Following on from last week’s batch of reviews of under the radar and/or slightly obscure DVDs, here are the next four for you to devour:
Mary & Max (2009)
Released in the UK on DVD this week, Mary & Max is the second feature from Australian director and Claymation-genius, Adam Elliot. If you are not familiar with this form of stop-motion, think Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit design, but revamped for the 21st century.
Elliot considers his films ‘Clayographys’, clay animated biographies, and Mary & Max follows in this mould. It chronicles the story of two distinctly distant characters who inadvertently become pen pals, Mary Daisy Dinkle, a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Max Jerry Horowitz, an overweight Jew from New York. The story is a touching one, with both characters managing to be endearing and likeable. This is only enhanced by the superb voiceover work, and with a cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana and Barry Humphries (who narrates the piece), it is easy to see why.
Dispersed amongst the beautiful animation are frequent moments of humour that will appeal to all ages in close to equal measure. Rarely does a film have such a broad audience scope, but Mary & Max achieves this with gusto. It is a touching, funny, captivating, tear-jerking and genuinely wonderful cinema experience that will appeal to your intelligence as much as your emotions and sense of humour. Managing to stand up to repeat-viewings with fortitude, Mary & Max is simply unmissable. Easily my favourite film of 2010.
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.
Tell No One (2006)
Usually, it will be the Americans that take a foreign text and twist it to suit an English-speaking audience. However, Tell No One is the complete opposite. Based upon the American book of the same name and now set in Paris, the film follows Dr Alexandre Beck, whose wife Margot was brutally murdered 8 years ago. At the time he was a suspect and now, when fresh evidence is discovered, along with two bodies found at the scene of the death, Beck becomes the prime suspect again. . However, when Beck receives an e-mail from Margot the mystery deepens. She’s alive. Now the race is one to discover the truth.
This thriller is both gripping and emotional, and as with all good thrillers, you’ll have to pay attention in order to get the whole picture. If you are a fan of The Transporter Series or Taken, and don’t mind subtitles for 2 hours, its well worth watching. If you can’t, don’t worry – an American remake is scheduled for release in 2012.
Wilbur (Want to Kill Himself) (2002)
Wilbur (Wants to Kill Himself) is an interesting little Scottish film that follows suicidal Wilbur (if you didn’t guess from the title) and his older brother Harbour as they decide what to do with their father’s book shop after he passes away. However, the book shop has become way of supplementing the income of Mary, through trading in the books she finds dotted around the hospital she’s a cleaner for. When Harbour discovers this, he decides the best thing to do is work with Wilbur to keep the bookshop open, to help Mary and her daughter and hopefully prevent Wilbur from making any more suicide attempts by keeping him distracted at work.
The film is touchingly tragic yet somehow manages to be charming and humorous throughout. The plot seems a little bit rushed at the beginning and even a tad forced, but the fantastic cast help the film rise above this. Jamie Sives as Wilbur is superb and it’s a shame he hasn’t had a leading role in much since. The film is quite downbeat, but if you like your serving of miserable with a side of bleak humour, then this film more than fulfils the criteria.