Category Archives: Drama

#198 – Plastic Song (Peullaseutig Song)

(2008, SKor, 131 min) Dir Kim Chang-wan. Cast Shin Ha-kyun, Kim Ok-bin, Kim Roi-ha.

South Korea, the near future. Lonely office worker Joon, disheartened by a life of unrequited heartbreak, orders himself something from the cutting edge of technological advance – a seemingly sentient plastic sex doll that is called a Song. Once released from her coffin-sized packaging she is initially all that he could have hoped for – pretty, meek and sexually insatiable – but after a while he finds himself overcome with conflicting emotions towards her, the chief one being love though complicated by guilt. As you might expect from South Korean cinema Plastic Song juggles genres, morphing from the lighthearted comedy of the opening to a dramatic second act before going out in the world with Joon as he advocates politically for the recognition of the Songs. Not only that but it then becomes an action film as he in co-opted by pro-Song revolutionaries and then it finally ends with a blend of sci-fi dystopia and romance as Joon finds peace and mutual love with an upgraded Song in a shack in the hills of a depopulated post-apocalypse Korea where she lives on forever after Joon grows old and dies. If you can withstand the genre whiplash there’s much to enjoy in this buffet of a film with Kim Ok-bin managing to imbue her Song with an array of emotion despite being limited to a mere half-dozen expression settings.

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#189 – Puta Enojada (Angry Bitch)

(1993, Mex, 88 min) Dir Antxón Arango. Cast Sally del Toro, Hector Mendez, Gabriel Quinn.

An Almodóvarian comedy drama. Sally del Toro is Lucia, a downtrodden housewife who dreams of her youth before she married her boorish husband Windsor (Hector Mendez, his huge moustache still present) while she maintains their spotless household. One evening, while Lucia is ironing his shirt for work, Windsor announces that he is leaving her – now that their children have moved out, he says, there is no need for him to continue to live the lie. There is someone else and has been for some time. Lucia, in a fit of fury twenty years in the making, beats Windsor to death with her iron and thus the film comes over all Ms. 45 with Lucia taking to the street with her Windsor’s revolver on a misandrist rampage. How many men will fall to her bullets before the night is out? Will Gabriel Quinn’s dashing detective Alejandro stop her? What will her brat children think? Accusations of chauvanism are steadily avoided with a film very much on Lucia’s side, cheering as she guns down the worst examples of masculinity she can find. Good fun for those with a darker sense of humour.

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#176 – Hurtin’

(1990, US, 80 min) Dir Bryce Tasco. Cast Jeff Bridges, Dennis Quaid, Paul Haltmann.

Directed by Bryce Tasco from his own play, the little-seen Hurtin’ follows the last days of an Elvis-alike superstar as he roams his mansion, clearly at the end of his mental and physical tether. He’s visited by his drug dealer Amos (Quaid) and his hot-shot manager Phil (Haltmann) who has taken over from his recently deceased long-term one but, for the majority of the film, is alone and talking either to the pictures on the walls or to the TV or to phantoms that we can’t see. Apparently starring Bridges and Quaid as favours to Tasco – a friend to both – and filmed in the Beverly Hills mansion of a third unnamed friend (rumoured to be none other than Jack Nicolson), Hurtin’ has been virtually unseen by any kind of audience since it was made as while the main character is never named as Elvis Presley, his estate evidently felt the likeness to be sufficiently close for litigation and the producers agreed. It’s a slight film either way though it’s attempt to bring depth to a death that has been mostly regarded as little more than a joke is laudable.

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#174 – Black Book, The

(1985, US/GB, 106 min) Dir James G Marshall. Cast Gabriel Byrne, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Billie Whitelaw, Phil Daniels, Alexi Sayle.

