Archive for the ‘Allan’s 2000s Countdown’ Category

by Joel

This post is a tribute to Allan Fish, who has just concluded his ambitious, erudite, and stimulating countdown of every era in film history (a top 100 for the first 35 years of cinema, a top 25 for the 1930s, a top 50 for the ensuing decades of the 20th century, and another top 100 for the decade just past). The project was launched on the popular website Wonders in the Dark in the autumn of 2008. A poll was attached to the end of each countdown, so that the readers could voice their own opinions. Not that they needed the excuse – if anything defined the excitement around Allan’s exercises, it was the fantastic discussion which sprouted from many of his choices, sometimes voyaging far abroad from the starting point, spanning hundreds of comments and dozens of topics. Many of these were among the best conversations I’ve had on the internet – or anywhere else for that matter.

There were numerous contributors to the buzzing atmosphere, not least of whom was Sam Juliano, the irrepressible administrator of Wonders in the Dark, who drummed up enthusiasm and participation in Allan’s countdown with the exuberant discipline of a Falstaffian ringleader. And then, of course, there’s Allan himself. A thirtysomething Brit who has seen just about every major film known to man, he also harbors a no-bullshit attitude and a brooding sensibility. Though bruising at times, he was the perfect yin to Sam’s yang – and their odd couple routine defined the site’s bright but unpretentious tone from the get-go. More important, his virtually peerless immersion in film history provided a wealth of choices for the countdown and he drew on them with gusto. Many times his #1 (not to mention lower-ranked picks) took us by surprise and sent us scurrying to the margins of filmdom to polish off his proclaimed masterpieces.

In several paragraphs, Allan would summon up the world of the movie effortlessly, giving a bit of history and story, but focusing on the film’s mood, its connections to other movies (and books and TV shows and plays…), and whatever it is that drew him in the first place. These short, succinct, yet highly evocative pieces were intended to evoke curiosity and excitement, and in this they were assisted by an often bold and original image – a screen capture in almost all cases, snapping a picture in the midst of merry movement, making us want to see more. The remainder of this tribute focuses on these pictures. Rather than lay these images out in the order of his ranking, I’ll fuse them into a seamless portrait of movie history, a voyage into the silver screen’s past, starting with the most recent and ending with the earliest glimpses of the medium’s potential.

Click on the picture and you will be taken to the review in question. (And if you click on the picture topping this post – an arresting, sultry frame from the French miniseries “Mesrine” – you will arrive at a list of all Allan’s countdowns in numerical order.) Enjoy…

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 2008 237m) DVD1/2

Aka. Ai no mukidashi

All perverts are create equal

p  Yutaka Morohashi  d/w  Shion Sono  ph  Souhei Tanigawa  ed  Junichi Ito  m  Tomohide Harada, Taikoko Yurayura  art  Takashi Matsuzka

Takahiro Nishijima (Yu Honda), Hikari Mitsushima (Yoko), Sakura Ando (Aki Koike), Makiko Watanabe (Saori), Atsuro Watabe (Tetsu Honda),

There are some films that, upon completion, just leave you dumbstruck, as if standing provocatively in front of any potential reviewer – in this case dressed in traditional Japanese schoolgirl attire of short skirt and knee length socks – as if to say “review that, if you can.”  Invisible bullets from invisible wars, statues of the Virgin Mary becoming abused teens, attempted incest, Tosatsu photos, Beethoven, Ravel, Corinthians 13, budgies, a cult religious group called Zero Church and more homages than you can wave a katana at.  Where the heck to begin?

            Yu Honda is a 17 year old high school kid of faintly androgynous appearance who, since his mother died six years earlier, has had an ideal of The Virgin Mary for his future bride.  His father enters the priesthood but is seduced out of it by a faintly psychotic stalker, Saori, who then leaves him when he doesn’t marry her.  The father, Tetsu, then turns puritan, wanting to punish his son for sins he hasn’t committed and preaching of hell from the pulpit.  To satisfy his father’s whims, Yu trains in the art of Tosatsu, taking upskirt photos of young girls using martial arts techniques, and becomes regarded as a master of this perverted ‘art’.  When he tells his father, his father beats him and sends him packing, so he sets up with three other youths who see him as the ‘chosen one’ of perverts, and they set up their own society, until one day, Yu loses a bet and is forced to dress up as Miss Scorpion and kiss his true love, a young girl called Yoko.  In doing so, when he helps her fight a pack of thugs, she falls in love with Miss Scorpion. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Philippines 2008 480m) not on DVD

