Film Reviews by NW

Welcome to NW's film reviews page. NW has written 17 reviews and rated 17 films.

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The Hidden Fortress

Sharp and Classic.

(Edit) 28/06/2012

I ordered this after seeing Higuchi’s “Hidden Fortress – Last Princess” by accident. That is a film made with great technical skill and beautiful use of colour. This one, however, is the better film. They are both, in truth, fairy tales and the realistic use of colour in the 2008 version is excellent – beautiful, indeed – but somehow withdraws both the sharpness and tension of the story and the suspension of disbelief which is essential for the best fairy tales. After all, “Hidden Fortress” was directed by Kurosawa, and that in itself guarantees all that is needed. The tension and sense of threat is pretty near continuous, while Kurosawa’s sense of humanity and compassion are ever present. The actual filming and setting deserve study – on those grounds the film is a model. It has all the direct strength of black and white so that the realism of colour does not distract from the essence of the action and there is no reliance on clever effects ... but I have a bee in my bonnet about that!

I had some doubts as I watched; perhaps there are some flaws? The two peasant conscripts are indeed cleverly used to give the main characters a foreground – but are they a bit too naïve, clownish and greedy ... they certainly are very noisy? Does that noisiness distort the balance of the story? (I have a problem in many Japanese films with the sound of Japanese dialogue: why does it seem to sound so harsh, fast and aggressive when in fact quite ordinary things are being said? Distracting.) The successive narrow scrapes and escapes, and Makabe’s superhuman martial successes strain credence – if you pause and think. Similarly, the happy ending pushes possible likelihood rather hard! Would any Japanese princess have ridden horses astride quite so readily? (It is easy to understand Japanese doubts about Kurosawa’s yielding to western influences ...) A fairy story ... a parable ... a very fine film.

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Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess

Successful Re-make?

(Edit) 25/06/2012

Japanese history is shot through with violence, cruelty and horror ... but as soon as you look properly, so is everyone else’s. I thought, when I ordered this film, that I was going to see again Kurosawa’s classic “Hidden Fortress” ... this “Last Princess” re-make is interesting for comparison, though a puzzle. Am I right in thinking it a poorer film? Normally I deplore and detest all remakes yet here, indeed, the original structure is retained, and superbly presented. VisualIy the filming is beautiful and expert, yet somehow the sharp bite and depth of the original have got lost. Both films are fairy tales ... is it that good colour takes the soul out of fairy tales because it makes them too real and every day? Is it because his very expertise in scene setting and the range of facilities available distracts Higuchi from real close contact with the characters and the story? I am not sure! I often feel that Kurosawa dwells a bit too much on extreme violence and ferocity ... well, it is all here in this re-make, with deliberately added memories of Star Wars – which was a thinner, poorer film than either Hidden fortress or Higuchi’s version.

Putting doubts aside, the original Hidden Fortress had a straightforward directness – so often a benefit of plain black and white – which leaves a sharper memory ... the director WAS Kurosawa, ... and the players (Mifune!) were the very best. As nearly always, the original IS the better film, though it does have flaws of its own. (Fairy tale arrival at an unlikely happy ending; scarcely credible escapes and survivals; arguably over-played pair of peasant fugitives and surely unlikely adaptability of Princess Yuki to changed social status.) Higuchi also strains credence on and off – what on earth was that explosive yellow vapour which was also poisonous when mining was attempted for the hidden gold? I know of nothing of the sort in the real world ... after working in mines myself ...

A good film - enjoy it for yourself.

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Summer Manoeuvres

Very fine froth.

(Edit) 08/06/2012

Well, then French farce … well spun light froth! A joy to see Brigitte Bardot so young – before the worst of the “sex kitten” studio nonsens - and Michèle Morgan impressively contained with depths of her own. My reaction to Gérard Philipe in this presentation was initially “what a right shocking bat eared little twerp” but he put on strength as the film progressed towards its shocking ending … or the more shocking alternative ending. The film as a whole gained weight and éclat as it went on – beautifully filmed and played - farce; four stars rather than five?

The accompanying “documentary” about M’selle Bardot is horrid – adulatory, meaningless Hollywood pap – avoid! Meanwhile, making comparison with M. Clair’s 1941 “Flame of New Orleans” – made in the USA with Marlene Dietrich – it was refreshing to see him back on native ground with a sharper, faster story. When I saw the earlier film I wondered how far he and Dietrich had been constrained by production and studio values to make a rather wooden, flat footed film … in 1941 there was no other refuge but Hollywood!

