LOOK WHAT CAME IN THE MAIL THE OTHER DAY!
Yep, so I'm just gonna be wearing this "Adventure Time" shirt like everywhere now. I'm probably gonna buy one more Adventure Time shirt just so that I don't have to over rely on it (although let's face it, I tend to over rely on certain choices of clothing over and over, hohoho).
This week, I have a 700-word paper that I have to hand in about the works of one critic. I was going to write on the criticism of Roger Ebert, the definitive voice behind modern film criticism, but decided that I might venture through either Olivier Assayas or David Stratton. Although the only reason why I wanted to Olivier Assayas was so that I could write a bit about Maggie Cheung (swooooooon) but David Stratton's become a valid critic to write on since his work is all over ACMI right now (makes sense, right?). Assayas' critical pieces seem hard to find since his stuff is all in French and in the famous French film journal Cahiers du cinema. OH WELL! :|
WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING
For America, Vietnam was a place that a lot of Americans, especially their politicans, wanted to forget about. It must have been embarrassing for America - the most powerful country in the world - to pull out of Vietnam after being defeated by the gureilla tactics of jungle people. It would take a few years after the war and details of the My Lai massacre to surface that Hollywood would respond to Vietnam and America's involvement with the country by rethinking and reapproaching it.
Francis Ford Coppola's, "Apocalypse Now" stands as one of the most important films in American cinema and while the film has been contextualised through the landscape of the Vietnam War, Coppola's adaptation of the novella "Heart of Darkness", is not a war film but simply an observation into the darkness that man possesses and the journey man takes to get there. By having contextualised the story through the Vietnam War, Coppola not only makes the film more relevant but also brilliantly uses the psychological insanity of warfare - especially in a drug induced war (all the soldiers did over there was get high off all kinds of psychadelic drugs) - as an allegory for man's descent into darkness. There's an etheral haze that bleeds across the film and it's this state of dreaminess that lends credence to the drug induced characteristics of the war and of its particpants. Much has been said about the legendary opening of "Apolcaypse Now" which I think one can write an entire essay about but I won't get into that cause there's YouTube to tell you all about it.
The thing that stood out for me at least was just how much this film was influenced by techniques commonly found in film noir. It's an interesting aspect about the film that I haven't seen many people talk about. Willard's narration, the use of shutter blinds in certain scenes, foggy smoke surroundings as well as the use of low-key lighting are all found in abundance in the film and I'm surprised that I haven't found many people take note of this.
There's so much more that I could get into about this legendary film but I'm scared it'd take up too much space and time. It's an absolutely fantastic film and, while I do have some qualms with the French villa sequence (I watched the Redux cut), there's no denying the veracity and power that "Apocalypse Now" is able to inspire. It's a visceral journey into the dark abyss of man - one that's brilliant achieved through staging war as hell and, surprisngly, using film noir techniques.
Now the main reason why I watched "Apocalypse Now" was that I could watch "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse". As a requirement for documentary class, I have to watch several docos and figured that I'd give this one a shot (but not until I saw the original film, of course). Well, as it turns out, this doco is just as good as the film it's based on. Much of the film is made up of archival footage and interviews that Coppola's wife, Eleanor, recorded while "Apocalypse Now" was shooting.
The documentary is incredibly fascinating and shows the mounting problems and stress that Coppola had to deal with in order to make "Apocalypse Now". The documentary outlines the history to turn the novella into a film (Orson Welles tried to adapt it but failed to get studios to agree to shooting it) and also documents the production history of "Apocalypse Now" (did you know at one point George Lucas was supposed to make this film?).
Directors seriously do have a hard job. I mean if you think its just calling cut and action and telling people what to do, then you're gravely mistaken. Coppola had to deal with horrible weather in the Philippines, the Phillipines' army who had to keep taking helictopers away from the famous "Ride of the Valkries" scene to repel rebel militia in the area, THE ACTUAL THREAT OF MILITIA HARMING CAST AND CREW, the unreliability of Marlon Brando who wasn't going to show up for work and just take Coppola's money as well as dealing with a drunk Martin Sheen and a high Dennis Hopper.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this documentary - other than the insanity that was the production of this over-budgeted film - was just how how closely Coppola, the cast the crew slowly began to delve into their own places of darkness - how the talent behind the film began to mirror aspects of the actual film. Truly fascinating. I believe this documentary is required viewing for all aspiring and current working filmmakers who thinks that they've had some problems in their lifetime of work making films.
