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Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Hours


Herro.

This week didn't get too busy until Friday when I was doing a bunch of interviews with people on Victoria Street. I feel much more confident about the documentary now after having so many interviews but now it's a matter of knowing how to use these interviews and appropriating it all into some kind of story. But yeah other than that, I was actually able to *gasp* have time to myself to see a few films during the week!
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING


Haven't done these fully written reviews in a while. You're more than welcome to skip them but writing like this was more for my benefit. Enjoy them if you decide to read them. But seriously TL;DR.

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Ruan Ling-yu is one of China's most celebrated screen icons but you wouldn't really know it by watching Stanley Kwan's film. Equal parts biopic and documentary, "Center Stage" is experimental in its approach to telling the story of the actress who tragically cut her life short at the age of 24. Ruan, who joins a list of actors including James Dean and Heath Ledger, solidified her career through her death but unfortunately for her it would seem that most of her films have either been lost or discarded.

The film doesn't tell the whole story of Ruan but rather focuses on her rise and fall.
It's no secret that she dies, of course, but the journey to reaching this point is rather contrived. As previously eluded to, director Stanley Kwan takes two approaches in telling his story - one through traditional dramatisation and the other through a documentarian approach. At first, it seems like an interesting technique that provides a unique perspective and voice surrounding Ruan, however, the this experiment does become a little redundant the more the film drags on. To make matters worse, Kwan decided to use footage of his film crew filming Maggie Cheung in character as Ruan. Meta! I feel that Kwan wanted to reflect on the screen presence of both Cheung and Ruan and their effect on the filmmakers that they influenced but I'm fairly certain the talking head of Maggie at the beginning of the film was enough to convey that feeling.

There are also problems with the story as a whole as, most of the time, I'm filling in the blanks and guessing what's happening at a certain point in Ruan's life.
I do not think that this is necessarily a problem on Kwan's behalf (given the amount of research Kwan and his team conducted prior to filming) as there probably wasn't much information from close sources pertaining to Ruan's private life.

And on that topic of research, Kwan's investigation into this period of silent cinema in China - as well as that of Ruan and everything surround her controversy - was deeply interesting at least for someone like me.
If you're gonna do a period drama, do it right! Some fantastic art direction going on here.

Another of the film's faults is that you just don't get how big of a star Ruan actually is (or at least how the film wants you to think she is).
You only get that sense of stardom until the very end when she's being hounded by the Chinese media and even then it's pretty tame. She didn't seem to embrace her celebrity status, and perhaps she was humble in that regard. Still, for a biopic about a supposed screen legend, I never felt that she was a big deal.

But who's fault is that?
Certainly not Maggie's fault, right? In the beginning of the film, Kwan explains to Maggie that Ruan was pigeon holed into playing certain roles for a long time before she got to pick what she wanted to do, to which Maggie replied that she was similar in that regard. As true as that may be, Maggie's forlorn expressions which exudes shades of her contemporary works, is rife throughout the film. In other words, Cheung isn't really given much to work with for most of the film until the final half hour where she's able to emote. This isn't to discredit her as an actress but, and I'm not sure if this is the cynic in me, it would appear as though there was an aloofness to Cheung's potrayal of Ruan that seems to have been duplicated throughout the films she's made post-"As Tears Go By" (1988). Aloofness withstanding, Cheung does put in a good performance overall but who knows? Maybe there was an air of detached apathy around Ruan?

"Center Stage"
might not be successful in painting an true portrait of Ruan as an iconic actress and a person but it does the best it can with what’s provided, especially given the amount of research that was put into constructing the film. Unfortunately for Kwan, his experiment proved to be unsuccessful as his marriage of fact and fiction didn’t quite convince me about Ruan or her character which is a shame (much like all the lost footage of Ruan’s work).



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It might not be a Quentin Tarantino film per se but "True Romance" has his stylistic imprint all over it from its pop-culture references to its quirky characters. From what I hear, Tarantino had to sell the script for this film and for "Natural Born Killers" in order to make his debut feature film, "Reservoir Dogs". One can only imagine how Tarantino would have handled the production of this film but thankfully, director Tony Scott, does a nice job of bringing the same amount of energy and enthusiasm with which Tarantino may have brought to the project.

The film follows Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a young couple who get into trouble after accidentally coming into possession of the mafia's cocaine. Let's take a moment to admire the casting of this film! I mean we have an incredibly top notch supporting cast of actors here! Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Samuel L. Jackson... Oh man that's a really amazing cast. Gary Oldman never ceases to amaze me, especially here with such an oddball part in Drexl, a scarred up, dreadlocked pimp who thinks he's black. What?!

As for Slater and Arquette, they're both likeable in their respective roles. I have a feeling that Slater's character, Clarence, is some sort of alter-ego of Tarantino's and that he injected enough of himself into the character - from Clarance's appreciation of Asian cinema to his belief that films like "Rio Bravo" and "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" are far superior to the ones that win an Academy award (Tarantino would probably have to take back that remark after winning for Best Original Screenplay for "Pulp Fiction"). Also, Clarence reminded me a lot of Spike from "Cowboy Bebop". Maybe it was the way he spoke and his mannerisms.

