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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Tunnel Vision

HOWDY HEY.

Excuse you but I am Tiger Mask VI.

Been keeping busy with a few things these past few weeks so that's pretty much why I haven't gotten around to doing this blogging thing. You know, I feel like moving this operation to Wordpress or something (better format for posting).

Also, I know I say this a lot but I honestly do feel like turning this blog into a movie review blog since... that's all it's really good for right? I mean sure, the film news stuff is decent too but, if you've noticed in my last handful of blog posts, I don't really get around to it. We'll see where it goes from here.

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Anyways, ya'll need to get on top of the new Justin Timberlake and David Bowie albums. I mean if you dig sweet tunes, of course (which I hope you do). Now if we can only get Janelle Monae to get back into the studio - your third album is long overdue ma'am.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

So yeah, what's been on Hieu's watch list? Quite a bit in these couple of weeks but I won't write in depth what I thought because, time is of the essence and I quite frankly don't have enough of it now. To the best of my memory, these are the films I watched in the last couple weeks.

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I wrote about the independent American film, For Ellen, starring Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Ruby Sparks) over at Japan Cinema. I quite liked it and while I understand that it'd be incredibly dull and slow for some, I tend to find that there's a lot to take away from the realism of these films. I guess it's why no matter how much I liked/disliked Sukida, a lot of the film still resonated in me (which is why I'm excited for Ishikawa's new one, Petal Dance). Click the link above to have a read.

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I also wrote about the Melbourne Queer Film Festival For Meld Magazine. I took a look at three films from it, Chris Colfer vehicle, Struck By Lightning, American indie darling, Keep the Lights On and Israeli documentary, The Invisible Men. Check it out, please?!

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A fantastic documentary that provides an insightful look into Marina Abramovic's world of performance art. It legitimises this niche in art and forces the viewer to question why Abramovic's work is considered art at all. The moments that are shared on screen between Abramovic and her former love/performing partner, Ulay, are incredibly emotional. Their affection for one another is just so palpable. Also look out for a cheeky cameo by James Franco (and a blink-and-you'll miss it appearance by Orlando Bloom).

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Revolutionary Road was outstanding and in a lot of ways, set the mood established by a show like Mad Men. Powerfully acted, the Titanic team of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet give it their all as a domestic couple whose dreams of an idyllic marriage come undone by the doldrums of reality. A forthright drama about the disillusionment of married life in the American suburbs of the '60s. Of all the films I've seen Leonardo DiCaprio in, I'd argue that this is his best acted film to date.

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A box office success here in Australia, I Give it A Year might be a bit dysfunctional in terms of its uneven pacing but nevertheless succeeds in drumming up plenty of laughs. Though it veers into conventional territory every now and again (the film culminates into a last-minute dash to the train station!) but there still remains a fairly smart script that sets up our protagonists as two people who you're actually rooting against to be together (similar to how the characters in Knocked Up are). I liked it and not just because it stars Rose Byrne.

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Supposedly this film is meant to be Steven Sodabergh's final feature film and if it is, my hat is off to you sir. Side Effects is a slick-looking, mature thriller that brings to mind classic film noir of yore. Sometimes I forget that Jude Law is actually a good actor (I haven't seen many films he's in) so it was fun watching him here. Interesting that the film shifts focus away from Rooney Mara's character and onto Jude Law's character in the later half of the film though. Speaking of the Roons, she's aces in this as is the rest of the ensemble class (although Channing Tatum we need to have a talk about your incessant jaw grinding, man).

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I really love the idea of taking classic stories and adapting it into an entirely different environment which is why I guess I liked Treasure Planet (space pirates guys, SPACE PIRATES). Treasure Planet came out during a strange time for Disney where they were getting super experimental and pumped out some really interesting films, some of which may have gone under-appreciated. Treasure Planet is gorgeous though at the same time is fairly light on story and character development. Also, there's a really cringe-worthy montage set to some really bad music. Oh, kids films made between the 90s and the 00's...