The sadness of the world

d/w Lav Diaz  ph Lav Diaz  ed Lav Diaz  m Lav Diaz, The Brockas

Angeli Bayani (Jenine/Alberta), Perry Dizon (Danny Boy/Julian), Malaya Cruz (Rina), Roeder Camanag (Renato), Cooky Chua (Patricia), Yanyan Taa (Hannah), Dante Perez,

Just the night before first sitting down for the marathon sitting of Lav Diaz’s entire opus, I had been rewatching the flawed 1995 TV film England, My England, John Osborne’s final work detailing the life of Henry Purcell.  It had the feel of a funeral, not just because of the use of Wendy Carlos’s reworking of the immortal Purcell ‘Funeral March of Queen Mary’ for A Clockwork Orange, but in addition to Osborne’s final work it was also the last performance of Robert Stephens as Dryden.  So far, so how is this relevant?

And so it was that I took on Diaz’ masterpiece less than 24 hours later.  A film that took me through a door that I thought had long closed and untouched since the heyday of Jacques Rivette.  There had been long films since, films that would never be seen as commercial propositions, but Diaz was going further than anyone before.  None of his films are on DVD, and this one wasn’t even his longest.  It’s the only one I have been able to track down at the time of writing and is enough to convince me that he belongs in the higher echelons of cinematic visionaries still working today, with Lynch, Malick, Von Trier, Davies, Tarr, Haneke and Sokurov.  All this from a film which could be argued as an oxymoron; the eight hour plea for cinematic minimalism.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2009 306m) DVD1/2

Aka. 1974, 1980 & 1983

Twinkle, twinkle, little star…

p  Wendy Brazington, Anita Overland  d  Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker  w  Tony Grisoni  novels  David Peace  ph  Rob Hardy  m  Adrian Johnston, Barrington Pheloung  art  Christina Casali

Andrew Garfield (Eddie Dunford), Warren Clarke (Bill Molloy), David Morrissey (Maurice Jobson), Sean Bean (John Dawson), Paddy Considine (Peter Hunter), Eddie Marsan (Jack Whitehead), Rebecca Hall (Paula Garland), Maxine Peake (Helen Marshall), Sean Harris (Bob Craven), Mark Addy (John Piggott), Peter Mullan (Martin Laws), Jim Carter (Harold Angus), Robert Sheehan (BJ), Anthony Flanagan (Barry Gannon), Saskia Reeves (Mandy Wymer), Lesley Sharp (Joan Hunter), Cathryn Bradshaw (Marjorie Dawson), Daniel Mays (Michael Myshkin), Joseph Mawle (Peter Sutcliffe),

Settling down on the 5th March 2009 to watch the first instalment on Channel 4 one was immediately struck by the look of Red Riding.  It’s bathed in a distinct golden veneer.  No nostalgic glow this, more like yesterday’s stale beer, or dried up piss.  Appropriate really, for this is a horrible place, West Yorkshire (Riding as it was back in the days) in the seventies and eighties, a county terrorised by two evils, a child kidnapper and killer with a passion for turning the children into posthumous angels by attaching swan’s wings to their backs and, infamously, the Yorkshire Ripper. 

            If we’re being brutally honest, the middle instalment doesn’t quite hang together as well as the surrounding chapters; perhaps because removing the preceding novel (1977 wasn’t dramatised) removed some of the foundation, more obviously because the first and third parts now trace the search for the same killer.  The central theme running between the three remains constant, however, of a dark, bleak, hell on earth, in which there is no hope at all.  The law has become the equivalent of the anti-law, making it up as they go along, protecting their own nefarious interests, sending innocent men to prison, torturing, abusing and battering suspects, killing whoever gets in the way, and generally making a mockery of the very word Police.  Each drama has its crusading hero.  The first sees young reporter Eddie Dunford fall into an affair with the mother of a kidnapped child, only to come unstuck as he gets in over his head.  The second sees an outsider sent from Manchester to oversee the Ripper hunt, only to have his hands tied in every direction and, as soon as he gets close to the corruption at hand, he, too, pays for it.  By 1983, some of the guilty parties are dead and others are nearing retirement.  And while a solicitor becomes involved in trying to get a harmless innocent released from prison for crimes he didn’t commit one guilty officer has reached breaking point and lets that extinct commodity in the West Yorkshire Police creep in; namely, a conscience.  (more…)