Takashi Miike has had a highly prolific career squandering around in all manners of films ranging from dramas, yakuza films, horror films, action films and kids films. The man's very experienced in his craft. However, my only experience with Miike has only been with "Zatoichi", "Sukiyaki Western Django" and "Box" (his segment for "Three Extremes") so I can't really say much on the man. I will say however that with "13 Assassins", Miike is able to put together a fantastic samurai action picture full of awe and wonder. Truly an experience ONLY to be witnessed on the big screen of a cinema.
Admittedly, the beginning of the film is rather shaky - names and faces are thrown at you that you're almost disoriented with what's going on. The first half of the film paces itself quite slowly but it's obviously intentional as Miike wants to give ample time to develop some of his characters and make the audience want to root for these men. He also wants to have ample time to show off the heinous and despicable actions of the film's villain which forces the audience to vehemently hate the guy and understand just why these assassins would want to take up arms in a time of peace.
Now unlike the last few samurai pictures that I have seen, this one treats its samurai as fearless combatnants and expert strategists. There's no philosophical debate between assassin and target and these guys aren't fighting to protect the honour of a loved one - they're out for a "total massacre". And that's exactly what Miike delivers in the final hour of the film - a straight up, adrenaline-fuelled hour of action that just keeps topping itself and never faulters. This is the film that Teddy Chan's "Bodyguards and Assassins" should have been but wasn't. Where "Bodyguards and Assassins" had the action stop and start this was just unrelenting and kept the bar high the entire time. This film is pure bliss - an absolute spectacle. If you want a fun time at the cinema, make "13 Assassins" your choice of film to see.
"The Man From Nowhere" was a major success in Korea last year and the film's only just reached Australian shores this year. Screening as part of the Korean Film Festival (for the first time ever in Melbourne!), "The Man From Nowhere" is like a cross between Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" and Kim Ji-woon's, "A Bittersweet Life". The film follows a mysterious pawnshop owner with a violent past who takes on a drug and organ trafficking mob in an attempt to rescue a little girl who is his only friend (thanks IMDB).
Now, South Korea... goddamn, your films are just off the hook. The film, while a little rocky to begin with, is unrelenting in telling a hard hitting and violent tale. The film's got a lot of heart to it which is carried through by our leading man, Won Bin, and his relationship with the little girl in the movie. The bad guys are just pricks and you want them to get what's coming to them. Occasionally they do come off as somewhat "cheesy" villains, but you forgive this because the film does an amazing job of telling a very good story with characters you care about.
Won Bin - a guy who I hadn't heard about but is apparently quite popular with the ladies - delivers an outstanding performance in the film playing cool and mysterious to a tee. His heart's in the right place for the character and needless to say, I look forward to seeing more of this guy's work.
Action is well choreographed and well shot which makes me think that Hollywood can learn a thing or two from this. Seriously, there's a knife fight in the film that doesn't use any music or background noise - just the noise of the knives swirling around and crashing into each other with occasional cuts to each person's point of view of the knife fight that adds so much mounting intensity to the scene. Some really amazing editing in that scene, really.
The violence in this film might be of concern for some people but it was good for me on all accounts (definitely not on the same level as Kim Ji-woon's "I Saw The Devil" though). There are some fantastic scenes in the film too, one particular shot which was mindblowingly cool which sees our hero jump through a window and land a few storeys below (did the camera man actually jump with him as he fell down cause that shot was amazing).
Dark and gritty, with nice doses of black humour (almost every Korean film I've seen has had strongly black humour) but hugely rewarding, "The Man From Nowhere" is another worthy addition to the pantheon of excellent Korean cinema.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________I'll spare you the film news this week because I'm lazy like that. I've been thinking about making two blogs - one for films and one just about me. I know I've posed this question before but people seem to like that I have everything on this one blog. Maybe I'll just change the format around somehow and actually begin to use the tags more. We'll see... Anyways, I'm off.