Blu-Ray Review: Certain Women – Criterion Collection

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Screenplay: Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories by: Maile Meloy
Starring: Lily Gladstone, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Jared Harris, James Le Gros
Country: USA
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Kelly Reichardt enjoys much acclaim for her films among mainstream critics, but she can be an acquired taste among bloggers and general audiences. You only have to compare the quotes and ratings from critics reviewing her work to her IMDb or Amazon star ratings to see there’s a bit of a gulf between intellectual appreciation and public opinion. Being what I’d consider part of the ‘slow cinema’ movement (which isn’t clearly defined, but includes similar films that are low on plot and action), her work isn’t particularly exciting or as attention-grabbing as more digestible auteurs making films in the 21st Century. Knowing this, I don’t rush to watch Reichardt’s films as I worry I’ll be in for a tedious slog, not helped by some less than enthusiastic opinions of her films I’ve heard expressed by a couple of friends. I did see Meek’s Cutoff a couple of years ago though and was very impressed, so my apprehension has dampened somewhat since then and strong reviews lead me to accept an offer of reviewing her latest film, Certain Women. Whilst I’m happy to watch the film now though, I’m still rather apprehensive about critiquing it. I consider myself quite a ‘nuts and bolts’ reviewer, who likes to list clear elements of the film that work or don’t work rather than waffle on about what a filmmaker is trying to ‘say’. So I find slow, quiet, thoughtful films like this difficult to analyse in my usual fashion. I’ll give it my best shot though.

Certain Women takes several short stories by Maile Meloy and uses them to create three only very loosely connected narratives, which are presented one by one through the bulk of the film, before revisiting them all briefly in the finale. The first story features Laura Dern as Laura, a lawyer troubled by a client (Jared Harris) that won’t accept the fact he doesn’t have a case. He seems to have a fondness for Laura too and won’t leave her alone, asking for her help when he cracks and takes someone hostage at gunpoint.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Boy and the Beast

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Screenplay: Mamoru Hosoda
Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Shôta Sometani, Kôji Yakusho
Country: Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 12


Mamoru Hosoda is a writer and director making a good name for himself in the anime world. After some TV work and a couple of films from TV franchises, he turned heads with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and two of his subsequent films, Summer Wars and Wolf Children, which were all critical and commercial successes (in Japan at least). His latest film, The Boy and the Beast, is no different, attracting mainly positive reviews and becoming the second highest grossing release of 2015 in Japan. Being an anime fan and having enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars quite a lot (I haven’t seen Wolf Children), it didn’t take much convincing for me to take up an offer of reviewing the film.

The Boy and the Beast sees a young boy, Ren (Aoi Miyazaki), become a runaway, living on the streets of Tokyo after his mother dies and his father (who had previously divorced his mother) doesn’t come forward to look after him. Whilst living rough, Ren bumps into Kumatetsu (Kôji Yakusho), a warrior beast who is looking for a pupil to train. Kumatetsu lives in a secret realm of the beasts, where he is in contention to become the new Lord, as the current Lord is due to leave this world and become a God. Kumatetsu is pig-headed and arrogant though, doing everything alone, and a worthy Lord must be a teacher with an heir as well as a mighty warrior.

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Blu-Ray Review: A Brighter Summer Day – Criterion Collection

Director: Edward Yang
Screenplay: Hung Hung, Mingtang Lai, Alex Yang, Edward Yang
Starring: Chen Chang, Lisa Yang, Kuo-Chu Chang
Country: Taiwan
Running Time: 237 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 15


It seems like this week was a week of epics for me. After enjoying three hours of Italian peasants in The Tree of Wooden Clogs, I felt I was primed for four hours of Taiwanese drama in Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, which is finally being released here in the UK, by the Criterion Collection. The director’s work, like most of the films of the New Taiwanese Cinema movement, is woefully unavailable on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK, so this release is hugely welcome. Due to this lack of access, I’ve yet to see an Edward Yang film, despite hearing great things, so I got a comfy chair and settled down to watch possibly the longest film I’ve ever seen (I actually watched it in two chunks, but both on the same day at least!)

