Thursday, 7 July 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve More Attention - 5. Peppermint Candy

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Peppermint Candy 

Director - Chang-dong Lee
Country - South Korea
Year - 1999
Runtime - 129 Minutes

Previously Published by The Big Picture Magazine

At the turn of the 20th Century, the Lumiere brothers' short film Arrival of a Train at the Station defined the technological advancements of the era, and terrified audiences who believed the train would fly out of the screen having seen nothing like it ever before. Over a hundred years later, at the turn of the 21st Century, the arrival of a train in Lee Chang-dong's Peppermint Candy is used to signify so much more than wonder and awe, being a key part of his storytelling process, and this shows not just how far cinema has travelled, but also that true auteurs do not forget its humble beginnings.

Peppermint Candy is that rarest of film, a devastatingly real human drama relayed in an innovative form of storytelling that is both masterful and timeless in its execution. As a train passes through a pitch black tunnel into the ever growing burst of daylight at the end, so begins our journey with Kim Yongho; a middle aged Korean whose life has passed him by almost as fast as the speeding carriages that traverse the screen. Told in reverse chronological order, Peppermint Candy begins in the Spring of 1999, just moments before Yangho makes a final decision to take his own life on the train tracks situated where he met his first love, and works its way back over the course of 20 years to unravel the reasons that have led this desperate man to suicide.

Used as a framing device between time shifts, the train shots were filmed from the back of a moving carriage and then reversed in order to emphasise the journey backwards through the defining moments of Yangho’s life. Chang-Dong’s choice to painstakingly sift through hours of footage to pick the most evocative and beautiful shots certainly shows; falling blossom from a tree rises back to the branches it once left, a passing jogger appears to run backwards in slow motion, and a family appear to linger cautiously watching the train pass by. These natural scenes indicate Yangho may finally be at peace with himself but the audience are still invited to take a trip back into Korea’s troubled past to see how seemingly insignificant actions can lead to consequences capable of driving a man to despair.

In a strange turn of events, moments from certain points in Yangho’s life mirror those which come later on, or vice versa, signifying the repercussions of simple acts and ironic twists of fate that cannot be avoided in everyone's passage through life. We see the reasons why Yangho's marriage and working life fail, and ultimately the destructive act which leads to the loss of his innocence and plagues his existence until the very end.

Many classic love stories involve train journeys, with romances blossoming from chance encounters or a last minute decision to catch a different train, but unlike the hopefulness of these meetings in films such as Before Sunrise and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the appearance of trains in Peppermint Candy reflect moments of weakness in Yangho’s life. At various points throughout the film our protagonist is seen betraying his wife, destroying a gift from his first love and standing by whilst his friends tackle an assailant, all of which are accompanied by the passing of a train in the background, which acts as a constant reminder of Yangho’s inevitable fate.

Much akin to Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, which used a similar narrative twist as a plot device, Peppermint Candy’s closing scenes are moments of serene beauty as Yangho experiences a fleeting glimpse of young love. This seemingly peaceful end to the film is marred by the bittersweet knowledge of events to come; just as Yangho regrets the paths which he chose as a young adult, a mature audience will certainly relate to the loss of innocence and sense of regret that befalls not just our protagonist but everyone as time passes by.

By encapsulating certain periods in recent South Korean history, Chang-dong ensured that his film would resonate with a domestic audience and although some of his references may be lost on international audiences this is unlikely to detract from the overall experience. It is no surprise that such an articulate and politically aware director went on to become South Korea's minister of Culture and Tourism back in 2003, but it was also a relief when he returned to film-making as he continues to deliver both beautiful and powerful dramas, even if his later outings do not reach the near perfection of his overlooked masterpiece.

As the Lumiere brothers were shooting footage of a train's arrival back in 1896 they would have had no idea just how immersive and powerful the medium of film would continue to be into the next two centuries and beyond.



