The beautiful Our Little Sister is reviewed over at Flickering Myth and below.
An intimate and warm story of sisterhood and familial ties, Our Little Sister explores the drama of sororal relationships in a graceful and sensitive style.
Adapted from the best selling graphic novel Umimachi Diary by Yoshida Akimi, this is a drama that plays with subtlety and intricacy, ultimately creating an uplifting and spirited mood. It does not shy away from pain and darkness, with troubled histories and parental break-ups creating a generational fall-out felt for years afterwards. Yet it remains a bright and hopeful document – an affectionate look at how family of all kinds can help each other through life.
Three young sisters, Chika (Kaho), Yoshi (Masam Nagasawa) and Sachi (Haruka Ayase) all live together in their grandmother’s beautiful old house. Chika is the youngest of the group and works in a sports shop and has a playful relationship with a boyfriend into sports and outdoor activity. Yoshi is a banker who shelters from the stresses of work with a busy social life and more than a passing affection for alcohol. Sachi is the oldest of the sisters who manages a hectic work schedule as a nurse at the hospital alongside an unhappy affair with a married doctor.
The three have been estranged from both parents for years and grudgingly decide to attend their father’s funeral on the news of his death. Just before they are all set for a quick departure, they get to know the 13 year old Suzu, who it transpires is their half-sister. On something of a whim, Sachi invites her to come and stay with them. A few days or weeks later – time is not exact in this dreamlike picture – Suzu arrives and the sisters form a close knit bond of humility, respect and care.
The quartet adapt remarkably well to the situation,with the group creating a powerful barrier against the pain of the past. Ayase’s portrayal of Sachi is key to getting this strength across; her expressions of respectful care communicate the commitment to love that she and the others have made.
Overall this is a moving film, providing a template of sincere and honest reflection that goes beyond mere words. It is telling that the source material is a manga book- the colour and vibrancy of the locations are captured by director Koreeda in stunning detail. There is a flowing of ideas and imagination that bring a sense of soulful enlightenment; from dejection and darkness, hope can rise up anew.
My review of the 1966 comedy/political film Closely Observed Trains is over at Flickering Myth now.
Also republished below.
Growing up sure isn’t easy. When you add World War II and Nazi occupation into the mix, adolescent difficulties quantify rapidly…
That’s certainly the case in this award winning and well loved 1966 film from Jirí Menzel. A prominent example of the Czech new wave, Closely Observed Trains follows the exploits of young Miloš (Václav Neckár) as he tries to negotiate sexual desires with the realities of a war torn home.
What at first glance may seem like a light-hearted sex comedy, the film also includes an astute commentary on the processes of Czech partisan groups fighting back at Nazi occupation. Miloš becomes embroiled in this via his lecherous and rebellious work mentor Hubicka (Josef Somr). Acting as an advisor to various resistance groups seeking to upset the occupying Nazi forces, Hubicka lets Miloš in on a plot to blow up a German courier train.
What makes Closely Observed Trains stand out brightly in what could have otherwise been a somewhat grim expose of war activity are the comedic elements. There is a bawdy, earthy tone to the piece, which when viewed alongside Miloš problems in achieving sexual satisfaction provide a humanistic counterpoint to the perils of war and political upheaval. Menzel himself appears as the doctor Miloš asks for help with his delicate issue. The professional answer? Get some experience. Miloš certainly gets that in both a sexual and a political sense as the realities of life become ever more stark…
The winner of a best foreign language movie in 1966, the film contains a haunting existential nature about it – not something that could be said of many teen sex comedies it might be argued…
Blu-ray Features include:
- New 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Czech soundtrack in uncompressed PCM mono audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Appreciation by Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave
- Archival interviews with director Jirí Menzel, cinematographer Jaromír Šofr and film historian Jan Lukeš
- Closely Observed Films: Michael Brooke explores the six-film collaboration between Menzel and novelist Bohumil Hrabal
- Reversible sleeve featuring two pieces of artwork from the original release
Review of 1992 – The Complete Season is over at Flickering Myth…
Focusing its glossy and well-developed contextual gaze on the Italy of the early 90’s, 1992 is an intriguing mix of ideas and content. With a modern dramatic arc based around the intertwined dealings and developments of six characters, the series concentrates on both the personal and the political with a steely eyed vigour.
