Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Hitcher Review (1986)

Panned by critics, this 80s thriller is one giant car chase across the isolated roads of the central states of America, between a psychotic hitchhiker and a young man simply doing his job. Procuring both a dreadful sequel in 2003 and a pointless 2007 remake staring Sean Bean, The Hitcher has its problems but acts as a rather gripping “B-movie” thriller, headed by a hugely entertaining performance from Rutger Hauer. 

The film follows a young man, Jim (C.Thomas Howell), who is making his way from Chicago to San Diego to deliver a car. He unwittingly picks up a psychopathic hitchhiker, John (Rutger Hauer), and soon comes to regret it as an escalating cat and mouse game ensues. It’s a shallow story that doesn’t necessarily explore anything in real depth. Furthermore it’s full of continuity errors and unexplained circumstances, which would have benefited from some thorough editing. Ironically, the film’s editor Frank J. Urioste would then go onto projects such as RoboCop, Die Hard and Basic Instinct. Yet for all its flaws the film still presents the intensity and suspense that a successful thriller requires. It’s further helped by Robert Harmon’s decision to focus on the action elements rather than an intricately constructed piece of cinema that would honestly add nothing. The persistent car chases, shootouts and tense negotiations never leave the audience in a state of tranquility, instead the film batters the audience into submission until its left like its protagonist, exhausted and bruised. And that’s a good thing.

Rutger Hauer single-handedly steals the entire show, and truly does an amazing job. From massacring a family, to shooting down police helicopters, he continues his soft-voiced approach with glee glimmering from his eyes. Owing influence from The Terminator, and building elements from his performance in Blade Runner, Hauer poses a persistent threat that has a disregard for anything other than terrorising Jim. Meanwhile C. Thomas Howell’s performance is competent but nothing special. His transformation from a wimpy, youngster to a frantic, almost psychotic mess is rather mundane and cliche, but serves its purpose. Even amidst the lack of any significant character development, there is an interesting chemistry between the two that offers some gripping confrontations and exchanges. 

The Hitcher is a gripping action-thriller, lead by a memorable Rutger Hauer, that manages to breach through the layers of imperfection. I can understand the lacklustre critical response from an “logical” standpoint, but as a fan of the Thriller genre this rates high on the “enjoyment scale”.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

The Woodsman and the Rain Review

Released in Japan back in 2011, The Woodsman and the Rain took the Special Jury Prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and was well-received by the critics. However Japanese drama isn’t a genre that has garnered the same reaction from Western audiences as the likes of Battle Royale or Spirited Away. While Yasujiro Ozu’s and Akira Kurosawa’s work during the 1950/60s have become classics in International Cinema, the modern additions to the genre have been relatively slim. The likes of Hirokazu Koreeda and the late Shohei Imamura have shown the nation’s potential to produce sophisticated and heartfelt cinema. However whether it’s the inability to balance the right emotional tones with the right drama, or the genuine difficulty the genre presents, Japan’s modern attempts haven’t gained the recognition they deserve. 

Directed and co-written by Shuichi Okita, the film follows Katsuhiko (Koji Yakusho), a lumberjack who has recently lost his wife and fathers a unenthusiastic and distant son. Lonely roaming around the woods, he is soon embroiled in Koichi’s (Sun Oguri), an unsettled young filmmaker, low-budget apocalyptic/ zombie film set in the local area. Over the course of the filming schedule, the two form an unlikely friendship that gradually acts as a “remedy” to their troubled lives. The film’s drama is a simplistic affair that never strays too far away from the tropes of the genre. The beautiful, rural landscapes and the close-knit communities create a alluring backdrop that suits the rather tranquil nature of the characters and the film’s atmosphere. Meanwhile the zombie B-Movie element not only serves as the source of the film’s comedy but adds a level of charm that slowly unravels the film’s characters. 

