Thursday, 31 July 2014

Looking back at Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars

Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone are two of the most influential, yet different directors in cinematic history – but they met on a crossroads. That crossroads was Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone's Western that took the world by storm, that was said to be a copy of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. I decided to watch both back-to-back and have my say on the matter.

Much has been made about how Sergio Leone took Kurosawa's story and characters (most in particular being a rogue from out of town) and made them into his breakthrough Fistful of Dollars. Kurosawa even sued Leone over the story rights. But to those who wonder whether Yojimbo is 'better' than Fistful or vice versa need to remember one of two things: Kurosawa took the story from Dashiell Hammett's gangster novel Red Harvest (which was also adapted into The Maltese Falcon – go and watch that if you haven't done so already.), so neither film maker is making something really original; and that since each film is made in a different continent, and with the slightest different sensibilities about its characters.

I think people seem to forget that Yojimbo was more or less an homage to the Hollywood Western. Sergio Leone transposed the screenplay of Yojimbo to the Spanish desert, and he brought along a young television actor named Clint Eastwood, and together they revolutionised the western with Fistful of Dollars, and created an entire genre – the Spaghetti Western. It wasn’t much of a stretch to replace the Japanese actors with Americans and Italians and swap out the katanas for pistols. It’s still the same dusty town, the same shoot outs on the desolate streets. Whether it’s cowboys or samurai’s, it all adds up to one excellent cinematic experience.

There are enough cultural differences to distinguish both of them and to make them both enjoyable. For one thing, in Yojimbo guns are scarcer than in Fistful, and there's a treatment Kurosawa has with his actors that sets it apart from the small town western scope of Leone's weapons and actors.

Yojimbo is a wonderfully tight-scripted film that uses its action with just the right touches of voracity and excitement, and in the backdrop is also a sense of humour to the process. It carries wonderful images, and skilful direction that keeps the pace of the storytelling tight and tells most of the story through images – this is the kind of film that is so good it can be watched a silent film without losing too much of its impact or meaning.

But I think it would be hard to argue that Fistful is not the more stylish of the film. From Eastwood's poncho and hat, to the final scene, to the iconic music. It sported among its attributes a gritty, desolate landscape, and a cynical, postmodern lack-of-values ideology (traditional American westerns had quite plush landscapes and were always black and white (good and evil) in their value system. Fistful made a star of Eastwood Leone and rightly so. The film captured an audience and a generation. The music is still hummed to this day.

In other words, it's kind of like comparing apples and oranges picked in the same farm. They both taste good, but they have two very distinct different tastes. Everyone is going to have their favourite, but to dismiss Fistful because it is a 'copy' would be dismissing one of the greats of American Cinema and Yojimbo is one of the greatest films of all time, so why can't we have both?

Friday, 25 July 2014

Kill Your Darlings Review

It's no surprise that some of the most effective works of the Beat generation were born in the scuzzy halls of jazz bars; soaked with whiskey induced grammar, intoxicated with muddled philosophies, their pages bathed in the permanent smell of tobacco. Much like the work of Lewis Carroll (and later on: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Lennon and McCartney), drugs, alcohol, and culture were catalysts towards the ideology of destroying the old and building the new. The movement itself was a rousing feat with great cultural ramifications. The film itself is a work that sometimes trades in the grainy for flashy; rupturing not only the pattern that the authors were trying to break, but the whole tone of the film as well.

On paper it sounds fantastic. Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHaan, Ben Foster and Jack Huston is a talented, young cast that are well known from big franchises. Unfortunately for audiences, the subject matter submits to a truly unauthentic, lack lustre festival formula and abandons creativeness and a unique vision for a familiar narrative that disregards great historical figures, making them caricatures within a lame murder/mystery genre film.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Allen Ginsberg, one of the most famous and recognizable poets in the American culture. Radcliffe continues to shed his 'Hogwarts alumni' image by taking risky, unconventional and edgy roles that all share in their seemingly controversial nature. Upon his acceptance and arrival into Columbia University, Ginsberg is in search of something offbeat. Ironically enough, Ginsberg is lured into the residency of Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), an intoxicated sociopath with an obsession for self-destruction, always curious for the taste of the complicated and unexplainable.

Together, Carr and Ginsberg start a small revolution in their heads, but without so many words. With the help of an unlimited supply of cannabis and some Johnny Walker, the two eventually enlist of the help of William Burroughs (Ben Foster) and a young Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and begin their uprising. Through constant disruptions by the reputation and prestige Columbia University holds so true and dear to its heart, the constantly stoned literary bandits are engulfed into a world of lovers, obsession and murder, intent on revolutionizing literature.