The show covers the tumultuous events taking place in Italy of 1992, with a combination of real life happenings blending in with the fictional. Nation-wide scandals, arrests and investigations into all sorts of criminal activity – with the mafia led murders of officials and judges that year taking centre stage – is the backdrop for the personal stories of the cast.
Much of the show’s success is in the detail. Sounds and visuals from the 90’s have been carefully inserted, allowing for a genuine look back at the time (in all its gore!). The notoriously lurid TV shows from the Berlusconi era of programming collude with pop and rock of the time to provide plenty of pointers.
The narrative itself occasionally gets slightly preoccupied with the trappings of trying to do too much at any given time, and at points the viewer is left wishing it could take its foot off the pedal a bit . That being said, the series is a valuable and exhilarating view of a crucial period in Italian history.
First aired in the UK on Sky Arts, this release from Arrow Films continues the label’s scope in delivering the best in European crime, mystery and noir shows. It joins other Italian series on the sub-label ‘Criminale Italia’ such as Gomorrah, Romanzo Criminale and Fog and Crimes.
1992 – The Complete Season is out now on DVD from Arrow Films
Review of the third and final series of Italian crime show Fog and Crimes is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Continuing the feature-length television adaptations of Valerio Varesi’s detective novels, this third and final season of Fog and Crimes takes Soneri (Barbareschi) out of his natural climate of Ferrara and moves him to the big city of Turin.
Bringing a dark complexity to the demanding nature of police work, and highlighting the difficulties of any kind of relaxed personal life, this quality drama creates a gripping structure that brings successful closure to the series.
Other than the change in city, the main difference this time round is in the supporting cast. New assistant Todisco brings a comedic side to the plot as Juvara did in the first two. But it is the additions of Anna Valle as medical doctor Chiara and Celeste Cuppone as runaway child Immacolata where the cast mostly differs. Both of these new characters bring an added warmth and humanity to the tough cop.
The tightly formulated plots of the four gripping tales provide depth and many surprising twists. The ongoing story of Soneri’s relationship break-up with the first two series’ Angela (Natasha Stefanenko) is alluded to at the start and end nicely bringing the series round to a conclusion.
The disc itself is pretty much bereft of extra features, although the Arrow Films trailers and booklet give a good idea of where the label is trying to go with its priorities for Euro-Crime drama.
This release joins other Italian series on the Arrow Films sub-label ‘Criminale Italia’ such as Gomorrahand Romanzo Criminale. Well worth checking out for all crime and mystery lovers, Fog and Crimesended on Italian TV screens back in 2009 and is fully deserving of a new audience.
My review of the Mario Bava early giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much is over at Flickering Myth now and also appears below…
Part of the considerable charm of this discerning Blu-ray release is that it shows exactly how two different releases of the same film can offer remarkably diverse experiences…
Bava’s original Italian release with the Hitchcockian inspired title takes in a far darker sense of impending dread and horror. After all, as the excellent extra features from various genre experts inform us, this title can in many senses be seen to be one of the first true giallo films, mixing elements of murder mystery with the modish cinematography and stylistic elements that would go on to inspire the next generation of blood-red drenched dream weavers.
The other take on this story is the re-edited and re-dubbed American release, complete with a voice-over and a far greater impetus placed on the romantic element of the story. In effect, the two films offer a very different feel. Personally I felt that the original Italian cut fares much better in treatment that the American one, and there are some truly disturbing sequences. What’s more is that Letícia Román’s Nora Davis character is far stronger, more of a daring private investigator of teen fiction style than the somewhat more doe-eyed counterpart presented in the American take.
