Thursday, 24 January 2008

UKIGUSA/Floating Weeds (1959)

This a remake of Yasujiro Ozu’s 1935 film UKIGUSA MONOGATARI/A Story of Floating Weeds, which I have not seen. This time Ozu was working in colour to tell his story of a marriage breakup. With only one exception (a late comedy) I have always found Ozu’s films emotionally involving – his minute exploration of his characters against the background of everyday Japanese life shows a rare sensitivity. Among the films I have seen this reached its peek in the “Noriko” trilogy which culminated in the masterpiece TOKYO STORY. Ozu’s visual style is perfectly suited to the exploration of human emotions – virtually no camera movement with characters moving in and out of the frame and usually shot from the eye level of a kneeling person (being set in Japan we tend to get a lot of kneeling!). In FLOATING WEEDS a traveling Kabuki troupe arrive in a small town in southern Japan. They are led by a middle aged actor and his young wife. The latter learns to her consternation that her husband has an old girlfriend in the town and that he always visits her when passing through town. This, of course, is only the bare bone of the story – and, of course, there is a big secret revealed towards the film’s climax. I admit that I became more that usually involved in the film and identified strongly with one of the supporting characters because the revelation is one that I myself faced a few years ago. Ozu seems, as always, intensely sympathic to all he characters and finishes the film on a note of optimism. He doesn’t offer easy solutions but in the very moving last scene (how many other great movie scenes are set in railway station waiting rooms ? ) he seems to be saying “Just maybe……” Rating ****

Thursday, 17 January 2008


So far I've not been disappointed with any of Shyamalan's movies and it seems to me that the people who have been are those who condemn him for not making the films that they expected him to make. One of the criticisms that you hear most often is that all his movies try to repeat the twist in the tail success of his biggest box-offic hit SIXTH SENSE. Well, maybe that has been true, but as somebody who is more than happy to admit that I was suckered in by SIXTH SENSE right up until the ring hit the floor, I really don't have a problem with that. The secret of UNBREAKABLE crept up on me slowly as the plot progressed so Bruce Willis and I sort of figured it out together and although I sussed out the secret of THE VILLAGE even before I saw it I enjoyed the things that Night was saying so much and admired how he said them that I really didn't care what the critcs or the so-called fans were saying. The reception for LADY IN THE WATER was pretty awful and for various reasons it has taken me a long while to get around to it. Well, they can't say he's repeating himself this time. Cards are on the table very early in the movie, There is a water nymph living in the guy's pool. End of story inasmuch as the film wastes absolutely no time in having his character try to make everybody else believe it. He tells them and they believe him right away. Hey, buddy. what can we do to help ? Nobody doubts that there are big monster lurking out there in the bushes and everybody believes that a giant eagle is going to swoop down and take the water babe home. It's not a thriller (although it has a few thrills), it's not a comedy (although it has quite a few nice understated laughs) and I'd be hard pressed to point to any other movie that it resembles - and THAT, my friends, is it's strength. That is Night Shyamalan's strength - he is NOT making movies that are like anybody else's movies. In an industry that is obessed with repeating itself this is a breath of fresh air. It doesn't matter in the slightest that Night does not make the best movies ever made because he is making personal films that engage the viewer in a way that few films from the mainstream of Hollywood do these days. My take on LADY IN THE WATER (and I am sure that yours will be very different from mine - and so it should be) is that it's a metaphor for life and how we as individuals should approach it. It's about responsibility to our fellows and about aspirations. But don't think that this is a preachy type film that is going to hit you over the head with a message. You will take away from the movie equal shares of what you bring to it. Give it a chance, let it speak to you.Don't worry too much about understanding everything or having all the answers spelled out for you. I ended the film wondering exactly what I'd just seen, but I had a smile on my face and I felt that I had just shared something with the characters in the film.When was the last time a Hollywood movie did that for you ? Rating ***

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

UN FLIC /Dirty Money/A Cop (1972)

