Seven Samurai (1954)

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto ,  Hideo Oguni

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima

Rating: ★★★★★

Seven Samurai is possibly one of the best and most popular Japanese films to be released until this present day with such a great deeper meaning behind an entertaining, touching and comedic story. Akira Kurosawa’s classic shows off some great directing and acting too from what was at the time an iconic and popular cast. Seven Samurai is a film that is must-watch not just for some entertainment but for appreciation of classic Japanese cinema as well as cinema as a whole.

The story of Seven Samurai follows a group of farmers who each year allows bandits to take their women, food and crops as they invade doing their expected “duties”. However they call for a time of change and for others to take action. Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) a young farmer demands that his fellow farmers must stand up and protect their land so they set off to their local town to hire seven Samurai to defend them from the bandits. Finding the Samurai is not easy for the farmers; those who pass have masters or better values than to serve peasants with the wage of a bowl of rice. Despite this they acquire their Seven Samurai returning to their farm, they begin to form a strategy and a plan to defend and defeat the bandits. When the bandits attack the Samurai and farmers stand brave and strong, but in a battle there are always fatalities and the farmers have to pay a price for their land.

Seven Samurai has a much more deeper meaning than what first meets the eye, the film is actually a metaphor for the battle between Japanese Society and the Military in 1954 Japan as post-war to American a big paradigm shift took place, something I will separately post about when I analyse Kurosawa’s classic. There’s so much depth to the story and characters that you seem to form a connection with so many and route for them all the way. The individual characters of the seven Samurai are brilliant, Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune) is my personal favourite as he offers so much in the sense of comedy and for entertainment, and he also delivers such a powerful and meaningful speech. The character of Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) a skilled samurai is also brilliant, as at one point he arrives back with his sword telling the leader Kambei (Takashi Shimura) to cross off another two dead bandits. In a whole all the cast give great performances and even more than 50 years on they are still as believable and effective, like the film itself. A huge amount of credit is deserved and should be directed towards the writers for such amazing development of characters as well as conveying that important hidden meaning and additional message.

The directing from Kurosawa is also something that is excellent, something that makes Seven Samurai such a classic. The battle scenes are entertaining and a real treat, what I find remarkable is how at the time to manage to capture rain on the camera they had to use black dye and buckets full of water had to be constantly chucked over the set and actors. When you realise the effort they all went to, it is actually amazing. The way he also chooses to shoot certain scenes are interesting, especially when delivering those important messages which again help to emphasise arguments and values.

Another aspect I find a real positive is how Seven Samurai is a staggering 202 minutes,  in the present day that isn’t a common runtime but what I find remarkable is how despite that enormous length of time you stay so engaged and entertained, something I don’t think many modern day films could even achieve in short amount of time.  Since 1954 it has become a real classic and furthermore a “template film” in terms of structure and story, with films such as Antz (1997) playing a complete homage.

Seven Samurai is certainly my favourite Japanese film of all time, a real classic too and there’s no surprise it ranks so highly among IMBD’s Top 250. The story, directing and acting are just brilliant but once you analyse the film and truly see its excellence everything becomes a work of art. It brings great action, comedy and entertainment making it a real “must-watch” and an enjoyable experience so I would recommend it greatly.

 

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You’re Next (2013)

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Comedy

Director: Adam Wingard

Writers: Simon Barrett

Starring: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen

Rating: ★★★½

You’re Next was a horror that stormed the UK in 2013 despite being a big success when released in the Toronto Film Festival of 2011. Despite the long awaited-release Barrett’s thrilling creation doesn’t disappoint too much. A somewhat refreshing and unique approach to the stereotypical home-invasion thriller, You’re Next is a twisty horror with a mountain of gore and action which consequently leads to an entertaining watch.

The story surrounds the Davison family on the night of a big-reunion and getaway to celebrate the wedding anniversary of their parents. Arguments and bitter family grudges between brothers soon set the tone for an uncomfortable night which then becomes a nightmare. When a group of animal-masked, crossbow and axe-wielding murderers invade on the get together things turn bloody and gory quickly as one by one the family and guest numbers slowly decrease. However an unlikely member of the party proves to be the best and most brutal killer of them all as she takes matter into her own hands alongside a kitchen knife.

