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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Keep Silence

HEY!

So it's not like I haven't been writing, I've been doing plenty of that! Just not for the blog. No, I've been contributing a lot in the past couple of months to Japan Cinema and to Modern Korean Cinema with reviews from the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Korean Film Festival in Australia too! I couldn't include all my MIFF reviews in this post unfortunately simply because the tags won't be able to hold all the films I've seen in this one post.

I wrote a separate post for the films I saw at MIFF so if you're keen to read up on some of the things I saw from this year's festival, follow this link to see what films caught my attention!

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Treat yourself purchases! Picked up DVDs of Hoop Dreams, Broken Flowers, Dead Man, Dogtooth and Departures as part of a collective sale that Readings had on. Meanwhile, Maboroshi no hikari was bought from YesAsia. Sweet, sweet, Japanese import!
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING

If it wasn't obvious, first three reviews are from the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA). Click onto the sentence for the full review to the corresponding movie found at Modern Korean Cinema.



HOPE: "Hope might not be a challenging film but what it lacks in subtlety and nuance it more than makes up for in its performances and overall message."

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NORA NOH: "Nora Noh is a scintillating exploration of Korea's cultural history and - including its celebration of a woman who fought to better the lives of her fellow Korean women in her country at the time - is also a film makes a point to champion local, homebred talent."

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THE DINNER: "Director Kim Dong-hyun tries his hardest to be [the type of filmmaker who can create compelling family drama] but unfortunately lacks the astute direction and strong scripting that a poised filmmaker such as Japan's Hirokazu Koreeda possesses."

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COMMITMENT: After hearing some negative press towards this movie, it made me all the more curious to see Commitment. Starring Big Bang's resident rapper, T.O.P (or his real name which he's using as an actor, Choi Seung-hyun), this messy action movie indulges in many cliches and well-worn tropes of its genre which is unfortunate given its admittedly intriguing set up.

Set in 2011, the film talks a big game with its sleeper cell agents and North Korean spies but comes up short with what is essentially a trite and unremarkable film. Commitment frustrates with its continual need to start and stop the action. Unlike The Man From Nowhere, there's never a sense of emergency and the drama doesn't quite feel like it escalates. And when it tries to, the film throws in ill-conceived plot points that distract from the rest of the movie (for example, one of the film's bad guys suddenly bargain for a MacGuffin with no real value to either the protagonist or the villain).

Essentially a vehicle for T.O.P to display what he can do as an actor, the film more or less succeeds in trying to convince audiences that he's an action star but as an actor the rapper isn't convincing. Commitment puts all its eggs into one basket but nothing from that basket materialises into something of worth. Forgettable 'action' film all around.

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HOT YOUNG BLOODS: High school romantic comedy, Hot Young Bloods, is enjoyable here and there but I found the whole film to be a little undercooked. Taking place in the '80s, at a countryside high school, the film concerns the rivalries, relationships and secret crushes of a group of high school students. Admittedly, there are quite a few bits of genuinely good comedy here but the film's story and its characters don't hold up as well. 

There are a lot of tangents in the film that don't add up to the main story. The subplots of the film are mostly distractions and do little to service the ongoing teen romance of the picture. There's a subplot involving a pair of teachers and a subplot involving playboy Joong-gil's father which together are half-baked distractions on part of the movie. It's story isn't nearly as involving either, I felt, as other romantic Korean films like Architecture 101 or Watcha Wearin' as the scenario here feels far too familiar and unexciting. Now, maybe it's cause I'm not a fan of goofball characters like Joong-gil (actor Lee Jong-suk is actually quite good in the part though) but I thought it was really strange why the characters in that film were pining over him to begin with (though the ending which involves a great soaring power ballad is quite redeeming quality to that character). 

It's certainly no Sunny (which I feel is a better example of using the '80s in a modern context) or for a closer and recent comparison, A Werewolf Boy (which also stars actress Park Bo-young who's in this film too) and it's not trying to be either of those as it is still mostly ridiculous in its own way. Hot Young Bloods works as a comedy but the rest of the film falls short of trying to inspire interest. Sidenote: Anyone else who has seen this film... did you get the feeling this was based on a comic? I did. Hrm.

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BEGIN AGAIN: I had no particular judgement towards this film prior to watching it. All I knew was that it involved Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and some degree of music. Cool, I'm in! Starting out in a dingy basement bar, two defeated souls meet. Ruffalo's character, a music executive displaced with the music he's producing and dumped by the label he started, and Knightley's character, an English singer/songwriter who has been kicked to the curb by her boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), agree to a collaboration with Ruffalo's character helping Knightley's create an album.

There's a fair bit of suspension of disbelief involved in order to get on board with the film but for the most part, I found Begin Again to be quite the satisfying crowd-pleaser. It definitely hit a chord with the audience I saw it with who applauded the film at the end (something I actually find to be quite rare after a nationally released film!). The film serves as a love letter to the city of New York and to the creative minds it brings together, evidenced by the music in the film (which thankfully is quite agreeable). 