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2046 (no 4)

by Allan Fish

(Hong Kong 2004 127m) DVD1/2

Heartbreak Hotel

p  Wong Kar-Wai  d/w  Wong Kar-Wai  ph  Christopher Doyle, Lai Yiu Fai, Kwan Pun Leung  ed  William Chang  m  Peer Raben, Shigeru Umebayashi  art  Alfred Yau

Tony Leung (Chow Mo-Wan), Gong Li (Su Lizhen No.2), Ziyi Zhang (Bai Ling), Carina Lau (Lulu/Mimi), Kimura Takuya (Tak), Faye Wong (Wang Jingwen), Chang Chen, Wang Sum (Mr Wang), Maggie Cheung (Su Lizhen No.1), Dong Jie (Wang Jie Wen),

When it first made an appearance at Cannes in 2004, Wong Kar-Wai’s romantic science fiction opus was greeted with disbelief by critics and audiences alike.  Many found it a disappointment, but Wong said all along it wasn’t really finished, and went back east to sort the finishing touches out.  All one can say is that the version we later got to see was a very different beast; a splendorous, aesthetically and emotionally rapturous experience to make true cineastes drool.  Some still accused it of shallowness, a criticism often – and unjustly – hurled at Wong from certain critical quarters.  Others accused it of continuity errors, but many of these can easily be explained away by the non-linear plot, which goes back and forth in time, and in and out of fictional realities, with incredible alacrity.

            Essentially the third part of the trilogy that began with Days of Being Wild and continued with In the Mood for Love, 2046 follows Leung’s Chow from Christmas Eve 1966, where he is moving between Singapore and Hong Kong and is still trying to get over the fatalistic romance he had a few years earlier (in the second film).  After a chance encounter with old girlfriend Lulu, he is reintroduced to room 2046 in a seedy hotel, the room number where he used to meet previous love Su Lizhen.  During his visits there, he meets other women, including young call girl Bai Ling, who becomes infatuated with him, the hotelier’s daughter Jingwen, who also has writing ambitions, while in Singapore he meets a professional gambler who it turns out is also called Su Lizhen.  And while all this is going on, he tries to finish a futuristic story about his experiences entitled ‘2047’. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 2006 130m) DVD2

Aka. Kiraware Matsuko no isshô

Forgive me for being born

p  Yutaka Suzuki  d/w  Tetsuya Nakashima  novel  Muneki Yamada  ph  Masakazu Ato  ed  Yoshiyuki Koike  m  Gabriele Roberto  art  Towako Kuwashima 

Miki Nakatani (Matsuko Kawajiri), Eita (Shou Kawajiri), Yusuke Iseya (Ryu Yoichi), Teruyuki Kagawa (Norio Kawajiri), Mikako Ichikawa (Kumi Kawajiri), Asuka Kurosawa (Megumi Sawamura), Akira Emoto (Tsunehiro Kawajiri), YosiYosi Arakawa (Kenji Shimazu), Kankuro Kudo (Tetsuya Yamegawa), Kana Ukunoya (young Matsuko),

Savour these moments, fellow cineastes, those increasingly rare occurrences when a film comes completely out of left field and knocks you for six.  I hadn’t seen any film by Tetsuya Nakashima, and indeed wondered about Memories of Matsuko.  It sounded like another film in the line of Amélie or even Dancer in the Dark, fantasies where, for all their accomplishment on a technical level, you wanted to shake the heroine like a damp rag and shout “for God’s sake!”  If anything, you’d have reason enough to do so twice over with Matsuko Kawajiri, so why you don’t is testament to the film’s emotional power.  And coming from one such as I, who decries films aimed to tug at the heartstrings as if they were men in cloaks ringing a small bell, that’s no mean achievement.

