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Sunday, 29 December 2013

We Ain't Them

'Sup. 

One slightly frequent post after another, woah. I'm just trying to full up on my backlog of written thoughts on the films that I've seen. Some of these I saw a couple of weeks ago, others only recently. This post would have gone up earlier if it weren't for two things: work and Brooklyn Nine Nine.

Worked all week (including Christmas and Boxing Day) and got my entire week mixed up. Was messaging a friend thinking that I had plans on the weekend when it turned out I was already in the weekend. Oops.

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Anyways, this is usually the best time to draw up a list of top films I saw that I super enjoyed this year but like last year, I'll just say that the two defining films of 2013, for me, were Fruitvale Station and Spring Breakers.


As I said previously, Fruitvale Station made me a completely emotional wreck due to its powerfully tragic story of the wrongful killing of Oscar Grant. As for Spring Breakers, it was surprisingly the most original film I saw this year (original in the sense that nothing else I saw this year in cinemas even came close to tapping into the energy that the film had, making it incomparable and in a league of its own). I'm as surprised as anyone that Spring Breakers is among my top favourites of 2013. Thoughts on each film contained in corresponding links.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

Oh yeah, Brooklyn Nine Nine is a show I've started watching too. Currently, it's on mid-season break so I was able to catch up on all the current episodes available (as a new show, it's still in its first season so it was pretty easy to play catch up).


Essentially about a police unit based in Brooklyn, New York and their everyday work. First few episodes were a bit hit and miss for me - some jokes were great, others fell flat. Andy Samberg's appeal is still a mystery to me and though I was irritated by his man-child detective in the beginning, he's started to come round to me. It wasn't til their Thanksgiving-themed episode that I really started enjoying the show.

I've also noticed that a lot of sitcoms don't really begin to find their feet and understand their characters until a holiday-themed episode comes around (Community being a perfect example, I reckon.) Enjoying the show, despite a few flaws, and going to continue with it (also Terry Crews so ya know, selling point).

Now I'm either going to have to start watching House of Cards or Orphan Black - both new shows that began airing in 2013 (or in House of Cards' case, streaming). Man, I still need to play catch up on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Homeland. Boo.

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In case you may have missed it, my full review of Kim Ki-duk's The Bow can be found over at Modern Korean Cinema. I've still got plenty of Kim's films to delve into; this is gonna take some time.

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PEPPERMINT CANDY: Like Beijing Bicycle, I feel that Peppermint Candy is best appreciated if one has a good knowledge of the country's history. History notwithstanding, Peppermint Candy is an important film in Korean cinema. Long before Memento and Irreversible, Lee Chang-dong tactfully utilised the backwards narrative to expose the multiple identities of South Korea through a troubled (and that’s putting it lightly!) man. Another great film for Lee, though personally speaking, Peppermint Candy isn’t as absorbing as his later works.

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OASIS: Oasis is without a doubt the one of the most forthright and honest film potrayals of a handicapped person I’ve ever seen. A romantic drama in only the way that Lee Chang-dong could have made, Oasis is one of the best Korean films I’ve had the pleasure of watching and between this and Secret Sunshine, it’s hard for me to determine which I love more. Warm, sincere and effective, Oasis is truly a magnificent film to behold. Can't recommend it enough.

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POETRY: Poetry is another great film in Lee Chang-dong’s near-perfect assemblage of films. Lee’s heroines are written so well and, for such understated works, his films are so commanding and arresting. While his previous films have certainly been ambitious to a degree, Poetry feels like as though it has the most threads as far as its story is concerned. Where lesser directors would lose control of other subplots, Lee ties everything up wonderfully, the sign of a master at work both in his direction and his writing. Sublime filmmaking.


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THREE KINGS: Though it may feel like a Michael Bay film at times, Three Kings is super energetic and fun though it does lose a bit of this when the film becomes more serious in the later portions of the film. Mark Whalberg and George Clooney are also two guys I'm starting to come around to as well. A well-intentioned dose of satire and social commentary earmark the film just for good measure though I can't help but feel that Rockstar Games borrowed a few cues here and there from this film for their recent juggernaut, Grand Theft Auto V.

