Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Bird People in China

Dir: Takashi Miike
Starring: Masahiro Motoki

Remember Narry's review of Zebraman back in the day? Well, this is by the same director. Like Zebraman, Bird People in China takes a fantastical concept and brings it down to earth. Which is slightly disappointing in this case, as I was hoping to see some outlandish paragliding scenes set amidst the mountains of Yunan.

Bird People tells an interesting story of two people who have nothing in common being thrown into a new situation and finding a life changing experience in the process. Couple this with the visually stunning location, and Bird People makes for compelling watching.

Being a Miike film, there are a few scenes where things get gritty. The Yakuza character is quite dislikable at first, although his transformation due to the effect of being away from the city is inspiring. Bird People also uses music to good effect. It has a mysterious tune that appears repeatedly and plays a key part in the story, a la Close Encounters.

Although it was quite a different film to what I had hoped for, Narry fell in love with the countryside location - more films should be filmed in rural China, says I.

Rating: Good

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Dir: Richard Brooks
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor the 2nd, Paul New Man

My word, ol' Tenner C. Williams had some issues. Why so intense, Tenor Sea? Is the Deep South really so full of drunks, alcoholics and palliative addicts? Is Kentucky such a hotbed of broken dreams, unachieved fantasies and disappointed visions? If so, maybe Narry B would find some kindred spirits there.

As Cat is adapted from a stage play, the script can be analyzed more deeply than most film scripts. And, indeed, the dialog is loaded with imagery and symbolism. Paul Newman's crutch, being the most obvious one (a little too obvious in NB's inflated opinion).

So, yes, there are powerful messages to be taken from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: primarily, don't put yer cat on a hot tin roof. It'll burn its little paws, see? But also, pretending to be happy doesn't mean yer really happy. And, from Paul Newman, who struggles to become a new man (see what I did there?), we learn that life goes wrong sometimes, but you have to forgive yourself and try harder.

What a darling of a film!

Rating: Mendacity!


Dir: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

The concept of Boyhood is an interesting one: Film a fictional life over a period of 12 years using the same cast and see how things develop. In truly theatrical cliche styling, it "blurs the boundaries between art and life." (I've never wanted to say that.)

This premise has been used only once before... by me. Yes, Narry Borman has been secretly filming his life since the age of 7 months. Now, at the age of 15 months, NB is almost ready to unleash his magnum opus on the world: Babyfood, it's called. Oh, it's incredible. Well, it's better than Boyhood anyway.

For you see, Narry Borman did not enjoy this film. The most entertaining nuggets can be boiled down from the painful 3 hours that Boyhood currently requires to a period of about 15 minutes: His sister singing and dancing in the opening scene, the point where he gets into photography, and that scene where he goes camping with his dad.

Films don't have to be entertaining, though. Aside from the entertainment value, Boyhood should have some merit as a well crafted film. For NB, it falls short in this area too. The soundtrack is well chosen. And there's some nice acting. But for a film that is trying to capture life in its fullness, it falls well short. Indeed, Boyhood manages only to present a very limited, very American take on normality, and while a few of the characters are quite engaging, it's hard to sympathize with them when their lives are mere fictional representations created from a pastiche of modern cliches.

If you're going to document a life and it's interconnecting parts, make it an interesting one. That's why I made Babyfood.

Rating: Hmm...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Splendor in the Grass

Dir: Elia Kazan
Starring: Warren Beatty, Natalie Wood

Elia Kazan's work always brings to Narry Borman's messed up mind the Flight of the Conchords lyric "I rap about reality, like me and my grandma having a cup of tea."

Kazan makes films about reality, like unionist strikes, broken dreams, and, in the case of this film, sexual frustration...

Although that would be a rather trite summary of Splendor in the Grass. It's a deep film, if a little bleak and one dimensional (for purposeful dramatic effect) in its portrayal of the supposedly different views of love between men and women.

In terms of acting, direction and production, Splendor in the Grass really hits the mark. It was Warren Beatty's film debut, which is incredible considering the understated intensity he puts into it. Narry B was also impressed by the soundtrack, which combined some nice jazziness with the usual sweeping orchestra work found in 1960s films.

It doesn't make for light viewing, but Narry Borman doesn't insist on films being entertaining or fun.

Rating: Top Work

When Harry Met Sally

Dir: Rob Reiner
Starring: Billy Crystal Balls, Meg-on-Rye-bread (see what I did there?)

