Sunday, 27 February 2011


Director, writer and actor Kevin Smith’s last directing job was the absolutely terrible Cop Out. Yet, his finest work still and will always remain as Clerks, which was his first feature film. Clerks is a witty, funny and underrated classic that proves independent films don’t need to be arty and pretentious to succeed in entertaining an audience. It follows a day in the life of convenience store clerk, Dante (played by Brian O’Halloran) and his friend Randal (played by Jeff Anderson),who works at the video rental store next door. Throughout the day, they are force to deal with the barrage of half-wits that enter their stores, they play hockey on the roof, and try to understand their purpose in life as shop clerks.
The film focuses on non-stop humour rather than being a cinematic masterpiece or artistic vision. It is shot in black and white (cheap budget), some of the acting is wooden and far from professional, and there is little change in scenery. However, it is the script that really shines in Clerks. Kevin Smith’s writing comes off strong, funny and witty. There is a constant stream of jokes; debates over Star Wars: Return of the Jedi  (the possible mass murder of innocent contractors on the Death Star), and Randal constantly ‘taking the piss out’ of Dante’s questionable love-life. Clerks is certainly a very ‘quotable’ film due to its great script. 
As previously stated, the acting isn’t great, however Jeff Anderson’s natural performance as Randal is comical and creates most of the laughs. His cruel and disrespectful behaviour towards the customers and Dante, results in some great scenes. He constantly complains about life and his job, whilst using peer pressure and ‘inventive’ ploys to harass Dante. Kevin Smith also plays, the now infamous character, Silent Bob, with Jason Mewes playing Jay. The two drug dealers, though aren’t given a huge amount of screen time, still manage to form a notable and funny partnership, which gained popularity after Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob’s Strike Back.  
On the surface Clerks seems like a very basic premise for a film, almost student film-making. Yet, this purely adds to the charm of it. Hilarious dialogue, great characters, Clerks is a fantastic comedy and a cult classic.


Friday, 25 February 2011

Ichi the Killer

 Ichi the Killer
Based on the ultra-violent manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is a weird and demented ride into the depths of human insanity. Directed by the always controversial Takashi Miike, the film deals with extreme taboos of violence, rape, sadomasochism and torture. The plot follows Kakihara and his yakuza clan as they search for their traitorous boss, Anjo. However, a psychopath named Ichi introduces his own sense of justice through the mutilated corpses of Kakihara’s men. This ultimately leads to an unforgettable showdown between the two characters.

There is no doubt that Ichi the Killer is one of the most violent films in cinema history. Yet its exaggerated nature, though initially shocking, generates a dark, twisted humour. Though it is hard to ignore the overall brutality of Miike’s creation, the acting is outstanding. Tadanobu Asano’s performance as the sadomasochistic Kakihara is simply jaw-dropping. His hauntingly calm demeanour, insane sense of pleasure, horrifying grin and colourful dress sense has a ‘Joker-esque’ feel to him. Even after cutting his own tongue out, the sense of enjoyment and glee in his eyes is frightening.

Ichi the Killer is a film that you’ll either love or hate. The controversial and shocking themes will certainly deter many, but its over-the-top nature makes it hilarious and fantastic. Takashi Miike has delivered a film that, on the surface succeeds to create controversy, but is an electrifying, gruesome and well-acted piece of modern Japanese cinema.          


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Paul Review

While Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have recently attempted to build on their individual acting careers, Paul sees the comedy duo return in a sci-fi geek adventure under director Greg Mottola. To be honest, I was apprehensive over the decision for Greg Mottola to direct Pegg and Frost’s own script. Though Superbad may have pulled in the audiences in the US and back here, I had not seen it as the comedic opus many had. However, Paul is a surprisingly hilarious piece of cinema that is truly helped by its cast and well-written script. 

