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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. 


End post.


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