If you take the time to watch Peppermint Candy then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 4. Rapture

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Rapture
Director - John Guillermin
Country - USA/France
Year - 1965
Runtime - 104 Minutes

John Guillermin's Rapture is a hauntingly beautiful coming of age tale about a delicate and troubled teenager, Agnes, who is on the verge of blossoming into a young woman. Cared for by her unsympathetic father, Frederick, who has been deeply affected by the loss of his wife and Agnes' mother, she lives a lonely and sheltered life on their isolated homestead with only her doll and the housemaid, Karen, for company. Their world is thrown into disarray when a wounded convict, Joseph, seeks refuge after a daring escape from the local gendarmes, and his arrival stirs up new feelings for Agnes as her curiosity develops into an unhealthy infatuation.

Patricia Gozzi was only 15 when she portrayed Agnes, and the depth of her character is astounding for such a young actress. Each moment of torment and heartbreak is delivered with genuine emotion in a powerful performance that showcases a talent who is mature beyond her years. This beguiling display of Agnes' innermost feelings is matched by Guillermin's deft command of the camera; jarring cuts and unnatural yet enchanting camera angles emphasise her distress and confusion, with the ever-looming threat of being incarcerated in a nearby mental institution plaguing Agnes' fragile mind.

Joseph's gentle nature has a calming effect on Agnes, and Dean Stockwell - who you might remember from his role in another simple, yet exquisite piece of storytelling as Walt Henderson in Paris, Texas - inhabits the role of a loveable rogue with ease, acting as the perfect counterpoint for Agnes' unpredictable yet endearing persona. On the emergence of a curious love triangle between Joseph, Agnes and Karen, tensions rise and the taciturn nature of Frederick is pushed to the limit as he fears for his daughter's safety, whilst being confronted by Agnes' ever growing resemblance to her late mother.

Set amidst the backdrop of rocky cliff faces and the great expanse of the Atlantic ocean, Rapture makes use of the stunning Brittany coastal scenery with shots that encapsulate the beauty of nature whilst simultaneously providing the audience with valuable insights into its fascinating characters. As Agnes retreats to the solace of her childhood den amongst the rocks, gazes wistfully up at a flock of circling seagulls or frolics playfully along the beach with Joseph we see her childlike nature running free from the restraint of her strict father in some of Rapture's most memorable sequences.

When Rapture reaches its heart stopping conclusion, you are likely to be completely enthralled by the wonderful world John Guillermin has created, even if it visits some dark places along the way. Its French title, The Flower of Age, may be accurate in describing the growth that Agnes experiences as she traverses this tumultuous path to adulthood, whilst the religious connotations of its English title hint at Joseph being her saviour, and symbolism seen throughout lends itself to this spiritual interpretation.

This is rich and meaningful storytelling that deserves a wider audience, and I hope I have given you the inclination to watch this essential, and unfairly overlooked, classic. Although the film has been uploaded to Youtube, I implore anyone who watches it this way to invest in the Blu-Ray release by Eureka! Classics like I have done. Not only for the excellent extra features but also to support a fantastic company who put the time and effort into restoring forgotten classics.



 
If you take the time to watch Rapture then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

100 Essential Films that Deserve more Attention - 3. The Incident

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to escape from the monotony of everyday life, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

The Incident
Director - Larry Peerce
Country - USA
Year - 1967
Runtime - 107 Minutes
 
1967 was a milestone year for American cinema. The success of ground-breaking films such as Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night paved the way for film-makers to show more violence and tackle subjects that were previously deemed too risqué or controversial for the general public. One such film also released in 1967 that is arguably more provocative than the aforementioned titles, yet didn't receive the same critical acclaim as they did, is Larry Peerce's superb thriller, The Incident.

In a scene that would not feel out of place in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets we are introduced to two foul-mannered delinquents, Artie (Martin Sheen) and Joe (Tony Musante, pictured below), playing billiards and tormenting the owner of a snooker hall by refusing to acknowledge it is well past closing time. When they eventually head out into the night we begin to see the full force of their volatile and violent nature as they take over a subway carriage and refuse to let an innocent group of passengers leave.
 
Although it starts out as a playful joke, the situation soon turns sour and the two hoodlums become hostile, berating every traveller in turn. With each passing moment the audience hopes that someone will intervene, particularly as there are two soldiers on board the carriage (albeit one with a broken arm) but no-one steps forward as they are all too fearful of becoming their assailant's next victim.