Ruffalo and Knightley are well-cast in their parts (who knew Keira Knightley was actually a decent singer?!). Hell even Adam Levine is perfectly cast as the smug ex (the Shia LaBeouf effect). Begin Again is unassuming winner of a movie and a fun musical trip around New York City. 



WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: Well this could very well be the funniest movie I've seen this year. I've yet to see Flight of the Conchords but if this film's sense of humour is anything to go by, I might have a new favourite show on my hands.

What We Do In The Shadows is a great example of a film that's so unique in its execution that it almost feels incomparable. I don't think I'm gonna be able to conjure up a film to compare this mockumentary-comedy-horror movie to and I'm not even going to try. Setting the film in New Zealand in the ordinary-looking city of Wellington is a genius move for what is basically a fake documentary about a group of vampires who've decided to live in Wellington, New Zealand of all places.

The film has a lovely charm to all its humour too! With its colourful cast of clueless vampires, each of the guys in this shine in their parts. I was taken back by how inventive and clever of a comedy this was! Go out there and give it a go, guys!

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CAVALRY: It's weird to say but I'm still processing Cavalry even though I saw it a couple weeks ago. With no real desire to see the movie, I went on a whim and, based on the thoughts of a few people who liked it, figured it would be at least be decent. Instead, what I got was something that tasted too dry for my liking. I think a lot of the film's humour was lost on me and I really couldn't find anything in the film to hold onto.

One Sunday, a priest is told he will die by an unknown parishioner. The parishioner confesses he was abused and sodomised as a young boy and that killing an innocent priest, one who stood by and did nothing, would make more sense than killing the man responsible for the crime. With a death sentence looming over his head, Father James makes preparations before he accepts his demise on the following Sunday.

I think the film does a lot of interesting things visually but it's hard for me to describe just how its visuals correlate to the attitudes of its characters or its thematics. While certainly lovely to look at, I found it hard to grasp. I dunno, I just felt like this was a film I couldn't well understand and I'm not sure I want to give it another go. Oh well.

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THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA: The latest Studio Ghibli movie and supposedly the final one from Isao Takahata, the studio's number two man, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a timeless and enthralling piece of work that outdoes Miyazaki's own swan song, The Wind Rises, in every way possible.

Based on a Japanese fable about a bamboo cutter who finds a minature baby princess inside bamboo, Takahata's turns the film into something of a coming-of-age story about a young girl forced to accept a role and lifestyle she never asked for. Takahata's sense of visual storytelling is overwhelming as The Tale of Princess Kaguya is unlike any other Studio Ghibli film produced thus far.

A rather distant world away from the studio's other films, Takahata paints his film with soft colours and patchy pencil work, bringing to mind classic children's picture books. The style perfectly complements the type of story Takahata tells in more ways than one. It certainly adds a majestic and whimsical look but also perfectly captures the surprisingly bittersweet tone of the movie too.

All in all I thought it was a fantastic film, it doesn't lull and keeps a steady momentum throughout. A rich film in more ways than one, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a brilliantly realised coming-of-age animated work from one of Japan's modern masters in animation.

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BOYHOOD: Pretty safe to say that Boyhood was one of my most anticipated films of the year. While I may have missed it at MIFF, it's not all bad as the film was going to be released some few weeks after its premiere in Melbourne anyway. If you're unaware of what Boyhood is, the concept of the film is quite unique in that throughout the film's nearly three-hour running time, audiences witness the 12 year-growth of a six-year old boy to an 18-year old college freshman.

A unique film that likely won't be imitated by any other filmmaker from here on out, simply due to the technicality of it all, Boyhood is a great achievement in moviemaking. As others have said, it really is the ultimate coming of age movie but that doesn't necessarily make it the 'best'. I really enjoyed Boyhood and it's really interesting to see just how some of the film's big moments characterise the growth of Mason but I still feel like the film left me wanting. I'm not sure what else Boyhood could have done since it already was almost three hours long but I still feel like there was a lot that could've been shown to build Mason's relationships.

And maybe it's just me but Ellar Coltrane's acting in the film looks like as if it gradually gets worse as he ages. He's an unconvincing mess towards the end of the movie which really makes the last moments of Boyhood an excruciating experience to get through. That said, its nice how the soundtrack of the film dictates each year and it's especially fulfilling and nostalgic to see the film take make a trip to see how big something like a Harry Potter book launch was back in the early 2000s as well, wow. It's a time capsule!

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RUMBLE FISH: Been keen to see this one for a while and the prospect of "lesser" Coppola fascinates the hell out of me. In fact, the lesser works of most filmmakers tend to. Bringing Out the Dead by Martin Scorsese, for example, is one such film that compels me despite its reputation among hardcore Scorsese-fans.

Rumble Fish takes place in a dreamy American city that suggests that it could be both the '50s and the '80s. It looks familiar but feels distant all the same. Rusty James is the leader of a street gang and a high school delinquent. The sudden return of his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, as well as the chaos of his life, eventually forces a change of perspective from Rusty James. Rumble Fish isn't a great work by any means but it frequently incites interest with Coppola's exceptionally moody black/white cinematography. Mostly story-less, the film drifts from one scenario to the next without much thought too which is a bit annoying as it leaves a few loose ends. There's grounds for a great film here and one can argue that the source material hints at this, but there's a fair bit in the film that feels quite wanting.

