Staff A-Z of Film: G is for… (Pt. 4)

 GhostDog_quad-1DAVE SAYS G IS FOR: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

“The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily… And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.”

So begins this unique crime tragedy from one of America’s master filmmakers. Jim Jarmusch has been staking his claim as the US’s independent cinematic voice par excellence for some 30 years now, and in 1999 he furthered that claim with this strange, hypnotic, spiritual, cynical, lyrical noir gem. Forest Whitaker stars as the eponymous Ghost Dog, a hired assassin who has pledged his life to an aging Italian mobster. He lives on the rooftops of an unnamed city, training the carrier pigeons he communicates with (and only with) and living his life strictly by the Bushido, the ancient Samurai code. Nobody knows his name, or where he lives, or how to contact him. They know him only by the moniker he has chosen, and by the flawless record of assassinations he has left behind.

The film is an eclectic mixture of Eastern wisdom, hip-hop soundscapes and jagged-edged New York wiseguy cynicism. When Ghost Dog leaves a witness to one of his assassinations, the mob gives his master, Louie, an ultimatum: either Ghost Dog dies, or he does. And so Ghost Dog sets out to weave a bloody trail of death throughout the mob in order to protect the threatened Louie. Unfazed by the fact that not even Louie understands his unwavering devotion, Ghost Dog will do anything to uphold the Code of the Samurai, including hilariously shooting his master (twice) in order to throw the mob off the scent.

We never learn Ghost Dog’s true identity, and he becomes as much a myth to us as he is to the befuddled mobsters he sets out to take down. His only friend is Isaach de Bankolé’s Haitian ice-cream salesman, despite the fact that neither speaks the other’s language or has any idea what the other is saying. And the only way we get to know him at all is through the tentative friendship he forms with local school kid, Pearline, a kindred spirit who takes a liking to Ghost Dog and seems to understand his strangeness in some beautiful, unspoken way. This mythic quality is really what sets this film apart from other ‘hood’ or crime flicks.

Rather than bombastic and action-packed, Jarmusch’s film is elegant and understated, both in its treatment of character and its occasional outbursts of violence. It pokes fun at many tropes of the crime genre, not least with its Italian mafia that cannot afford to pay rent on time and who more closely resemble Scooby-Doo baddies than Goodfellas. Whitaker’s magnificent performance is at the heart of all of this – quiet and controlled but concealing a deep underlying emotion and a moving sense of loyalty and justice. He lets others do the talking, preferring to say only what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. In many ways, his profound inner peace is what most inflects the atmosphere of the film, despite the high body count.

Ghost Dog also features one of the great scores in recent film history, by influential hip-hop producer The RZA, who cameos (above left) in one scene as a mysterious fellow samurai. With this score, straddling the same gulf between urban grit and Zen harmony as the film itself, Ghost Dog creates a completely unique atmosphere, quite unlike any gangster film before or since. Those familiar with Jarmusch’s previous masterwork, the psychedelic western Dead Man, will also find this something of a spiritual successor, and the director leaves more than one Easter egg in here for the keen-eyed viewer.

There are not many films that can be called completely unique, but Ghost Dog, while perhaps not for everyone, certainly has no equal. By the end of the film one is left with the sense that one has not so much watched a slice of life as been told the story of a myth or tragic passion play, with a hero who represents a set of ideas and principles that have come into conflict with a time and place in which they do not belong.

One of those films that bears multiple viewings over time in order to truly let the weight of the ideas and the drama truly sink in, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai should be top of the list for anyone with a taste for daring, independent or unique pieces of cinema.

Check out the trailer right here:

Video City Staff A-Z: D is for… (Pt.2)



D is for… Don’t Look Now (1973)

 “Nothing is what it seems”, says Donald Sutherland early on, warning us to keep our guard up in Nicolas Roeg’s masterpiece of creeping horror.

Based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, Don’t Look Now understands that real fear comes from knowing that your fate awaits around the next corner.

This is the story of a married couple haunted by the death of their daughter. Venice is a lead character: a city submerged, a maze of alleyways and dead-ends.


Roeg brilliantly weaves together the past and the present, the seen and the imagined, into a tapestry of grief and hope.

There is a casual realism here that makes Sutherland and Julie Christie an utterly believable couple and sets the film closer in tone to the Exorcist than any Hammer Horror schlock fest.


What else? – the famous sex scene (copied by Soderbergh in Out of Sight), the iconic red coat (ripped off by Spielberg in Schindler’s List), and not forgetting Donald Sutherland’s magnificent moustache (replicated by Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Accept no imitations and ignore the plea of that title – do look, it doesn’t have to be now but soon would be good.


“See also: Genova – Michael Winterbottom’s modern horror clearly doffs it’s cap to Don’t Look Now and features an excellent performance by Colin Firth (before he became royalty)”



“D” is for…. hmmm well, I have 4 main choices that spring to mind.

Firstly, and one of my personal favourites, I would say Donnie Brasco from 1997 starring Johnny Depp, Al Pacino and Michael Madsen. Based on the best-selling book, the film depicts the unbelievable true story of a FBI undercover agent, Joseph Pistone, who was sent to infiltrate the New York Mafia throughout the 1970’s. What originally started out as an experiment to see if it could be done with a ‘shelf life’ of only a few weeks, ended up lasting several years and in turn becoming one of the most intense and high-profile investigations ever undertaken into the Mafia. To this day and because of his actions, Joseph Pistone now lives with a new undisclosed identity and a several million dollar bounty on his head… Great tense drama and thriller rolled into one, highly recommend it!