 Where The Incident really succeeds is in the portrayal of its victims. By taking the time to show each and every passenger prior to them boarding the tube, Peerce adds to the pervasive air of unease as the audience can relate to their predicament by empathising with the passengers. There are people of all ages who represent many different walks of life and we get to see them all fall apart under the scrutiny of their attackers. Peerce knowingly provokes us with the uncomfortable question - 'Would you intervene?' No-one knows for certain how they would react in such a situation but it poses a difficult question by challenging the audience's courage in the face of moral dilemma.

As well as putting forth an important social message, The Incident works on its own merit as a gripping thriller but the underlying meaning adds power and depth to Peerce's film and prevents it from being just another blistering assault on the senses. In this way, The Incident is likely to resonate with audiences who have a penchant for exploitation films as much as those who relish a thought-provoking commentary on society. If you are open to both of these attention-grabbing approaches of storytelling then I am certain that The Incident will appeal to you just as much as it did to me, and I urge you to seek out this obscure gem as soon as possible.

I have scoured the internet to find a trailer for The Incident but my search proved fruitless. Instead, here's a clip of one of the intense scenes that shows exactly what you will be in store for:


If you take the time to watch The Incident then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

Monday, 27 June 2016

Cinema Review - Silver Linings Playbook

Previously published by Front Room Cinema in 2012

Bradley Cooper has become the go to guy for Hollywood in roles that usually involve either a stereotypical ladies man, big laughs or lots of action, but it is great to see his acting ability given room to breathe in Silver Linings Playbook, as he proves that he is far more than just a pretty face with his gripping performance as Pat, a recovering patient fresh from a stint in a Psychiatric Unit. The wonderful film title refers to a message Pat takes to heart during his time in care as he searches for the silver lining in every situation but he still struggles to keep his composure when exposed to a certain song that was playing at the time of his breakdown.

It is initially unclear why Pat has served time in a psychiatric unit but the signs all lead to difficulties in his marriage, and this is soon confirmed by his increasingly desperate attempts to contact his estranged wife by any means possible, despite a restraining order being in place. Whilst an encounter with a new female friend - similarly troubled by events in her past - does provide a distraction to his desire, Pat's heart appears to be firmly set on rekindling his marriage, but this does not deter the ever resourceful Tiffany from becoming a key figure in his rehabilitation.

David O Russell proved he could bring dysfunctional families to the big screen with last year's fantastic sports film The Fighter, and he continues to expand on his flair for human drama by coaxing riveting performances out of a very talented cast. Pat's family is rounded out by the ever wonderful Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro as his increasingly concerned parents and Shea Whigham as his annoyingly successful brother who serves to remind Pat of his shortcomings, and all involved make every scene a joy to watch. Jennifer Lawrence shines as Tiffany, and her turbulent relationship with Pat is the key to most of the films laughs, as he remains immune to her constant advances.

Films which approach a serious subject matter from a humorous point of view can be in danger of offending certain audiences, but much like last year's 50/50 which tackled the risque subject of cancer in a comedy, O Russell's portrayal of mental illness is treated with such care that the viewers will undoubtedly sympathise with Pat and Tiffany's problems, whilst still finding laughs in the hilarious situations they encounter. 

Heartwarming, funny and at times poignant, Silver Linings Playbook is a great adapation of a well-received novel and it is likely to touch all but the most cynical of viewers thanks to the array of incredibly entertaining characters who breathe life to this story. Perfect for those tired of the usual romantic cliches as well as being funny enough for those seeking laughs, this is an uplifting drama which will hopefully inspire others to seek out a silver lining when everything appears to be against them.


Direction - 4
Acting - 4
Screenplay 3.5
Film - 4

Bottom Line - David O Russell's follow up to last year's Oscar grabbing The Fighter is a moving and at times hilarious character study of how a psychiatric patients recovery impacts on the life of a young woman bereaving the death of her husband.

Positives - Cooper and Lawrence shine as the unlikely couple who find friendship despite their personal problems

Negatives - With such a great cast, some of the actors involved are slightly underused