Including the gorgeous cinematography of the film, another saving grace is its cast. It's awesome to be able to see young Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Lawrence Fishburne, Chris Penn and a BABE as Diane Lane rock it in the film but its Mickey Rourke who blows it out of the water in this. Cool, mysterious and soft-spoken, Rourke's gentle presence on screen can always be felt. Interesting to say the least, I wouldn't mind revisiting the world of Rumble Fish.

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THE OUTSIDERS: This right here looks like one of the biggest films of the '80s (is it?). Based on its cast alone, I can only assume how popular this movie might have been with audiences back in the day. Featuring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe, I imagine this to have been quite a hit with the girls of the '80s.

Francis Ford Coppola filmed this movie back-to-back as he was filming Rumble Fish which is why Matt Dillon features here (Diane Lane too actually). In fact, Rumble Fish and The Outsiders were written by the same author so both work as companion pieces (both are coming-of-age dramas about young men lumped together in gangs). Unlike Rumble Fish however, this actually makes an attempt at building a story but and tries to tie all its loose ends but rather unconvincingly. There doesn't feel to like a natural progression in its story. Furthermore, I think The Outsiders' very Hollywood look takes away from the film too (preferring the rough, gritty, independent feel of Rumble Fish instead).

Also, someone's gonna have to explain the significance of Gone with the Wind in the film to me. A lot of visuals from this reminded me of that movie (and I know that the book is featured in the film too) but I wasn't sure if there was any other connection outside of Coppola borrowing the visuals from it. I thought this was mostly a superficial affair.
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And that is all for the time being! This blog post is brought to you by Predawn, a Japanese acoustic folk singer who I'm gonna call the Japanese Lisa Mitchell. There's probably a better comparison but I'll go with that for now. I found out about Predawn through the Japanese movie, Petal Dance (a great film which I've reviewed before!). I dunno, she's got nice soft vocals and its pretty easy going.



End post.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Melbourne International Film Festival 2014 Reviews

Compiled here for your own convenience is a complete list of my published Japan Cinema reviews from the 2014 edition of the Melbourne International Film Festival:






KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (USA): Despite being rather flat and ordinary, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, does do one thing interesting and presents what may be interpreted as a study of depression.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Moonage Daydream

Hello all! 

MIFF is well and truly here though the festival will be wrapping up come this Sunday! While I haven't seen as many films I would have liked, I feel like the amount I did get around to seeing was good enough. Unfortunately that didn't include seeing The Grandmaster or The One I Love cause I had been rostered to work the evening of those films' screenings. It doesn't bother me so much though since The Grandmaster is already showing at the Nova soon. Not sure about The One I Love though...

While I have already posted reviews of some of the films I've seen at MIFF over at Japan Cinema, I won't completely link them all here as I figured I'd leave that for the next post.

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Recently, I got to live out something that I've only imagined and that was having the chance to see WWE wrestlers perform live in the flesh, right before my very eyes! After spending a ridiculous amount of money for seats on the floor (which is so well justified after that night), I walked away from my first WWE live event with a lot of fond memories.

Even if the show mostly consisted of matches I'd already seen on television a dozen times over, seeing it in person was completely surreal. Now to one day book flights to America for a live televised show (or god forbid, Wrestlemania).

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Recently discovered the amazing Plain Archive, a Korean-based distributor that operates on a similar level to America's Criterion Collection. The company put an amazing amount of detail and work into packaging their items and distribute limited edition copies of these films which make owning them that much more special. I bought their Blu-ray steelbook of The Wrestler (pictured above), one of my favourite films of all time for obvious reasons, and was extremely impressed with what was provided.



Though the catalogue Plain has is fairly small right now, currently they're working on distributing two Korean classics that I'm keen to get my hands on: Oldboy and I Saw The Devil. The former I'm more inclined to buy immediately once its available as, again, it's one of my favourites of all time and is a movie that I've been waiting to see truly get the treatment it deserves. Support them if you can!
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING



SNOWPIERCER: Between this and The Grandmaster, I'm not sure which I've been more looking forward to. After finally catching Snowpiercer (and resisting every urge to download the thing), I can safely say that it certainly met my expectation though there were parts of the movie I felt were a bit lacking (lost a bit of momentum here and there as far as pacing is concerned). 

I'm willing to look over it though as everything that director Bong Joon-ho has presented was extremely compelling. There's so much to mine from Snowpiercer - from its rich thematics to the overall presentation of the film - and so much to appreciate. Chris Evans is at his best here and let's take a moment to appreciate how original a film this felt, how un-Hollywood it was and how pleasantly diverse its cast is (cause a movie about the last survivors of humanity ought to be multi-racial, duh!)

Personally speaking, I think my own fascination with the film is more heightened by the fact that it's a very Bioshock-like universe that the passengers/citizens aboard the train in Snowpiercer are enclosed in. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface but like all good science fictions should, Snowpiercer presents a uniquely fascinating world with heaps of interesting ideas to fall back on. Volumes of discussion to be had over this, I'm sure!

