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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Tabula Rasa

Hi all.

So after the craziness of MIFF I thought I'd take it a little bit easier this week and not watch anything new for the week (well other than, new episodes of Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, Damages and Wilfred but what's new?). That said, I predict this blog post to be a very short one considering my lack of doing anything this week. Yeah, pretty average. Oh yeah and cause MIFF is over I was able to kinda get back to work. Money!
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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS


Tony Scott tragically passed away this week after the director leapt off a bridge in Los Angeles. Tony is the brother of Ridley Scott. He was responsible for pretty much defining the look of the modern action film and, in many ways, started the whole high-concept Hollywood blockbuster. I haven't seen all his films but of the ones I've seen, I can say that I've quite enjoyed them. Even his most divisive of films like the schizophrenic Domino were insanely fun (at least for me it was). Tony Scott will be missed.

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Here's the NSFW red-band trailer for John Hillcoat's newest, Lawless. The film has an incredibly talented cast in Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman. I liked what he did with The Road and am eager to sit down with The Proposition. As for Lawless, it certainly looks amazing - it reminds me a lot of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire except take out Atlantic City and substitute it for country-side America. Should be good.


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I could've chosen a more serious picture but NO, this is the definitive SLJ picture. 

It seems Spike Lee has called in a favour because Samuel L. Jackson has agreed to be in a small but potentially crucial role in Lee's remake of Oldboy. Jackson will play a guard who holds Josh Brolin's character captive for fifteen years. The film currently stars Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copely and Elizabeth Olsen.

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It's not often you hear about foreign remakes of American films as its usually the other way around but an interesting piece of news, Japan will be remaking Clint Eastwood's Oscar-winning Western, Unforgiven. The film will star Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Inception) in the Eastwood role and will replace cowboys with samurai. So essentially its like what Seven Samurai did for The Magnificent Seven (which is a very good remake of the Kurosawa classic). Interestingly enough, Watanabe has worked with Eastwood before in the under-seen Letters from Iwo Jima so no doubt this was some inspired casting.
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And that's all from me this week. Yeah told you it was short. This week's blog post title comes from Korean indie band, Bluedawn. Their song Tabula Rosa is off their album When Spring Comes. It's a shame they've disbanded cause their low-key and atmospheric sound can be absolute bliss. Listen, enjoy and find more of them on YouTube.


End post.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Friend Crush

Hi everyone.

You may have noticed a slight change on this blog. Changed up my banner. I feel that the above banner should pretty much be associated with me anyway (the whole hand-drawn/green theme, ya know?).

Also, I've disabled my Formspring. I wasn't really using it and no one was asking questions so naturally I grew disinterested with it. If anyone wants to ask anything just go to my Tumblr page and drop a message in my ask box since I spend half of my day there anyway. 
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Anyways, it's been a pretty easy week bust mostly cause I didn't really go to uni at all. Yeah, not really a good thing but I wanted to get some things done. Like finishing a 2,000 word creative writing piece a month ahead of the due date! Which I did! Talk about having a clear block for the next month! At least for now anyway. I feel like I ought to dedicate ONE day where I just do all my assignments ahead of their actual due dates. Bah, I'm just doing this to make my semester seem quicker.

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My cousin came down from Vietnam this week. He's here to study for about four years and will be living with my family until then. Took him around the city and showed him how to get to and from uni on Friday. We've been able to talk conversationally - his English is actually pretty decent.

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Now I know Manifest was this week and for people who actually have a life, Manifest is this pretty radcore anime convention that Melbourne has every year. And if you've been following this blog for the last few years then you'll know that my friend and I go as cardboard variations of popular things. Unfortunately my friend is in Japan so no box shenanigans this year. There's always next year (or another convention). I wonder how long we can keep this up (it seems I'll never grow up!).
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING


Kids can often be wild and unpredictable but isn't that what makes them so special? The fact that they have no inhibitions and have a view of the world that's so different and skewed should automatically make them interesting subjects for films.

Hirokazu Koreeda's latest film I Wish centres itself around two young brothers, both of whom are separated from each other due to the separation of their parents. When the older brother hears of a story where a wish can be made when two particular trains cross paths, he embarks on a journey with his friends so that they can all make their own wish.

There's an undercurrent of nostalgia that runs deep within the film. Nostalgia is what motivates the older brother into hatching this scheme with his friends and is a theme that travels across many, if not all, of Koreeda's films. However the truly strong quality about nostalgia here is that it's something that's quite identifiable with the audience and brings a higher level of adoration for the film. The kids in the film are all kids that we've been exposed to or have actually been in the past. It brings you back to a much simpler time in our lives and captures that youthful essence of naivety and unabashed glee. I Wish embraces and appreciates the little moments that make life worth living.


