OUR LITTLE SISTER. Family and comfort food Japanese style.

Our Little Sister Our Little Sister 2

Believe it or not but Our Little Sister the new film by Kore-eda Hirokazu (Air Doll, After Life) is based on a manga series called Umimachi Diary (meaning Seaside Town Diary) by Yoshida Akimi. Be it the kind that tries to appeal to (younger) women, so it’s more like a soap opera version of a manga.

Three sisters in their twenties attend the funeral of their father who’s left them 15 years ago and whom they haven’t seen since. They’re being picked up at the train station by a young teenager named Suzu who turns out to be their half sister.
In  the spur of the moment, when they’re returning home and their train is just about to leave, they ask Suzu if she would like to come and live with them. With little hesitation she agrees to, her three new found half sisters are likely to be better companions to hang around with than her stepmother would be.

Suzu moves to the rural town where she joins here half sisters in the house of their grandparents who raised them after their mother died. Four orphans with the same biological father begin their life together and will have a lot of Late Springs, Early Summers and Late Afternoons with lots of Flavour Of Green Tea Over Rice and Ohayo’s (Good Morning) in the morning to use but a few of the international titles of Yasujiro Ozu films that many rightly feel Kore-eda is paying homage to.

What the movie lacks in plot (of which their is little) it more than makes up for with lovely family dinner scenes (with lots of mackerel) and delightful character moments. The bike ride through a tunnel of cherry blossoms trees will linger in your mind for quite some time. I had a great Autumn Afternoon at the cinema.

Jan Bollen

PAWN SACRIFICE. Boris Spassky vs Bobby Fischer, a nice (chess) piece of entertainment.

Pawn Sacrifice

Tobey Maguire plays the notorious Bobby Fisher whose life revolved solely around chess. We do get to see a little of the young Bobby’s first steps into the world of chess but the movie centers on the World Chess Championship of 1972 held in Reykjavik, Iceland during the height of the Cold War when Russian players had been dominating the game for decades.
The legendary Russian chess Grandmaster and reigning world champion Boris Spassky is the only player Fisher had not been able to beat yet. Spassky is played by Liev Schreiber who reteams with director Edward Zwick after their collaboration on Defiance.

The excellent Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Afterschool, Hugo and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) plays a leading figure in the american world of chess who tries via the help of Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) to rein in the genius and the apparent madness of Bobby Fischer to help defeat the Soviet Empire. The game captured the imagination of the world and was a highly publicised (Cold War propaganda) event. Amongst chess connoisseurs game 6 of the  ’72 world championship is still considered to be one of the greatest games of chess ever played.

If you’ve seen the 2011 Liz Garbus HBO documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World there will be few surprises. If you wish to find out more on the rise and fall (into madness) of Bobby Fisher this doc is a must see.
But the film is definitely a well written (Steven Knight writer of Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and the BBC series Peaky Blinders, and director of Locke), well photographed (Bradford Young, DoP of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Most Violent Year) and well acted dramatisation of these historical events that keeps you on the edge of your seat even if you are not well acquainted with the game of chess.

Jan Bollen

THE GOOD DINOSAUR. All Disney, little or no Pixar.

The Good Dinosaur

65 million years ago, a meteor is pushed towards earth. Instead of hitting it and making dinosaurs extinct the meteor has a close shave with our planet and flies past. The dinosaurs look up as they see the meteor pass by and casually continue eating plants. This is perhaps the only original idea the film has, the rest is a rehash of prior Disney movies.

Three dinosaurs are born, the biggest egg actually brings forth the smallest and physically weakest newly born Arlo. To prove his worth to the family he gets the task to protect the food supply for the winter. In a trap he finds a little caveman Spot. But as Arlo is ‘a good dinosaur’ he doesn’t kill him but lets him go.
When he accompagnies his father to hunt down the little caveman the father gets killed while saving his life (a combo of Bambi and The Lion King) during a sudden flood and he ends up alone far away from home (Finding Nemo and again The Lion King) but with his new found buddy Spot. Here starts the ‘coming of age’ and the ‘we need to get home’ storyline and off course there are the obligatory family values (the sentimental but purely visually told ‘family circle’ scene).