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LUCY: I'll admit that I was pretty excited to see this film regardless of the commotion it caused regarding the film's treatment of Asian people and culture. I wasn't as offended as most others were about this particular conflict (and they're not wrong in being offended at all) but I still had a reason to be offended by Lucy cause it's kinda just really lazy and kinda dull.

I can definitely buy into the "humans use 10% of their brain" idea regardless of whether or not it's scientifically proven cause I do think it's a cool idea. From what I can remember of Limitless (another similar film that uses the same concept) I thought it executed that idea decently and worked within the reality of that film. But the way Lucy goes about showing the increasing capacity of human potential really felt like it jumped the shark one too many times. Luc Besson doesn't bother explaining much of anything in the film and would rather the audience not ask questions and enjoy the ride but its too hard to ignore how consistently illogical Lucy can be. 

Scarlett Johansson - who has proven she can be a capable action star in some of Marvel's films and, if she wanted, could fill the void that Angelina Jolie has seemingly left behind - is painfully robotic through most of the film which is frustrating considering how genuinely great she is in the beginning before she gets her 'life-changing' abilities. I really can't recall Morgan Freeman doing anything particularly useful in the film either other than provide the audience with enough exposition to understand the concept of the film. Choi Min-sik deserved better than this.

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Maybe it's the mammoth hype surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy but I honestly felt like GOTG, as fun as it was, was a bit of a letdown in some ways. Don't get me wrong though; it's a fun movie in its own right but I feel like as though if you've soaked up enough of the trailers for this film then a lot of its humour might seem a little underwhelming! It wasn't the laugh-out-loud comedy that I felt it was being billed as though it certainly had its good comedic moments.

That said, GOTG is an incredibly charismatic film altogether! It's the most unique of all of Marvel's films and is incomparable in so many ways. While the film still follows the formula established by previous films, GOTG remains refreshingly exuberant thanks to its cast of lovable rogues, eclectic soundtrack (who would have thought that a deluge of rad tracks from the '70s and '80s would work extremely well within a space opera comedy?!) and its approach towards the space opera genre (which infuses the blockbuster sensibilities of Star Wars with the ragtag crew and stylised action/humour of Cowboy Bebop and Joss Whedon's very own Firefly).

With all the exposition out of the way now though, I'm hoping GOTG's sequel will be a more confident with its story and characters as there is a whole galaxy's worth of things that this particular series can take on board from here on out. Also, year of Chris Pratt!

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BLUE RUIN: Having little to no preconceived ideas about Blue Ruin other than its basic outline, I gave it a chance and found myself pleasantly surprised by this little American indie. Despite it being a slow-burn thriller, Blue Ruin is surprisingly smart and builds to finale that's intense and hugely rewarding. 

After the murder of his mother and father, everyman Dwight exacts revenge on the man responsible for their deaths which soon lands Dwight and his sister's family in hot water with the murderer's family. There's nothing particularly stylish about the film and as previously mentioned, it is a bit of a slog to get through as there are long moments of quiet, drawn out dialogue between characters. 

But what works is how the film inverts the typical revenge formula and establishes the commitment to that act very early on the film. From there, the film continues only to show Dwight's ramifications of acting out of revenge. If anything it's an anti-revenge movie and it works well as that, I think. I wouldn't rush out to see this film but would still recommend it as a great example of what little money and a whole lot of imagination can do for a film (fun fact: this movie was backed by Kickstarter!)

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SAUSALITO: Named after a city in California where the film takes place, Sausalito is a romantic comedy starring Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai. Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) tries to recapture the magic of 1996 Hong Kong romantic drama, Comrades Almost A Love Story, which starred the aforementioned Hong Kong starlets but unfortunately the film falls terribly short of success.

Ellen (Maggie Cheung) is a single mother who makes a living as a taxi driver. Mike is a computer whiz who has started a business. The two meet and fall in love and the film charts the couple's relationship. Far from what you would call good, this pointless romantic comedy is awfully dry and packed to the brim with cliche and ridiculous, cringe-inducing moments that made me feel embarrassed as a willing viewer. Material like this is typically reserved for actors who're perhaps just starting out and for vets like Leon Lai and especially Maggie Cheung, Sausalito feels far beneath their feet - even if it was just for the cash and a vacation.

Sausalito is frustrating, joyless and terribly embarrassing to even watch. Nothing about this is redeemable whatsoever. The same year Sausalito was released, Maggie Cheung starred in Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece, In the Mood for Love. I think that really puts things into perspective.

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THE PROPOSITION: "Australia. What fresh hell is this?" Like the sick lovechild of Dead Man and Apocalypse Now, John Hillcoat's Australian western is a great film albeit a little flawed in parts. Like Snowpiercer, I too thought this was lacking in parts as far as pacing was concerned. Overall though, it's a really rewarding film that is unquestionably one of Australia's finest.