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ONLY GOD FORGIVES: Ryan Gosling plays the brooding quiet type again in Nicolas Winding Refn's latest but there wasn't much about Only God Forgives that I enjoyed. Aside from its immaculate visuals and nightmarish tone, I feel that a lot of the film is bogged down by some really strange editing choices with shots lingering on longer than they ought to (which results in a movie that feels longer than it actually is). Only God Forgives didn't look like it had a purpose either - and if it did I wasn't picking up on it. Disappointing when you consider Drive. Maybe another viewing will change that.

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21 JUMP STREET: If it weren't for the fact that I'd been spoilt crazy thanks to Tumblr, I probably would've enjoyed 21 Jump Street a lot more. That said, I think it's a pretty solid and memorable comedy. I didn't have gut-busting laughs but it was just so consistent and fun that it didn't matter if I did. Admittedly, I'm starting to come around to Channing Tatum who kills it in this film.

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CRAZY STUPID LOVE: Most of this movie is kind of dumb, let's be honest. A lot if it feels so manufactured and projects the typical Hollywood standards of romance. Weirdly plotted at times though I will admit that the massive fight between the main characters of the film felt completely earned and made the second half a little bit more enjoyable as a result (trying so hard to forget that graduation speech though, ugh). Dunno how this is so beloved, it's kinda not great.

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THIS IS THE END: Yes it has a thin narrative but the concept of this film is so brilliant that it's a wonder why nobody else has tried to do something similar before. Prides itself on humour on referential and self-deprecating humour. Endlessly fun stuff. Thankfully I wasn't too spoilt by Tumblr or anything else really. Whew. Such a likable ensemble and some fantastic cameo appearances too.

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PACIFIC RIM: Don't see the love for this film, to be honest. Didn't hate it but felt awfully underwhelmed given the lofty expectations that were set for it. Kinda dumb for the most part and works illogically against the rules established within its own world. For a movie that concerns itself with apocalyptic threats, there hardly seemed to be anything at stake. Eh.

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THE WORLD'S END: Despite warnings of the film being overrated, I still found myself enjoying The World's End for what it was worth. It's unquestionably the most mature entry into Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy which, in the end, just reminded me that I needed to see Young Adult (perhaps a good double considering how both films' main characters are habitually stuck in time). Though perhaps not nearly as focused as the other films in the trilogy, the charm of Wright's characters left me smiling. Where to go from here with Wright and company?

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THE THING: Oh boy, did this film ever meet my expectations and then some. Though it may look a bit hokey by today's standards, John Carpenter's The Thing is one hell of a lesson in horror filmmaking. A staple of the genre, Carpenter understands completely how to drum up fear and paranoia, expertly using his setting to do so. At times it can be quite thrilling and fun to go along with The Thing and personally speaking, I find this film to be a lot better than Alien as far as claustrophobic alien films go. Genuinely great, really what more can be said about The Thing that hasn't already been said?
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This blog has become so impersonal, ey? No photos of me or my life whatsoever, haha. This will be the last post of 2013 and to send you off into the new year is Childish Gambino with his track, 'We Ain't Them' - the title for this blog post. It's off his free 2012 mixtape, Royalty, and the beat reminds me of summer weather (but the song also has a lyric where CG wishes Community was cancelled so that he could focus on his own projects - of which there are many). Ugh, just remembered that I still have to check out his latest album, Because the Internet. Changing this now. 

Have a safe 2014, everyone. 


End post. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Now or Never

Hullo.

The closer we get to the end of 2013, the less I care about actually celebrating the end of the year. I don't really have a strong urge to celebrate New Year's Eve, maybe cause I don't really have anything worth celebrating for 2014? I do have plans kinda but they're not concrete so for the time being, I'm really not doing anything to celebrate the new year right now.

