Film review – Spaghetti Code Love (Takeshi Maruyama, 2021)

Takeshi Maruyama’s latest is one with an unusual feel. An ensemble piece made up of interrelated tales, the most likely outcome for Spaghetti Code Love would have been a confusing mess of a film. Somehow, despite risking a drop in pace in the middle, the exact opposite happens here and you’re rewarded for sticking with a daunting initial task.

Why daunting? Well, I lost count of how many stories there were. There was a woman at a pachinko arcade, a struggling photographer, an angry model, a nervous busker, a clingy wife, an emotionally distant young couple, two school kids planning their deaths, an even young student planning his entire life, a woman wasting money on a psychic and her neighbour who is addicted to Skippy peanut butter. I certainly missed a few!

Somehow, the film manages to keep you abreast of all of these varied stories, all of which play out in a beautifully shot Tokyo. Not only that, but they build to a crescendo and are somehow tied together in a neatly positive conclusion across the board.

I’m glad I was fairly focused and in the mood to be challenged, but I’m worried that if I’d been cloudy of mind I may have struggled to keep up. For international audiences, the sheer volume of stories might make the film a little inaccessible.

The standout plot thread for me involved the brilliant Tôko Miura (who recently starred in the Oscar-nominated Drive My Car) as a musician grappling with her own self-confidence. In an ensemble cast full of talent, I found her woes hugely relatable and her delivery was highly memorable.

Certainly worth watching.

Note: I watched this as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme at Broadway in Nottingham, an annual festival that offers British cinema goers a first look at the latest cinematic releases from Japan.

Guns Akimbo (Jason Lei Howden, 2020)

It’s rare that a film with a big-name actor gets as far as being released without me knowing anything about it, let alone being watched. It’s occasionally an indicator that it is a big event film with a special surprise release by the distributor. More often, it means it’s just a terrible film that is trying to be buried.

I watched most of Guns Akimbo wondering which category it fell under. Is it absolutely terrible, or completely genius? It certainly isn’t for the squeamish, with Lei Howden (Deathgasm, Deathgasm 2: Goremegeddon) making sure the adrenaline doesn’t get much rest in the short running time.

The setup is straightforward. Daniel Radcliffe plays Miles, a video game coder living a fairly joyless life. He regrets letting a relationship with Nova (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), his ex, fizzle out. He learns of an illegal online game called Skizm – a survival game where contestants, who are usually criminals or psychopaths, fight to the death. He goes onto their online forums and leaves a few scathing comments. One thing leads to another, and he wakes up with pistols bolted to his hands and is the newest competitor in the game, taking on current champion Nix (Samara Weaving). With limited time and limited ammunition, Miles must choose to kill or be killed, whilst the world watches on.

It’s not an original concept for sure, with televised deathmatches being well explored in cinema. That said, there’s enough going on stylistically and a snappy-enough script to inject a bit of freshness into proceedings.

Daniel Radcliffe goes from strength to strength in his career as he continues to take on risky roles. It’s almost hard to believe he was still starring as Harry Potter a decade ago, when I wasn’t alone in thinking his acting hadn’t really improved over the ten year period he was involved in the franchise.

I’m not going to write about nuances of any of the acting performances. As solid as they are, this isn’t a nuanced film. The characters are caricatures, larger than life, fairly one dimensional affairs. Somehow this doesn’t cause any detriment to the overall impact. Lei Howden doesn’t leave space for the viewer to think about the characters, constantly just pushing forwards with one bloody action set piece after another.

Does it feel a bit too much at times? Maybe. But it’s never not fun, and sometimes that’s just what you need.

Why everyone stopped watching The Walking Dead and why you should pick it up again

I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead. I’ve watched it from the start and, whilst I’ve sometimes fallen behind on a few episodes, I’m fully up to date and enjoying the anticipation for the upcoming final series.

However, of my countless friends who I have shared conversations with about the iconic series, I am the only person I know who is still watching it. Those that haven’t given up on it have fallen drastically behind on the latest episodes, making conversations about it more of a memory test rather than, as it should be, a group of friends getting excited about a plot line or key cliffhanger. “Where are you up to?” “Erm, Season 7. Maybe 8. They aren’t in the prison anymore. There’s a tiger.”

Here’s a graph, taken from the Wikipedia episode guide, which displays the rise and fall of popularity for The Walking Dead (albeit in the USA but I suspect this reflects its popularity globally).

As you can see, there was a clear peak from the start of Season 4 to the first episode of Season 7. This is roughly the immediate aftermath of the Governor story arch, battling with the cannibals, introduction of The Hilltop, battling the Wolves and then the Saviors, right through to the iconic episode in which Negan exacts his horrifying revenge on Glenn and Abraham.

From that point onwards, many things conspired to alienate the viewers. The lack of direction or desire to finally conclude the story. Two canonical spin-off series that may have been essential viewing. Three planned Rick Grimes films. Five Telltale video games. A parallel comic book with differing storylines. The continual killing off of main characters. Disheartening comments from the the show’s creators that implied it would never end. Spending too long focused on secondary characters and ignoring the main characters for several episodes at a time. All these things conspired to lead all but the most enthusiastic away from the show. It was too much to keep up with.

