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Always a pleasure to see a film at the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton but I wouldn’t recommend Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins for a date. Set in 1844 and based on a 1963 film of the same name, it is 141 minutes of gripping stuff and very much in the tradition of Samurai films. The big fight scene lasts 45 minutes but it kept my attention throughout. Unlike so many fighting films, this does not feel heavily choreographed. The camera work is often not beautifully framed. It is as if we see the action through the eyes of the steadily mounting dead. The only criticism I can make is that one piece of Japanese writing was subtitled twice. The first time I needed to be told what it said. The second time it was obvious. Aside from that, expect high drama, thoughtful reflection on the ancient Japanese code of honour and critical insight into the flawed nature of a rigid society. I give it 8 out of 10.
This three dimensional film fully justifies the wearing of the special spectacles: the ancient rock art inside these French caves was not depicted on a flat surface and cannot be seen properly in two dimensions only. Werner Herzog is the first and may be the last film maker given permission to enter this time capsule; the signature of the French Minister of Culture was required. The caves were discovered on 18th December 1994 by Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, Christian Hillaire and Jean-Marie Chauvet and are named in their honour. The paintings inside them are the oldest art forms on the earth, dating from 32,000 years ago. Concealed across the millenia by a rockfall, which sealed them into as near a pristine condition as natural geological processes will allow for, they are not now open to the public. The French have learnt from the errors made at Lascaux, where a mold carried in on the breath of tourists has ruined the extraordinary artworks in those caverns.
Despite severe restrictions on how the film could be made, some due to the scientific need to leave the site undisturbed, some due to poisonous gases in the chambers, Herzog and his crew of film have produced a remarkable film. You can marvel at these paintings as if you were in the cave itself because you can properly see not only the shape of the lines of paint but the form of the cave upon which they were painted and understand why the artist put which animal where. Herzog returns to the best depictions a number of times, between expert analysis outside in the vine groves and in the laboratories, and experiments with different lighting conditions (within the tight reigns he was permitted) to show the imagery in different ways. Short of being in the cave illuminated by a candle light and being there yourself, this is the closest manner you’ll ever get to experiencing the spiritual life of man in the Upper Paleolithic period. Whosoever created these images was very deliberate. Unusually, for cave art, the surfaces were cleaned before painting commenced and edges were often etched to make outlines stand out in the light.
Here’s the cheesy trailer, which is about as far removed from the spectacular paintings it advertises as it is technically possible to be:
I give the film 9 out of 10. It left me deep in thought about the short-lived nature of our contemporary culture and bedazzled by the sheer skill of these artists from another era. The man whose handprint is left all over the cave, with his broken finger, has truly left his mark on the world.
I am as culturally useless as I am unskilled the kitchen. That deficit did not stop me from proffering cookery lessons and it won’t stop me from reviewing films either. Saw Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Handsome Stranger at everyone’s favourite cinema The Duke of York’s last night. It was the usual serving of Allen without much of a plot but a collection of scenes wonderfully describing the tragedies of most of our lives. Allen seems to have a penchant for this sort of thing. His craft has been honed over his many years of film making. He can hold the angsty moment longer than anyone else whose work I see but let’s be honest I don’t get out much. I enjoyed the film and will say straight away that it got 6 out of 10. Some of the actors seemed familiar too but I didn’t know their names, like the chap in the photograph, who was really good. I’m sure I’ve seen him somewhere before? The film isn’t as funny as his early work or as though provoking as some of his more mature work but it doesn’t fall over either. It’s full of tender observation and good humour. I like the way Allen doesn’t make any one point too obviously the joke, with the result that our audience last night sometimes laughed as one but at other times some people laughed at what hit home for them. Anything else I can say about it? Oh yes, it’s set in London. Better stop there before I make a fool of myself. (Didn’t stop me in Cooking in the Cave.)
Saw the remake of this classic film last night at the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton. I scored it 8/10, which is a very high score for me. It dropped points for no originality (bit harsh for a remake but there you go) and for certain scenes which were very obviously filmed in Eastbourne. As a Brightonian who can remember the Palace Theatre on the pier, I can forgive them having the shape of the theatre on the end of the pier being the wrong shape but I did think the scooter riding mod scenes on the seafront, past Eastbourne’s herbaceous borders were a stretch of the imagination too far. I suppose most people who see the film won’t have that critical eye.
On the plus side, the film was excellent in every way: great acting, good cinematography, good script (again, not original but it was a remake). It is a challenging story and quite out of kilter with the modern take on the seedy side of life. It was refreshing to see a film which was violent but in no way glorified it. Compared to the servings dished up in the name of gangsterism in mainstream cinema, it was refreshing to be told a story at a completely natural pace, born out of a predictable accident which leads to an inevitable deterioration in the circumstances of everyone involved, however slightly. It did not make me feel good in any way but watching it was a rewarding experience.
It is often said that during the time Graham Greene’s book was originally set in, Brighton didn’t have any gangsters. Whether this was still true of 1964, when this new version was set, I do not know (Hey, I was only born in 1968!). However, it is certainly true today. Brighton is awash with drugs and the organised crime that goes with the control of prohibited activities. I often wonder why cannabis users make believe that their industry is somehow free from violence and deceit.
Back to the film, I’d like to know where the unfenced roads where?