In Hollywood, they say that you should never work with children and animals because they're unpredictable and tough to manage. Their attentions can be easily diverted to something else and it can be a pain to work around it when you're on a tough schedule. For Koreeda though, working with children comes incredibly easy to him. His skill for working with children is unparalleled. I can't really think of another director who has chosen to work with children across a number of films yet is able to extract the calibre of performances that most adult actors can't muster. And there's something particular spectacular when a child actor is able to do the same thing an adult actor could do like express a certain attitude on cue or give a line of dialogue in the way it has been intended without looking too artificial. The kids in this film are outstanding and are just as good as the kids in Nobody Knows. Their acting just feels so raw and naturalistic. The younger brother is especially charming and possesses the lovable cheekiness of all boys at that young age. Truly a fantastic effort on the acting front as far as these children as concerned.

I've said in the past that I firmly believe Koreeda is one of the best directors working today not just in Japan but worldwide. His films are often grippingly poignant and are underscored by enchanting direction which features a marriage of drama storytelling with documentary aesthetics. I Wish is very much a Koreeda through and through and is probably the most accessible Koreeda film to date. The audience I watched the film with had a blast with the film and its hard not to be impressed or charmed by the family-friendly magic of I Wish.

Overall, I Wish is just an incredibly feel-good movie that's founded on strong direction and features incredibly endearing characters. It captures the essence of being a child and it tells a somewhat childish story with seriousness and maturity. There's enough humour in there to keep you thoroughly entertained all throughout and its probably the best thing to watch if you decide to see Nobody Knows before it.

Japanese trailer.

English subtitle trailer. 

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Liberal Arts doesn't come out until later this year in Australia but I was fortunate enough to see it at MIFF during the week. I wasn't going to watch this film because I had a feeling that it was going to be released later in the year but I needed another film to round out my pass of 10 films thus Liberal Arts was chosen. And I'm glad I watched it - I found it immensely likable, fun and somewhat relatable as a current university/college student.

After being invited to the retirement party of one of his favourite professors in college, a thirty-five year old strikes up a relationship with a young college freshman some sixteen years his junior. Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame stars in the film and also wrote and directed it as well.

The film composes itself a lot like 2004's Garden State both in story and in spirit. In fact you could even say Josh Radnor is the new Zach Braff (accomplished television actor branching out into film by making a name for himself as a writer/director). However, my feelings towards Garden State is one of ambivalence. I didn't enjoy it as much as everyone and thought it was pretty overrated. So what does that mean for Liberal Arts? Thankfully, I enjoyed Liberal Arts a lot more than I did Garden State although both films do share some commonality. While the humour of Garden State was last on me with Liberal Arts there's some great humour in the film that play off the intergenerational gaps between both Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen's characters. There's a nice even spread of light humour to keep the film at a steady momentum.


Veteran actors, Alison Jenney and Richard Jenkins aren't given much to do in the film and serve more as plot devices rather than actual characters in the film. However given that the film isn't actually about them, it's forgiveable. Following up on her impressive debut performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene is Elizabeth Olsen who shines in the film as Zibby. Olsen brings exuberance, confidence and vulnerability to the role that makes her character all the more human and relatable. Admittedly it's a fairly standard role but Olsen's charm and insecurity makes this a stand-out performance in the film. And even with a scruffy beard, Josh Radnor is still Ted from HIMYM but it doesn't necessarily work against him in the film. Jesse might not offer anything new as a character for Radnor to play off from but that type of character is something that he's been able to capatilse on (although he's more irredeemably smug here than in HIMYM).

Liberal Arts is standard fare but it's not a bad film - far from it. I really liked it even if it falls under cliche  every now and again. Safe is a word that best describes the film but even safe can be good because it means it's accessible and crowd-pleasing. A light and easy film about growing up and intergenerational relationships. Also, watch out for a surprisingly fun and atypical performance by Zac Efron. He only has two scenes in the film but his character is so far removed from anything the actor has done in the past - a real delight.


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Earlier this year, Undefeated won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. As far as I know though, it seems the film hasn't seen a release in theatres or on home video which is pretty damning considering the accolades the film has earned. Undefeated is still travelling across the festival circuit and has finally arrived in Melbourne. 