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The Flame of New Orleans

Flickering or guttering.

(Edit) 22/05/2012

A “comedy”, and crass. Script clunkingly unimaginative; dialogue wooden, characters cut from worn out cardboard. This film demeans both Fraulein Dietrich and M. Clair, each of whom was capable of better things - but where else could they go in 1941but Hollywood? Marlene Dietrich’s skill and power as an actress – see, for example, “Dishonoured” – were too often under valued. Should one blame the producers and their expectations rather than anything else? In Hollywood, of course, offer them an actress and all they really wanted was a doll – it did not matter whether it was called Marlene or Marilyn! I fear I am parading my personal prejudices, but this film did upset me, with its vulgarly glittering attempts to show a social scene and subordinate – if well played – coloured characters. (Theresa Harris, for example, was obviously capable of much more.) By contrast, as the leading man, I found Robert Cabot rebarbative … but blame the script, perhaps, rather than him for the brash vulgarity of his part. Crass; vulgar; I found it hard to see through to the end. (Good enough camera work …) Blank stars only.

(But apparently a mimnimum of one is compulsory!)

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Lola Montès

Doubts.

(Edit) 11/05/2012

A painfully unhappy tale, harshly presented. The episodic style of its show ground presentation here does nothing to reduce a superficially brutal lack of compassion – despite Ophuls genuine understanding and feeling for character. A skilful presentation, indeed, and conceptually valid, but the film is not one which I should have been proud to have made, nor one which I greatly enjoyed watching. Perhaps I am disappointed that the film is plain entertainment rather than a probably impossible attempt at historical truth. That, however, is a purely personal and emotional reaction, and what else should a good film provoke? You must judge for yourself.

I often found the soft and rapid French dialogue agonisingly hard to follow – my weakness, no fault of the film – but oh, how I wish we COULD have French sub-titles!

Take the above as a first assessment – but I reflect and am puzzled. The film has excellent leading actors whom I admire; an outstanding director, whom I also admire – while I can watch “La Ronde” or “Madame de ...” repeatedly, I found it an effort to see Lola Montes through to the end. Why? La Ronde takes 80 minutes, Madame de ... 95; Lola is only 110 but felt twice that. It is a very lavish production, brilliantly filmed and choreographed, well acted – yet somehow the light touch and wit of La Ronde have been replaced by spectacle and cleverness and something has drained away. Had Ophuls had his way, Danielle Darrieux would surely have done better than Martine Carole? People imagine that Ophuls was Viennese ... perhaps here he has returned from the wit of La Ronde to his true origins in Saarbrucken’s heavy industry of meticulous and accurate craft work! – or is it just the producers and too much money?

The commentary by Susan White is very helpful, though a bit pedestrian, and emphasised my recognition of the sheer brilliance of the direction without encouraging me to feel any more engaged by the film as a whole. Judge for yourself – I am sure I must be missing something! (The restoration has been an excellent achievement, as the commentary makes fascinatingly clear.) The commentary on Max Ophuls and the making of the film is superb. I was delighted to hear that he dide not like using cinemascope ... too often the choice of spectacle over content ...

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Flic Story

Finelt tuned menace.

(Edit) 15/03/2012

This film is beautifully contrived with excellent narrative technique and exact tuning of the constantly threatening menace of violence. It has a positively thrilling use of colour and setting which I should associate with Antonioni. There is a nostalgic delight in seeing the relative calm and order of the Paris streets, enlivened by the enthusiastic vision of Traction Avant bandits showing what you could really do with a front wheel drive Citroen! As usual, this outdoes American gangster movies … by a long way. A joy to watch; especially with Alain Delon furiously over-acting the clipped-speech-laconic-smart detective, with his eyebrows working overtime ... can you over act "laconic"? Delon almost caricatures himself … .Trintignant, as Buisson, gives one of the most chillingly convincing portrayals of ruthless, delicately under-acted, menace that I have ever seen. This is a strangely sympathetic portrayal, in fact, of the utterly ruthless driven killer who is still human within himself … but driven. Ground for some quite deep speculation about humanity. Similarly, the portrayal of brutal police methods, and those who use them, is shocking … disturbing … and in the end unresolved.

