Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Standard rules of film criticism don’t tend to apply to the films of Shinya Tsukamoto. Controversial and groundbreaking from the start (with interesting and complex films such as Tetsuo), Tsukamoto’s work is always filled with difficult imagery and challenging themes. Constantly moving between avant garde and mainstream cinema, Tsukamoto focuses on issues of sexuality, gender and repression within Japanese society. A Snake of June is an interesting (if potentially problematic) snapshot of the lives of a “typical” Japanese couple and their encounters with a voyeuristic stranger.
I say problematic because the events in this film are either misogynistic or empowering, depending on your point of view. Tsukamoto offers no simple explanation because he deliberately seeks to provoke, to invite discussion on issues of sexual repression and identification in Japanese society. Perhaps tellingly, Tsukamoto places himself in the role of primary antagonist, playing the potentially dangerous voyeur who inserts himself into the lives of the Japanese couple. Rather than retreating behind the camera, Tsukamoto takes ownership of his position and attempts to highlight the inherently voyeuristic nature of cinema.
Though the film is filled with provocative images, A Snake of June never descends into titillation or gratuity. His use of stark blue-filtered black and white help to ground the film, lending it both realism and, somewhat ironically, surrealism. This dichotomy resurfaces in several bizarre voyeuristic sequences, seemingly from a different film. This mix of reality and surreality, a trademark of Tsukamoto’s films, serves to unnerve the viewer and helps to create a lasting impression.
Is this film misogynistic or does it promote female empowerment? Is it arguing for or against the loss of sexual identity in Japanese society? Though there are no easy answers offered in this challenging and often disturbing film, A Snake of June and director Tsukamoto are not afraid to ask difficult questions. After all, isn’t that the basis of interesting filmmaking?Colin Le Sueur
Director: David Cronenberg
Amongst director David Cronenberg’s other body of work, this film is a bit of an anomaly. Rather than a body horror film like Rabid or a psychological thriller like Dead Ringers, Fast Company is a straight drama, a familiar story about a race team fighting against greedy sponsors.
Story-wise, this film bears little resemblance to Cronenberg’s more well-known work. Ignoring the story, however (something very easy to do), Fast Company looks like a Cronenberg film. The same visual style, pacing, and camera angles seen in Rabid are visible here, more refined and polished. Fast Company is a great looking film, especially on DVD. Cronenberg has a real eye for composition and this makes the racing sequences dynamic and compelling.
The acting is quite good, with a number of distinguished Canadian actors performing well in supporting roles. John Saxon plays a good villain, chewing the scenery just enough to make his point.
The biggest flaw of Fast Company is easily the horribly dated soundtrack. The title song is laughable, something you’d expect to see in a Stone/Parker parody somewhere down the line. The film would be greatly improved with a new soundtrack or, even better, no soundtrack at all.
Finally, the ending of the film is ludicrous and seems to come out of nowhere. I’d expect to see something like this in a bad Dukes of Hazzard episode, not a Cronenberg feature.
Fast Company is a flawed, occasionally entertaining racing movie from a talented director, an odd anomaly in a lauded genre career.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Matthew Vaughn
I liked this film quite a bit when I first saw it in the cinema and I like it even more after seeing it on DVD. There’s just something right about it; everything seems to click, from the performances to the style to the editing. Layer Cake is slick, smooth, and very clever.
Daniel Craig is clearly the engine behind this film. His is a smart, nuanced performance, simultaneously vulnerable and infallible. No surprise, then, that Craig landed the role of Bond in the upcoming Casino Royale; if Craig brings half the complexity of performance to Bond he’s shown in this film, the franchise is in good hands.
The supporting performances are all strong, as well. A few standouts are Colm Meaney and George Harris as hard-bitten gangsters, tough and ruthless but good men at heart. Michael Gambon, as well, offers another great character role (though ‘role’ is stretching it a bit: his part is little more than a cameo).
First-time director Vaughn (producer of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Snatch films) holds his own, a punchy editing style combined with a strong sense of composition. Too bad Vaughn backed out of directing X-Men 3; I would’ve liked to have seen his style in that context.
All that said, the film isn’t perfect. The plot’s a bit too complex for its own good and some of the secondary characters seem too colourful, too ‘movie.’ The rest of the film makes up for these weaknesses, however.
What ran the risk of being a second-rate Snatch take-off turned into an interesting, engrossing crime drama under the direction of Matthew Vaughn and thanks to the strengths of Daniel Craig.Colin Le Sueur
Director: Fritz Lang
In some ways, it’s hard to believe this film was made 75 years ago. Many of the themes and conflicts in the film are as relevant and important today as they were at the time of production.
M is a sober, deliberate, and chilling look at a child killer and society’s reaction to his crimes. The real strength of the film, aside from Lang’s restrained style, is the stunning performance of Peter Lorre. At once sickening, frightening, and pitiful, Lorre’s portayal of murderer Hans Beckert is one of his most memorable in a long career of outstanding character work. It’s no surprise Lorre went on to re-surface again and again in similarly sleazy roles, though perhaps none so effective as in this film.
Though M was one of his first sound films, director Fritz Lang essentially delivers a silent film, with long stretches in the film having no sound whatsoever. The silences are very noticeable and, looking back through nearly 80 years of sound cinema, a little distracting.
The real strength of this film is its ability to create sympathy and pathos for such a despicable character, thanks to the technical skill of Fritz Lang and the compelling performance of Peter Lorre. M reminds us, even 75 years later, that everyone in society deserves dignity and respect, whether a murdered child or a deranged killer.Colin Le Sueur