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I did, however, celebrate Christmas this year and a little earlier than normal too. One of my best friends and I caught up over a movie and dinner. Pretty rad day, I thought, especially since I also won money from the casino too (that never happens!). This is what I got from her:

  • The shirt is from Last Exit to No Where, a UK line of movie-inspired t-shirts. Each of their shirts references a particular company or business within the film. The one I received was a shirt that references Blade Runner
  • Django Unchained is one of my favourite films from 2013 and, in my opinion, is Tarantino's best film to date (apologies to Pulp Fiction). 
  • Spring Breakers is at the top for me as far as best films from 2013. There aren't a lot of people who like this film and that's fine. 
  • I loved Natsuo Kirino's book, Real World, which I picked up on a whim a few years ago. Since then, I've been meaning to read her other books including Grotesque (it's really messed up if you just read the blurb, heh). 
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING  

Mostly looking at all the films I saw at the 17th Japanese Film Festival today as well as the films I've seen in the cinema since my last post. But before I do, I wanted to talk a bit about Orange is the New Black, an original series produced by American online streaming service, Netflix.


Deftly blending drama and comedy, OITNB follows Piper Chapman, a woman who voluntarily admits herself into prison for a crime she committed ten years prior. From there, the show explores her life and the lives of others in a female prison.

It's so damn great and it had me hooked from episode one - it's all I've been talking about it lately. These are some of the best written cast of characters on television at the moment - each of whom have a unique personality that never really falls into stereotype. It's so refreshing to see such a broad mix of women being represented as well. I can't really speak on how the show projects the female experience across the board though I'd like to think that it captures it well to a certain degree.

It's a shame Taylor Schilling (she plays Piper) got passed over at the Emmys but at least is being recognised by the Golden Globes as she certainly is fantastic as the complex Piper. Ugh, just a really good show. Watch it!

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THE GREAT PASSAGE: Crowd-pleasing and serviceable film about one man's intent to see through the competition of a brand-new dictionary. Not exactly fantastic subject matter but The Great Passage has enough genuine moments of warmth and laughter that make it a great opening film for a festival. Full thoughts on The Great Passage over at Japan Cinema.

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DRAGON BALL Z: BATTLE OF GODS: It's not the DBZ flick that you wanted but in my opinion, it's great regardless of its lack of action and tension. Ultimately a fanservice film, Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, hashes up a thin story to bring humour the likes of which haven't really been seen since the original Dragon Ball series. It's fun and, for fans of the series, it's essentially a loving tribute to the series' enduring fanbase. Look out for my full review of Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods over at The Australia Times.

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SUMMER'S END:  In spite of its shortcomings, I enjoyed Summer's End for the most part. Love Exposure's Hikari Mitsushima is in top form here as a lonesome and loveless woman caught between two somewhat lacking relationships. Full review available through Japan Cinema. 

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REAL:  The less said about this film the better (though where's the fun in that?). A godawful film, Real is just an insulting, careless and completely awful film. One of the worst films this year and perhaps even one of the worst films I've ever seen. Full review over at Japan Cinema.

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THE DEVIL'S PATH:  One of the more interesting films at the festival, The Devil's Path has been a critical darling over in Japan though my reason for loving it perhaps goes beyond what's on the surface of the film. If you wanna know what I really thought about the film, head on over to my review for it over at Japan Cinema.

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ELEGANT BEAST:  Elegant Beast is an interesting film though truthfully I feel as though a lot of its meaning was lost on me. That said, the film feels a lot like a theatre production and has impeccable use of mise-en-scene, cinematography and, more importantly, shines as a masterclass in acting. I might not have "gotten it" but I can't say I was bored.

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ORPHEUS' LYRE: Personally speaking, I found Orpheus' Lyre far too easy to compare to Lee Chang-dong's Secret Sunshine despite the fact that both film's are about completely different means of grief and suffering. Orpheus' Lyre doesn't hit the emotional heights I would have liked which is disappointing considering its very strong beginning. Great camera work though - Terrence Malick would be happy.

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THE SPECTACULAR NOW: Super effective romantic teen drama with superb leads aided by a solid supporting cast of older talents. With considered direction grounding The Spectacular Now, one could say that levels of realism for teenage movies are rarely seen in this day and age. One scene in particular plays out a lot like Richard Linklater's Before series. Though I still have my reservations about the final sections of the film, it doesn't wash away the sentiments I had for the rest of the film prior to it.

