks, “What do unhappy pigs dream about?”

Netflix is releasing Korean master Bong Joon-Ho’s latest science fiction picture, Okja, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, and their unorthodox advertisement takes a page out of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, by presenting a bit of corporate marketing to stand in for a teaser trailer. Watch Tilda Swinton in a white wig try to enhance your calm with the technological wonders of her large, benevolent, pharmaceutical company.

Would you like to know more about super-pigs? Well, here you go.

Prologue: Alien Covenant

With all of the marketing for the new Alien movie, the so-called sequel to Prometheus, you might have been asking, what of the two survivors from the first film, Elizabeth and David? Well, the most recent prologue answers that question in the most handsome and wonderful way. I cannot be more excited for what Ridley Scott and his creative time of writers and craftspeople come up with, but I’m happy to see Michael Fassbender continue to command center-stage in this, second Alien Trilogy.

Review: Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Kill List, Sighseers, A Field in England)
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Producer: Andrew Starke
Starring: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 91 min.



My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd


Two gangs meet in an abandoned warehouse to exchange a large sum of money for a large sum of guns. There’s some tension, maybe a small argument over how to trade off the goods, but it all goes well and the groups go their separate ways, with the A plot of the movie kicking in after that. That’s usually how a gun deal goes in a crime picture, but in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire we never make it out of the warehouse. A one-location movie occurring in real time, Wheatley’s latest is a very simple and low-key affair, a welcome change after last year’s ambitious but disappointing High-Rise. He’s certainly not taking it easy here however, as orchestrating an entire movie designed as one extended shootout is no small feat, and yet this time he absolutely nails it. With a great cast including Cillian Murphy, recent Oscar winner Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and more, Wheatley loads them with whip fast dialogue that flies as frequently as the bullets.

Ultimately, it’s the insults that the characters shout at one another across the blood spattered warehouse that makes more impact than any of the gunshots. Although for their part, it’s nice to see a movie that treats a shootout a lot differently and more authentically than we’re used to seeing in movies. Ricochets are aplenty and do a serious amount of damage, characters don’t die straight away from taking a shot, as most of them sustain several over the course of the movie, and best of all most of the shots the characters take actually miss. There’s no James Bond style assassin who hits a perfect shot every time while the supposedly trained henchmen fire off a hundred rounds that don’t go anywhere close to the leading man. Everyone is more or less on an even keel here, which makes it a lot more fun to watch them hiding and dodging the bullets as they fly all over this place.
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Jonathan Demme: 1944 – 2017

Master director Jonathan Demme has passed on today from complications due to heart disease and Cancer. He leaves behind an impressive legacy of feature films in all genres, including a robust palette of documentaries and concert films. While Demme was never the household name a la Scorsese, Spielberg or Hitchcock, he was always making films that have stood the test of time, and had major cache from cinephiles; from his early years in the Roger Corman school of exploitation trash, such as Caged Heat and Black Mama White Mama (the latter of which he wrote the screenplay for), through-out the eighties with underrated films like Something Wild and his magnificent documentaries on Spalding Grey (Swimming to Cambodia) and The Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense!) His 1998 comedy Married To The Mob, might just be the most underrated comedy of that decade.

His profile rose considerably with the Oscar sweep of horror-procedural-camp The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Throughout the 1990s Demme films were consistently recognized come awards time: Philadelphia, which ‘elevated’ Tom Hanks from a comedy actor to a capital “S” serious drama guy, and also brought major mainstream attention to gay issues in America, and Beloved, adapted from Toni Morrison’s slavery novel, which put TV icon Oprah Winfrey in front of the film camera to great effect.

While his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was quietly forgotten, I know Andrew around these parts will always shout the praises for his low-key stylized wedding drama, Rachel Getting Married – which gave serious actor credibility to Anne Hathaway, due to her wonderful performance. Demme continued to support her now very successful career, making a point of showing up to the TIFF premiere of Hathaway starring Colossal.

I personally have not kept up with his recent work of the past 5 or 6 years, but the films always get wide play on the A-list festival circuit, including his 2016 documentary on Justin Timberlake.

I suppose that was the wonderful thing about Jonathan Demme, as a director and a storyteller (and I am guessing here, as a person), he made sure everyone involved looked good, and his own directorial flourishes were only ever in service of the story and the characters of his films. As one of Americas premiere filmmakers, and a key influence on the current wave of A-list directors (P.T. Anderson to Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson have all payed homage to his style of close-up for emotional effect) he will be sorely missed.

The Guardian has more.

SW and Indy Release Dates Announced

Cut and paste job from Star Wars dot com

The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm announced today two major upcoming release dates.

Star Wars: Episode IX is now set for release on May 24, 2019. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the film will close out the third Star Wars trilogy.

In addition, the fifth chapter of the Indiana Jones series is now confirmed for a July 10, 2020 release. Both Steven Spielberg, director of every Indiana Jones film, and star Harrison Ford will return.

Discuss (if necessary).

Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12

I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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