After a violent shootout with authorities, Irish outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is apprehended by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) and given an ultimatum. Kill his dangerous older brother Arthur (Danny Huston)in nine days or the authorities will kill his younger brother, Mike. The Proposition is a very stark film but ridiculously gorgeous to look at. It's a movie that, as far as I can see, is probably one of the most realised visions of the Australia that once was - a hellish place where morality doesn't exist. 

Top grade acting talent lend this picture more credibility as a solid Western, one that moves lyrically to the beat of its own drum. A fully nuanced piece and an incredible reminder that the Western, one of film's most beloved genres, still has plenty to give, especially in an unfamiliar territory not known to audiences outside of Australia.

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LAWLESS: After watching The Proposition, seeing Lawless felt like a huge step down and is an obvious attempt by John Hillcoat to jump into commercial filmmaking after trying to do so with the post-apocalptic survival drama, The Road. As a result, Lawless lacks the personality and nuanced vision that Hillcoat imbued in The Proposition.

Set in 1920s America during the prohibition era, the film follows three brothers who are threatened by a new authorative figure and rival bootleggers who want a cut of their business or drown them out entirely. Despite an all star cast featuring the likes of Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, Lawless doesn't utilise these talents as much as it ought to. Their potential in a film like this is wasted, particularly Oldman who, really, isn't in the film all that much. Then there's the film's leading man (though an argument could be made that he isn't), Shia Lebeouf who in all honesty I had no problem with in the film. His character is a bumbling idiot and Labeouf works it well (cause maybe that's typical of Shia right?!).

Other than that, there really isn't anything to write home about with Lawless. It's an painfully average film with nothing much to add to the genre and is by all accounts, utterly forgettable. Such wasted potential, what a shame.

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ANCHORMAN 2: Another disappointment, who would have thought?! The first film was something of an incredible fluke and helped catapult Will Ferrell into the star he is today. For such a dumb film (and yes, let's not pretend like Anchorman isn't dumb), it's impressive that a period-based comedy at the time could become such a hit (and it certainly won me over too at the time) with its throwaway, seemingly improvised humour quickly becoming the model for comedies today. 

In the sequel, Ron Burgundy is fired from his network gig due to his blunders as a newsman. His wife Veronica leaves him and his news team has moved on with their lives. It isn't until Ron receives a tip from a brand new 24/7 news network that he assembles the crew for a comeback to news reporting.

Other than the film's final news team war, everything else in the film tries too hard to capitalise on the surprise success of the first. Jokes from the first are repackaged and delivered without the conviction of the original, humour is drawn out to the point of boredom, story drops in and out and it's also stupidly offensive, particularly during one scene in particular involving Ron Burgundy and a dinner with an African American family. I hated this movie and am fairly glad I never saw it during its theatrical run.

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OKI'S MOVIE: I've only seen one other Hong Sang-soo film, The Day He Arrived, a nice little film shot in beautiful black and white photography featuring lovelorn filmmakers and an abundance of soju, hallmarks of Hong's films.

Oki's Movie is no different though in terms of its visuals is a lot more lo-fi. Showcasing a love triangle between a film professor, and two filmmakers at different intervals of their lives, Hong's film might appear mundane but I think Hong's style of capturing realism with his quick zooms and unconventional character staging is quite interesting and works well for him. There's no sense of pretension here as Hong's film captures reality so well.

I can't seem to muster up the right words to describe what makes Oki's Movie a pleasant movie but I definitely thought it was quite playful and felt genuine. And that's probably what I enjoyed about The Day He Arrived as well - that it was so unconventional and different yet at the same time endearing, thoughtful and tender. I've not yet fully 'adjusted' to watching Hong's films as they are quite different but I enjoy them for what they're worth.

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KIMI NO YUBISAKI: Something a little different! I think this might be the first short film I talk about on this blog (actually Wong Kar-wai's The Hand might have already had that distinction). This is a short I've been meaning to see for a while now as its from one of Japan's most sensitive filmmakers, Hiroshi Ishikawa (who I've talked about PLENTY on this blog previously and across other publications).

The short is quite simple, as far as story goes, and is basically about two schoolgirls who spend their time outside of school before one of them has to move away. Like any Ishikawa film, there's a lightness to the movie that makes it feel quite elegant and his sensitive style works really well in a short film format. Though by no means 'impressive', I'd probably show this short to anyone who wants to ease their way into Ishikawa.

The actresses, Mari Horikita (who many will remember from J-Drama, Hana Kimi) and Meisa Kuroki (Crows Zero series) are competent in their parts (you can only do so much with the material Ishikawa gives here) and play off each other in what appear to be very improvised scenes of bonding. Give it a shot if you can, I think it was only 15 minutes long. 

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ONE PERFECT DAY: Another short film! This one's from Korea's Kim Ji-woon - a favourite of mine and many others who are captivated by Korean cinema - and is the director's first foray into the very popular genre of the rom-com. 

One Perfect Day is the story of a bumbling, lovelorn dude who goes from one date to the next with less than ideal results. It isn't until one sour date where he inadvertently meets a girl who might just be worth it. Kim Ji-woon is one of the world's most versatile directors it's almost like as though Kim is able to adapt to any genre and make it unique. As far as I can tell, there isn't one characteristic that makes Kim 'definable' but that's okay. 

