Recently Watched: Films: The Servant (1963), A Kiss Before Dying (1956) & Isle of the Dead (1945)

I. The Servant (1963)

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant is considered by some to be one of the finest British films. It tells of Tony (James Fox), a flamboyant member of the upper class, who has just moved in to his central London residence after a period spent in Africa. He immediately hires a man-servant for himself, demure, respectful and knowledgeable Hugo Barrett (Dirk Bogarde). Hugo not only knows how to cook and take care of a house, but he is also an expert interior decorator and has been a gentleman’s servant for many notable Lordships. This tale of a friction between the upstairs and the downstairs reaches the zenith of tension when Hugo introduces “his sister” (Sarah Miles) to the household and when Tony’s own fiancée (Susan Stewart) decides to make the house her own dominion. The Servant works delightfully as a satire on class differences and servitude, showing a thin line that often separates usefulness from a nuisance, and kindness from submissiveness. This tale of hidden corruption has a frightening change of dynamics.

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The Animation Tag

I got an idea for this post through winst0lfportal and his animation tag post. Borrowing some questions from it, I created my own tag. I love animations, and am a supporter and promoter of international animations (see my previous posts on Russian, French, Chinese and Japanese animations).

  1. Favourite Disney animation?

Beauty and the Beast (1991).

2. Favourite non-Disney animation?

It is tempting to say “Spirited Away” (2001), but I have a soft spot for Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and would like to make one day an in-depth comparison between it and “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) (a fun one since both are based on other source materials). I also love the works of Satoshi Kon and Makoto Shinkai.

3. Criminally-underseen animation you recommend to everyone?

The Illusionist (2010) is a lovely, heart-warming animation from Sylvain Chomet (“Les triplettes de Belleville” (2003)). In “The Illusionist”, a French illusionist finds himself unemployed and travels to Scotland. There, he meets a young girl and their destinies collide.

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“Soul” Review

Soul (2020)

This new animation comes from the creators of Inside Out (2015), and is about a music teacher and aspiring jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who dies by falling into New York City’s manhole. He begins his journey in the world “beyond” (“The Great Before”) and his reluctant companion becomes a yet-unborn soul called “22”. As it turns out, the two have much to teach each other about life, death and human destiny. Soul is best when it is rooted in simplicity, heart-warmness and quiet moments. It certainly loses some of its coherence and has many undercooked ideas, as well as mixed messages, when it tries to present the world of “The Great Before”. Nevertheless, the overall effect is that of one lovely animation, with one lovable character at its centre, which portrays New York City and the jazz scene beautifully. Soul has many redeeming elements, and those messages in the story that finally do get through effectively to the audience make it a wonderful cinematic experience overall.

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“Death of a Cyclist” Review

Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) (1955) 

Death of a Cyclist is a Spanish-language film that was the winner of the FIPRESCI Award at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Juan Antonio Bardem (Main Street (1956)), this social realist film tells of a couple of secret, privileged lovers residing in Madrid who are involved in a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist. Afraid that their illicit affair will be known to everybody, María José de Castro (Lucia Bosè) and Juan Fernandez Soler (Alberto Closas) failed to stop and help a cyclist who they accidentally hit in their sports car. What follows is a dangerous game of trying to guess who knows what and who can use that information against whom. Parallel to this, Juan Soler, a university instructor, goes through some kind of an existential crisis which leads to surprising results. Death of a Cyclist is one intriguing thriller with Hitchcockian elements. There is plenty in the film on the topic of class divide and the faults of the upper class. Although frustrating at times with a questionable ending, Death of a Cyclist also benefits from nuanced directing which brings out the best in this story about crime and attempts at redemption.

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Alternative Film Posters

I would like to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (Let 2021 be a happier and less stressful year for all of us!) Below I am presenting some of my favourite alternative film posters, which also includes a poster to Home Alone, a quintessential Christmas film. See also my previous posts – Minimalist” Film Posters and Movie Directors’ Styles Reinterpreted As Architecture. Do you like “film art”? What are your favourite alternative film posters?

I. The “House Architecture” Posters

These are some of my favourite alternative film posters and they often get quite intricate. They work best when a story in a film revolves around one house, but also when there are “layers” to a film story, as in the case of Inception below.