All the originality and the different levels for different ages that we usually associate with Pixar are absent. This one is just for the kids, all though certain scenes might be too scaring (the scenes with the velociraptors and the feeding scene in which some ‘animated’ animals do get killed) for the younger kids. There’s one scene in which some characters, refering to the famous ‘showing off scars’ scene from Jaws, are telling some tall tales of how they gathered their body scars, that perhaps adds something for accompanying parents. The wonderful voice of Sam Elliott gets to tell the tallest one.
The film is somewhat of a dissapointment, certainly compared with the excellent and highly original Inside Out Pixar gave us earlier this year.

Prioir to the main feature, as a bonus, you’ll be treated to the short film Sanjay’s Super Team directed by Sanjay Patel. Based on his childhood memories the short deals with the conflict between his love for super hero television programs of their newly adopted home country and the Hindu tradition of prayer and meditation with his father.

Jan Bollen

BLACK MASS. Blue-eyed gangster Johnny Depp Straight Outta Boston.

Black Mass

When you look at the poster you might think Johnny Depp went back to his Hunter S. Thompson (or Raoul Duke) look from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but in fact he’s portraying a legendary Boston gangster called James “Whitey” Burger. The character Frank Costello that Jack Nicholson played in The Departed was modelled after Bulger.
With the prosthetics and blue eyes it may take a few seconds before you realise it’s Depp. There’s a faint resemblance between Depp’s Bulger and Ed Harris (perhaps due to State of Grace?)

The film zeroes in on Bulger’s ‘business arrangement’ with FBI agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), a childhood acquaintance. He helps out with interesting tips on the Italian maffia and in exchange Bulger and his Irish gang can go ahead unhindered with their ‘activities’. Both ‘careers’ benefit heavily from this deal, until … .

The list of supporting actors is impressive: Benedict Cumberbatch Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard (this week also starring in Pawn Sacrifice), Adam Scott, Corey Stoll (Peter Russo in House of Cards) and Juno Temple in a brief but very notable performance.
But basically it’s the Johnny Depp show, be it a somewhat more restraint one, to showcase Depp can play a scary character and to openly apply for an Acadamy Award nomination. The ‘secret family recipe’ scene is definitely inspired by the famous “I’m Funny how?” scene from Goodfellas that got Joe Pesci his Oscar.

Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) is an adequate director but does not have the visual brilliance or the extreme attention to detail of a Scorsese or the finesse of a Sidney Lumet to really raise this gangster, police corruption docu drama to the high standard of a Goodfellas or a Prince of the City.

Jan Bollen

VIVRE SA MORT. Confrontational doc about euthanasia.

Vivre sa mort

Manu Bonmariage is a documentary filmmaker best known for his contributions to the popular RTBF doc. series ‘Strip-Tease’ and a couple of feature films. Occasionally one of his documentaries hits the movie theaters, like Les amants d’assises (Lovers on Trial, 1992) or earlier this year Vivre sa mort (Living once Death, 2015).

Bonmariage follows two men in their sixties who both have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We get to see them in the final stages of their lifes being confronted with their imminent death. They both opt for euthanasia.

The first man Philippe Rondeux is a patient in a catholic hosipital whose doctor keeps avoiding to confirm if he’ll help with his request in the end. The other man Manu de Coster is a surgeon himself and has arranged everything to the last detail with his fellow colleagues.

Vivre sa mort airs on Canvas this sunday 29 november 2015 starting at 21h50. I guess by now you’ve realised that if you decide to watch it you won’t have a casual entertaining evening with a lot of laughs. Confrontational as it may be, it really is a must see documentary which you’ll never ever forget and which will confront you to think about questions you’ll sooner or later may/will have to answer yourself.

Jan Bollen

AUTÓMATA. Good ideas put on autopilot.


Gabe Ibáñez’s (Hierro) Autómata was shown this year at the Brussels International Festival for Fantastic Films (BIFFF) but was not released theatrically in Belgium.

The film starts of with quite an extensive on screen exposition setting up it’s premise: It’s 2044 AD,  solar storms have killed 99.7 % of the world’s population and only 21 million people survived. The survivors have designed and built robots called Automata Pilgrims to help to rebuild the world. These robots have two security protocols; they can neither harm humans nor alter themselves or other robots.

Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator who has to check-up on owners claims of malfunction of their Automata robots which always turn out to be false. All of a sudden a robot is found who’s clearly trying to repair and even make improvements on himself showing a remarkable intelligence.

The film is clearly inspired by famous predecessors, both in film and in Sci-Fi literature. The opening images are pure Blade Runner and Sci-Fi experts have pointed out that the 2 protocols are derived from Isaac Asimov’s (a.o. I Robot) ‘Three Laws of Robtics’:

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

You can see the influence of these ‘laws’ on other films, mainly Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

At the very end of the end credits you can hear a part of an instrumental version of Daisy Bell which is a nod to Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey who were in turn referring to the earliest song sung using computer speech synthesis: “Daisy, Daisy / Give me your answer, do. / I’m half crazy / all for the love of you, … a bicycle built for two”. If you’ve ever seen 2001 you won’t be able to forget the scene in which HAL 9000 is pleading for ‘his life’.

In this mainly European production (besides Banderas) you’ll recognise Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from the popular Danish TV series Borgen) and a couple of interesting American actors like Robert Foster (Medium Cool and his comeback film Jackie Brown), Dylan McDermott (In the Line of Fire and the TV series American Horror Story) and Melanie Griffith (just prior to her divorce with Banderas).

Despite the interesting premise the film is a bit too uneven and the budget a bit too small to really pull of all it’s ambitions. The film is certainly not bad but it’s not as good as it should have been.

Jan Bollen


The Gift. Who’s the Bully?

The Gift

A childless succesful couple is moving to Chicago as the husband Simon (Jason Bateman in an atypical non comedic role) has landed a new interesting job. Simon -who grew up in Chicago- runs into a former highschool classmate Gordo (role for writer, producer and first time director Joel Edgerton) he had ‘forgotten’ all about. They promise each other they’ll get in touch to catch up but Simon doesn’t really give us the impression he intends to.
Gordo on the other hand definitely has plans to get back into Simon and Robyn’s (an excellent Rebecca Hall of Vicky Christina Barcelona fame) life and starts showing up uninvitedly with gifts.

At first the film starts of very black and white, good guys (the happily married wealthy couple) versus the bad guy intruder (the unsuccesful ‘weirdo’ who’s a potential psycho).
A lot of it looks very familiar, pets go missing, the police (always nice to see Wendell Pierce) can’t really do anything, … . There are echo’s to movies from Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, Straw Dogs… to it’s European counterparts Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien, … and here it becomes potentially interesting: Haneke’s Caché.

It’s a plot driven film that desperately tries to be clever and as far as characterisations go it’s far above average and has at least one interesting role reversal but in the end cannot help but become predictable. If you however like these kind of ‘plot twist movies’ you probably won’t be disappointed.

Jan Bollen

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2. Weak finale.

Hunger Games MJ p 2

The movie basically picks up the story where part 1 left off. Katniss has become the leader of the rebellion, Peeta has been brainwashed, and an army is being formed to take on President Snow and the Capital.

The first movie in this franchise was a good piece of entertainment, perhaps a bit violent for a younger audience and with a good director behind the camera, Gary Ross who made ‘Pleasantville’ (1998) and ‘Seabiscuit’ (2003).

The next instalments, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ and Mockingjay Part 1 & 2 were directed by Francis Lawrence a talentless gun for hire who just does what the studio asks. Just look at his credits, ‘Constantine’ (2005), ‘I Am Legend’ (2007) and ‘Water for Elephants’ (2011), all movies with a complete lack of personality and zero sense of what decent mise-en scene is all about.
The few actions scenes this movie has are so badly directed and the visual effects are so poor it was at times embarassing to watch.

This film is such a waste of talent, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Lawrence at least have a fair share of scenes but Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright and Elizabeth Banks who were so entertaining in the first films are shamefully underused. Hopefully the Flemish DoP Jo Willems will get back to projects like ‘Hard Candy’ (2005) or ‘Limitless’ (2011) where he can put his talent to better use.