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If I remember correctly, The Iron Giant released around the same time as Pokemon: The First Movie. I wouldn't be surprised if The Iron Giant bombed at the box office but that's okay cause director Brad Bird seems to have found a home at Pixar and has made some stellar animated films. The Iron Giant is fantastic and something of a revelation. It's amazing to think how a film like it was made at the time - an animated period piece that's equal parts Studio Ghibli and E.T. Although it is short (only 70 minutes long!), it tells an incredibly deep story with so many facets that it's understandable to see why The Iron Giant went under the radar at the time of its release become a cult favourite. Also, it's Vin Diesel's best role on film to date (old joke is old).

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Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe my feelings towards Cloud Atlas. The film tries to weave in grandiose themes relating to fate, souls and reincarnation through six loosely connected stories but altogether it's just an absolute mess of a film. Visually the film is gorgeous and musically it's breathtaking but aside from the stylistic nuances that make this film look and sound great, there's not a whole lot to latch onto. I think it's a case of the film being too big in and of itself. An ambitious feature that's more pretentious than it is meaningful. I'm only now beginning to realise that it's basically The Tree of Life. Oh.

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And in non-film consumption news, I've also managed to watch the pilots for two new shows, Top of the Lake and Bates Motel. I'd recommend people at least give a try (that's what pilots are for, right?).


Top of the Lake is a murder mystery series set in New Zealand that's created by Jane Campion and stars Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss and Australian, David Wenham. Moody and atmospheric, it's a slow-moving drama that I'm keen to keep going with (it's a mini-series so it really shouldn't take a whole lot to get through it).


Meanwhile, Bates Motel is something of a prequel to Psycho and focuses on a teenaged Norman Bates and his provocative relationship with his mother. It's drawn the understandable ire of a vocal lot on the Internet but I enjoyed the pilot. If anything, the series will be like foreplay up until the Australian release of Park Chan-wook's English-language debut, Stoker (of which I hope to god I am not disappointed by!).
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And that's all I've got today. Now for some music. Here's some Justin Timberlake for your ears - straight off his new album, The 20/20 Experience (from top to bottom, a flawless album in my opinion). Listen and love.


End post.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Wise Man

Oh hey, I didn't smell you there.

So you may have noticed that I've been away for a while (or not, doesn't matter). Now that I'm back, what say we get back to the usual? And no, I shouldn't have to give a reason for my absence (don't you try to "Dear Diary" me, Internet!).

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What's this? New additions?! I managed to add a few new features during my brief hiatus and while it's not  not a complete makeover for the blog (aside from the updated banner), these new additions have been a long time coming.

You will have noticed coming into the blog that I've added new buttons for contact details (the illusion of professionalism, ha!) and a list of my written work that has been published online (stalk, stalk, stalk). Also in the sidebar, you will see that I have added a list of reviewed films so if you're looking for a specific film, have a comb through that if you've got the time (more stalking guys, go!). Keep in mind that they're not all fully written reviews, some of them will either be dot-pointed or quick thoughts (kinda like tweets).

Also I apologise for the horrendous illustration and overall mess in the new banner. I just really wanted something new and this was the best I could come up (clearly wasn't trying hard enough). I wish I knew how to illustrate properly on the computer and clean up all those ugly lines but whatever (or maybe I should just pass it off onto a friend who actually knows how to do this junk, hehe). So yeah, get used to it I guess.

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Picked up Tomb Raider and have been really enjoying the game so far. Thankfully, it broke street date in Australia so I and many others, were able to play the game before the official release. Having never played a Tomb Raider game, I feel that Crystal Dynamics has made something stellar here. Sure, it might look like an Uncharted clone but it's so much more than that. In fact, I feel that Tomb Raider outdoes the Uncharted series and I love that series to death (and I haven't even finished the game yet!).

