Archive for June, 2012

June 24, 2012

Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (2011 – DVD)

“Each man has his honour”

Ever since viewing the awe-inspiring, beautiful yet devastatingly violent juggernaut that was Takashi Miike’s ’13 Assassins’ I’ve been looking forward to his follow-up. Like that masterpiece, ‘Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai’ is also a remake of an early 1960s black and white Chambara classic. But in this case I’ve already seen the original thanks to the eye meltingly gorgeous Blu-Ray restoration of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 ‘Harakiri’ last year from Eureka entertainment. So I can’t help but make comparisons…

The first obvious difference is that Miike has shot his film in rich and vibrant colour. The palette of the film changes subtlety with the seasons and the mood of the characters who are at the mercy of the winds of fate. The performances are devastatingly real and totally heartbreaking and legend Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score is of course evocative. The problem is that Miike’s film is very, very similar to the original but not quite as good, by a mere fraction. It just hasn’t got the same windswept gothic splendour of the original monochrome ‘Harakiri’. Watch the final wordless showdown below and tell me the last time you saw anything so powerful.

For some strange reason Miike’s film is only available as a bog-standard DVD but at the affordable price of £7.99 I’d highly recommend it, especially as the original 60s film retails for close to £20.

June 23, 2012

Get Smart (2008 – DVD)

“How about Chuck Norris with a BB gun?”

The promise of a sequel to the legendarily funny ‘Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy’ had me searching around for a hit of the same surreal goofery.  I plumed for 2008’s ‘Get Smart’, a spy spoof based on Mel Brook’s 1960s TV comedy of the same name.  It stars Steve Carell (From ‘Anchorman’) as frustrated desk-bound Intelligence-Analyst Max Smart who gets a chance to fulfill his dream of becoming a field agent accompanied by the beautiful and deadly Agent 99 (Anne Hathaway).

As with most modern Hollywood remakes of fondly remembered cult TV shows, sadly ‘Get Smart’ is louder, more action orientated and brasher than a light spoof of this kind really should be.  The fact that the Smart character is a genuinely intelligent, witty, deadly and often suave secret agent, yet somehow keeps on making Clouseau-esque mistakes is a bit of an odd mix (Director Peter Segal obviously isn’t over familiar with the “Cake and eat it” phrase).  Indeed the choreographed fight scenes are visceral enough to fit into any hard edged action flick. The creative team should have devoted more screen time to the gags which are actually very funny fueled by Carell and Hathaway’s cracking chemistry and comedy timing.  ‘Get Smart ‘ is a fun couple of hours, I just wish it had been more fun!

Here’s the first episode of the original TV series:

June 19, 2012

Black Caesar (1973 – DVD)

“As of today, we’re branchin’ out into new fields”

I haven’t seen that many Blaxploitation films but have spent a fair amount of time listening to their soundtracks by legends such as Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield and of course Isaac Hayes. The soundtrack to ‘Black Caesar’ is by none other than the godfather of soul James Brown and features his stone cold classic ‘The Boss’. He also recorded a soundtrack album for the sequel ‘Hell Up In Harlem’ which Director Larry Cohen didn’t use because he said it wasn’t “Funky enough”. Considering it features the outrageously funky ‘The Payback’, I’m eager to see that film and find out what could have possibly topped it!

‘Black Caesar’ chronicles the rise and fall of Harlem crime boss Tommy Gibbs, played with gleeful charm by Fred Williamson. Comparing this 70s classic to Ridley Scott’s 2007 film ‘American Gangster’ (Which tells a very similar story) it makes me think we’ve lost something in our polished modern cinema era.  Sure Scott’s biopic of Harlem hood Frank Lucas is beautifully shot and well acted but it doesn’t have the sense of rough-hewn fun that ‘Black Caesar’ has.  Larry Cohen’s film is wittier, more shocking, more politically hard-hitting and it’s also over an hour shorter than Scott’s movie, giving it a spritely machine-gun pace.  I might have to have a Blaxploitation binge including ‘Foxy Brown’, ‘Super Fly’, ‘Coffy’, ‘Truck Turner’ and the like.


June 17, 2012

The Guard (2011 – Blu-Ray)

“Who was up there firing that cannon?… The FBI lad, probably hadn’t had this much fun since they burned all those kids up in Waco”

‘The Guard’ turned up on my doorstep yesterday from LoveFilm after hearing many good things about it. Following many memorable character parts Brendan Gleeson gets the chance to attack a lead role with gusto. He found a character that fits him like a glove, that of argumentative, flippant, insubordinate and foul-mouthed Irish cop Sergeant Gerry Boyle who does his best to hide his intelligent and noble depths. Gleeson’s portrayal is so charming that it left me wanting to spend more time with this richly nuanced creation on a weekly prime time TV style basis.

Boyle is drawn into the hunt for a trio of drug smugglers by visiting FBI agent Wendell Everett, played by Don Cheadle. Everett is a professional, by-the-numbers man who essentially plays the straight man to Boyle and a whole cast of crazy characters. Cheadle does a fine line in exasperated expressions at the strange world he has landed in… the west of Ireland but it may as well have been mars. ‘The Guard’ is packed with huge belly laughs yet it’ll also bring a few tears to your eyes… a warm and stylish modern classic!

June 9, 2012

Prometheus (2012 – Cinema)

“A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable”

I’ve tried my hardest to avoid learning anything about ‘Prometheus’ despite counting down the minutes ’til the release date and so entered the cinema with a refreshing air of mystery still before me. The film arose when Director Ridley Scott realised that there were actually two HR Giger designed alien species in Scott’s own 1979 Sci-Fi Horror classic ‘Alien’. Of course the so-called ‘Xenomorph’ has been explored in six sequel movies and countless novels and comic books. But the ‘Space-Jockey’ being (As it is known) has rarely been touched upon with the exception of one comic I remember reading a long time ago. So ‘Prometheus’ is a true prequel to ‘Alien’ but it takes the interesting decision of having a team of scientists exploring the story of this ancient and mysterious space-faring race rather than the acid-blooded creatures we all know and love.

‘Prometheus’s scariest moments explore the same disturbing sexual and scientific horrors as ‘Alien’. Indeed, the scene involving a bloody robot operation had me almost looking away but of course I couldn’t, as Ridley Scott had me transfixed like watching a disgusting Cronenberg-ian car crash.  The cast are good but they pale next to the masterful performance by Michael Fassbinder as the android David.  His every movement, facial tick and gesture seems like a creepy malevolent showroom dummy yet he also imbues David with a placid childlike nature that makes him a beautifully sympathetic character.  Those waiting to see Scott craft another gorgeous Sci-Fi visual world will not be disappointed and for the watchful there are plenty of little design nods to Ridley’s earlier film. ‘Prometheus’ raises far more questions about human existence and the world of ‘Alien’ than it ever answers so now I’m eagerly awaiting the promised sequel