It is hard to go into too much detail of the story without giving away any spoilers, but the events and torture lead for an exciting night. The story is entertaining as said, but in terms of predictability and surprises it is awful in a sense, from the beginning I guessed what was happening and the ending came as no surprise, but I can see some watchers blinded by this and falling for the twists and turns of the narrative. However as a horror the gore is great along with the mass murders and the way in which they are each killed. The animal masked-murderers were a unique and refreshing take being something I haven’t really seen before, effective as it was it would have been nice to keep a bit more mystery and prolong the suspense. As a home-invasion thriller it was respectful too, with the story involving a family get together much more impacting and entertaining than a lonely couple in the middle of nowhere.

For an almost unknown cast and crew You’re Next stands its ground very well especially amongst other horror releases in 2013. Sharni Vinson as Erin, the trained killer guest is entertaining and provides good action, however her character is a little too much on the nose and literal but it’s one you will just have to go along with. There are as many faults with this release as there are positives at times but I think it balances out to be enjoyable. There a rare few moments that thrill, however when we are only following the one character instead of the whole family it makes for a much more tense watch and experience. Adam Wingard at times shows promising signs of excellence as his clever direction creates a few jumps and anxious moments.

The make-up and effects department areas also deserve some kudos and respect as the gore and physical horror was a highlighting aspect as blood splatters, heads rolling and knifes flying made a much more entertaining watch. In a summary that’s what it comes down to for You’re Next, it is although not amazing and a work-of-art a very entertaining film. Despite obviously having flaws there weren’t any moments you wanted to give up and turn off as surprisingly you were hooked, as little as it might have been. Gore galore, and thrills a rarity You’re Next isn’t exactly a must-see but a worth-while enjoyable horror.

The Place Beyond The Pines (2013)

Genre: Crime, Drama

Directors: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio , Darius Marder

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes

Rating: ★★★★★

The Place beyond the Pines was a film that slipped past my radar in early 2013 but it soon became top of my “must-see” list after seeing it top many “Best of the Year lists”. It is safe to say those plaudits were spot on as many aspects of Derek Cianfrance’s release are flawless. Following a fantastically written story which has been executed equally as good, it is further topped off by a great casting ensemble. The Place beyond the Pines is a film that is totally entertaining, and leaves you reflecting days after which again adds to its brilliance.

We follow the life of Luke (Ryan Gosling) a dreamy motorcycle stunt rider, rebellious and dangerous we quickly form a bond routing for our protagonist. On a circuit tour living the carnival life he performs in the New York town of Schenectady, where he then attempts to reunite with his previous lover Romina (Eva Mendes). Secretly and unknowingly to Luke, Romina has recently given birth to his son, in an act of courage Luke makes a bold decision to quit riding and settle, providing for his new family. Obstacles soon appear for Luke as he has to fight for Romina and his child with new lover Kofi whilst his new wage earned being a mechanic is staggeringly low. Turning to a life of crime to support his family giving them a life and experience he always wanted, Luke robs a series of banks.

However his life as bank robber soon puts him on the path with ambitious and eager police officer Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).  Looking for a quick way up the ranks Avery has to battle within his department as well as out, as it is riddled with a set of corrupt superiors. Luke’s and Avery’s path of sin and trouble soon changes their lives for the worse. Forwarding into the future we then see how these past sins haunt a pair of high school boys trying to accept the legacy they inherited. As life once again proves to be more than complicated the only refuge is a place beyond the pines.

The story is one that still amazes me for many reasons, the element of realism and the outside perspective of a “ripple effect” are somewhat brilliant, but the top of the list is how well executed The Place beyond the Pines is. It left me reflecting how past actions have affected the present and even the future of my life. The way this drama unfolds is also truly brilliant, there’s at no point a dull moment and I was kept entertained and intrigued throughout. The characters and the development were flawless too, Ryan Gosling’s Luke was our hero, the true “anti-hero” in an aspect, and scenes where he played with his son and attempted to put together new cots were actually and surprisingly pleasant. Then when we switched to follow the life of Cooper’s Avery we found a new hero and events to be entertained by.