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AMERICAN HUSTLE: Despite awards season buzz, American Hustle's strongest ticket to the big awards lies within its outstanding acting ensemble, all of whom will unquestionably go forth to receive nominations across the major acting categories. It's not O'Russell's best film and at times feels more like an homage to Goodfellas than it's own film. Somewhat bloated in story and scale, American Hustle falls short of being a truly great film. The Fighter is still O'Russell's best film, in my opinion.

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KILL YOUR DARLINGS: Actually thought this was pretty darn good and really shows off Daniel Radcliffe's acting prowess outside of Harry Potter. He and on-the-rise star Dane DeHaan are fantastic as the instigators of the Beat generation and one-time lovers. Really dug the anachronistic soundtrack too which fit perfectly within the film as well as the tonal shift from playful and jokey to dark and abrasive.

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THE HUNGER GAMES - CATCHING FIRE: Actually a better film than the first, thankfully. Takes the series into an admittedly interesting direction which actually made me give a damn about the story this time around. Funnily enough, where I hated the first movie for its boring exposition and characters, here Katniss and Peeta have obviously matured as a result of their survival in their first game (Katniss moreso than Peeta cause he's, once again, terribly underwritten). Katniss is meant to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder too which was brushed off super quickly in the film (nope!). The actual game this time is pretty unexciting as well.
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Cool, you're still sticking around. Good on you! Here, have a song. This blog post's title is thanks to Kendrick Lamar. His track, Now or Never, is a collab between himself and R&B/soul singer, Mary J. Blige, and is off his critically acclaimed album, good kid, m.A.A.d city.


End post.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Take Care

Uhhhh... hey?

Yeah, look this blog is kinda going under. I won't apologise for my absence though cause I've done that enough. I feel as though ya'll know my deal anyway so there’s really no need to explain.

Some things have happened in my life in the past few months that have been pretty rad:
  • Had a bit of work experience at 3AW Radio which was great and totally different to what I'm doing now. Just answered a few calls from listeners, transferred them through to the live studio and such. Got good feedback about it so here’s hoping something comes out of it (fingers crossed!)
  • Finished playing Grand Theft Auto V, The Witcher and The Witcher 2. Starting Just Cause 2 now which is basically GTA if it were a really dumb action movie (read: actually a lot of fun despite weird controls) though may start playing either Ni no kuni or Mass Effect instead (not that necessary for me to play Just Cause 2 since I’m so heavily into RPGs again).
  • Am now the owner of four Criterion Collection Blu-rays which is super cool (for those of you keeping count, I now own Secret Sunshine, Still Walking, Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love on Blu-ray... films made by three of my top Asian directors, methinks)
  • Discovered the magic of Lorde and am kicking myself for not getting into Lana Del Rey earlier (I just love female singers nowadays, sorry lads). 
  • Purchased a copy of Capcom vs. SNK 2, a hugely fun and perhaps even underrated fighting game on the Playstation 2 (aw yes, I am two generations behind). Now I need two new PS2 controllers (thanks eBay!) and a friend to play with (oh…). Pity the sticker from Dungeon Crawl had to go and do leave an ugly mark though.
  • Had a brush with fame at work after walking pass Eric Bana (he was with his son seeing a film).
  • Wrote and helped make a film for Melbourne’s 48 Hour Film Project! Film itself is not available online at the moment but I had a pretty good time making it in hindsight. At least I know I can write a short film within a couple of hours (it’s not going to be the best story but at least it’s an achievement!).
  • Picked up a rad book from the ACMI Store called, “Cinema Architecture” which showcases some of the best cinemas around the world and the architects behind them (read: movie nerd porn).
  • Also added even more new films to my ever-growing collection (which kinda needs to stop truthfully cause I ain't gonna have a place to hold 'em all soon!)
Other rad things that I got excited for:


  • Actual queen of Japan, Shiina Ringo, recently celebrated her 35th birthday/15th anniversary as a singer and has released a bunch of goodies for fans that I'll likely not be able to acquire due to Japan's inflated prices for its media (CDs/DVDs/Blu-rays and the like are incredibly expensive for some reason in Japan, idk).
  • Amanda Seyfried celebrating her birthday in Korea, whaaat? Spent it wining and dining with important Korean folks (this was during a charity event though, I believe) and was welcomed into the country at the airport by Korean fans who sang her a birthday song (good, very good job Korea - you make good movies and you're mega hospitable).
  • Speaking of Amanda Seyfried, she and the actual queen of Australia, Rose Byrne, both posed for a photo an event that saw me flail around my room like a scolded dog. I lead a fulfilling life (now I need these two + Elizabeth Olsen to take a picture together and then I can ascend into the ether).
  • Melbourne’s weather being cold and rainy and awesome. I love that the whole of spring and now early summer has been pretty cool with its weather. In fact, I do believe that this might be the coolest summer in Melbourne ever.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

So uhhhh, I saw a lot of films since the last blog post and will obviously condense my thoughts as much as possible (bite-sized reviews all the way) though the problem as I've just found is that I can't actually tag all of them (for some reason, I'm only allowed to tag with 200 characters which is silly).  I'll be splitting them across several posts though as some of the films I've watched can be segmented for your navigating pleasure. Overall though, I feel like as though I might be missing a couple of films in this list but regardless gonna be pretty lengthy so... 



THE ROCKET: One of my favourite films of the year – The Rocket is an inspiring and heartwarming film that, for me, is essentially this year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. A lot of heart, a lot of imagination and a luscious film altogether, The Rocket is Australia’s number one bid for the Oscars (here’s hoping it shoots its way into the nominations cause its rightly deserved even if it isn’t “really” Australian).

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MOOD INDIGO: Michel Gondry’s new film, Mood Indigo, didn’t quite hit it well with me to be honest. Gondry’s style is all over the place and while it’s charming at first, begins to get irritating. The film is also a victim of the Weinstein cut job which meant that a certain portions of the film were cut, leaving the whole film feeling quite disjointed. Disappointing.

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SPECIAL ID: Audiences clamouring for the Donnie Yen who brought them SPL and Flash Point from ten years ago will not be disappointed with his new film, Special ID. Yen brings the fury as an undercover cop working alongside the Chinese authorities and though the action is brutal, it’s loosely held together by a story that’s so redundant that it almost lessen’s the blow felt from Yen’s action choreography. Video game enthusiasts might find much to enjoy from this film as well, due to its startling similarities to the underrated game, Sleeping Dogs.

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PRISONERS: A tautly paced thriller, Prisoners is a fantastic film that delivers great performances from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal and an unrecognizable Melissa Leo. With excellent cinematography work from acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (who by the way has provided me with my favourite movie still of 2013), Prisoners is a masterclass in mystery, suspense and horror and a chilling study of man’s tolerance for evil. 

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GRAVITY: Certainly an impressive and astonishing technical feat, Gravity is an admirable effort by director Alfonso Cuaron though if I’m being honest, the struggle to survive in Buried felt way more threatening (weird how that works, huh?). That said, there’s a lot more going on in the film than just Sandra Bullock’s survival though I can’t imagine revisiting at home - I saw it in IMAX 3D which in my mind is the definitive version of Gravity

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MYSTERY ROAD: Not my favourite Australian film of the year (that distinction goes towards The Rocket and The Turning) but a worthwhile one undoubtedly. A wholly Aboriginal voice bleeds out all throughout Mystery Road and its neo-noir-cum-western story of an Aboriginal detective navigating the murky grounds of the Australian outback make Mystery Road a broodingly mature revelation in Aboriginal-Australian cinema.

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STORIES WE TELL: Filmmaker Sarah Polley crafts an incredible documentary in Stories We Tell, one that not only gives a great yet simple story but does so in a way where Polley essentially deconstructs the documentary format. By telling a story about her deceased mother, Polley demonstrates how untrustworthy memory can be and how it can be used to distort meaning. It’s a lovingly made film and fantastic in every sense of the word – sensitively told and thought-provoking.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD: Though Thor: The Dark World isn’t without its inconsistencies, namely its arbitrary and bland characters (villainous and heroic) and less than enthralling story, I actually felt like I had a lot of fun with it. Thor: The Dark World, at the very least, is a huge step up from the first and is a much better film than Iron Man 3. The combination of fantasy and space work incredibly well which only builds a good case for Marvel to introduce Guardians of the Galaxy down the line. Biggest thing to come away from this is Tom Hiddleston who has become the unlikely poster boy for Marvel.