A Brighter Summer Day is very loosely based on a real life incident in Taiwan in the early 1960s, when a young teenager (named Si’r in the film and played by Chen Chang) murdered a girl who reportedly turned down his advances (named Ming and played by Lisa Yang). Edward Yang isn’t concerned with recreating this incident too accurately though, he instead uses it as the inspiration for a complex tale of youth gangs, popular in the country due to the political uncertainty of the time and the infiltration of American pop culture which celebrated teenage rebellion.

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DVD Review: The Salesman

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay by: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
Country: Iran, France
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman got a lot of attention earlier this year when the film’s cast and crew boycotted the Academy Awards in protest over US President Donald Trump’s order which blocked entry of citizens from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries to the U.S. This boycott also prompted a free screening of the film in Trafalgar Square in London in a sign of solidarity. Following this, The Salesman went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The cynic in me felt the film maybe won the award due to the stand made, but, having loved Farhadi’s A Separation from 2011, I thought I’d better see for myself whether or not it deserved the accolade.

The Salesman sees married couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), who are currently acting together in a production of ‘Death of a Salesman’, forced to move to a friend’s apartment temporarily after their apartment block is badly damaged and deemed dangerous. In this new accommodation, Rana is assaulted after she mistakenly buzzes someone in, thinking they’re her husband. She is deeply affected by the attack, but doesn’t want to bring the police into it, afraid of the shame that will come upon her when asked to speak of the incident and testify about what happened. Emad is out for revenge though and investigates himself. He discovers the apartment’s previous tenant was a prostitute and the attacker was likely one of her clients expecting his usual treatment. He also finds they left their pickup truck outside so locks it in the block’s garage, in the hope of catching the owner when they return to pick it up. As Emad gets closer to finding the culprit, he drifts further away from his wife, who doesn’t want the man found. She just wants Emad to be there for her and help her come to terms with what happened.

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Blu-Ray Review: Melody

Director: Waris Hussein
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: PG


I opened my review of My Life as a Dog this morning by professing my love for coming of age dramas, and what do you know, the other title I had to review today is another coming of age film. What’s that old saying about buses?

Rather than telling a period tale of burgeoning adulthood in rural Sweden though, Melody (a.k.a. S.W.A.L.K. – what a hideous title!) is set in present day (early 70s) London and follows Daniel (Oliver himself, Mark Lester), a middle class boy starting at a mixed comprehensive school with a range of likeminded young rascals. Daniel befriends a naughty but likeable lad called Ornshaw (Jack Wild, also of Oliver! fame). The two are from very different backgrounds, which cause a few issues, but generally they’re inseparable as they get into mischief at school and home. That is until Melody (Tracy Hyde) comes on the scene.

Melody is a good natured dreamer who lives in a council flat with her mother, grandmother and father, although the latter spends more time at the pub than home. Daniel falls madly in love with Melody when he spies on her dancing at school. He stalks her (in a well meaning 12 year old sort of way) until eventually Melody falls for his charms too. All is peachy with them, but Ornshaw isn’t too happy about his friend being otherwise occupied so friction develops between the two boys and the couple get in trouble with their family and the school when they demand to be able to get married now, not in the future as the law demands.

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Blu-Ray Review: My Life as a Dog

Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay: Lasse Hallström
Based on a Novel by: Reidar Jönsson
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman
Country: Sweden
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve always had a soft spot for coming of age films. I don’t know whether it’s nostalgia for my own childhood or wish fulfilment for what I would have liked to have done back then, but I’ve always enjoyed watching tales of teens on the brink of adulthood, finding themselves through some sort of adventure or crucial experience. I’ve got several favourites, but the one I come back to again and again is Stand By Me. The quotable dialogue, camaraderie between friends and thrill of going off on a ‘mission’ together out in the wilderness all help make it one of my personal all time favourite films. So when Lasse Hallström’s critically acclaimed Swedish coming of age drama My Life as a Dog was offered up to review, I was keen to see if it lived up to the similar films I have a fondness for.