Take the situation in the UK, where I am based. When the first spin-off, Fear The Walking Dead, was announced, I was really excited. Then it was announced it was coming to a new BT-exclusive TV channel called AMC, launching in August 2015, which was fortunate for me because I was a BT subscriber. However, shortly after this announcement (on 1st March 2016), FOX TV was removed from the BT service due to a contractual disagreement. This meant that in the UK you had to choose between watching the main series or the spin-off series – a crazy situation to leave a flagship programme in.

This confusion coincided with the controversial killing of Glenn and Abraham, and the sudden decline in viewership. It was a botched job – too much content, too difficult to access, spread too thin across multiple channels.

Additionally, it was confusing just to keep track over the years exactly where each series was going to be released, or how long it was going to stay on the platform. I had a hilarious situation late last year where I was desperately trying to watch 2-3 episodes of Series 10 every day, just to watch them before Sky deleted them from their service. Fortunately, I found this watching experience to be entirely engaging and exciting, with Samantha Morton putting in a star turn as the series antagonist Alpha and a wonderful Whisperers storyline bringing as much excitement to the story as I’d ever seen.

So, why should you watch it now? Well, for the first time we now definitely know when the end point is going to be. Starting in August 2021 – next month as I write this – the final series is going to start airing. That should mean that the show will pick up significant pace as they aim towards the eventual conclusion. There are rumours that Rick Grimes will be returning, although these are unsubstantiated.

Secondly, you can watch the entire series on a single platform (in the UK at least). For The Walking Dead, go to Disney Plus, work out where you got lost, and dip back in. If you’re enjoying it and want more of a fix, you can go to your Amazon Prime account and watch Fear The Walking Dead. If you’re feeling extremely hungry for more you could also seek out the brilliant The World Beyond, also on Amazon Prime. No longer will you be wondering where you are in the multiple series as it’s all in one place.

You will still need to suffer through some of the most frustrating tropes of the show, the most blatant being the continual desire to put a cliffhanger out in the open that is not mentioned again for two or three episodes. They’ve always been guilty of this and it doesn’t change before the end of Series 10, I’m sorry to say.

But, if you have ever wondered if you’ve missed the boat on it, then now is your time to catch up just in time for the start of the new series.

Best films of 2020

I’ve had a thoroughly quiet year in terms of posting on here, but I’ve still managed to keep track of all the lovely films I’ve watched.

I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Jojo Rabbit
On The Rocks
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Portrait of a Lady On Fire
The Trial of the Chicago 7

And bubbling under are…
Eternal Beauty
Little Women
Pain and Glory
The Roads Not Taken

I think this is indicative of my viewing preferences. There’s a huge sway towards uplifting films, including three Disney or Pixar films. I saw a few of the biggest films of the year in 2019, but equally a few 2019 films have found themselves on the list!

Interview with British band Dogs, April 2005

I recently unearthed a collection of interviews and articles that I wrote in the mid-00s for Nottingham student magazine The Mic, where I was an editor. The magazine still exists today, which is great to see given I was there at the very start. I’m going to post a few of the articles over the next few weeks in their original format.

Here’s the first – an interview from 2005 with the band Dogs, a British band very much on the rise at the time. They disbanded in 2011, but six years earlier they’d just hit the top 40 for the first time and had taken time out from their soundcheck at Rescue Rooms in Nottingham to speak with me.

Brand new band Dogs are set to take the world by storm with their new LP ‘Turn Against This Land’, which features the recent successes ‘London Bridge’ and ‘She’s Got A Reason’. Luciano Vargas (guitars and vocals) and Johnny Cooke (vocals) turned up early for the Nottingham leg of the sell-out Jim Beam Tour to have a quick chat with The Mic.

You’re currently in the middle of your tour supporting The Raveonettes. How are you finding it?

Luciano: It’s brilliant! 

Johnny: Yeah loving the tour. It’s a bitch! It’s really, really, really good fun but really gruelling. 

Luciano: It started off really well, which we weren’t expecting. We usually start off quite slowly on tours, but we started off with a blinder, at the Zodiac in Oxford. It was really good. The Brighton gig was being filmed for MTV and that went really well as well. Birmingham was probably the best so far -we were really pleased with it. So we’re pretty hot. We’re all enjoying it. Plus there’s lots of free Jim Beam, which is always fuel for the fire. It’s going really well. We’re enjoying it a lot.

You had your single in the top 40 as well.

Luciano: It’s all a bit surreal really. I’m confident with the next single as well, ‘Tuned To A Different Station’. We just had a meeting today about trying to sort the video out. We’re getting so busy now there’s no time to do stuff. We’re flying to the States for the SXSW. When we get back we’re getting picked up from the airport so we can go and play a gig back on this tour. We have to fit the shooting of the video into that schedule, which is getting pretty hectic. You don’t get a minute to breathe.  

Do you prefer recording or playing live?