When Narry Borman met his ex-wife Zhang Xiyi, they got on like a pair of chopsticks. Alas, that all ended when the proverbial "chop sticks" dropped the proverbial "noodles" all over the "floor of destiny."

When Harry Met Sally has a much nicer ending, with Billy C and Meg R finally admitting their unending love for each other - whether being wed to either of them in unending matrimony is "nice" is debatable, however.

Harry is a likable and believable character. He possesses all the "twerks" (modern parlance for 'quirks') of a real chap. Sally is equally neurotic and quite sweet. Clearly, the target was to create a realistic love film. One that presented just a pair of folks finding love...

And it works well. There's some nice comedy in there, and an entertaining love story. Rob Reiner is behind the camera, so you know it's going to be well put together and the script is quite sharp.

It's like a watered down version of Annie Hall. Meh.

Rating: Good

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Congress

Dir: Ari Folman
Starring: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Paul Giamatti

Occasionally, life treats you to something special. It's often an unexpected moment of discovery. For Narry Borman, these "life treats" tend to be indulgent combinations of the senses in a feast of music, sight, sound, and imagination. Visiting the cinema house last night to watch The Congress, Narry B. was rewarded with one such life treat.

Perhaps what made the moment so perfect was the sense of discovery. NB had researched nothing about this film before going to see it on a whim. And then... when the magic of this film kicked in, I couldn't keep the smile from my face as the screen took us all away and enveloped us in its story and beauty.

There was a massive feeling of catharsis as The Congress interweaved reality and fantasy, animation and live action, and hope and despair. It was chiefly the sumptuous visual display that left an impression scalded on my mind. NB didn't think he would ever see animation that could match the beauty of Miyazaki's best creations (except, perhaps, for Leiji Matsumoto's work on Interstellar 5555), but The Congress simply picks up Miyazaki's ideas and takes them to the extreme. Sublime.

To say that the visuals are unforgettable is not to disrespect the story or the acting. In fact, the plot of The Congress is clever and complex. It's a film (to some degree) about film. But it's also about Hollywood, the excesses of modern life, the importance of family and honesty, and so much more. Equally impressive is Robin Wright's ability to convince us of the reality of what she's going through. Harvey K is Harvey K... you would expect nothing less. And Paul Giamatti manages to convincingly play both his younger and older self - a skill that not many are endowed with, it seems.

I don't want to go into too much depth about the story or visual style, or even the understated score, which relies heavily on tense strings and moody cello. I hope everyone discovers this film for themselves. If you watch it and you don't enjoy it, I hope you find some other life treat today.

Rating: The Congress*

*In honor of the quality of the film, I am rating it simply as 'The Congress' as it sits alongside only a few other films that surpass the NB rating system.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Grandmaster

Dir: Wrong Car Way
Starring: Tony Leung, Zhang Xiyi

Narry B together with flight ace Smaltzy Baby once watched Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece "In the Mood for Love" over a cheese fondue.

Since then, Kar Wai has gone a bit wrong. 2046 was an overwrought sequel to the above... My Blueberry Nights was a needless entry into the mainstream... and then we have The Grandmaster.

The Grandmaster is, at heart, a martial arts film, although it quite nicely tells the story of the Japanese occupation of China, the history or Martial Arts, and the formation of Hong Kong. Also, as a WKW film, it looks stunning - and I'm not just talking about Narry B's ex-missus, the statuesque Zhang Ziyi.

With some nice editing, artistic fight scenes, and top drawer acting, The Grandmaster seems to build up to something special... But it all goes a bit wrong at the end. The film becomes rather pointless and bleak. There's also a lack of focus, with the unnecessary introduction of "The Razor", for example.

Hopefully, WKW will get his mojo back soon, cos The Grandmaster ain't his best work.

Rating: Good

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Raizing Hariso-na (Ford!)

Dir: Joel Coen
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter

What was the deal with all the films about babies in the late 80's? It went 'baby-crazy'. Three Men and a Baby... Three Men and a Little Lady... erm... this film. The list goes on.

Maybe it was in an effort to appeal to the 'baby boomers' who had cash to spend... Or could it be that Holywood was trying to promote family values, having noticed the declining birth rates following the Vietnam War? Either way, Narry Borman doesn't care, so quit whining, pipsqueak, or I'll bust yer chops.

Raising Arizona is the Coen brothers' attempt at a baby film. Like many others of its kind, the baby in this flick gets kidnapped - albeit by a pair of wannabe (but sterile/barren) parents. The rest of Raising Arizona is a (cough) hair(izona) raising experience for the would-be child-bringer-uppers, as they are pursued by the law, the real parents, a bounty hunter and, ultimately, their own consciences.