Yeah, "True Romance" is pretty awesome. It's a cult favourite and it's not hard to see why. You could easily categorise it as a Quentin Tarantino film as his style oozes throughout the film, no matter how much Tony Scott wants to make it as accessible as possible (from what I've read, it seems Scott changed the ending of the film which felt like a huge cop-out from my perspective and made tied everything together too conveniently). The film is quite possibly Tarantino at his most romantic.



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The hype for "The Hunger Games" has been difficult to ignore with fans and movie-goers alike turning out in droves to the cinema, contributing to the film's huge box office success. I didn't get the chance to see the film until Friday night so I've had all the fandom and hype thrown at me for weeks now. And I'll admit that even I was getting excited about the film, despite not having read the books. The trailers did a good job of selling the film on me. That and the idea of an Americanised, "Battle Royale" enticed me.

If you don't know by now, the film is essentially about two teenagers, Katniss and Peeta, who are forced to compete in a televised battle to the death with 22 other teenagers. Being that this is the 74th game, there's clearly a lot of history that has already been established within the film. Unfortunately, as much as the film tries to tell you what the history is, the message isn't made all that clear. They try to sum it up in a quick propaganda-like video reminding the districts of why the games are set in place but of course, it's propaganda so the truth is going to be obscured. So we never really know. But okay, I guess we just move on with the story right?

The film also tries to establish some sort of connection between Katniss and Peeta as a power-couple. Yeah, okay. Through some quick flashbacks, we're meant to assume a backstory that never existed. To be fair though, as this is an adaptation of a novel, you're only given so much time to tell a story and condense the novel. On the other hand, with the allotted time given to the film (142 minutes), you would think that they'd be able to include a little more time to better establish these two characters since we do have to follow them all the way through.

Similarly, the character development is woefully underwritten. No matter how much the film wants you to like a certain character, the gravitas of their deaths is undermined by both their limited screen time and the way in which they die. Being that this is a film that tries to market itself to the widest audience possible, despite it's heavy subject matter, kills are done off-screen or are obscured by a ridiculously shaky camera and extreme close-ups. I will say however that it is interesting that a film like this COULD get away with being widely marketable. It might not be as violent as say, "Battle Royale" but it's violent enough to catch you off-guard. You could probably write an essay on the marketability of "The Hunger Games".

I could write a bit more about what I didn't like about the film but it'd just be petty squabbling (as if it wasn't petty already). Simply put, it's hard for me to like the film. There are few redeemable qualities in this film and even the acting is somewhat pedestrian. It's not the worst film and the lead-up to the game is somewhat exciting, however, the lack of any interesting characters makes it hard for you to even care for anything that is happening during the actual game, which in itself is dissatisfying. Now let's not talk about the art direction.



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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS
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Anyone who is as interested in Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" as I am should check out this faux-advertisment for the android, David. Actor, Michael Fassbender, is compeltely on point-here. There's an unsettling creepiness to his android which is reminiscent to HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey". It's also amazing how much Fassbender doesn't really "look real". I think it's something to do with the the way he's lit and his make-up. Either way, it adds to the eeriness of this robotic humanoid. Uncanny valley stuff, even though it's a real actor. Damn good stuff, sir.


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Anyone here a fan of David Cronenberg? I have yet to see "A Dangerous Method" although I've heard some very mixed things about that film. I really want to get into his films though. The only one I've seen unfortunately is "Eastern Promises" which was fantastic but I know that his earlier films we're weird and wonderful which is what you can probably expect with his latest film, "Cosmopolis" starring Robert Pattinson. The film will be appearing at Cannes Film Festival this year and it's definitely something that's far removed from his "Twilight" exploits. I'd say I'm pretty keen to see this. But are you?


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And speaking of Cannes, for anyone interested in seeing the lineup of films that will be screened at this year's festival, you can find a full list of them right here.

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Lastly, here's a quick teaser for upcoming Korean film, "The Thieves", which has been touted as a Korean "Ocean's Eleven". I think it looks like it could some good fun but can someone please explain to me why Simon Yam is in this? HE IS NOT KOREAN AND I ONLY ASSOCIATE HIM WITH HONG KONG.

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And that's the way it is this week. This blog post's title comes from Exitmusic's debut EP, "From Silence". The only reason why I'm aware of their existence is because their vocalist, Aleksa Palladino, played Angela Darmody on a little show called "Boardwalk Empire". The group pretty much consists of her and her husband, Devon Church. They have a new LP releasing soon which is pretty cool (always awesome to find new music but even better to find out that they've got newer things releasing around the time you find out about 'em). Anyways, enjoy The Hours by Exitmusic. Ciao.


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