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Also attended a concert by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last Saturday night. Tan Dun, the composer for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Banquet and Hero was the special guest conductor and he came down to Melbourne to play songs from those films. It was an awesome evening and to hear the music live was really something. I wish I had pictures to share but oh well.
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WHAT HAVE I BEEN WATCHING


Watched the first season of Sailor Moon during my hiatus and managed to finish it within a week. However, you won't find my opinion on the first season here. Instead, you can find it over at Japan Cinema! Yes, my first review for a pretty popular website was for Sailor Moon. Street cred is either climbing to unimaginable heights or plummeting right now - I don't even know myself. I only recently started writing for them and I've been following for site for a while now. So yeah, plug time right? Head on over to Japan Cinema and read my full review of Sailor Moon's first season.

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I think regardless of whether or not you like the film, you can't argue Zero Dark Thirty's importance as a historically relevant film. Zero Dark Thirty closely follows in the footsteps of films like The Social Network, Zodiac, All the President's Men, and more recently, Argo, in terms of its breadth, procedural nature (less so with TSN) and level of research.

Some may lambaste the film as a complete misdirection of the truth -propaganda even - but, looking at the film from a journalistic perspective provides me reason enough to think that, Zero Dark Thirty's research goes above and beyond what people may have expected coming into a film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Less "entertaining" than Bigelow's previous, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty nevertheless remains an utterly compelling feature, one with an ending that's both liberating yet discomforting.

After watching this, the controversy that Zero Dark Thirty was garnering seemed unwarranted, particularly when people seem to miss the point of the film. Interestingly enough, the US Senate decided to drop it's investigation into Zero Dark Thirty (specifically Bigelow and Boal's relationship with the CIA) once it was learned that Zero Dark Thirty failed to win any awards at this year's Academy Awards. Of course.


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I had no immediate plans to see West of Memphis and went to see it based completely on a recommendation from a friend. Like Zero Dark Thirty, West of Memphis condenses nearly two decades worth of investigatory material into a walloping film that runs nearly three hours long. Unlike Zero Dark Thirty however, West of Memphis is a documentary, therefore it's facts haven't been over-sensationalised - especially considering how well documented and readily available the case of the West Memphis Three was.

Some context first. In 1994, three teenagers were wrongfully sentenced to a lifetime in prison for the murders of three young boys in 1993. The investigation was a clumsy mess - there was no "real" effort made to properly find any evidence that connected the teenagers to the killings. The tactics utilised by the police and the prosecution were rather questionable and the general consensus for the incarceration of these three teenager seem to stem from the fact that they were different in a town where "weird" is intolerable.

West of Memphis is several things. It's an extensive (sometimes exhaustive) overview of the entire case - the result of which is an incredible story filled with ups and downs. It's a slam on the American legal system - evident in the mishandling of the case and abuse of power by representatives of the law - as well as a lesson in prejudice.

Though West of Memphis runs longer than it ought to, it felt like it needed to be as long as it was. The amount of resources available, in conjunction with the story they wanted to tell, was staggering (the film also builds a strong case for a possible suspect who may have committed the murders). I left the cinema feeling emotionally numb and even now am not sure whether or not how to emotionally react towards the film (though you shouldn't mistake that as something negative about the film at all).


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The Machinist has eluded for some time now and I'm not quite sure why (and I don't have a rhetorical question disguised as an answer to give for that). Context: It was a lazy Saturday at home, I didn't have much else to do and was only wanted to see a short feature-length film. And The Machinist fit that criteria, clocking in between 90 - 100 minutes. 

Having not slept for an entire year, Trevor Reznik's sanity begins to break when he causes a freak accident at  the factory he works for. The film is perhaps best remembered as the film that demonstrates how far Christian Bale is willing to go to completely commit to a role. While his performance in the film is certainly good, Bale's physical representation of Reznik is beyond startling and it's a wonder how Bale was able to transform himself from a sleep-deprived skeleton of a human being to a muscled-up Batman within the span of a few months. 

Outside of Bale's commitment to his craft, the film prides itself as a very sleek Hitcockian/Fincher-esque thriller. The music in the film almost sounds like as if it was done by famous Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Hermann, and while that certainly does add to the film's overall aesthetic as a psychological thriller, it somehow also takes away from the film. A lot of the time, the score sounds weirdly inappropriate given the film's very dark and grimy look. An industrial-sounding score would probably have been more appropriate but that's just me (speaking of industrial, I wouldn't be surprised if Trevor Reznik's name was partially inspired by Trent Reznor - frontman for Nine Inch Nails and occasional musical composer for David Fincher). 

