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Visceral French Masterpiece – LA HAINE (HATE)

LA HAINE (HATE) is a movie packed wall to wall with the most incredible shots – all in service to the story.

Few films merge substance and style as seamlessly as this 1995 French film by Mathieu Kassovitz, the story of 3 French youths – one Jew, one Arab, and one Black – who plan to avenge a friend’s death at the hands of the police. It’s a powerful, lyrical masterpiece, and a treasure trove of exuberant camera technique, not one frame of which feels overindulgent or unnecessary. The ghetto of Kassovitz’s narrative is part black and white documentary, part over-cranked slow-motion flyovers, and between these two extremes anything can happen. Referencing Kurosawa’s Stray Dog in its “gun lost by a policeman” point of departure, the plot focuses on what happens when angry young men find a means of exercising (or is it exorcising?) their hatred. Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui are fantastic, but it’s Vincent Cassel who steals the show, with a performance that echoes Robert De Niro’s in Mean Streets, only amped up for an angrier generation. And yet the direction outshines even him, painted with deep shadows and shot construction that makes you pause, rewind, and marvel at what Kassovitz is up to. If you haven’t seen this movie you’re in for a treat, from the opening anecdote to Bob Marley’s bass-heavy “burnin’ and lootin'” accompanying the titles to the film’s final frame, it’s one hell of a ride which’ll leave the movie-lover in you breathless. In the 15 years since, Kassovitz has failed to live up to the promise of this landmark film, having directed a number of bigger-budgeted action movies (Crimson Rivers, Gothika, Babylon A.D.) and perhaps most notably starring as Audrey Tautou‘s love interest in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. But as Joseph Heller once wrote, “when I read something saying I’ve not done anything as good as Catch-22 I’m tempted to reply, ‘Who has?'” – and Kassovitz should feel the exact same way about La Haine.

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June 30, 2010   No Comments

Great Hindi Indie – THE FALL

THE FALL, willed into existence by director Tarsem Singh, is a giant leap forward in visual storytelling.

When Isle of Cinema first emerged from the watery depths, its inhabitants swore to shed light on those filmmakers whose work pushes boundaries and expands the art form. Tarsem, please step into that light. To those of you who recognize the director’s name, rest assured that  The Fall is in no way a sequel to The Cell. In fact in most ways that matter it’s a complete departure: this time Tarsem takes his visual style and uncanny storytelling abilities and pours them into a project he produced, co-wrote, and directed, and what emerges is a beautiful, sweet film with sweeping landscapes and claustrophobic reality. The trailer alone is like licking frosting off a birthday cake that you can’t eat because someone is taking too long to make their wish and blow out the candles. Go ahead and taste it. Right now. You will not be disappointed. Sure, visually stunning films are a dime a dozen these days, with their Computer Generated Imagery creating entire planets, giant gorillas, and nifty light sabers, but the visual effects on display in this film take creativity beyond mere templates and composites and make use of light, composition, and clever editing. The imagination sequences are breathtaking and if left unchecked could sweep you away into another world – thankfully there are charming yet dark scenes set in a convalescent ward to keep you grounded. In the “behind-the-scenes” footage (which is quite good), Tarsem addresses his crew before they start shooting in the hospital, and stresses the importance of making these scenes real and the story compelling. It’s hard to believe that a director with his technical understanding could be so well versed in the craft of storytelling as well. He grasps what so many of today’s eye-candy obsessed directors miss: that a beautiful movie set in la-la land without any real story or acting to support it is just another bloated, soulless exercise in visual effects – not a movie. It’s no wonder that Spike Jonze and David Fincher, directors who know a thing or two about story, helped Tarsem make this artful film a surreality.

June 16, 2010   No Comments

Amazing Kung Fu Flick – 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER

8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER might be the greatest Kung Fu film ever made.

8 Diagram Pole Fighter a.k.a. Invincible Pole Fighter (1984) is a Kung Fu melodrama which deserves wider recognition as a masterpiece of the genre and one of the most emotionally charged films to come out of the Shaw Brothers studio. Even within Lau Kar Leung’s magnificent body of work (which includes 36 Chambers of Shaolin, Dirty Ho, Heroes of the East, and Legendary Weapons of China) it stands out, in large part due to the tragic death of star Alexander Fu Sheng, who plays one of two brothers from the Yang Clan to survive a massacre orchestrated by the legendary traitor Pai Mei. After Fu Sheng’s death shut down production, LKL returned to finish the film, focusing the narrative on the other Yang brother (played by Gordon Liu), who lays down his spear and becomes a monk, only to later leave the temple in pursuit of revenge. The movie opens with a stagey over-the-top massacre, and while it no doubt resonated with audience members at the time, it might turn off viewers approaching this film cold. But if you’re patient, what follows is one of the great revenge movies of any genre. LKL again proves himself to be the consummate master, and his attention to detail and inventive shot construction leaves you breathless. The imagery is stupendous, the fight choreography insane- with not only the greatest one on-one-pole fight scene in history – between Liu and the Abbot, played by Phillip Ko – but also an incredibly inventive three-versus-a-horde-of-Mongols climax which takes place on a pyramid constructed of coffins, and features a creative way of disarming one’s enemy.

June 14, 2010   1 Comment

Great Comic Book Adaptation – DANGER: DIABOLIK

DANGER: DIABOLIK was the greatest superhero movie of the last century.

Mario Bava injects the spirit of Giallo – which he helped create – into this Fumetti (how’s that for a pretentious sentence) to create one of the most memorable movies in the history of genre filmmaking. Played by John Phillip Law, Diabolik is the man, cooler than Batman and James Bond on their best days put together. I mean, the guy’s got matching leather body suits and sweet ass Jaguars! Plus he’s in a monogamous relationship, which frees him up to concentrate on what he does best – stealing! When they’re not foiling an unidentified European country’s attempts to NOT have their shit stolen, he and girlfriend Eva (played by the beautiful Marissa Mell) live in a secret underground lair on a gigantic circular bed, making love beneath a pile of money. But when a gangster named Valmont sets out to kill Diabolik – upset by the grief he’s bringing upon criminals everywhere – things get dicey. What Bava brings to the table is his horror mentality, complete with canted camera angles, crazy mood lighting, and creepy direction. Made in 1968, the movie reeks of its era, achieving an almost radioactive level of SWANK. But don’t take my word for it… you can tell how cool this movie is by its other fans. Check out this Beastie Boys tribute, in Body Movin’, which uses actual footage from the movie (contains SPOILERS):

…and the tribute to both Diabolik and Barbarella – another Dino De Laurentiis produced classic starring John Phillip Law – in Roman Coppola’s movie-within-a-movie, Dragonfly, from the very decent CQ:

It’s a must-see! Just check out this cool poster!


June 7, 2010   1 Comment

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