Dark Water


Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen.  However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face).  So my attention waned.  Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.

Dark Water

Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it.  Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband.  Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment.  Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread.  Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness.  I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here.  Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here.  The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment.  It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self.  One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.

Dark Water ArrowAs expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release.  Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie.  I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read.  Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective.  We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD.  Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes.  No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

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When Marnie Was There


Viewed – 02 October 2016  Blu-ray

It’s with a heavy heart that I review this movie.  You see, it’s officially the final film of the famed and I’d say culturally important animation house, Studio Ghibli.  It’s a crying shame that the company chose to end, but at least I’m happy to say they’ve ended on a high with this wonderfully sweet and very heart-warming tale.

WhenMarnieWasThere

Anna, a teenage girl finds she can’t fit in with school or in general and is often sad and lost.  After an asthma attack and a visit to the doctor however, her parents send her to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer.  Once there, still shy and struggling to enjoy the time away, she spots an old, abandoned mansion across the river and feels incredibly drawn to it.  One night on visiting the mansion she see’s a young girl and the two of them quickly bond.  But who is this girl?  Is she real or just part of Anna’s imagination?

AnnaDirected by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) and based on the book by Joan G Robinson, this gently observed story is full of the as expected gorgeous hand-drawn animation with obsessive attention to detail and captivating, quirky characters.  Anna is introverted and got her issues, whilst Marnie, the girl in the mansion is the exact opposite; free spirited and full of energy, but also hides her own troubles.  I really enjoyed the mystery of this, the fantasy elements reminding me of that classic children’s tale The Secret Garden, and it was fun having my own ideas where it was all going.  Yet the movie is clever enough to lead you in one direction then take a sudden turn that for me proved even more surprising … and rather powerful.  It also got quite creepy in places and for a moment I wondered just how dark this story was going to get.  Yet as a swansong for the famed studio, this may lack some of the absolute visual wonder of say Spirited Away but it’s more subtle yet no less engrossing story proved a worthy conclusion to an illustrious legacy.

I’m going to miss having new Ghibli to look forward to.  Although I’m grateful they’ve given us such works of art, like this to cherish for years to come.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Forest


Viewed – 02 July 2015  Online rental

Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games) plays Sarah, a young woman whose twin sister has gone missing following a trip to Japan.  She was last heard of heading to a famed forest where it is said people go to commit suicide.  Fearing for her sister’s safety, Natalie quickly gets on the next flight.

the forest

A simple concept given some far eastern horror atmosphere due to the setting and plenty of Japanese superstition and ghost stories.  It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a horror like this which clearly borrows from the Jap-horror scene that has mostly been abandoned in recent years.  Memories of the American remakes to The Grudge and One Missed Call came to mind so I was starting to fear for another by the numbers horror … which this is to an extent but with a strong turn from Dormer who is increasingly becoming one of my go-to actresses, and plenty of tension in a strange and unfamiliar setting … I was suitably unnerved.  A couple of decent scares help and the plight of Sarah’s sister, a friendly guy who may or may not be on the level and some creepy ‘what’s that in the forest’ moments made this good fun.  The ending let’s things down a bit despite offering up an interesting turn of events … but I was left bewildered by some set ups that didn’t go anywhere (were the photos on the guy’s phone real or in Sarah’s head?).  We’re also left knowing as much about the forest by the end as we did at the beginning.  Frustrating considering the actual forest exists in real-life.

I’d still say give this a go however.  It relies a bit on clichéd horror tropes to get by and fails to develop some of it’s more interesting ideas … but for 90+ minutes it’s fun, scary and creepy and sometimes that’s enough.

Verdict:  3 /5

Princess Mononoke


Viewed – 25 May 2014  Blu-ray

I have wanted to give this much acclaimed Studio Ghibli film a second viewing for a while, and now that it has finally arrived on Blu-ray a film I originally was a bit mixed about, I can give a final verdict on.  This tells the tale of a young warrior, Ashitaka who after saving his village from a demonic boar, is cursed during the battle and forced to leave.  He soon stumbles upon the plight of mining colony who seem  hell-bent on destroying the local forest, regardless of the spirits and animals present, due to a power-hungry governess.  At the same time Ashitaka spots a young girl who is living amongst the wolves, and the villagers refer to her as Princess Mononoke, the wolf-girl.  Before long Ashitaka is torn between his loyalty to a village that take him in and the survival of a sacred forest, as war breaks out.

Princess-Mononoke-wallpaper-HD

This grand spectacle is full of quirky characters, some decent voice acting from the American cast shoe-horned in to replace the original Japanese (Claire Danes especially giving Princess Mononoke plenty of attitude), but its Miyazaki’s magical world and that charming Japanese art style that wins through, with a good story where you are soon routing for Princess Mononoke & Ashitaka and booing the villains.  At two and a quarter hours, it’s certainly epic, both in imagination and emotion, and it’s not hard to see why this is so regarded among movie fans; yet it also drags in places, which could make some viewers restless, with plenty of time given to bland dialogue and mundane moments like eating and working.  On this second viewing however, I was able to better appreciate the (at times) slow pace and the sheer artistic beauty of it all, as well as comedic side characters (the feisty female workers) and the various action sequences (Mononoke’s attack on iron town).  Although I do think it would benefit from about ten or twenty minutes being cut just to make it zip along more.   Yet for it’s character design, setting and echo-friendly message, this remains a land-mark.  I enjoyed it, even if for me it still pales next to Ghibli titles like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle.