Alexander Kasin (Byrne) is a rising star in the KGB tasked with tracking down the author of the so-called Black Book of the title, dozens of copies of which have been disseminated across the Soviet Union via the producers of handmade publications known as samizdat. The file on said book is very thin – no copy has yet been found by the authorities though numerous references have been logged from intercepted mail, bugged telephones and the confessions of criminals. “There are not many copies in circulation,” he superior tells him, “But so far as we can tell the contents of this book are so volatile none can be tolerated.” So Kasin begins his investigation in the usual places – checking in with his informers, known black market operators and the samizdat slinging intelligentsia – but not only draws a blank but meets a kind of frightened resistance totally uncommon to him in his usual course of work. As he digs ever deeper and finds himself on a trail that leads to the obscurer ends of his homeland it occurs to him that he’s not on the trail of something new, but of a cancer as old as his country with a dark purpose at its heart. A classy, creepy detective film full of unplumbed darkness. An US/GB co-production directed by a Canadian, populated almost entirely with British actors and fantastically shot by veteran Irish DOP Brendan Bradley in snow bound Finland, The Black Book was made on the back of Gorky Park’s success but was sadly unable to replicate it. Not to be confused with Verhoeven’s Black Book nor indeed the Dylan Moran sitcom Black Books.

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#163 – Dent

(1987, GB, 105 min) Dir Malcolm Mowbray. Cast Michael Palin, Shirley Stelfox, Michael Elphick.

Simon Dent had always been an accountant, taking the same bus to the same firm for thirty years until the day he was called into the Managing Director’s office. “We’re downsizing, as the Americans call it,” the MD says and with that Simon’s life to that point is changed. On the way home, distracted by his grief, he hits a car that has pulled out in front of him, hitting his head on the steering wheel. Now everything’s different, suddenly losing his job is the best thing that’s happened to him – now he can grab life by the horns and ride it off a cliff no matter what his wife Doris says! Dent is a bit like if you crossed Falling Down with Reggie Perrin, the suppressed rage at the indignities of the modern world subsumed by a more childlike joie de vivre. The most important part of the film is that by the end, no matter what he tries to plug the absence in his life with, he remains unhappy, missing something. “I didn’t just have a job and a routine,” he says, “What I had was dignity.” A forced and pretty twee film but one featuring a fine, heartbreaking performance from Palin.

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#162 – Chaînes Invisibles, Les (Invisible Chains, The)

(1978, Fr, 102 min) Dir Alain Andere. Cast Raymond Polac, Jean Rochefort, Catherine du Mai.

Anton Phillipe St. Jude Dominique La Tasse wakes in an exquisite room in a gold-leafed Baroque style that is unfamiliar to him. From the window he can see that the house it is part of is sited in a vast estate in the countryside. Curious, he rings the room’s bell and soon enough a valet appears. “What am I doing here?” he asks, scaring the valet off to summon the master of the house, one M. Vilper. “What do you last remember?” this man asks, puffing sanguinely on his pipe and studying the clouds that drift from it. Anton thinks. “It was night. A masked tribunal by candlelight. I was to be sentenced.” M. Vilper nods. “But this is no prison,” protests Anton. M. Vilper laughs and excuses himself. Anton investigates, meets his few fellow inmates and walks to what he thinks might be the extent of the grounds… but goes no further. The resulting ‘action’ are a series of philosophical debates between Anton, M. Vilper and the rest of the inmates about the nature of imprisonment, about freedom, about liberty. At the end of the film Anton’s time has been served and he returns to Paris and his life as it once was. Despite this, as his goes about his day-to-day life, he is never sure whether this is not simply a larger prison and whether he can still feel the weight about him of the invisible chains of freedom.

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#160 – Kuyruk, Bir (Tail, A)

(2011, Tur, 99 min) Dir Ahmet Şen. Cast Nuri Kesal, Yılmaz Erdoğan, Cansu Demirci.