The story is more centered on Nicholas Cage's poor attempts to become a real man, father and husband. The baby is quite incidental to the whole thing. The problem is that the character of Hi (Nick Cage) isn't engaging enough for us to care. He's entertaining, but not very deep or captivating. So, instead of getting hooked by the story, you look out for the comedy highlights - of which there are several. John Goodman delivers most of the humour... how he manages that when at least 50% of his dialog is nothing but yelling at the top of his voice I don't know.

The ending goes a bit nasty and dark, which was disappointing as the rest of the film was lighthearted. But, then, this is a Coen Bros film., and as such it hints at some of the better things to come throughout their careers.

Rating: Good

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Another Year

Dir: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville

From Narry B.'s other reviews of Mike Leigh films, you'll know that he's a big fan. There's something about the awkward Britishness that reminds NB of his own childhood in a London orphanage in his pre-boxing days.

Another Year is classic Mike Leigh - it's face-cringing in the extreme as Mary slips deeper into a self-destructive cycle throughout the course of a year. This film is made for people who can stomach intense character studies, and see the funny side of it (the humorous side of it is helped along nicely by Jim Broadbent and comedienne Karina Fernandez). Are you that kind of person? No? Then go away.

Rating: Top Work!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Serious Man

Dir: Coen bros.
Starring: Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed

Is Narry B. a serious man, would you say? Or is he frittering away his life writing reviews under a stupid pseudonym, and creating blogs about guitars dressed in suits that no one reads? You decide.

Michael Stuhlbarg asked himself the same question. Had he been using his life for something worthwhile? Was he worthy of being called 'man'?

Much like Job, when faced with an existential disaster, he has three comforters  - in the form rabbits. I means, 'rabbis'. Each rabbi presents a different perspective on Michael's problems. And his problems are quite perplexing - a bizarre divorce (with Fred Melamed putting in a great performance as the sympathetic home wrecker), accusations of bribery at work, and a brother who won't leave his house.

A Serious Man is a deep, highly allegorical film from the Coen bros., but it's also a comedy with some clever and bizarre moments of humour.

Rating: Top Work

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Captain America: The Winter Shoulder

Dir: Russos
Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel Al Jackson, Scarlet Johnson

Here, "Captain America" bullies a little guy of "unknown ethnicity"...
There's a metaphor in there somewhere.
I'm just not smart enough to know where because Hollywood
has dulled my mind too much! (Double satire!)
As we all know, America rocks the world. And who rocks America? Captain America, that's who.

From the moment Chris Evans strides onto the camera, with his beach-buffed body proudly hidden under a t-shirt three sizes too small, you know that this is not going to be the same character from the previous CA film, who, in comparison, was complex and, yes, even likable.

The next two hours of your life will be spent watching Captain America punching various things. That's not to say there isn't variety. Sometimes Scarlet Johnson kicks various things.

Two good points: The story at least hints (in a half-baked fashion) at the kind of overarching global conspiracy theories of, for example, Metal Gear (which it also shamelessly imitates in the opening scene). The second good thing is that The Winter Shoulder himself is (at first, at least) an intriguing villain. Also, Stan Lee's cameo is as dreadful as ever.

Rating: Bad

Drifting Clouds

Dir: Aki Kaurismatik
Starring: Kati Outinen, Kaarl Vaananen, Shelley Fisher

There's an old joke that goes, "Finnish yer dinner."

Pretty bad, eh.... So su(o)mi!

Drifting Clouds is the first Aki K. film to be reviewed on Narry B.'s web blog. Aki K. is a legendary Finnish director, perhaps best known for his arthouse flick, "50 First Dates."

Drifting Clouds moves as slowly as, well, a cloud, although it's not as lonely. The story is based on the changing fortunes of a couple whose lives are turned upside down by unemployment. It's an interesting psychological analysis of how people react to misfortune... pride, determination, alcoholism, gambling, etc. Although the film is rather bleak, it is in fact a comedy of sorts, and one hopes that the overall message of industriousness will uplift.

But forget the story - the direction takes precedence here. Narry B doesn't like to sound like a poopy Guardian film critic, but the shadows in this film are stunning. I've seen better lighting in other films, but I've never seen better shadows.

On top of this, the soundtrack is expertly selected, from the opening shot of Shelly Fisher at the piano, to the ending theme of Rauli Somerjoki's Pilvet Karkaa.

Rating: Top Work