Undefeated tells the story of the Manassas high school football team based in Tennessee and documents their 2009 football season. Volunteer coach Bill Courtney is the only person who cares enough about the team to want to volunteer his own time and money to help the development of these teens not just as athletes but as men. At one point in the film he states to the camera that it's not in his job description to have to chase after these boys if they've left school or haven't been showing up for practice. But then he also says that he has no idea what his job actually is.


Bill acts more like a mentor than a coach throughout the film and his teachings go far beyond that of the football field. His inspiring rhetoric and character is what brings the disilussioned team together and instils a sense of responsibility amongst several of the subjects in the film. For a team to have never won a playoff game and to be repeatedly fed to inner city schools, it can get very disappointing especially considering how underfunded their football program is. Morale is already at a ridiculous low but for a guy like Bill, who understands the pain some of his players, to be able to step in and continually tell these guys to never give up gives the title of the documentary much more meaning.

Undefeated is a documentary that's more than just an underdog story of a loser football team working their way up the ranks. It's a film about how dedicated educators can help wayward teenagers find their legs and ease them through the rough transition from high school to college; from boys to men. Fans of Friday Night Lights or The Blind Side will want to see this inspirational documentary, just be sure to have some tissues nearby. 


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Sion Sono is a tough director but his films have a dizzying quality about it that can sometimes make for some absolutely compelling cinema. While others can easily berate his films as being low-brow or trash, I think that he has a visual inventiveness akin to the craziness of Takashi Miike. Now the only Sono films I've seen are Love Exposure and Suicide Club so I'm not one to be able to discuss Sono's body of work at length. I'm just giving my opinion about him. 

Himizu is an odd creation even by Sono standards and its hard to become fully attached to the film. It tells the story of a teen who slowly unravels across the course of the film as a result of his unsatisfactory life. At one point in the film, I was certain that this was basically Taxi Driver re-appropriated within the context of Japanese youth: a protagonist whose misunderstanding of women, failed romance and increasingly instrusive socio-economic abnormalities lead him to self destruct. But what changed my mind was the shoe-horning of the disaster of the 2011 earthquake that ravaged Japan which seemed out of place and too inappropriate (although the opening few minutes of the film were admittedly quite dazzling and comparable to the powerful Corinthians monologue in Love Exposure).


If there was a meaning behind Himizu or something that I was supposed to read into then I didn't find it. It is almost as if the film was writing itself as it progresses but without a sense of purpose which is a problem considering how long the film is. And when you can't find purpose or meaning, it becomes difficult to appreciate the film. Further adding to this problem is the needless violence and misogyny embedded into the film. It's bad enough that there's little interest to be made out of the story of the film but to then throw in some rather offensive imagery really makes it a gruelling experience to sit through. It's almost as if Sono was hell bent on making this film as alienating and uncomfortable as possible.

Believe me, there were quite a lot of opportunities where I could have easily walked out of the film. I try to make it a rule where, no matter how bad a film may be, I would have to stay around to see it in order to fairly make a judgement on it. Himizu is a misstep for Sono and I couldn't really recommend anyone to put themselves through that agony. Largely ineffectual.

(Sidenote: Fumi Nikaido looks like she could be twins with Aoi Miyazaki - the resemblance is absolutely uncanny.)


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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS

So I can't be bothered writing up descriptions for the following trailers so I'll let you find out for yourself. Below are trailers to For Ellen, Looper, 10 Years, The Last Stand and The Man With The Iron Fists. Decide which of these will grab your attention.





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And that's all for this week. This week's title owes itself to the indie group Friends and can be found on their debut album, Manifest!. And the main reason why I like this song was because GQ used it for a photoshoot with Elizabeth Olsen some time last year. It was hard to find anything from the band at the time but their album just released this year so I've been all over it. Enjoy the photoshoot and the song. 


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Saturday, 11 August 2012

After Hanabi

Howdy all.

I bet you're all dying to know what I got up to this week. No? Okay. Well, I'm gonna tell you anyway because I can and you're probably going to read it. I dunno, whatever. MOVING ON.

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Caught up with quite a few films this week at MIFF, but more on that later. I actually have a film I'm meant to be seeing later tonight but I think I'm going to have to cancel it. This weather has made me less inclined to go see it. If only I drove. But isn't parking in the city ridiculously overpriced anyway? I dunno, whatever. MOVING ON.