The casting ensemble was also great and deserves much applause and credit. Gosling played his dreamy Luke brilliantly likewise with Cooper and his Avery. Eva Mendes although a slightly more back-grounded character still portrayed and captured an excellent performance, with all three characters really inspiring and connecting with us. Derek Cianfrance directing was a real highlight too, with many shots being awe-inspiring whilst all scene’s emotions were really heightened to full potential and impact. On a final note and a deserved mention was the score which provided an equal amount of entertainment with Bon Iver’s The Wolves and Mark Patton’s Snow Angel becoming new favourites.

In a whole The Place beyond the Pines left me feeling very entertained and thoughtful and upon reflection the film is flawless with every aspect executed well and interacting together brilliantly. I am surprised this release even slipped past my radar and didn’t become a much talked about huge success. To say The Place beyond the Pines is a “must-see” is a given, and I can only hope that it has the same remarkable impact on everyone else.

August Osage County (2014)

Genre: Drama

Director: John Wells

Writer: Tracy Letts

Starring: Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts

Rating: ★★★½

August Osage County is a strange film, but that’s not a criticism of Tracy Letts’ creation.  A more than fair attempt to display the “dysfunctional family” stereotype that’s rarely mastered in films is achieved and is boosted by some dark humour but more importantly an amazing set of performances. August Osage County isn’t exactly the most heart-warming release, far from if I’m honest, but it has some creditable aspects that make for an enjoyable and entertaining two hours of watching.

The film surrounds the more than dysfunctional Weston family and more importantly the struggling, pain-filled women within. When Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) the pill-addicted tongue-lashing mother awakes to find her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) has up and left, she calls for the help of the family and her three daughters to return to their Oklahoma home. With all the family under one roof it only leads to a slaughter of arguments and insults as every member clashes and locks horns, revealing secrets, shameful truths and causing extreme upset.  All three daughters have relationship problems of their own and their problematic mother only seems to worsen the mess. Julia Roberts plays Barbara Weston the oldest out of the sisters, the one that stands up against her mother’s crazed antics.  It is between Violet and Barbara that the conflict mainly arises, which soon leads to sisters Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) being more than involved. As the arguments never stop, under extreme anger and tension a few secrets and events unfold which could cause the Weston family to be completely ruined at a time they need each other most.

It is a story that is attempted many times, the typical problematic family however August Osage County seems to work. Its success mainly relies on the performances and characters played by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts who retrospectively have been credited with Oscar Nominations for Best Supporting and Lead Actress. The pair together have many battles which result in the occasional laugh and speechless reaction not only from the other family members but the audience. Although the two leads provide great performances so do the rest of the supporting cast. The actors playing the neglected controlled husbands amongst the family provide good humour and keep the film entertaining at times, Benedict Cumberbatch as Little Charles alongside Ewan Mcgregor as Bill Fordham and Dermot Mulroney as Steve Huberbrecht give solid performances.  However it is fair to say at times without the performances and all-star cast August Osage County would fail.

The film although at times comedic is meant to be very serious in many aspects, dealing with very serious and sensitive topics. It wasn’t going to be a feel-good film when the story follows an alcoholic leaving a pill-addicted women starting with the lines “Life is very long”. However it captures some element of realism in how every family have their disagreements and secrets albeit in this occasion they are very extreme. Despite the strong cast and a more than intriguing story Osage County does have it criticisms, at times it was frustrating to not follow a certain perspective and look on events, with the many storylines switching and crossing on a number of occasion it does come across overwhelming. The ending too I felt was very weak, with at least an extra half hour of story to follow up on which could have been shown if previous unnecessary scenes were cut.  Nevertheless there was enough for it to be classed entertaining and worth-while.

Although maybe not a “must-see” August Osage County is certainly a good film, with highlights coming from two fantastic performances from both Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. It is a film that relies strongly on its cast although at times director John Wells’ craft was very well executed. It’s sure to entertain, earn a few laughs but most importantly it is sure to be an enjoyable viewing.

