Fish Tank

My roll of excellent films continues with this 2009 BBC drama film, written and directed by Andrea Arnold.

As you can see on the poster above, there are a lot of stars which signifies that this is indeed a very good film.

It tells the story of Mia, a rather angry 15 year old who is not going to school and gets into all sorts of trouble. She is a loner and picks fights with the neighbourhood girls, and like her mother drinks a lot. But she is a talented hip-hop dancer, and wants to become a dancer like those she sees in hip-hop videos. She lives with her mother and younger sister, and in the film the mother becomes involved with Michael Fassbender, which is where all of the drama begins.

This is a very raw film, no dramatic music or over-acted dramatics, just a very real look at problems in an East London council estate (depressing-looking places). The acting by all is superb. The girl playing Mia’s younger sister was especially good, she must have been 9 or 10 at the time.

From Wikipedia about the actress who played Mia:

Katie Jarvis, who plays Mia, had no prior acting experience. She was cast for the film after one of Arnold’s casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend in Tilbury Town.

And…

In early 2014, she was reportedly under consideration for a role in the Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens after taking a hiatus from acting to concentrate on her family. However, she did not appear in the film.

She has just finished a role in EastEnders.

Excellent stuff.

Date watched: May 4th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2019: 13

Bohemian Rhapsody

On March 19th I flew back home to New Zealand with my daughter, which gave me an excellent chance to watch a couple of in-flight films. My first choice was this one.

And it was a most excellent film, every bit as good as it’s four Academy Awards would suggest. Rami Malek was absolute superbness as Freddie, he nailed I thought. Everything else about the film was all well done too, and I have no complaints at all really. Nice one.

I wonder what the next music film will be after “Rocketman” comes out… perhaps a John Lennon flick, or a film about Duran Duran, or maybe Jim Morrison? Who knows, but as long as they are well made I don’t really care who it is about.

Date watched: March 19th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2019: 5

Sleuth

I did a search on YouTube for “70s films” and found this Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier film.

The story is about a detective novel writer, Andrew (Olivier), and his wife’s new lover Milo (Caine). They meet at Andrew’s big old house and after discussing the business about the wife, Andrew proposes to Milo that they stage the robbery of the wife’s jewelery so that Andrew can claim the insurance money and Milo can sell the jewelery to a fence in Europe. But, actually Andrew and his crime-writing mind has other plans for Milo.

What is obvious about this film is that it was adapted from a play. It was mostly filmed indoors in only a few rooms, and Olivier and Caine are the only two actors in the whole film. Their acting is also very theatrical, and it works well, especially as both fellows are awfully fine actors.

Along with the fancy acting, the story is engaging and full of twists, surprises, and sleuthing. The directing too is top stuff, as is the cinematography and the set design. It is a long film at 138 minutes, but it is so well done that it didn’t feel that long.

A couple of facts from Wikipedia:

When they met, Caine asked Olivier how he should address him. Olivier told him that it should be as “Lord Olivier”, and added that now that that was settled he could call him “Larry”. According to Shaffer, Olivier stated that when filming began he looked upon Caine as an assistant, but that by the end of filming he regarded him as a full partner.

The production team intended to reveal as little about the movie as possible so as to make the conclusion a complete surprise to the audience. For this reason there is a false cast list at the beginning of the film which lists fictional people playing roles that do not exist.

A remake was made in 2007 with Caine returning but this time playing Andrew, Jude Law as Milo, and Kenneth Brannagh directing. Unfortunately though it doesn’t have good reviews, and gets only 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 96% for the original.

Date watched: December 29th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 87

Stray Dog

This is a 1949 film by Akira Kurosawa, and is supposedly a precursor of the buddy cop film genre, as well as one of the earliest police procedural films.

The story is about a rookie cop whose gun is pick-pocketed while he on a bus. He reports the theft to his superior and feels so much remorse that he tirelessly follows any lead to get his gun back. Things get worse when he finds out that his gun was sold in a black market and used in two shootings, one fatal. He is told to assist an older detective (Takashi Shimura), and together they track down the murderer.

Mifune, Shimura, and Keiko Awaji.

The film is mostly about the desperation and guilt Mifune’s character feels as he desperately tries to track down the murderer. Mifune was absolutely brilliant (this was his second Kuorsawa film), and his portrayal of a desperate man reminded me a lot of the main character in Bicycle Thieves, which was released a year earlier.