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I feel like I have a lot to do and this week was one of those weeks where I just could not be bothered with anything. I actually finished an assignment not too long ago though which is good. It's for the subject I hate most too. Surprised I got it done in the amount of time I did. 800 words wasn't asking for much. Looking back now, I can't understand how 800 words was ever an excruciating process in high school. I dunno, whatever. MOVING ON.

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Actually not moving on, moving back. I have a sudden urge to just write up all my assignments in the next few weeks. They're due in like Week 8 (it's Week 4 starting next week) but I feel extra productive. Maybe it's because these assignments seem particularly easy and not as stressful. I dunno, whatever MOVING ON.

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AND in mildly interesting news, my cousin from Vietnam will be coming down next week. He's in Australia to study so he'll be staying with us for a few years, I believe. Guess I won't have the house to myself all the time any more.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

Now to discuss at length everything I've seen in the last week (and that's even including the two films I saw last week at MIFF which I didn't actually talk about at all) would be crazy. As much as I'd like to, I'm pretty tired as it is right now (6.49PM at the time of writing this very sentence) and would like nothing more than to eat and curl up into bed while watching some Korean films. Yes, it's one of those Saturday nights. So instead, I'll try to do some brief short sentence reviews of each film. Like... how I normally would do it on Twitter. (@HieuChau - if you want to see a brainfart of eternal nothingness). Here goes.


HEADSHOT - For me, a meandering waste of time. Nothing to gain or appreciate from it, I felt. Which is disappointing considering how good Last Life in the Universe was. But that's a completely different film, so...


AMOUR - Achingly beautiful film about the an elderly couple's tested love. Found it reminsicent to A Seperation, for some reason. Can be exhausting though.


THE HOUSE I LIVE IN - A scathing critique of America's War on Drugs. Absolutely enthralling and compelling documentary from start to finish. I just wish it was much longer but great effort to contain as much about the issue into a two hour film. No easy feat.


NAMELESS GANGSTER - Story of the film doesn't quite justify its lengthy running time but a terrific cast helps make it a decent Korean gangster movie. Clear influences/overtones of Goodfellas and The Godfather are appreciated and Choi Min-sik demonstrates just how good he is at playing pathetic losers.


SOMETHING FROM NOTHING: THE ART OF RAP - Really fun documentary. Despite the repetitiveness of each interview, each rapper is charismatic and provide some great insight into the art of rap music. Great freestyles  from rap's biggest players. A real treat for fans of the genre.
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TIDBITS OF FILM NEWS


Academy Award winning director, Katheryn Bigelow, returns to the battlefield with her latest, Zero Dark Thirty. The film, penned by The Hurt Locker's screenwriter, Mark Boal, is about the hunt and assassination of Osama bin Laden. The below video is a newly released teaser for Zero Dark Thirty. The film releases some time later this year.


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Trouble with the Curve might not be a Clint Eastwood-made film but the last film that Eastwood acted in that he didn't direct himself was, at least according to IMDB, In the Line of Fire. And that was released in 1993! Having said that, Trouble with the Curve looks like a pretty safe family drama but there's nothing wrong with that. The film also stars Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman.


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This is 40 is the spin-off to the 2007 comedy, Knocked Up. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd reprise their roles from Knocked Up and it's just about their turning 40 and coming to grips with it. It seems like it could be fun. Could. Plus that supporting cast. And cameos everywhere! Wonder if Seth Rogen will pop up as his character from Knocked Up too. I dunno, whatever. MOVING ON.


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The Great Gatsby is no longer releasing this year. Warner Bros have decided to move it next year instead into the summer blockbuster season (so Australia's Winter). The December that it was originally planned to be released in was going to have a hugely stacked list of contenders anyway. Probably a good move on Warner Bros behalf, especailly if they want to have a good early contestant for the 2014 Oscars race.
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Here we are, at the end. This week's song comes courtesy of the Nujabeats tribute album to Japanese DJ Nujabes who sadly passed away a few years ago. This is a remix of one of Nujabes' songs After Hanabi which was done by Sergeant Jay. I think it improves on the original.


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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Bad Religion

This will be a very quick post because I don't have time to write a proper one this week.


Was at a friend's going away party last night. I drank too much and blacked out so that was my night.  Can't say whether or not it was a good or bad night.


MIFF kicked off this week! Caught Headshot and Amour on Friday. Headshot wasn't all that great and Amour was good although, at times, felt too frustratingly long. Amour reminded me of A Seperation, for some reason.

And  that's about it really. This post's title owes itself to Frank Ocean and can be found on his latest album, Channel Orange.



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