A whimsical, surreal little film in which everyone in the world wakes up one morning to find that overnight they have grown the tails of  animals – some have big green lizard’s tails, some have brightly feathered birds tails, some have twitching cat tails and some have a prehensile primate tail (which seems to be the least problematic and most useful of them all). The problem is that this kicks off a vast restructuring of the existing social norms – for example the President, who woke that day with a giant squirrel’s tail, is ousted from government by a cadre of monkey tails within his own party. All of this is seen from the perspective of young Nuri whose mother, a seamstress, is making a lot of money in the crisis from altering trousers. Previously a small fish in his school he has found his stock rising mightily now that he is in possession of a ferocious looking and potentially deadly scorpion’s tail. Of course if we learned anything from Spider-Man it’s the whole great power/greater responsibility thing and it’s the relationship between these two that guides Nuri’s story. A well-played, beautifully shot little film with surprisingly good practical effects for the tails, it’s only downfall is that it’s a little obvious in its allegorical intent. It was well received when it premiered in Sundance a couple of years ago but a wide release seems sadly unlikely by now. Worth tracking down.

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#158 – Jellyfish

(2007, Can, 105 min) Dir Ben Roy. Cast Anton Yelchin, Mark Rendall, Susan Sarandon.

True life inspired tale. Todd Waugh wants to get out of his family’s house while his parents argue their way through their divorce so he replies to an ad for a maths tutor. When he turns up at the house he finds that the local boy confined to his upstairs bedroom is Eric Battersby, who made worldwide news when he was born due to his inability to form bones and thus a skeleton. “He should have died when he was a baby,” Eric’s mother tells Todd, “But he just kept living.” Initially Todd is freaked out but when he tells his parents about not wanting to go back they manage to agree on something for the first time in years – that Todd should go back and help him. So he does and over time he becomes friends with the kid who calls himself ‘The Jellyfish’, inspired to help him make the most of his life rather than being stuck in his bedroom learning maths… Probably the most positive aspect of the film is the irreverent characterisation of Eric who is no saint alternating between his enjoyment of gross out humour and tantrums of petty peevishness, all guided by a fine performance from Yelchin.

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#156 – This Burning Rock

(1978, US, 120 min) Dir Arthur Penn. Cast John Travolta, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms.

Appalachian set eco-thriller based on mountaintop removal mining and the opposition thereof. Frank (Bridges) and Joe (Travolta) are buddies that went their own ways after high school – Frank to University and Joe to work. It’s been a few years but Frank’s back in town on unknown business. He and Joe go out for a few drinks to catch up on old times. Now Joe hasn’t told Frank but he’s working with the crew that are going to blow the top off Eagle Rock Mountain to mine it for coal but that’s okay – Frank hasn’t told Joe that he’s there to monkeywrench the operation. Of course we know what’s going on and we know at some point that the two of them are sure to collide. In the meantime the film winds itself ever tighter with the mechanics of the mountaintop removal as nail-biting as Frank’s nocturnal recces and basement bomb building. A fine example of that Seventies brand of gritty thriller, like a French Connection in the wild with plenty of time to lay out its characters along with the action. Produced after the megaflop of The Missouri Breaks, this taut, economical thriller didn’t do much better despite also having a stellar cast but it’s reputation has improved with age.

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#150 – Umber Erneut (Umber Once More)

(2010, Ger, 101 min) Dir Heinz Fäberhöck. Cast Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Nina Hoss.

1918. Gerhard Franz Holstein returns home from the front. He left his home a budding economics student and has returned the shell of a man. He sits in the attic of his family’s home day after day now, working on his grand project: he is working on the history of Umber, a country he invented to keep him sane during his time in the trenches. Now , far from saving his mind, it is taking it over instead. Decades pass outside his window and inside Umber takes on ever more a layered history with a national anthem he plays each morning on the trumpet, a flag that hangs on his bedroom wall and paintings and drawings in his own naïve style that illustrate every corner of the world that he has invented where brotherly love fills every corner and peace reigns eternal. Outside the Nazis rise to power and it seems his days of peace are numbered – war returns to Germany and contact with the outside world grows ever more inevitable. Of course there are no happy endings here. Based on the true story of the outside artist whose works now grace the wall of prestigious galleries the world over, Umber Erneut treads carefully on the line between worthiness, whimsy and the sober realities of Germany at the time and mostly gets it right, ably abetted by a strong cast doing what they can to help.

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