The plot follows comic and sci-fi nerds Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost), as they set off on their extra-terrestrial road trip of America. En route from San Diego, they encounter Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), a foul-mouthed alien, who requires their help to get back home. Graeme and Clive agree, resulting in a race to ‘Devils Tower’ in Wyoming ,which many will recognise as the location of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Along the way, they accidentally kidnap religious trailer park owner Ruth (played by Kristen Wiig), resulting in them being pursued by her bible-bashing, nut-job of a father (played by John Carroll Lynch). They are also being chased by the mysterious and serious Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) and his clueless FBI agents Haggard (Bill Hader) and O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio), who are after Paul
It is clear script-wise, that Paul has been made more accessible to an American audience. Gone are the British gags from Pegg and Frost’s previous works. Instead, the clichés of modern comedy have been introduced. There is the usual childish profanity and crudeness to the film’s comedy, especially with Kristen Wiig’s character, Ruth. Her freedom from the bounds of religious fundamentalism results in a barrage of cringe-worthy ‘cock’ and ‘tits’ jokes. The awkward dance scene between the characters, and the obvious inclusion of  ‘weed’, are present and hinder a full appreciation for the film. 
Yet, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s script helps tackle these foreign inclusions, and is the true star of the film. It is not hard to see that Paul has been written towards a specific audience who have grown up with the likes of Star Wars, E.T., Men in Black and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The endless references to sci-fi culture are astronomical (sorry!), but really give the characters and the film a real charm and produce the majority of the laughs. From Jason Bateman’s character showing a similarity to Tommy Lee Jones performance in Men in Black, to a scene in a cowboy-style saloon which has the local band playing the music from Star Wars’s Canteen Bar scene, Paul screams ‘sci-fi geekness’, clearly mirroring the two actor/writer’s personalities and childhood memories. I found myself on Wikipedia after the film, trying to work out the abundance of references which further helped in my enjoyment. 
Paul himself has been imposed into the film unbelievably well. His stereotypical look (think Space Raiders Crisp’s alien), actually has a creative and funny back-story. Yet while the CGI isn’t going to win any awards, it does its job well and doesn’t come off awkward. Seth Rogen’s voice acting is typical Seth Rogen but brings a different and contrasting persona to the characters of Graeme and Clive. The majority of the cast does well, with Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio forming an early American version of Pegg and Frost’s comedic partnership. Yet, Pegg and Frost come off slightly underwhelming when compared to Hot Fuzz and Shawn of the Dead. The change in director has affected the normally strong, comedic relationship between the two. However they still remain funny and play off well with the introduction of Paul

One issue that hindered my impression of Paul surrounds the barrage of trailers before its release. Trailers have recently become more and more saturated with ‘spoilers’ and clips from the actual film. This certainly affected the first 30 minutes of Paul, as the majority of the gags and jokes had already been shown. Yet, after this period the film came into its own, delivering an entertaining story. 
It is a shame that Paul will always be compared to the likes of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And I think this has and will damage the interpretation and the reception of Paul. While it may contain the same two actors and the quirky/ geeky references, Paul stands separate from Pegg and Frost’s previous works. It is a fantastic, entertaining comedy that is helped by a comic cast and witty script, giving a well needed break from the recent bombardment of award winning cinema.

Twilight Samurai

The Twilight Samurai 

Directed and written by Yoji Yamada, Twilight Samurai is a well-acted, well-directed and well-written cinematic piece of art. Akira Kurosawa’s work has cemented Japanese samurai into world cinema, and Twilight Samurai is a deep and beautiful modern addition to this genre of film. It is set in the mid-19th century in Japan, prior to the Meiji Restoration. The film follows the life of samurai, Seibei Iguchi (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) . He is widowed and left to care for two daughters and his senile mother. His work colleagues have given him the tragic title ‘Tasogare Seibei’ (meaning Twilight Samurai) due to his secluded nature and over-commitment to his family, rather than socialising. However, he finds solace and happiness with the arrival of childhood friend and love interest, Tomoe (played by Rie Miyazawa). But she brings more problems for him to deal with.
The acting is fantastic, with Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as Seibei and Rie Miyazawa’s as Tomoe, both being gracefully handled. The portrayal of their relationship is full of emotion and beautifully played out. The cinematography is excellent, giving a rich and ‘authentic’ atmosphere to the film. The sheer amount of detail that has been added; from the clothing to the recreated buildings is simple amazing, and really gives an ‘immersive’ quality to the film. Twilight Samurai is a truly magnificent piece of cinema that is engrossing and visually superb. 