It is amusing to feel a sort of startled charm nowadays at seeing half the cast with cigarettes dangling from their lower lips! Again, like the empty streets and the traction avant driving, this is a nostalgic step into the past.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Rite

Jewelled violence

(Edit) 28/02/2012

One crazed, internally conflicted judge; three batty and intermittently violent actors accused of obscene performances: a cast of four. That makes an extravaganza for Bergman as author and director and gives a spectrum of opportunities for the distinguished cast in wild but perfectly controlled performances. And then – it is a real pleasure to have a carefully and exactly controlled film that is only 74 minutes long. I ask for no more. We get masterly construction, excellent camera work and acting, leading to speculative outcomes from an ambiguous ending.

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The Bride Wore Black

A Pretty Conceit

(Edit) 20/02/2012

I understand that the critics thought poorly of this film and that Truffaut himself came to agree ... though the plot is an amusing enough conceit and Jeanne Moreau plays beautifully throughout. The flaws, however, are glaring: the murder methods, for example, are so chancy and unreliable as to be practically infeasible; the first twenty minutes or so of the film drop so many puzzling hints with so many logical jumps as to be simply muddling: a sort of logical inadequacy seems to run through. Visually, also, the filming is pretty enough, but somehow struck me as no more than humdrum ... a film you can enjoy watching - well performed - but which leaves an annoying emptiness behind. Of course, I have not read the original book, but my impression is that Truffaut constructed a workaday presentation of its key ideas and scenes but has only cursorily bound them together into a coherent whole. He has not taken the film beyond the bones of the plot, leaving logical lacunae and inconsistencies: hence an empty feeling of slight dissatisfaction.

And yet ...almost … forget the much of the above. In the last twenty minutes everything sharpens up: the earlier flaws remain, but the finish is a climax like a bugle call ... the Sick Call or the Last Post, perhaps.

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Sherlock Hound

Wondrous bizarrerie

(Edit) 03/12/2011

A film which can name Hayao Miyazaki as director has a guarantee for qualities of liveliness, sensitivity and imaginative inventiveness nonetheless, I was alarmed to find that Sherlock Hound was dubbed into English with no subtitles or Japanese spoken script ... films such as “Spirited Away” or “Totoro” can be ruined if you have to see them dubbed into rebarbatively false sounding US dialect! It was an amazing relief to find that the English was fairly truly ... if slightly exaggerated ... early twentieth century English speech and I relaxed. Similarly, the street scenery and crowds pretty sensitively represent the sense of late nineteenth century London (with solecisms of course) and, above all the mad technical spirit of inventiveness of the age. One could watch undistracted by undue gritting of the teeth! At the same time, perhaps the first two or three of these five tales are a bit below Miyazaki’s usual delicacy of treatment? – a bit too noisy and mere caricature? Perhaps Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is dutifully acknowledged before each one, really was spinning gently in his grave down there? If so, I. at least, progressively tuned in to the spirit of the piece, with its cast of dogs with funny coloured faces. The last two tales, with the characters fully developed and accepted, had the true touch of imaginative genius and were hilarious.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Passion of Anna

Layers of Precision.

(Edit) 27/01/2012

So there is another way of looking at Bergman. You can laugh!

All the best films are multi-layered. Here, you are indeed watching the torment of peoples’ souls - and the interestingly unusual interpolations of short interpretative observations by those playing the characters are far from as bizarre as the trick might sound. They help both to point the way and to allow you to step back from too deep an involvement in the misery. People are trapped in their situations, and their histories: so are we all. The truth of this is displayed with very sensitive precision. You can observe as well as participating … and then you may stand aside and enjoy the sight of all this almost caricature scandinavian angst. Take the short sequence where Max von Sydow tosses down several glasses of gin, bangs down the glass, rushes out into the snow, then, clutching a half empty gin bottle, rides off on a bicycle and collapses against a tree - until a neighbour rescues him and drags him home in a hand cart. He is then nuzzled by a sympathetic pekinese puppy. Serious stuff; you can feel the emotion and despair – YET, goodness; so mediaeval; so Swedish, so Bergman. No harm in laughing adversity in the face. Your own adversities and pains are standing at your shoulder; just laugh.

This is, in fact, a very fine film indeed. It is worth stopping the disc every now and then and studying it picture by picture: the placing of each smallest object may be unobtrusive, but is far from accidental and sets the sense and the mood with precise exactitude. That is why one says that Bergman is such an outstanding director.

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Celine and Julie Go Boating

Enigmatic?