For the most part, I enjoyed the film. It was simple yet effective and kept enough intrigue for me to want to know what was around the corner. Bale is magnetic, as he always is, and this film is a fantastic exhibition of Christian Bale's dedication to his craft.


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For ardent watchers of South Korean cinema, 2013 will most definitely be a year to remember. Three of South Korea's big directorial draws make their English-language American feature film debuts this year - Bong Joon-ho, Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon. The latter is an interesting director in that his versatility  has shown that he is comfortable in just about any genre. The Last Stand is Kim Jee-woon's debut American feature film but more importantly, it is also Arnold Schwarzenegger's comeback movie.

Working with the most bare-bones of action flicks, The Last Stand doesn't do a whole lot to distinguish itself from the myriad of action films that have been released since Arnie's brief departure from the world of movies. Attempts at humour feel awkward and forced, even Arnie's one-liners fall flat and are more eye-roll worthy instead of encouraging raucous cheers of badassery. So the script isn't all that great - fair enough. Kim Jee-woon normally writes his own material anyway (and this script reeked of run-of-the-mill mediocrity). 

How about the action you say? Well the film is called The Last Stand for a reason - not a whole lot goes on until the third act of the film kicks in which, at this point, becomes an exhibition of Kim Jee-woon's capabilities as an action director. Action is fun and exciting at times and Arnie still looks great at kicking-ass. In fact, I would say his age has made him even more intimidating.

I feel like as if The Last Stand was Hollywood's way of testing the waters with Kim to see whether or not they want to invest more in him in the future though. I didn't hate the film but I thought it was pretty standard fare. Disappointed is a good way of describing how I feel about the film, especially considering the fact that Kim created one of the most thrillingly entertaining blockbusters I've ever seen with The Good, The Bad, The Weird


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Was keen to see this at MIFF last year but missed out on it (I can't remember why though I suspect a 'ceebs heading into city right now' was the cause). Took a while but The Imposter eventually made it and found a theatrical run at the Nova. 

The documentary tells the incredible true-life story of a French man who assumed the identity of a missing American child and was taken in by the family themselves. The Imposter doesn't quite feel like a documentary though and is far more cinematic, relying on techniques more commonly associated with fiction film making. I found it to be a bit distracting but nevertheless remained compelled by the actual story itself. It's hard to believe that it's true but it indeed happened. And like any great thriller, this one had a lot of twists and turns that had me on edge for most of the film.

I think the most interesting thing to take away from the film is that it plays like a thriller and there's a constant creepy feeling that "something isn't right". As you would imagine, the film plays up the theme of deceit all throughout. Without giving too much away, there's enough reason for audiences to believe that one party's allegations may be truer than the other and vice versa. 

I liked The Imposter and while it didn't always feel like a traditional doco, I was always kept intrigued.  Thrillers should always keep you guessing so that you can have that satisfying "aha" moment in the end. Even if the events that transpired in the documentary have already happened, that shouldn't take away from the fact that you're trying to tell a story that's so bizarre that you have people questioning whether or not it's true. And perhaps that's why this film isn't as much of a documentary as one would believe. 

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Not going to ruminate on film news or even the Academy Awards for that matter. I'm not mad at any of the winners (although maybe a little upset with Brave's win cause you know... Paranorman and Wreck-It Ralph were my favourites to win) and thought that the victories were just (and the race leading up to Oscar night practically gave away who was going to win). So yeah, not gonna spend that much time talking about the Oscars.

So I hear you like music? That's cool. Frank Ocean wrote a song for Django Unchained which almost made it into the film but Tarantino couldn't figure out how to include it in the film despite singing Frank's praises as a lyricist and singer. Instead Frank released it a while ago on his Tumblr page noting that, "django was ill without it". Here's that song which serves as the title for this post.


End post.