My Life as a Dog centres around and is narrated by Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12 year old boy living in Sweden in the late 1950s with his older brother and sick mother (Anki Lidén). The two boys get into so much trouble, particularly Ingemar, that their mum is forced to separate them, sending her youngest son to live with his uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren) far from home. She’s too ill to deal with both herself and their father is abroad with work and doesn’t seem to have the ability or interest to come back. Whilst living with his uncle in a rural town, Ingemar struggles to control his developing teenage hormones. His young mind is confused as to what to do about an attractive local woman who uses him as a defence against an artist making a nude sculpture of her, as well as a sporty tomboy, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), who falls for him. All the while, he is troubled by the fact that his beloved mother wants to get rid of him and is dying, a fact he pretends to ignore.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Life Of Oharu – Criterion Collection

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Screenplay: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yoshikata Yoda
Based on a Novel by: Saikaku Ihara
Starring: Kinuyo Tanaka, Tsukie Matsuura, Ichirô Sugai, Toshirō Mifune
Country: Japan
Running Time: 137 min
Year: 1952
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve covered most of Kenji Mizoguchi 1950’s films here in my review of Eureka’s outstanding ‘Late Mizoguchi’ box set. However, frustratingly absent from that otherwise exceptional set was one of the director’s most well respected films, 1952’s The Life of Oharu. Out of print on DVD for a while, it’s been fairly hard to come by without paying a hefty price tag. Luckily The Criterion Collection have come to our rescue and released the film on Blu-Ray in the UK (and the US I believe), so I was keen to finally check it out.

Like most of Mizoguchi’s work, The Life of Oharu centres around a female protagonist (the titular Oharu, beautifully played by Kinuyo Tanaka) who is hard done by the men around her. The film opens to show her as an ageing prostitute, struggling to attract any customers on a cold night in 17th/18th Century Japan. Sheltering in a temple filled with statues of Buddha, one reminds her of a man from her past and she reminisces about how she ended up in this position.

We learn that she was once a noble woman, but her love for a lowly page, Katsunosuke (played by Toshirō Mifune, a fact I somehow didn’t clock until writing this review), causes her and her family to be banished from the court and Katsunosuke executed. From here on out, Oharu is knocked further and further down the social strata as she is used and abused by those in power.

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Blu-Ray Review: Swiss Army Man

Director: ‘The Daniels’ – Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Country: USA, Sweden
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


Swiss Army Man is a film that rode in on a wave of hype after several festival screenings, but I feel it’s hype that both helped and hindered it. Becoming known as ‘the farting corpse movie’, or variations of that, helped give the film a great amount of publicity, but I think many might have dismissed it due to this over-simplified description. Sounding like an even lower brow version of Weekend at Bernies, the film can’t have appealed to the more ‘sophisticated’ cinephiles out there. But, having now watched the film, I’d say they’re missing out on something truly special.

Swiss Army Man opens showing Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island, preparing to kill himself as he’s given up hope of rescue. However, just as he’s about to do it, he spots a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe), washed up on the shore. This is no ordinary body either. It’s rather flatulent, which initially merely distracts Hank from his suicide attempt. When the farts get more powerful though, Hank realises this ‘wind’ can be harnessed more effectively and uses the corpse as a jet-ski to reach a neighbouring lush island which is littered with rubbish, suggesting it may be inhabited.

Once on the island, Hank struggles to find any more signs of civilization, but develops a great bond with the corpse (named Manny), who miraculously comes alive (if not mobile) after a while. Manny has no memories of his life before though and has many questions about the world around him. This prompts Hank to teach him, using the limited resources around them, whilst simultaneously altering his view of his own miserable existence. In particular, the two of them discuss the subject of love, as they tackle how to approach the elusive girl on the bus, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seems to be a part of one or both of their memories.

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Blu-Ray Review: Fat City

Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Leonard Gardner
Based on a Novel by: Leonard Gardner
Starring: Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Susan Tyrrell, Candy Clark, Nicholas Colasanto
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15


The late John Huston had an unusual career. Making his directorial debut with a cast iron classic, The Maltese Falcon, followed by a handful of other masterpieces, award winners and commercial hits, he then hit the doldrums for a while, making a couple of gems among the rough, but struggling to stay relevant as the 60’s rolled on. 1972’s Fat City was a bit of a comeback though, critically at least, leading to a pretty solid end to his career and life (we can forget about Annie). It’s been rather forgotten over time, but the critical love for Fat City remained enough to prompt this fine re-release package by the up-and-coming UK label, Indicator. Before I dig into Fat City I must take a minute to applaud Powerhouse Films for digging out so many lesser known gems, bravely picking some less than obvious titles to launch the first few months of their Indicator label. They pull out all the stops for special features too. Adding to the wonderful Blu-Rays released by Eureka, Arrow and The Criterion Collection, I’m truly spoilt for classic and cult re-releases these days.