This Blu-ray release from Studio Canal is impressive.  First and foremost the image is vibrant, sharp and very clear, with none of the smudgy, rough appearance that graced the DVD – clearly having been polished up quite a bit.  Add to this a stellar 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack with great use of the surrounds and pounding bass (when those drums beat … wow) and the orchestral theme is delivered wonderfully.  Dialogue is also very clear and easy to hear at all times (we also get the original Japanese soundtrack which I didn’t sample).  Extras are somewhat limited as they often are on these Studio Ghibli UK releases, but we do get a trailer, storyboards and a featurette.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Ten from another place


Thought I would express on here my love of foreign cinema, and although I don’t get to watch as much as I would like, there have been some real gems over the years.  It is sad whenever I mention foreign (or world) cinema to anyone who isn’t exactly a cinefile, they immediately say ‘Is it subtitled?’ to which my answer is normally ‘yes’ and their reaction is to be instantly put off.  It makes me sad.  However if such things don’t bother you all that much, then the list below has some good titles to check out…

Tell No One

tell no one

Based on the novel by Harlan Coben this mystery thriller follows the story of a Doctor mourning the death of his wife, who one day contacts him via email.  A great cat and mouse whodunit with ruthless villains and a storyline that keeps you guessing to the end.  A great on foot chase and superb use of U2’s ‘With Or Without You’.

Chung-king Express

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Discovered this during my ‘have to watch everything Hong Kong related’ phase back in the 90’s.  Yet in complete contrast to the John Woo action movies I had become addicted to, this was a sweet love story about different people and how their lives have an effect on one another.  Beautifully filmed by cinematographer Christopher Doyle to clever, multi-layered direction by Wong Kar Wai.

Howl’s Moving Castle

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Hayao Miyazaki … surely no need for explanation here.  I think this magical, highly imaginative fantasy based on the children’s book by Diana Wynne Jones and with glorious hand-drawn animation … is a joy.  I may even go as far as saying it’s my favourite Studio Ghibli movie, with a little less Japanese oddness compared to the more famed Spirited Away.

[REC]

[rec]

Stop reading this if you have seen the lacklustre remake ‘Quarantine’ starring that woman out of Dexter … this is a majorly scary, hand-held camera / found footage horror in the style of The Blair Witch Project but so much better.  Superb, fast-paced direction from Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza – the sequel is pretty awesome too.

Sympathy For Mr Vengeance

sympathy

The second movie I had seen by acclaimed director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Stoker), and making up the first part of his famed ‘vengeance trilogy’.  This harrowing tale of human organ trafficking, revenge and a deaf & dumb protagonist trying to save the life of his ill sister, is raw, very violent and powerful.  Made me think a lot afterwards about right and wrong etc.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

girlwiththedragontattoo

Kind of an obvious one and in my opinion superior to the recent remake and also its two sequels.  A mystery involving a missing woman, a cool computer hacker with a troubled past and a disgraced journalist.  Excellent, career making turn from the wonderful Noomi Rapace.

Let The Right One In

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Based on the controversial novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist and with superb, understated direction from Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), another that is superior to the remake and with a touching love story at it’s heart between two lost souls.  One of the finest horror movies of the last decade.

The Killer

the killer

The movie that put famed action director John Woo on the map.  Chow Yun Fat as a charming hitman who accidentally blinds a singer in a club during a hit.  Danny Lee is the tough cop out to catch him but discovers more than he expected.  Superb action sequences with Woo’s trademark slow-motion gunplay, and a touching story of guilt and redemption that went on to shape much of Woo’s career.

Betty Blue

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One of my all time favourite foreign movies.  A tale of free-spirited Betty and her struggling-writer boyfriend during a wild road trip.  It’s French, its full of sex and nudity and became a cult favourite during the late eighties.  Béatrice Dalle is magnificent and extremely sexy in the lead role.

Pan’s Labyrinth

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Guilermo Del Toro may be more known overseas as the man behind the Hellboy movies, but on his own turf he makes intelligent, often hauntingly beautiful movies most notably this acclaimed fantasy that crosses real world horrors of civil war with the imaginary world of a girl’s imagination.  Beautiful imagery, great special effects and strong performances makes this a true classic.

If you’re one of the crowd that just don’t do movies in a foreign language, can’t abide subtitles etc … I really urge you to give at least one of the titles above a day in court.  World Cinema can be braver, more daring and just as well made as anything from the states.

Those more than familiar with these types of movies … what are some of your favourites?  Any recommendations?  Leave your comments below…