My next option would be Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz. I won’t bore you with the details of the story as I’m sure most of you have seen this film whether at the cinema or from coming in to the store. For those of you who have not seen it…Watch it! With slick lines, great action sequences and every Hollywood star on great form, its one not to be missed…

dmsquadAnother one not to miss is Shane Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) starring Paddy Considine. The film follows Considine’s character Richard who lives in a rural part of Britain where there is little to do but get drunk, get high and torment the locals. Whilst away on military deployment, Richards younger mentally handicapped brother Anthony, played by Toby Kebbell, is left to the torment and bullying of the local low lives. Upon Richards return, he learns of the horrible acts done to his younger brother and vows to exact revenge on those who hurt Anthony. Filled with dark torment, violence and the rare moments of black humour this film is not for the everyday viewer. But with fantastic performances and simple but effective dialogue, this revenge style film is one to watch.


Lastly and purely for stupidity to counter act the darker films I’ve suggested, Dumb and Dumber (1994) starring Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels. It’s simply Jim Carey at his  “best” playing the moronic idiot alongside his partner in stupidity Jeff Daniels. With no money, no jobs and owning only a dog van and a briefcase (which isn’t there’s) they decide to embark on a journey to re unite the briefcase and it’s owner. With a great 90’s sound track its a fun road movie meets ridiculous love story. It’ll make you laugh and cry for all the wrong reasons, but for those reasons exactly is why it should be watched! Enjoy!



D is for Down by Law

 New Orleans. A pimp (John Lurie), a disc jockey (Tom Waits) and a tourist (Roberto Benigni) are arrested in separate incidents. They are imprisoned together; they jailbreak.
Down by Law, a film about John Lurie’s pout. See how his sunken cheeks suck laconically at hipster skull. Down by Law, about Tom Waits’s shoes and Ellen Barkin’s fury at a DJ’s malaise – “not the shoes NOT THE SHOES not the shoes”. Also about Benigni’s mother tongue ‘Bob’ Frost recital, and Robby Müller’s smoooth, spacious, black and white cinematography.

Such cool. Here Jarmusch gets the fundamental reciprocity between being cool and admiring cool. He pretty much hinges the film on it. “I scream you scream we all scream for ice cream”. Really really cool film.

Video City Staff A-Z: D is For… (Pt.1)



D is for Despicable Me (2010)

Despicable Me is a fun-filled family tale by Pixar (Up, Wall-e, Toy Story) about a super-villain, Gru (Steve Carell) who is finding life tough when a new villain comes on the scene! Gru decides to hatch a new plan involving adopting three orphans who he will use to pinch his rivals new gadgets. But then, inevitably, he finds himself becoming attached to his little kids, and wonders whether fatherhood is more his style after all.

This film made me laugh non-stop especially Gru’s army of minions – tiny, goggled yellow marshmallow creatures who are loyal but not too bright. It’s lots of fun for kids of all ages and all the parents that have watched have said it made them laugh too.
Word of advice – make sure you watch the extra features especially the Minions Short Films, lots more laughter guaranteed there!

D is for Death in Gaza (2004):
A heartbreakingly sad watch, particularly if you know the outcome. It certainly puts our somewhat insignificant worries to rest when you see the lives of some of these children.
A good documentary is unbeatable, and this is one you should invest two hours of your life on.

1986-down-by-law-poster1D is for DOWN BY LAW (1986) – dir. Jim Jarmusch


A prison comedy that walks at its own pace,  ‘Down by Law’ which stars Tom waits, John Lurie and Roberto Benigni is Jim Jarmusch’s break through film.
The plot is relatively simple as films go, but DBL is not so much about what happens to some characters but about who these people are and what is learnt about them through their enforced interaction with each other. The simplicity of the story allows room for the characters’ development and Robby Müller’s beautiful cinematography, which together, create a powerful comic beat-noir atmosphere.
A fairly consistent theme of Down By Law is the dispelling of preconceptions, from the type casting of the three stars to the projection of their characters’ relationships with each other. Before Waits and Lurie starred in this film both were, for American audiences at least, already cult names predominantly in the music world. Their contribution to the film would have initially been a pull for these audiences, but through the film we understand a little more of the people themselves over the stage characters already projected.

6310_2Waits and Lurie’s characters, have a “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” type situation, partly symbolised by their rhyming names, Jack + Zack. It is the optimistic sincerity of Benigni that allows them to look beyond their initial personality clash.
The collaborative nature of this film heavily contributes to its charm. The soundtrack was provided by both Lurie and Waits, while certain lines and monologues were improvised both accidentally and intentionally by Benigni. The line ‘It is a sad and beautiful world,’ was the happy result of a misunderstanding due to language difficulties (DBL was the Italian actors’ first visit to the USA),  whilst the rabbit monologue was taken straight out of Benigni’s childhood memories of his mother.
down-by-law-1986-02-gIn comparison to Jarmusch’s first two films ‘Permanent Vacation’ and ‘Stranger Than Paradise’, which both carry a more thoroughly ‘Beat’ pace, the almost classic slapstick nature of Down By Law’s comedy makes this film an easy heart warming ride.”I am a good egg…we are a good egg, my friends.”