Kill Your Darlings starts bold and overwhelming, demanding utmost attention. Unfortunately, once attention is given, the film cannot hold its grip and deliver a rousing, culturally relevant story about some of the most influential figures in contemporary literature in the last century. Blending the lines of drug induced fantasy and reality, Kill Your Darlings is a story of breaking the formulaic path, distrusting all conventional and predictable beats of rhyme and meter, but sadly becomes a textbook festival entry with a forgettable conclusion.

The term to 'kill your darlings' is one that suggests destroying all the conventions and comforts of the mundane, reinventing yourself, and throwing inhibition to the wind and finding creativity will inspire instances of utter uniqueness. Kill Your Darlings, although sometimes confident, is an obsessive and complicated re-telling of enigmatic characters placed in a deceitful and over-dramatized tragedy of murder. With the rich historical and cultural imprint of these feisty literary pioneers, so much of the busy murder antics is clearly overshadowing the brilliant opportunity to showcase the likes of Carr, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac.

Mixing the potential monologue moments of Weir's 1989 Dead Poets Society with the tone and ambiance of Salle's 2004 masterpiece The Motorcycle Diaries, Kill Your Darlings becomes a self- inflicted suicide of a film with a tantalizing and promising narrative. Don't get me wrong, the performances are top notch; DeHaan is magnificent as Carr and Radcliffe is radiant as Ginsberg. However, while most of the top-billed cast is ravishing, and supporting cast is spot on, the film feels drowned in the water with average narrative clich├ęs weighing it down.

While the antics of the underbelly of the New York Greenwich Village scene have been explored, battered, bruised and forever changed by the provocative and decadent Beat Movement, Kill Your Darlings remains a tame snippet of the life of these amazing authors and thinkers. Destined to be an example of a complicated festival biography attempt, the film will positively spark deep discussion. Kill Your Darlings repeats the initial reaction to Carr's response to Ginsberg's complicated life, "Perfect. I love complicated." Hopefully next time, an autobiographical cinematic take on the origins of the Beat Generation will be less gimmicky and more focused on the howling affect these fascinating individuals had on the world of literature, art, and our contemporary culture as a whole.

Monday, 14 July 2014

#MTOS Questions For July 20th: John Hughes

What is #MTOS?

Movie Talk On Sunday is an initiative to get the Twitter Film Community together at one time and one day each week to discuss various film related topics. The aim of the whole exercise, besides having fun, is to find new individuals who share the same passion for films as you do and also in the process find out about the different aspects of films. You can count on finding out about new movies, interesting trivia, and who knows even gossip. 

How does it work?

It really is simple. There are 10 questions. We will throw out 1 question relating to the week's topic every 10 minutes starting at 20:00 UK Time every Sunday evening. All the questions and subsequent answers/discussions, by you, should simply be followed by the hash-tag #MTOS. In your Twitter "search" you can type in #MTOS and follow what everyone is saying and henceforth answer back and take part. If you "like" someone's answer simply Re-Tweet it like you would normally on Twitter.

In order to make #MTOS more interactive we have started asking everyone to post their blog links related to the topic of the week throughout the week with the hashtag  (#MTOS) so that everyone can simple search #MTOS at any time and read interesting write-ups before the actual event that Sunday.

#MTOS is all about you. We will try and make the questions open ended with multiple answers. Let the discussions go off in a tangent if you find someone who agrees/disagrees with what you think. Just remember to #MTOS everything so someone neither one of you follow can also join in.

Important : Please, please, please avoid profanity and behave in a civilized manner.

On to the questions... 

John Hughes 

1) To start things off, what's your favourite John Hughes film and why?

2) John Hughes is heralded as the king of coming of age films, do you agree? Is there anyone better? If so, who?

3) John Hughes is known for creating the 'Brat Pack', would his films have been as successful as they were without said actors?

4) As a writer and director, John Hughes showed a lot of strengths, which do you think his strongest quality was?

5) Do you think Hughes' films are timeless, or do you think they just resonated with a certain generation of teens?

6) Remakes are a cert in Hollywood nowadays which Hughes film is too sacred to remake?

7) Which Hughes character had the biggest impact on you when you were growing up?

8) What is the most underrated John Hughes film? Any that deserve more recognition than they get?

9) And what is the most overrated John Hughes film?

10) What was your first John Hughes experience? How was it?