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FRUITVALE STATION: Without a doubt my favourite film of the year so far (and we’ve only got a few weeks left to go!), Fruitvale Station rendered me an emotional wreck during and after the film was over. Based on an unfortunate true story about the wrongful killing of a young man on New Year’s Eve, the film will no doubt go on to be something of a wild card this award season, with its considered direction from first-time director Ryan Coogler and star-making performance by Michael B. Jordan. Gripping, heart-breaking and tragic, Fruitvale Station is one of the year’s best without a doubt. 

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RUSH: Rush was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me as I had no intention to watch this movie at all. A fantastic sports film – perhaps one of the best ever made – Ron Howard ups the adrenalin in this hyper-kinetic sports-drama about one of F1 racing’s most storied rivalries. An immaculate period presentation and top-tier performances make Rush that rare breed of film that straddles the line between playful popcorn flick and almost arthouse affair.


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BLACKFISH: In spite of its obvious agenda, Blackfish is an eye-opening documentary that exposes America’s Seaworld amusement parks as a culpable suspect for the endangered lives of captive killer whales. It’s a fascinating topic to explore and one that’s extremely well-told within its short 88 minute running time – something that seems to be lost on a lot of filmmakers these days.
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SMUGGLER: Absolutely hated Smuggler which is a damn shame considering its stacked cast. Only good thing to come out of it were the characters of Viscera and Vertebrae, a pair of Chinese-speaking assassins causing havoc in Japan (had no idea Masanobu Ando could speak Mandarin). Find out why I hated Smuggler over at Japan Cinema.
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AS ONE: A fine sports-drama, As One tells the true-life story of Korea’s first unified Olympic table tennis team which was formed in the early '90s. Peppered with the expected amounts of romance, comedy and drama that one can assume a big name Korean movie like this would generate, As One is a great film with a very Korean story to tell. Absolutely recommended if you're a fan of good sports films and Korean films.


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DRUG WAR: My first Johnnie To film! Drug War is a pretty tight film overall that pushes the censorship restrictions of China. Being that this was To’s first Chinese feature (he’s more of a Hong Kong guy), it does well to show off things that censors normally frown upon. Largely fun and entertaining with some great set pieces though my preferred drug-related crime film would have to go to Protégé which starred Daniel Wu and Andy Lau (it’s a Hong Kong film though not a Mainland film).


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THE BOW: Kim Ki-duk is an artist in every sense of the word. The Bow is visual and aural poetry and it’s so hard for me to even say whether or not I “liked” it because his films are all visceral experiences. It's not up yet but look out for a wordier articulation of the film over at Modern Korean Cinema.

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15: Piss-poor acting and excruciating storytelling make 15 an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons. Despite some well-intentioned ideas, Singaporean director Royston Tan’s unconventional visual style – a laughable attempt to recreate the energy in films like Chungking Express and Run Lola Run – and awfully plotted vignettes make for a less than engaging experience which is a shame considering its subject matter.   


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BEIJING BICYCLE: A classic in China, Beijing Bicycle might seem unassuming on the outside but really has so much character and depth. Telling the story of two boys chasing after the same bicycle, the film is social commentary at its finest. Beijing Bicycle is a dive into China’s lower class citizens and how China's communist ideals has punished them. Subtle yet powerful, if you’re an avid Chinese cinema-goer, this will no doubt have already been on your watch list. That said, I feel like if I were Chinese that this film would resonate much more.
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Still here? You crazy, dawg. But I'm glad you are because now I can share with you the song of the post.

This post's title refers the dreamy American band, Beach House, whose song Take Care was used in the American trailer for this year's Palme d'Or winning film, Blue Is The Warmest Color (which was recently selected to join the prestigious Criterion Collection!). Listen and love. 

(Fun fact: Kendrick Lamar sampled Beach House's song, Silver Soul, for his track, Money Trees. Was listening to Beach House's "Teen Dream" album and thought the rhythm and melody sounded way too familiar. Turned out my hunch was right!). 




End post.