Again, as I discussed in my review of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Woodsman offers a commentary on Japan’s divided sense of principles and ideologies between its youth, traditional and “mature” groups. Similarly Woodsman paints a picture on Japan’s rural vs urban discussion that is highlighted by the fictional filmmaker’s snobbery and disassociation with anything outside the city landscapes that have come to symbolise Japan’s modernity. It’s definitely an interesting element that, in itself, offers a strong character study for the film to really build on. However the typical conventions of the “feel-good” drama start to seep into the final act.  While the bubbling sentimentally doesn’t hurt the film, it’s an annoyance that prevails into the “whimsical/ magical” ending.

Koji Yakusho offers his usual sterling performance that manages to convey both the tragedy that his character clings onto, and the childhood intrigue which returns through his involvement in the filming process and the friendship with Koichi. Sun Oguri himself gives a minimalist portrayal of an anxious and rather clueless young director that steadily gains his confidence. It’s a solid performance, but one that doesn’t have the narrative dimensions and written depth to particularly stand out. Meanwhile the rest of the cast do relatively well in their rather painfully insignificant roles. It’s clear that the film is focused on its two leads, and for the most part there is strong effort to create a chemistry that is charming and natural. 

Overall The Woodsman and the Rain offers a feel-good drama that has plenty of appeal and a clever sense of humour that remains subtle and fitting in its approach. Shuichi Okita is a rising talent that seems to clearly understand the genre in a sophistication manner, and while Woodsman isn’t a “tour-de-force” its a notable and enjoyable release that will most likely leave you with a smile. 


Saturday, 16 February 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Lincoln

I review the latest addition to Spielberg's extensive filmography, Lincoln. Does it deserve the immense praise that it has received, or does it continue his recent lacklustre form?

Monday, 4 February 2013

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Django Unchained

This week I review Quentin Tarantino's latest film Django Unchained. Does it continue his lack of form?

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dredd Review

Amongst the barrage of superhero blockbusters of 2012, Dredd failed to similarly achieve those high box office results. And in hindsight its a painful shame. After missing its wide release, I indulged in purchasing the Blu-ray, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. 1995’s adaptation of the cult comic-book franchise starred Sylvester Stalone proved to be a resounding disaster that didn’t justify a studio financing another film. I myself had never delved into John Wagner’s Judge Dredd, and had been put off the idea of another cinematic misstep. 

Directed by Pete Travis of relatively little fame, Dredd takes a similar approach to The Raid, or is it the other way round? Writer and producer Alex Garland creates a plot that follows the always stern Judge Dredd in the desperate attempt to rid the hostile woes of MegaCity. Joined by the psychic rookie Anderson, the two investigate a triple homicide within the 200-storey slum block Peach Trees. What unfolds is a full-scale battle against the gang members of Ma Ma’s clan within the walls of the isolated complex. Condensed into a “fight to the final boss” structure, Dredd takes no shortcuts in framing the violent and insincere nature of Megacity and its occupants. From the start you quickly get a sense of what Garland and Travis intended; a film that entertains its audience and also brings some justice to the source material, to which plays it very safe. Removing itself from the rather obscure grounds of Judge Death and Rico Dredd, the plot grounds the context into a semi-realistic and approachable manner that doesn’t swamp the screen with fanfare and impenetrable writing. 

Dredd doesn’t aspire to dramatic heights with a narrative that complements the over-the-top nature of the film. Yet the contextual development of Dredd’s world and characters is significantly underplayed. Urban’s initial narration constitutes the only attempt to add substance to anything which feels like a missed opportunity to build something unique and interesting from the source material. Instead Dredd focuses on its bloody and violent, action set-pieces that reach over-the-top levels with entire floors being showered in bullets. Neither is Dredd  a tasking piece of performance-driven cinema. But Carl Urban and Olivia Thirlby prove well cast in their rather shallow roles. Urban plays a convincing Dredd with a stern jaw and insanely devoted mentality. Meanwhile Thirlby confidently slots into her supporting role that offers a touch of charm. Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma isn’t particularly memorable or unique, but she offers a competent and threatening antagonist.  

Dredd's ties to its 1995 counterpart have proven damaging to the success of this underrated gem of 2012. Gone is the awkwardness of the comicbook franchise’s initial adaptation, instead replaced by a gritty and hard-hitting action film that should put a smile on the audience’s faces.