Inception by Chris Skinner
Home Alone by Adam Simpson
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3 Most Underappreciated Songs in Animation

I. You Know Better Than Ifrom Joseph: King of Dreams [2000]

This song, written by John Bucchino and performed by David Campbell, is from the straight-to-video animated film Joseph: King of Dreams. The song is inspirational and feels very personal. It is sung by Joseph when he finds himself near to despair and at the lowest point in his life. He has to start from the very beginning again and build his life anew. The faith and trust in God enable him to do that. The animation is often compared negatively to the great animation The Prince of Egypt [1998], but the comparison is a bit unjust and Joseph: King of Dream should stand on its own as that that has many strong points, including the amazing dream sequences and this wonderful song.

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“I, Daniel Blake” Review

I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a kind of film whose theme of the individual vs. the system, brutal honesty and underlying power make it a compulsory watch for everyone. The story centres on Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year old widowed carpenter living in the UK, who is forced to rely on the benefits system (welfare system) to support himself after his doctor diagnosed him with heart problems. What follows is his experience being part of that system where a person is just a number and where there is little place for basic human understanding and compassion. All this may sound mundane and even dull, but the film is anything but that. Under Loach’s nuanced direction, we follow Blake as he makes friends with a single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) and does everything in his power to make his own and others’ lives bearable. The true power of this gentle, realistic film that displays the kindness of others and human hope, lies in showing ordinary people struggling on a daily basis against the system that is paradoxically designed to keep them in the same miserable place.

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Recently Watched: Films: Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Quiz Show (1994) & Close-Up (1990)

I. Raise the Red Lantern (1991)

Chinese director Zhang Yimou tells in his film, which is based on the novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, the story of a beautiful nineteen-year-old ex-university student Songlian (Gong Li) who decides to become a concubine in the 1920s China. After her decision, Songlian finds herself in the palace of “red lanterns” which has “four houses” for her husband’s four mistresses. She soon gets acquainted with the elderly and indifferent first Mistress, with the friendly and seemingly happy second Mistress and with the still young and beautiful, but jealous third Mistress. All is well, or is it? The palace’s strange, centuries-old traditions and customs first bewilder Songlian and then force her most shameful qualities out, as her husband randomly shifts the power between the four houses. Songlian soon finds herself in a miniature society and under the patriarchal dominance which she has never imagined to exist, with her husband employing arbitrary and complex policies of rewards and punishments to keep the mistresses in line. In this dangerous game, Songlian realises that she must learn to handle not only the three previous jealous Mistresses, but also her hostile maid Yan’er and the realisation of a lifetime imprisonment. Raise the Red Lantern is a psychologically-intriguing film about one oppressive world where the competition for power, hopelessness, despair and the weight of guilt all mingle as the palace changes people and makes them into forms it desires and the master has planned in advance. With the exquisitely beautiful cinematography (by Zgao Fei), Raise the Red Lantern is one of the most important films of the 1990s. 10/10  

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“Tekkonkinkreet” (“Treasure Town”) Mini-Review

Tekkonkinkreet (2006)

Based on a manga Tekkon kinkurito (1993) by Taiyo Matsumoto, Treasure Town is a breathtakingly-beautiful animation about two orphaned boys: street-wise and brave Kuro (Black), and lovable and innocent Shiro (White). Street-raised Yin and Yang of the cruel world around them, the boys defend their only home – the “lost city”, the “city of myth”, the Treasure Town. First their opponents are simply rival gangs, but they soon notice the encroachment of a much more powerful enemy: the yakuza. Members of the notorious Japanese mafia have certain drastic, commercial designs on the city, and the duo of brothers feel that they cannot just give away their decrepit town full of wonder, their small, bizarre universe, their home. This colourful, sometimes violent, but grimly-realistic, animation packs inside much commentary on social issues relevant to Japan, and has both, a touching emotional core (the brotherly love) and a clever structure and plot.

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Previews: “News of the World”, “The Last Duel” and “Deep Water”

I missed writing the kind of posts where I preview films to be released at some future date (I previously wrote only three such instalments, one in 2015, one in 2016, and one in 2017). Now, I am talking about three films I am excited to watch in 2021, and all three of them are based on books – Paul Greengrass’s News of the World, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel and Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water.

A poster to Paul Greengrass’s new film News of the World.

News of the World (2021)

Story: Based on a novel by Paulette Jiles, this film tells the story of Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) who, in the year of 1870, travels across the US, spreading “the news of the world” to people. When he comes across a little girl, who has recently been an Indian native and is now left abandoned and homeless, he decides to take charge of her and return her to her real family in South Texas. The issue for the Captain, though, is that Johanna still considers herself a Kiowa, an Indian native, and, as the two travel together, they soon discover many things that bond them in the increasingly hostile and threatening world around them.

Director: Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips (2013)).

Leads: Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel.

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