Takashi Shimura too was absolutely fabs. He appeared in many Kourosawa films, 21 in all, compared to 15 for Mifune. I have one of his Kurosawa films Ikiru on DVD somewhere, I must watch it.

Looking through the cast list for this film it came as no surprise that all of the cast passed away some time ago, but with one exception. A woman who was in one scene and is called “Wooden Tub Shop woman” is still alive at the age of 107 (the English version of Wikipedia says 108, but the Japanese version says 107), Noriko Honma is her name.

Noriko Honma

Compared to later Kurosawa films this is more crudely made, but even so it is still a well crafted film. It was very interesting to see post-war Japan. There were very few cars on the roads (dirt roads, even in the city), and the houses in the poor areas were just wooden shacks. I was surprised to see a rich part of town, apart from the dirt roads it looked like another world. Apparently, the black market scenes were filmed in real black markets.

Despite having been defeated in the war only five years previous to this film, Japan while being very poor seemed to be a vibrant and busy place. This was most evident in the baseball game scene which was actually filmed by a newsreel crew rather than Kurosawa himself (for authenticity). So it was an actual game filmed at Tokyo Stadium with a crowd of 50,000 people. The crowd were all wearing white (I guess there was clothes rationing or something) and the fervour of the crowd was obvious.

A most excellent film, one that I will watch again some day. I can’t quite give it a full score because there are better Kurosawa films, but not by much.

Date watched: December 15th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 82

Punk: Attitude

This is a 2005 documentary by Don Letts about the bith of punk music. My brother sent me this on DVD many years ago, and it is a treasured addition to my small DVD collection. I last watched this back in 2011.

It starts off looking at pre-punk bands like The Velvet Underground, MC5, The New York Dolls, and The Stooges, then moves on to the early punk bands in New York such as The Ramones. Then of course it has to go to England where The Sex Pistols, The Damned, and X-Ray Spex did their thing in a very British way.

There were plenty of interviews with people such as Henry Rollins (he had a lot to say as usual), Jim Jarmusch, Jello Biafra, Captain Sensible, Paul Simonon, and plenty of others. And there was a lot of archive footage, all glued together well to tell an interesting and probably quite accurate tale.

One person missing from this was John Lydon, I would have liked to hear his take on it all, but as we know he is quite the difficult fellow, and probably wanted nothing to do with it. We did hear from Glen Matlock (I am reading his excellent book at the moment) and Steve Jones though.

It ends with a look at the grunge scene, which is really a kind of re-birth of punk but with better musicians.

This is an excellent music documentary, an essential one for fans of the seventies and eighties punk scenes.

Date watched: August 24th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 54

The Empire Strikes Back

In preparation for Solo, James and I watched half of this this last night, and the other half today after we got back from Solo.

I have reviewed this a few times before, so I won’t go into it much. What I will say though is that there are several references in Solo to this film, nothing major but I like how the Star Wars films do that, it makes you feel like a real geeky fan when you can pick things up that Muggles won’t.

I am undecided whether I like this or Episode 4 better, so for now I will just call it a draw.

Date watched: July 16th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 44

The Lives of Others

This is another film I have seen before, sometime before I started this blog. I had actually forgotten I had seen it, but as I watched it I realised I knew the story. Not to matter as this is an excellent film well worthy of another watch.

It is about a Stasi operative who is monitoring a playwright who is suspected of subversiveness. He has the playwright’s apartment thoroughly bugged and is constantly listening in for any dirt he can dig up. But, in the process he starts to feel that what he is doing is wrong and attempts to have the operation stopped.

It is an extremely well-told film, and is on the whole quite dark and depressing, I don’t think there was a single scene which was anything but. I don’t remember anyone laughing in the film at all, it was just a tale of paranoia, desperation, suicide, and unending dread, yet it was gripping and the acting was top notch. The fellow playing the Stasi operative was actually born in East Germany and worked as a border guard before turning to acting. He died from stomach cancer in 2007.

From what I have read on Wikipedia about this, the film actually does not go far enough when portraying the oppressiveness of the Stasi, and that the operative in the film would not have been able to get away with what he did because he too would have been constantly watched. Still, the film showed us just what a terrible regime it was.

This was the director’s first film, and unfortunately after his next film, The Tourist, he did not make another film until just recently. He has a film called “Werk ohne Autor” coming out this year, another film about East Germany. Hopefully it is released outside Europe.

This is not for those who like to be happy when they watch a film, because the whole thing is an excellent thought-provoking bummer.

Date watched: March 12th
Score: 9.5/10
Film count 2018: 22