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies 
Studio Ghibli has been notorious for creating mesmerising animated cinema. Spirited Away (2002) really brought Hayao Miyazaki and his studio to the international stage. Yet, within the backlog of fantastic films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and Princess Mononoke (1997), Grave of the Fireflies has failed to attract the same attention. Directed by Isao Takahata, the film tells the tragic story of Setsuko and her older brother Seita as they try to survive in a Japan that has been devastated by World War II. Their father is fighting in the war, and their mother has been killed by the American bombing raids. The two subsequently move to a distant aunt’s residence, but struggle to escape their descent into poverty and vagrancy. Takahata’s film really emphasises the impact of war on the innocent and on the human condition. The aunt’s initially kind welcome to Setsuko and Seita, changes into cold-hearted dismissal as she tries to fight for her own survival. 
Grave of the Fireflies is not only a beautifully crafted and tear-inducing piece of animated cinema, but is also one that carries a strong anti-war message. The animation and music is stellar. However, it is the film’s ability to balance the serious subject matter with ‘feel-good’ drama which is powerfully evocative and truly remarkable. With the majority of Studio Ghibli’s films focusing on the imaginary and cute, Isao Takahata has been brave in his realistic and tragic portrayal of war through the medium of animation. It is an honest, unforgettable masterpiece, which ‘tugs at the heart strings’. 


Monday, 21 February 2011

Personal Favourites: Hana-bi


Many will recognise Takeshi Kitano as the teacher from 2000’s Battle Royale (another great film). However his skills in the director’s chair have failed to be appreciated overseas. Hana-bi follows the tragic story of police detective Nishi, played by Kitano himself. He has suffered the recent loss of his infant daughter and cares for his wife, Miyuki, who has Leukaemia. He owes money to the local Yakuza, and is burdened with guilt for causing his friend’s crippling accident, which results in Nishi’s retirement. Takeshi Kitano’s ability to portray the complexities and frailties of Nishi is astonishing. The sudden shifts from his emotionless and quiet exterior, to a brutal, hard-boiled individual are breathtaking and shocking. 
From a director’s point of view, Hana-bi is very minimalist but expressive. Dialogue takes a back seat, with there being a greater emphasis on visual story-telling. The romantic relationship between Nishi and his wife, has a ‘silent film’ quality, with the two rarely engaging in discussion. However, it is through their physical, almost child-like, interactions that we really get a sense of their love. The use of expansive shots of the Japanese landscape interspersed with Kitano’s personal artwork create a sense of lyrical ‘poetry’. Furthermore, Joe Hisaishi’s score complements the cinematography superbly, putting real emotion into each scene. 
Hana-bi is a subtle yet powerfully moving film. Takeshi Kitano proves that there is more to Japanese cinema than samurai and cutesy animated creatures. Brilliantly acted and magnificently directed, a true gem. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section.

Personal Favourites: Oldboy

A personal favourite and one that serious film lovers should watch is Park Chan-wook’s ‘Oldboy’. The plot centres around the story of Oh Dae-Su, who has been locked up in a room for 15 years. His lack of knowledge about his captors or the motives behind his imprisonment so drives him into insanity, with TV being his ‘teacher, friend and lover’. After suddenly being let out, he begins his brutal search for his captor. Though the plot sounds like the generic ‘revenge’ story, it soon turns into a twisted, psychological, romantic thriller. Whilst is easy to get lost in the various plot twists that Chan-wook repeatedly ‘hammers’ into our brains, the end result is a climax that is truly sadistic, disturbing and shocking in nature. 
 This is certainly not a film to watch lazily, and is one that will require a second viewing. Nor is it a film for those with weak stomachs, with its use of violence, D.I.Y dentistry, suicide and a notorious ‘octopus scene’. Overall ‘Oldboy’ is a brilliantly acted, dark, violent and thrilling feat of cinema that challenges our concept of the traditional, Hollywood revenge story with nightmarish and horrifying consequences. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

Welcome to Lights! Camera! Critic!

Welcome to Lights! Camera! Critic!: a weekly blog devoted to film reviews and articles.

My name is Jack Singleton, and I am an avid film enthusiast who likes to get his opinions heard. I'm the sort of person who comes out of the cinema, and revels at how good or crap the film was. Thus after writing film reviews for the University of Nottingham's Impact Magazine, and in following my pursuit of a career in Journalism, I decided to create this blog.  Therefore, there will be articles/ reviews about recent films and various DVDs (shorter reviews), that will be posted weekly on the my blog.

Feel free to comment. And thank you for visiting and reading my work!