Both films are agreeable enough and present a stylish look at the roots of giallo and Bava’s own gifts for experimentation. With all of this kept in mind, an interesting and intriguing double-bill can take place with the same core film…
High Definition Blu-ray and Standard DVD presentation of two versions of the film: The Girl Who Knew Too Much – the original Italian version; and Evil Eye – the re-edited and re-scored US version. Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Luca, introduction by writer and critic Alan Jones, All About the Girl documentary on Mario Bava’s classic giallo. International and US trailer. Illustrated collector’s booklet
My review of Thai/Korean Taekwondo action production is over at Flickering Myth and appears below…
This neat fusion of slapstick comedy and intricate martial arts from Ong-bak and Chocolate creator Pinkaew is reminiscent of the kind of Hong Kong movies that Jackie Chan used to make back in the 1980s. Concentrating on turbo charged scenes of feet, fists and swords; the joint Korean-Thai production finds its mark with explosive force and accomplished dexterity.
Following a Korean family team of Thai-based Taekwondo fighters as they prevent the robbery of the ancient knife the ‘kris of kings’, the film pits them against a blood-thirsty gang of criminals as they try to claim the artefact. The younger members of the family are sent out to their uncle, the confusingly named country living Mum (Petchtai Wongkamlao) where they train themselves up for the inevitable showdown.
As far as main plot elements go that’s about it. But in a movie as enjoyable as this it certainly does not feel to be wanting of anything more. An essential element of all martial arts movies is of course the choreography, and this production features a superb display of exactly how to do it. Each member of the family – and their adversaries – has plenty of room to shine, and do so in action scenes of a memorable vivacity.
The sub plot of family son Tae Yang’s (Tae-joo Na) dreams of becoming a K-Pop star adds a slightly different edge to the production, with one scene in particular incorporating the two disciplines of Taekwando and performance dance beautifully. This scene in particular marks him out as the true star of the picture and the movie itself as a razor sharp cut above a standard martial arts offering.
An added bonus for entertainment fans of a slightly different order is offered by a light sprinkling of computer game visuals. These console inspired elements truly capture the fun and pure entertainment of this style of movie.
For tornado kicks and fighting dance styles, this is a great addition to the kung fu/martial arts genre.
Sorry for the spoiler, but this is the best bit from Squirm, courtesy of Rick Baker.
My review of 70’s creature feature Squirm appears over at Flickering Myth and below…
Squirm, a 70’s ‘revenge of nature’ flick, is as its straight to the point title implies, not a film to be taken overly seriously. More than anything else it is a bloody good laugh. Although there are a few social and political side swipes, this is a creature feature for the Saturday Night B-Movie crowd.
Concerning just what happens to a consignment of worms after the worst storm in years sends electricity pylons crashing to the ground; Squirm clearly sets its sights on classic animal menace suspense thrillers such as The Birds. In reality, it’s more Frogs than The Birds. Certainly no Hitchcock, then, but more a decidedly flawed charmer.
The human story away from the turbo charged wormers, isn’t much to write home about. Aside from the almost impenetrable Southern accents and dodgy small-town gender politics, the film is all about the wrigglers.
Most of the cast put in surprisingly reasonable performances when needed, with Scardino’s educated city boy particularly good as he comes to the realisation that all is not well in the town. This is true of both the worm attacks and the corrupt and imbecilic local law enforcement, which chooses to ignore what happens directly under its nose.
Special mention must go to the make-up wizard Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black etc) whose inspired technical handling of the most terrifying worm mauling is the film’s definitive high point. Alternately sickening and transfixing, the man knows how to handle the true horrific face of worm mis-management…
Essentially, Liebermann displays a fine talent for getting the most out of a fairly lean idea. It’s all tongue in cheek – or worm in cheek – come to that, and it’s not going to change anyone’s life… But hey, it’s a film about electro-powered worms – what’s not to like?
My review of distinctly patchy comedy Lay The Favourite is over at Flickering Myth now…
My review of this excellent magical realist film (a debut from Jonathan Cenzual Burley) is over at Flickering Myth now…