            So we’re in July 2001; Matsuko Kawajiri has been beaten to death by a riverbank.  Long forgotten and disowned by her family, her nephew Shou – who never knew she existed – is told by his father, carrying her ashes, that he had an aunt who led a meaningless life.  On first investigation into her hovel of a flat in a derelict shanty town, Shou would be forgiven for thinking that his father was right, but investigation takes him to the injustice that led her to leave her job as a junior high schoolteacher and her home, to set up with various worthless men who beat her, and become, in one order or another, a stripper, a yakuza moll, a hostess, a singer, a murderess and hair stylist and friend to Megumi, an upcoming porn star.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2001 487m) not on DVD

The writing on the wall

p  Claire Hirsch  d  David Moore, Hettie MacDonald  w  Kevin Hood, Neil Biswas  novel  Tim Pears  ph  Alwin Kuchler  ed  Bill Diver  m  Jocelyn Pook, Harvey Brough  art  Mark Stevenson  cos  Pam Tait, Dinah Collin

Robert Pugh (Charles Freeman), Helen McCrory (Mary Freeman), Shaun Dingwall (James Freeman), Kaye Wragg (Laura), Hazel Monaghan (Mina), Susannah Wise (Alice Freeman), Tony Maudsley (Simon Freeman), James Bradshaw (young James), Charlotte Salt (young Laura), Ravi Kapoor, Shirley Henderson, Kathleen Byron,

The BBC’s still baffling decision to only release to VHS despite the year of release hasn’t helped this masterpiece.  Nor did their decision to try and sneak it into the early year schedule like a wedding crasher.  One would be forgiven for thinking they were ashamed of it.  Yet let us make one thing perfectly clear, to say this is one of the great small screen achievements of the 21st century, despite being first shown only weeks into said century, does it a disservice.  It’s one of the great works of either screen of the modern era. 

            At its centre we have the Freeman family, headed by engineering industrialist Charles, and covers their lives from around 1952 to the mid 1990s.  Personal loves, hates and tragedies come and go, including a suicide and brutal murder, and continue to haunt not only the family but the fringe, in the shape of the housekeeper’s daughter.

            If that seems a stingy summation of eight hours of drama, then it’s meant to be, for it’s not the plot in itself that merits its reputation.  The early episodes are filled with the same sense of nostalgic, wistful memory – interspersed with old film clips – that recall the work of Terence Davies.  The family matriarch and patriarch are deliberately unsympathetic, the latter refusing to accept anything that doesn’t conform to his hard facts view of the world, the other stifled by him but at the same time cruelly disparaging of her own children – most memorably when smirking at her son’s desire to go into sales and venomously retorting “why not be really ambitious and train as a cost accountant?”  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany/France 2009 144m) DVD1/2

Aka. Der Weisse Band – Eine Deutsche Kindegeschichte

Malice, apathy and brutality

p  Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz, Margaret Ménégoz, Andrea Occhipinti  d/w  Michael Haneke  ph  Christian Berger  ed  Monika Willi  m  none  art  Christoph Kanter, Anja Müller

Christian Friedel (the school teacher), Leonie Benesch (Eva), Ulrich Tukur (The Baron), Ursini Lardi (The Baronin), Fiona Mutert (Sigi), Michael Kranz (the home teacher), Maria Victoria Klarus (Klara), Burghart Klausner (the pastor), Steffi Kühnert (the pastor’s wife), Leonard Proxauf (Martin), Levin Henning (Adolf), Janina Fautz (Erna), Rainer Bock (the doctor), Johanna Busse (Margarete), Susanne Lothar (the midwife), Birgit Minichmayr (Frieda), Thibault Sérié (Gustav), Ernst Jacobi (narrator, older school teacher), 

The beginning is ambiguous, as the narrator advises us that he doesn’t know whether the story he wants to tell you is entirely true.  Even when taking us back to the beginning, like David Copperfield, he’s unsure; “it all began, I think, with the doctor’s riding accident.”  From the outset then there is ambiguity and it remains, not lurking in the corner but in the very atmosphere, the oxygen of the characters and the village.  Yet this oxygen is not clean, it’s contaminated, and about to be more so. 