One Perfect Day's look is very much like that of any modern Korean rom-com with its glossy presentation. Its actors are great (including Park Shin-hye in a small but very pivotal role) and the cutesy story of conquering love by way of 'rock, paper, scissors' is well-earned. It's an easy enough short to enjoy, runs at roughly half an hour and though parts of it can feel overextended, it nevertheless is a warm and funny distraction if you just want to admire modern Korean film aesthetics.  

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And there we have it! This week's blog post title is thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1! It's a brilliant track by David Bowie that's more than appropriate within the context of the film - some madly groovy tunes, ya'll. Check back next post for a write up of the MIFF films I managed to catch! 


End post. 

Friday, 18 July 2014

Birds Don't Sing

HEY!

August is shaping up to be an exciting month! As I am every year, I'm stoked for the Melbourne International Film Festival to roll into town and have already booked a fair share of films to see! No surprises that I'll be seeing mostly Asian features as I have a feeling some, if not most, won't get a distribution deal of some kind here in Australia. Which films am I gonna try and catch, you ask?:

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
The One I Love
A Girl At My Door
Han Gong-ju
Happy Christmas
The Grandmaster
Run
Still The Water
Rigor Mortis
Black Coal, Thin Ice
A Hard Day

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Oh hai Mark! In other news, I attended a Q&A/meet and greet session with The Room's Greg Sestero who penned the amazing book, The Disaster Artist. You may recall that I received this book as a birthday present months ago. Pretty fun times with Mr Sestero, even though he seemed a little dejected by the whole craziness of Tommy Wiseau and The Room.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING



THE ZERO THEOREM: Remember how I saw Terry Gilliam's new film, The Zero Theorem, a while ago? Well its theatrical run here in Australia has come and gone but you can still find my review of the film over at The Australia Times!

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EDGE OF TOMORROW: After some surprisingly positive reactions towards Edge of Tomorrow, I thought I'd give it a go. I liked the idea of the film before word-of-mouth got around but prior to the positive response, I honestly thought it looked a little too generic as far as high-concept blockbusters is concerned.

Based off a manga/Japanese novel which has a far more impressionable title, All You Need Is Kill, the film sees William Cage (Tom Cruise) get shipped off into war against an alien race called Mimics. He soon discovers through some strange phenomenon that he has the power to restart the day, with the only kicker being that he has to die in order for this power to trigger.

To the film's credit, Edge of Tomorrow manages to find a way to get around being repetitive quite cleverly, purposefully leaving gaps of time in the narrative to build the relationship between Cruise and Emily Blunt's character, Rita (nicknamed the "Full Metal Bitch"). And while they certainly have a nice rapport, Blunt's character is unfortunately downsized to the point of being a waypoint for Cruise's character, leading him from plot point to plot point which is disappointing considering how much Blunt does a great job of really embodying her character.

Once the film begins to take form, its story becomes all too familiar with the general look of the movie eventually becoming as generic as its title. That said, kinda cool how the death-reset functions like a video game where you pick up from where you left off and learn from your mistakes, anticipating the enemy's move with each "game over" screen.

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THE ROVER: David Michod's debut Australian feature, Animal Kingdom, turned a lot of heads when it was released some few years ago. It put Michod on the map as well as Jacki Weaver who has since gone on to work in Hollywood. Michod's follow-up feature, The Rover, is a step away from the family-crime drama with Michod entering genre territory.

Set in an undefined future where Australia has become something of a free-for-all wasteland (the likes of which you'd expect to see in Mad Max), the film is about one man's obsession to take back his stolen car, which was taken from him by a passing gang. I wasn't a fan of the film and thought it was too slow for my liking. While The Rover certainly looks like an accomplished film and transcends the genre boundaries that something like Mad Max has set, it also felt incredibly detached. While I'm all for plotless films, I feel like The Rover could have at least benefited from a good story as the one that was shown between Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Robert Pattinson) felt dry and unconvincing.

That said, Pearce and especially Pattinson are in top form here. Seems RPattz is more than ready to shed his skin and show that life outside of Twilight can be good. I'm at odds with this film though my initial opinion towards it is that it's not nearly as great as Animal Kingdom (and is ultimately a bit of a disappointment). A damn shame cause a lot of the movie left me wanting so much more - Michod built an incredibly fascinating world!

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DIRTY WARS: Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature section this year, I remember Dirty Wars as being one of the film's that last year's Melbourne International Film Festival really pushed at the program launch. After seeing it the other night, I had a few problems with the film but altogether found it a thoroughly engaging expose on the private wars that America ignites around the world with its privately-owned military.

Following journalist Jeremy Scahill, who was also the one to shed light on the Blackwater scandal, the doco follows the intrepid reporter around the world as one random attack against a family in Afghanistan leads Scahill to find out a much bigger story.