 

ALIEN PORTRAYAL IN FILMS

I am at the end of my planning and development stage for my screenplay and have decided  it shall include horrors enforced by “alien” beings rather than any other powerful dark forces. I wanted to look at how Film as a whole have portrayed Aliens in the past, not just for inspiration but as a learning curve.

A Trip to the Moon (1902) Poster

A Trip to the Moon (1902) is reportedly the first film to ever show extra-terrestrials on the big screen, and it remained that way for a long time as only 3 films were ever released before the 1950’s that explored Aliens! However it was during the 1950’s which the trend and popular antagonist was truly introduced into Film. Since then however it has been a craze with at least one Alien horror or adventure being released each year.

In terms of memorable Alien antics there are of course a few that spring to mind! E.T will most likely be the name on most peoples lips and mind, as Spielberg created a timeless classic. Alien of course is another, which then went on to be a big-time franchise since then many have had their own shot at portraying the Alien from the likes of comedy Paul to most recently Dark Skies!

However for my own film I want to take the same approach as M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002) which in my opinion created one of the most daunting, terrifying alien creatures in film history. Not only is the story chilling but the alien within really is spine-tingling and till this day it will also instigate a bit of shock. The look, the features, the physique its all very clever and brilliant.

I want to know what your favourite Alien film is, it don’t have to be as daunting as Signs or likewise as friendly as E.T! It would also be great though if you could comment what your opinion is when it comes to the most terrifying Alien portrayals!

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Rating: ★★★★½

Dallas Buyers Club is possibly one of the most touching films ever made that discus the topic of AIDS, with a powerful excellently-written story and a master-class in acting it makes for a fantastic watch and final end product. Visually appealing as well, it has racked up an impressive six Oscar Nominations and that’s not surprising as I’m sure this film will be regarded as one of the best come the ceremony and end of the year.

Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the life of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a “trash park” hustler and electrician. Addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol his life is anything but serious however it all soon changes when he is diagnosed as being HIV positive. Fighting for his life he is told he has only thirty days to live but Ron’s responds “Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”.  Diving into research about various drugs and trials he eventually discovers a new and illegal form of life-saving medication.  Inventing the “Dallas buyers’ club” he medicates those with AIDS across the country working his way around the system. On his journey not only does his life change but his view of the world and people, meeting extraordinary characters and forming extraordinary bonds, especially with fellow sufferer Rayon (Jared Leto). His fight with AIDS soon becomes a fight with the government, but Ron doesn’t give up on anything.

The story of Ron Woodroof is emotionally powerful, his change of attitude throughout is touching and warming. Writer’s Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack deserve much praise alongside their nomination of best original screenplay. When Ron first gets diagnosed it comes from out the blue after doctors ran blood tests due to a simple work-related injury, in denial the typical “redneck” screams “you calling me a fucking faggot”. However by the end of the film he is no longer a homophobic racist, or ashamed of his disease but a lead campaigner for AIDS working alongside those once called “faggot” sufferers to overthrow the government. The story is much different to other films, as much as it is about AIDS as a killer disease and how it struck 80’s America, it’s about how people first viewed the outburst and how those views and attitudes had to change.

An amazing cast give a somewhat master-class in acting that portrays this story to its full potential and establishes some heart-felt memorable relationships. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is surely an award-winner, not only is his portrayal brilliant but the dedication to meet physical requirements is astonishing as he lost 47 pounds. Jared Leto an actor who knows a lot about changing physical condition for the big screen saw history repeat itself  as he lost 30 pounds alongside an amazing performance as Rayon a transsexual with AIDS, who soon becomes a business partner and good friend of Ron’s. The make-up department who have been nominated for an Oscar really does deserve a huge amount of credit for the transformation of the two main characters.

My only criticisms is the underdevelopment of certain characters especially Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who treats both main characters in the film. I personally would have liked to see a more finalised ending instead of a list of facts and dates before the final credits too. Nevertheless Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is an astonishing film, somewhat brilliant in many aspects this is a release that will win many awards, becoming a huge success for sure. Visually entertaining, remarkable acting and an excellent story make for a great film that is both touching, powerful and pleasant to watch. Dallas Buyers Club is a memorable release that should definitely be a must-see.