Anyway, back to Fat City. Tully (Stacy Keach) is a former boxer who had a chance to make it big, but fell apart due to personal problems (he blames a woman and his manager, but as the film goes on we realise he’s got a drinking problem). When heading back to the gym in an attempt to get back into the sport, he comes across young Ernie (Jeff Bridges) training there for a bit of fun. Seeing potential in the 18 year old, Tully recommends Ernie speak to his ex-manager Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto – better known to me as Coach from Cheers). The film then charts, largely separately, Tully’s attempts to get back in the ring whilst battling personal demons and Ernie’s development as a boxer in the rough ‘skid row’ of Stockton, California. As both struggle to find the level of success Tully in particular dreams about, their lives intertwine with two women – Tully’s with alcoholic Oma (Susan Tyrrell) and Ernie’s with teenager Faye (Candy Clark).

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Blu-Ray Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 15


What’s been great about reviewing a handful of Arrow’s re-releases of Woody Allen’s back catalogue is that it’s made me realise how much I love his work. I’ve largely been cherry-picking supposed ‘on-form’ Allen movies, but they’ve never failed to impress or entertain me. I watched Cafe Society the other week and was less enamoured by it, but perhaps watching all of these upper tier Allen titles mere days previously raised my standards a little too high. It certainly didn’t put me off exploring more unwatched titles from his hefty filmography though. Crimes and Misdemeanors was next up and I’d heard very good things about it, so expectations were high.

Crimes and Misdemeanors tells two stories. One sees happily married ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) tormented by threats from his mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) to tell his wife about their affair. Judah has grown weary of Dolores and realised he loves his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), so he doesn’t want her to be hurt and leave him. When it all gets too much for Judah and the threats get more serious, the solution suggested by his mobster brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) is to have Dolores killed. The film’s second central story is that of Cliff Stern (Allen himself). He’s an unhappily married, unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who’s offered a chance to make some money making a film about his successful TV comedy writer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda). He hates the job, but is consoled by the fact that he meets a woman he falls madly in love with, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). Having recently got divorced, she’s reluctant to start another relationship though. Undeterred, Cliff stays close to her as a friend and gets her involved with the more respectable documentary he’s trying to produce on the side, with the hope that she’d be swayed eventually into his arms.

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Blu-Ray Review: El Sur

Director: Víctor Erice
Screenplay: Víctor Erice
Based on a Short Story by: Adelaida García Morales
Starring: Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, Icíar Bollaín
Country: Spain, France
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: PG


I can remember seeing Víctor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive crop up in a couple of ‘greatest films of all time’ lists back when I was first getting into films, so it was something I’ve long wanted to see. It never appeared on TV though and although it was released on DVD it was always very expensive so I never got around to buying it. The disc has since gone out of print so has become even more expensive and difficult to find. My desire to see the film hasn’t diminished and it’s remained high on my wish list, but no one seems to want to pick it up. Some sort of consolation has appeared though now as the BFI have decided to re-release Erice’s follow up, El Sur, on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK and offered me a screener to review. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before receiving the press release, but I felt it was as close to watching Beehive as I could get without forking out a small fortune, so figured I’d give it a shot.

El Sur has the voice of Estrella (María Massip) tell us the story of her childhood, in particular her relationship with her father Agustín (Omero Antonutti) who disappeared from her life when she was 15. We spend most of the film in the late 1950’s when Estrella is 8 though (and played by Sonsoles Aranguren). At this time she adores her father. He’s an unusual man who practises divination, but, having grown up with this strange behaviour all her life, Estrella sees him as completely normal. As the flashbacks move forward we see Agustín grow more distant and haunted by the love of a former partner, but Estrella doesn’t understand what’s happening to him or how much he needs help. Only when she becomes a teenager (and played by Icíar Bollaín) does she seem to guess what went wrong and realise that even though he showed great love to her, he was never open or honest, so she never got to actually know him as a person or help him with his problems, to create a true bond between them.

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