I've always liked the idea that journalists are heroes in their own right and Dirty Wars is a great film about war-reporting and the general process of journalism. I liked the methodical qualities of the film which at times reminded me a lot of All The President's Men, another great film about journalistic heroes. That being said, some of the gripes I had with Dirty Wars included the often repetitive and monotonous use of narration (which admittedly put me to sleep on my first attempt to watch the film) as well as its awfully drab colouring which shouldn't have bothered me that much but took me out of the film sometimes (a simple interview would be way too oversaturated in colour!). But these are, for the most part, minor gripes.

War documentaries are so commonplace that it takes an interesting angle to make the genre feel a little less crowded Dirty Wars most certainly takes an interesting approach.

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CUTIE AND THE BOXER: This was on my MIFF watch list last year but I only got to see it now. Like Dirty Wars, this too was nominated in the same category of Best Documentary Feature at this year's Oscars, and if I had to pick a winner, it'd be this one here. Cutie and the Boxer is an exceptional documentary and while the focus of something like Dirty Wars might be large and international, sometimes it's the smaller stories that can have a strong, personal effect.

Telling the story of two New York-based Japanese artists, Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, the film weaves in a grand narrative that touches on so many things in its short time frame. Most of the time, you forget that it's even a documentary at all as it feels so naturally paced and structured and comes off as a fictitious feature. But no, these people are real which makes the film all the more fantastic.

While the documentary mostly focuses on Noriko's struggle as a mother, a partner, an assistant and as a woman (told through Noriko's animated paintings), it also sheds light on art's pull on an artist and how that can effect a number of things from financial security to raising a family. A number of times, the doco really hit home for me (on different levels) and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much and have a rather strong attachment to it.

Gorgeously shot, Cutie and The Boxer strength lies in its emotional and light-hearted heft, which will no doubt resonate with a great many. It's not challenging in the way Dirty Wars is but certainly comes with its own set of obstacles that viewers might like to chew on. Highly recommended!

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THE GREAT BEAUTY: Paolo Sorrentino's Italian feature won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year and I'm genuinely baffled as to how Sorrentino's love letter to the city of Rome managed to walk away with an award as highly-sought after as the Oscar! Maybe I'm just not as educated or high-brow enough to appreciate the film but this honestly was one of the most sickeningly pretentious things I've seen in quite some time.

The Great Beauty follows Jep, a 65 year old gentleman who, after celebrating his birthday, receives word of his first love's death which causes the writer-cum-socialite to wander around his beloved city with new eyes. People generally avoid arthouse films because of films like this as The Great Beauty would rather abandon its audience in the chaos of it all than subtly ease them into the experience.

As I said, perhaps it's cause I'm not as literate with the cinema of Italy but for me so much of what makes The Great Beauty a hard film to absorb is how disconnected the film feels. The characters are shallow and unremarkable and moments of grandeur are made to be scoffed at it completely. It wants to be art but there was nothing of value that I could ascertain from the film that could lead me to assume it as such. I have no desire to revisit this film.

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THE CAT RETURNS: Not a Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata film but that's okay! The Cat Returns is a delightful film in its own right with plenty of Studio Ghibli whimsy and charm to satisfy audiences of all ages (as most great SG films tend to!).

High school student Haru saves the life of a stray cat one day and sees her efforts repaid in the form of marriage as Haru soon learns that the cat she saved is in fact a Prince of the Cat Kingdom. The courtship doesn't go too well which forces Haru to look for the Baron, an engimatic cat who helps Haru.

Yes the film is admittedly quite silly and childish but it's also quite fun! And with a runtime of only 70+ minutes, the film knows exactly how to pace itself and doesn't faulter as it knows that the novelty of its bizarre, almost fairy tale-like story, will eventually run thin. It's art style is closer to what now passes as 'the standard' in anime and I liked that the film was based more in reality (as much reality as you're gonna get anyway with a movie about a cat kingdom) than other SG films.

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DOOMSDAY BOOK: I'm unsure as to why an anthology film such as this needed to be made but I always appreciate the need to make more science-fiction (especially the kind that goes out of its way to be quite socially conscious). Happy Birthday and A Brave New World were written/directed by Yim Pil-sung while the other, The Heavenly Creature, was made by Kim Ji-woon.

Of the three, I'd probably have to rate Kim's segment as being the best of the three. The short sees a future where a robot/artificial intelligence living in a Buddhist temple, has believed itself to be Buddha reincarnated and has believed it has reached enlightenment. This upsets the company that made/designed him which forces the robot and its creator into a messy argument over social and religious babble. It was the most original film of the three and had more merit as a sci-fi than the other two which were mostly just genre films passing off as science fiction (A Brave New World focused on zombies while Happy Birthday used an 'end-of-the-world' scenario). 

Yim's segments, to his credit, are quite funny though and you'll likely think twice before eating meat again after watching A Brave New World but I just thought that his films weren't particularly special and didn't have anything worth showing. Kim's segment was more resonant but didn't always work for me. Altogether, quite average. 

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NEW WORLD: The last time I saw a true Korean gangster film was at MIFF in 2012 for a film called, Nameless Gangster. It starred Oldboy's Choi Min-sik and had the look of an awesome Goodfellas-style mob movie. But the movie left me wanting more and never hit the mark it set. New World, which sees Choi hang around in a supporting role, is another Korean gangster movie which I hoped would meet my expectation for a solid Korean gangster flick. 