The only (film historic) reason this film may be remembered for (besides making a lot of money) is that it is the last movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman who died before finishing the film while he only had a few scenes left to shoot. Seeing him next to Julianne Moore at least brought back good memories of ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997) and ‘Magnolia’ (1999).

Jan Bollen

The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The 1976 version.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

As I’ve stated yesterday the 1976 version of ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ is based upon real events that took place in 1946 in Texarkana where the local town was traumatised by a spree of killings by a hooded serial killer, nicknamed The Phantom, who was never caught.

The film is an early example of the modern day slasher subgenre, made after Bob Clark’s 1974 ‘Black Christmas’ but prior to John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (1978) which made the genre extremely popular and led to a lot of follow-up’s in the eighties like the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise.

It’s a film produced by the legendary B-film producer Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001) for American International Pictures, a company that also employed Roger Corman, a legendary B-film producer and director in his own right.
It’s director Charles B. Pierce was a writer, producer and director specialised in making low-budget genre films that were set in and were isnpired by events that took place in Arkansas.

The film looks great and has a lot more class and production value than you might expect from a B-movie. It has a documentary tone and dito voice over that is unfortunately somewhat nullified by some silly comic relief, mainly surrounding the driving abilities of a character called ‘sparkplug’ played by director Pierce.

The best known actor in the film is Ben Johnson who started out in the film business as a stuntman which later led him to become an actor in a number of John Ford films. He frequently acted in Peckinpah films (a.o. ‘The Wild Bunch’, 1969), starred in Steven Spielberg’s first studio picture ‘The Sugerland Express’ (1974), won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971) and played Melvin Purvis in John Milius’s ‘Dillinger’ (1973), another Arkoff production.

A bit of trivia: Director Charles B. Pierce wrote the initial story that was to become the fourth instalment in the Dirty Harry series called ‘Sudden Impact’ (1983) and is therefore believed to have written the famous phrase: “Go ahead, make my day”.

Jan Bollen

The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The 2014 version.

The Twon That Dreaded Sundown.

I was so impressed by the visual audacity of ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘ that I was really eager to see Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s feature-length debut film ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ and I was perhaps even more in awe of the visuals in this film. After an opening with some archival footage the movie kicks of with one of those long show-off steadycam shots that Scorsese, De Palma, P.T. Anderson and the likes love to do.
The film is not a remake but some kind of a follow-up to the little known 1976 film directed by Charles B. Pierce with the same title, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. The original film is based upon real events that took place in 1946 in Texarkana where the local town was traumatised by a spree of killings by a hooded serial killer, nicknamed The Phantom, who was never caught.

The opening steadycam shot starts during an annual showing of the original film in a drive-in, the camera moves up from behind the screen and over it to move to a young couple watching the film on the hood of their car. As the girl is not comfortable watching the film they decide to leave. The camera moves through the other cars and amongst the crowd and picks up the character of a reverend (one of the last roles of Edward Herrmann) who tries to convince the youngsters attending the screening to go home as it’s tasteless (and God wouldn’t approve either) to watch this film.
The camera picks up the couple in the car and cranes-up as they drive away, end of the steadycam shot.
The couple drives of to the local lovers lane where the actual initial killer started his spree. History is about to repeat itself, this time in a fictional narrative.

The film really has the visual energy and freshness of an eager director who finally has the opportunity to show what he can do on the big screen. The photography is aces, with incredible lighting, fantasic split diopter shots and shows-off all the tricks in the book.

The film playfully uses genre clichés and does something fresh with it. E.g. there’s a character that jumps from a considerable height. In other movies they would immediately jump up and dash off or in the worst case limp for a few seconds. Here the character is visibly in pain to say the least. Also, compare the scenes in the original and the new film where a woman flees into a cornfield to try to escape from The Phantom.

Horror fans will surely appreciate the casting of Veronica Cartwright as a grandmother since she’s starred in several iconic genre films: Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ ( 1963), Philip Kaufman’s version of ‘The Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1978) (and perhaps less so the Oliver Hirschbiegel version The Invasion, 2007) and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ (1979).
Also watch out for Ed Lauter in one of his last performances.

Jan Bollen