I first saw this on television in the 1970's in a dubbed version and with the plot interupted by adverts. Having already seen Jean-Pierre Melville's SECOND BREATH I found UN FLIC bitterly disappointing except for an atmospheric bank robbery at the beginning which is set on a windswept seafront. The film was championed by a penfriend who had seen the original French version in Germany. Over the years the film has retreated in my memory to a point where I really wanted to rev-evalute it, especially as over the years I have seen nearly all Jean-Pierre Melville's other films and he has become one of my favourite French directors. Well, I finally tracked it down on DVD and guess what ? I still find it bitterly disappointing. Sure, the opening robbery still looks pretty good but what follows could be any European co-production of the period. The star is Alain Delon who had been the Melville hero par-exellence in LE CERCLE ROUGE and LE SAMOURAI. Here his usually effective deadpan does nothing for the character of the title character and American import Richard Crenna (who I have admired in many films) seems too lightweight as his criminal counterpart. The basic plot bears more than a passing resemblance to the later (and superior) HEAT directed by Michael Mann. The film's centre-piece is a heist involving a train and a helicopter but unfortunately what might have been gripping in another film falls flat here due to the very obvious models used for the train and helicopter. It's watchable but not at all what I would expect from Melville.


The Dr.Mabuse series produced in Germany in the 1960s were among the most entertaining of the many krimi which were typified by the seemingly endless series of Edgar Wallace adaptions. The Mabuse films were, in my experience, faster paced and more inventive. The criminal mastermind, Dr.Mabuse, was created by writer Norbert Jaques and famously made his film debut in Fritz Lang's 1922 DR.MABUSE THE GAMBLER. Lang resurrected Mabuse in 1932 (now mad and running his criminal empire from an insane asylum) and put into his mouth the words of Adolph Hitler which, naturally made him unpopular with the nazis. Many years later when Lang returned to Germany he revived Mabuse in THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR.MABUSE. The success of the movie prompted first a remake of TESTAMENT followed by a series of further adventures, none of which involved Lang. THE RETURN OF DR.MABUSE is one of the best o the series with Gert (Goldfinger) Frobe playing Inspector Lohmann (a character who had first appeared pursuing Peter Lorre in Lang's 1931 M and gone on to combat Mabuse in Lang's 1932 film) who starts to suspect that Mabuse's organisation has formed links with the Mafia and then that Mabuse himself is still alive and directing operations from a prison where the inmates are being turned into mindless zombies. The film has myriad suspects as to who really is Mabuse (although fans won't have much difficulty in choosing the right culprit - especially when the cast includes Wolfgang Preiss). It all moves at a cracking pace with bizarre murders (a passing truck incinerates a woman with a flame thrower!) mad scientists and a full scale attack on an atomic power station by gun-toting zombie convicts. As well as Frobe and Preiss the cast includes Lex Barker as F.B.I agent Joe Como, Daliah Lavi and Mabuse regular Werner Peters. Direction by Harald Reinl is more than adequate. The same disc from Retromedia Entertainment also contains the very enjoyable THE INVISIBLE DR.MABUSE made by virtually the same team - including Barker as Joe Como, Preiss as the face of Mabuse and Werner Peters - with Reinl's wife Karin Dor stepping into the heroine roll in a plot that combines the Invisible Man with Phantom of the Opera. As if that were not enough there is also THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DR.MABUSE which is a different kettle of fish. By the time this entry into the series was made James Bond was big at the cinema so we get German actor Peter Van Eyck as a Bond-like British secret agent (yes, I know, it is odd casting!) trying to stop Mabuse getting his hands on a new death ray in Malta. British actors Robert Beatty and Leo Genn are Intelligence chiefs and ,Yvonne Furneaux is the eye candy. Wolfgang Preiss is listed on the cast but I honestly failed to spot him in the film. It lacks the pace or the inventiveness of the earlier Mabuse films and is a real disappointment. Years later French director Claude Chabrol revived Mabuse in a one off thriller. Rating for THE RETURN OF DR.MABUSE (Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse) ***