Luciano: LIVE! I don’t like recording at all. It does my head in. When we recorded the album with John Cornfield he loved getting that live sound, so we used as many as we could. He’s done loads – most of Supergrass’ work and a bit of Oasis. It’s an amazing place to record. Fucking amazing. Oasis were in there at the beginning of the year actually before we were. I mean, they’re fucking crap now, but their ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s The Story?’ albums are hugely influential, on Johnny especially. And to a degree it’s the reason we’re doing this. It influenced us and made us think, “if those oiks can form a band then fucking we can do it as well”.

What are your feelings on being tipped as the next big band by NME?

Johnny: They haven’t said that. Have they? If they haven’t they fucking should.

Luciano: Those magazines always say everyone’s the next big band. They’re always gonna say it. It’s a waste of time.

Johnny: Fair shout though. Thank you very much NME. We’ll take that.

Luciano: Gladly.

Johnny: It’s still early days for us and it could still be a hit or miss affair, if we don’t reach out to the people. At the end of the day it’s not about how much we like ourselves and believe ourselves or value ourselves, it’s how much other people do. That will keep us in this job. Otherwise its back to driving vans. What we won’t do is compromise and change ourselves. If they want to join in with that and they get it we will be eternally pleased and thankful. It’s looking good. The signs are good.

Three years ago guitar bands were none existent, now they’re all over the place.

Johnny: It was a dire state wasn’t it?

Luciano: All you had was bands like Feeder.

Johnny: There’s a lot of wet-fart music about. Like Stereophonics. They saw the bit of carrot and they chased it. They weren’t like that and all of a sudden a new trend comes along and they thought, “Oh I’ll tell you what, it’s a 4/4 with a Strokes guitar”, and they followed. They’re playing catch up. Then you’ve got bands like The Futureheads, Bloc Party and Maximo Park giving it some fucking attitude. Thank the lord for British music at the moment. I’m really excited about it.

Luciano: The whole deal with the next best thing is that for some people the next big thing is The Polyphonic Spree. That’s the whole point you’ve got to remember and not get carried away with it.

Johnny: Some cocks thought Keane were the next big thing.

Luciano: Also, when someone slags you off I don’t think it matters. You’ve got to realise that some people like you and some people don’t, and the more people that like you the better.

Johnny: Be it 200 or 200000, if they get it then it’s a bit of fuel to make you stamp your foot and sing songs. As long as they let us keep doing what we want to do then that’s terrific.

‘Tuned To A Different Station’ is released on 2nd May, and proceeds the album ‘Turn Against This Land’, due out on 16th May.

Film review – They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson, 2018)

Peter Jackson’s World War One documentary ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ does a great job in telling the story of some of the front-line soldiers, from the outbreak, through training and joining the war effort and finally returning home. This is achieved partly through archive audio from the BBC, which is interesting in its own light, but not really what this film will be remembered for.

The really mesmerizing and memorable part of this film is the visual footage, which Jackson has sourced from the Imperial War Museum as part of their 14-18 Now initiative. The team working on this film have taken whatever was available and worked wonders. It now looks vibrant and sharp and immediate, with no signs of what was probably very grainy footage used as the source material. The claim that it would look like it was filmed last week rather than 100 years ago is perhaps a little too far-fetched, but it isn’t far off.

In most places, the footage is accompanied by audio dubbing from actors, reading lines as determined by expert lip readers and matched to the visuals. It is, literally, The Great War as you’ve never seen it before.

It only falls short near the end where it feels like they were running out of source material and needed to re-use some video footage – one shot appears four or five times in a short period. It doesn’t spoil anything; indeed it serves in part to underline how precious what little footage that remains is to the project and how lucky we are to see anything so beautifully restored. Whether that effect could have been achieved with fifteen minutes cut out of it is another question.

It’s not the best documentary I’ve seen recently, but it is technically one of the best restoration jobs I’ve ever seen. There will undoubtedly be a debate about whether he went too far – detractors will say he could have simply restored the footage rather than also enhancing it – but the detail and beauty it has revealed is more than worth the risk.

You can do much worse than allowing yourself to be absorbed into this masterpiece of restoration.

Recommended podcast alert!

I love FilmFour. For those outside the United Kingdom, FilmFour is a channel available to all television license holders via Freeview channel 15, and supplies a thoroughly deep and diverse set of programming for everyone to immerse themselves in.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the FilmFour season on Studio Ghibli. Today they are screening Howl’s Moving Castle. Yes I have them all on DVD or Bluray and yes they have adverts in the middle, but I am currently in the middle of a house move so this is excellent timing.

Accompanying the scheduling is a brilliant podcast titled Ghibliotheque, which is run by Jake Cunningham (C4 Random Acts, Curzon Cinemas podcast) and Michael Leader (Sight and Sound, Little White Lies). Aside from the astonishingly simple name, which will make podcasters and bloggers around the world think “Why didn’t I think of that!?”, it is an excellent bite-sized podcast that serves as an introduction to each film.

Princess Mononoke is this week’s episode, ahead of its screening next Tuesday afternoon.

Check it out here.