            The village itself shall remain nameless, but it’s in the period leading up to World War I.  The village is largely populated by farmers who work the land of the local baron, whose authority they are increasingly coming to resent.  During the traditional annual harvest dance, the baron’s cabbages are hacked to bits by a man wielding a scythe; the latest in a series of antisocial acts that began with the doctor’s horse being tripped up by a wire strung between two trees, and continues with beatings applied to the baron’s son, a farmer’s wife falling fatally through floorboards at a sawmill, the farmer later hanging himself in the barn, torture dished out to the doctor’s housekeeper’s handicapped son and ritual killings of pet birds.  It’s only on finding the tortured boy do they find a note pinned to him which seems to indicate a visitation of divine judgement, noting how the sins of the parents extend to the third and fourth generation.  Unbelievably, police called in to investigate and the local schoolteacher, begin to suspect that the local children are responsible, under the leadership of the daughter of the strict local pastor. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 2001 147m) DVD1/2

It’s no longer your film

p Mary Sweeney, Alain Sarde, Neal Edelstein, Michael Polaire, Tony Krantz  d/w David Lynch  ph Peter Deming  ed Mary Sweeney  m Angelo Badalamenti (with Rebecca del Rio)  art Jack Fisk  cos Amy Stofsky

Naomi Watts (Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn), Laura Elena Harring (Rita/Camilla Rhodes), Justin Theroux (Adam Kesher), Mark Pellegrino (Joe Messing), Ann Miller (Coco), Robert Forster (Det.Harry McKnight), Lee Grant (Louise Bonner), Katharine Towne (Cynthia Jenzen), Dan Hedaya (Vincenzo Castigliane), Melissa George (Camilla Rhodes), Brent Briscoe (Det.Neal Domgaard), Michael Anderson (Mr Toque),

We’ve all been there; that moment when something happens in a movie and you think you’ve nodded off and missed something important.  David Lynch’s masterful study in obsession and amnesia, among other things, is a case in point.  It’s not that you ever have the movie sussed, I doubt anyone ever will, but at least you can follow it until, bang, just like that, everything goes not so much topsy-turvy as unbalanced enough to send the earth off its axis.  It may be a movie when you come out of the theatre thinking “what the (expletive deleted)!”, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t a bona fide masterpiece all the same.

A young wannabe actress is coming to L.A. with dreams of fame and stays at her aunt’s house while she is away with a film crew shooting on location.  When she arrives she finds a woman waiting for her, an amnesiac, who she lets stay and tries to help to recover her identity.  Another young man returns to a Sunset Boulevard diner to relive a dream he’s been having and dies of a heart attack after a possibly imaginary encounter with a beast-like hooded man.  Meanwhile a young director is having his choice of leading lady for his upcoming film made for him by Mafioso style gangsters, while his wife is having an affair with the pool cleaner.  And that’s only the first act!!!  (more…)

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(France 2002 99m) DVD1/2

Time destroys all things

p  Christophe Rossignon  d/w  Gaspar Noé  ph  Benoît Debic  ed  Gaspar Noé  m  Thomas Bangalter  art  Alain Juteau  cos  Laure Culkovic

Monica Bellucci (Alex), Vincent Cassel (Marcus), Albert Dupontel (Pierre), Jo Prestia (Le Tenia), Philippe Nahon (Philippe), Stéphane Drouot (Stéphane), Michel Gonduin (Mick), Mourad Khima (Mourad), Jean-Louis Costes (‘fist’ man),   

The idea of having a film’s narrative run in reverse wasn’t a new one.  Memento had done it superbly, and surely had an influence on Gaspar Noé’s film, yet in all other respects the films could not be more different.  Christopher Nolan’s film was, to all intents and purposes, a mystery, and the backwards narrative aimed to get us to the point where we understood the beast.  Irreversible has no mystery, it just unravels slowly, falling backwards as if down a flight of stairs like that ball of wool in Delicatessen

            It begins, or should we say ends, with Philippe Nahon, naked in a sort of asylum cell, discussing how he came to be there, referencing the finale of Noé’s earlier Seul Contre Tous in which a slaughterhouse worker sleeps with his daughter.  A shocking enough start, but merely a way of saying we’re in the same primeval world.  From there, we descend below to the ominously named gay club The Rectum, and two people are being dragged out, one unconscious and another very much conscious, to be taken away following what seems to have been an unprovoked murder.  As the scene ends, we find ourselves with the said two characters as they first descend into the bowels of The Rectum in search of a man called Le Tenia.  They repeatedly battering a fire extinguisher into his face…only it isn’t him, we know the real culprit is rather watching the murder.  (more…)

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