(Edit) 18/01/2012

External events meant that I could not watch this right through – it is well over three hours long – and I shall try again another day. It is beautifully, if enigmatically, filmed with a delightful dottiness of action which does start rather slow and puzzling. You need to watch in an unhurried mood and I shall certainly return to it.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Ghost of the Manipulator

(Edit) 18/01/2012

Technically impressive, lively ... effective ... but rationally and logically preposterous: impact and effect have been given precedence over coherence and sense of plot ... supernatural events allow the cutting of rational corners! There are also ambiguities and discontinuities ... poorly matched disparate plot lines? ... which are carried through on the vigour of the action but also reflect Fritz Lang’s own ambiguities of intent (political? anti-nazi or not?) and his dubious accounts of dealings with Doctor Goebbels and the regime. The accompanying “documentary essay” is as interesting as the film itself!

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Ran

Impressive

(Edit) 18/01/2012

I am shocked. No-one quite managed to tell me how good this film is ... how stunningly powerful. Shakespeare would, I fancy, have loved it. It lacks, of course, so far as I can tell from sounds and sub-titles, his ingenuity and beauty of language: but this is a different medium: the poetry of words is replaced, and at least equalled, by the sharpness, the beauty and the effect that is achieved visually.

There are, however, further strengths in Ran which are possibly not matched in Lear, as well as some possible flaws to which I shall return later. While the setting is a mythical one, it did, I felt, give me a deeper insight into actual Japanese historical culture and sensibility than I had had before. It also touched moral and philosophical depths - and posed problems - which I have never quite felt that Lear reached. Lear, I have felt, takes a rather stylised set of social conventions as its basis and does not go beyond the personal consequences to examine the more political ones ...

This is surely not the greatest film I have seen, but within its context I cannot recall praising another so strongly. Kurosawa is, it seems, one of the few directors who can use both colour and a wide screen without being overwhelmed by them and he presents battle scenes, where - as so rarely - you can follow what is going on both tactically and strategically and can understand the lie of the land. On the other hand ... this is an impressively lavish production and also a rather long film, at 155 minutes: it can carry this, but I increasingly feel that directors and producers should be more restrained and hold films to tighter limits. (Unless it is Bollywood with a lot of songs and dances!) Further, Kurosawa does seem to dwell rather more than is seemly on extended violence and gore - facing reality is healthy; wallowing may be unhealthy! You need it, though, to appreciate Japanese history fully …

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler

Sumptuous

(Edit) 02/11/2011

A truly sumptuous film. People may watch second rate effusions like “Avatar”, but why bother while films such as this are available? Fritz Lang’s skill was superb. I often complain that modern films are self-indulgently too long and elaborate, and shall continue to do so, yet this is four and half hours long ... and is worth it ... mercifully, of course, divided into several acts. A film made in 1922, so soon after the Great War and yet so lavish and ambitious in casting and setting, evokes awe. Again, Fritz Lang could do it and was given the resources; no place for argument.

This restored version is excellently presented and makes the most of the original sharp, clear and controlled filming ... though I remark that English was clearly not the first language of whoever wrote the sub titles! – some are bizarre or wrong; dreadful - “faith” bewilderingly for “fate” ... Keep a German dictionary beside you.

The film has several really thrilling features:

- The excellent expressive acting – silent film acting is a particular art on its own and here it is at its height of perfection.

-The lavish settings and scenery are a joy; you step into a vanished world of truly smart night clubs and gaming houses, gentlemen in properly formal clothes, ladies in opulently seductive dress and jewellery, against a background of expressionist art and architecture, of half forgotten motor cars ... of forgotten street scenes, of the frenetic Bourse of the time and so on.

- The accompanying musical score is a delight throughout..

Never mind that the details of the plot are preposterous ... as those for Sherlock Holmes are ... it is a framework for all the rest, with one of the most convincingly chilling villains you can imagine ... one who, at a time when Herr Hitler was just in the making, talks of “der Macht des Willens” and acts accordingly.

I have to buy a copy of this film! May I award one star above the regular maximum? I find this a more impressive film, even, than Metropolis.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Hawks and Sparrows

Flying Circus ...

(Edit) 14/10/2011

Why did I not enjoy this film? Was I too old for it? – 1966 ... I was 35 by then and it does seem a bit childishly out of kilter and silly? Somehow the comic bizarrerie matches ill with the neo-realist substructure. Perhaps I need to see it slightly drunk and with a group of cheerful friends – for me, the flying circus seemed to have droopy cardboard wings!

The accompanying film (“a documentary about a documentary”), in the “extras”, is in some ways more interesting ... it reveals the inter-action of Pasolini’s thinking, an idea for a film (a maharajah sacrificing his own body to feed and save some starving tigers} and actual reconnaissance of the setting in India. One can see why in the end the film was not made ... the idea was a bit naive and the scene in India was vast and complex!

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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