An undercover cop has been embedded into the Korean mob for years and wants nothing more than to get out and return to a normal life. Coming close to nailing the mob for its involvement in a dirty corporate scheme, the newly-instated police chief asks the undercover cop to stay on a little while longer until the cops can bring down as many people as possible.

What struck me first and foremost was how much of a Hong Kong movie, Park Hoon-jung's film felt(who I'm learning also co-wrote I Saw The Devil). Crime thrillers continue to have staying power in Hong Kong and for fans of things like Overheard or Infernal Affairs, I feel confident that those who come into New World will no doubt feel something familiar here.

While the film does start out quite slowly, setting up exposition and establishing genre conventions, the ride that comes along afterwards moves really nicely and inserts a few surpising twists to the story that keep it remaining interesting. The three leads are awesome in their parts and imagine my surprise when I learnt that this film was the first of a trilogy! Excited to see where things go from here.

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I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK: One of Park Chan-wook's 'lesser' movies and for good reason as I feel that it's not particularly strong. Never mind that the film tries to paint mental illness in a whimsical light, I'm A Cyborg But That's OK lacks the substance found in his more serious fare.

When a young woman cuts her wrist in attempt to 'charge' herself, her mother sends her to a mental institution for rehabilitation. It is here where she meets a young man with a tendency to steal things from other people, including other patients' personality traits, and the two begin to strike up a relationship. It's an odd film that tries to play it mostly for laughs but fails as a comedy, I feel. It's somewhat disappointing that Park had to take the comedy route as a lot of the serious stuff that happens in the film (namely the relationship between the young woman, played by Im Soo-jung and her grandmother) is played out really well.

And as far as I know, this is Rain's movie acting debut and I was pretty impressed with the pop stars turn here. It's a role that one wouldn't expect from the seasoned singer (who manages to find a way to sneak in a song into the movie) but it's certainly a welcome one. I think more Korean pop stars ought to find roles like this that will make their transition into acting appear more credible.
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You made it to the end! Here's a nice summer song to cure those winter blues by way of independent LA-based band, TV Girl.

I'm thinking reviews in the next post will be all MIFF stuff + Snowpiercer. SNOWPIERCER! OH YES, IT'S HAVING AN EXCLUSIVE RUN IN MELBOURNE AT THE NOVA STARTING NEXT WEEK! 


End post.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

People of Tomorrow

EYYYY.

I know we're in World Cup mode right now and everything but it's kinda weird to me that I havne't stayed up to watch any of the games. Previous years I would have but that's likely cause the timezones we're bearable enough that I could stay up and still get a good kick of energy for the next day. And this is like every night too, so it's hard! Well done to everyone else that can afford to stay up though.

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Maybe I'm just lazy, I mean I stayed up for E3 and while the conferences weren't necessarily amazing this year, they did plug away at a few nifty things! But that was only for one night! I'm probably gonna hold off on buying a next-gen (current-gen?) console since I can still get mileage out of my PS3 (Ni no Kuni is begging for me) and a lot of the titles that were shown off are coming to PC anyway.



No Man's Sky was a huge surprise at the Sony press conference and I'm extremely excited for it. The one thing I've always kinda wanted from a game was to incorporate a good amount of space exploration and this is perhaps the closest that we're gonna get to it! The fact that it's a small indie game makes it even more incredible! I could do a full report on the things I'm looking forward to in the coming year based on what was shown on E3 but for now, No Man's Sky, is at the top of my to-play list. 
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING



FRANK: What to say about this eccentric little film? This offbeat comedy about a talentless musician and his association with a strange band, fronted by the equally mysterious Frank (a man who wears a paper mache head every waking moment of his life), is certainly an odd feature but a weirdly magnetic one that I couldn't keep my eyes off.

There's a charm and humility to Frank that feels completely sincere and earned, especially when the film takes a darker turn in its third act. Yes it's all silly a lot of the time (a lot of nice comedic moments though I can't help but feel the trailer for the film shows a fair bit of it after seeing it again) but there's a seriousness about Frank that makes it an interesting picture (I also really dug how the film integrated social media into the story).

That and there's Michael Fassbender who kills it in the film as Frank. You don't see Fassbender's face for most of the film but his performance is nevertheless a marvelous one. I think it says a lot about Fassbender that he's able to do a very small and unassuming film like Frank in between stuff like X-Men: Days of Future Past or 12 Years A Slave. More power to him!

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UNDER THE SKIN: Oomph, talk about art right here. Under the Ski is an intelligent essay of a movie that does away with narrative coherence and instead a strongly speculative piece (like all hard sci-fi movies should!) about the predatory relationship men have with with women and touches on a few other subjects too.

Its narrative structure is evocative to that of 2001: A Space Odyssey (at least for me it was) where the first two-thirds of the film present a series of scenarios that mightn't make too much sense at first but by the final stretch of it, where some sense of story is formed, it all culminates into something that's quite unique.

Scarlett Johansson is really great in the film and the choice to film in some nether region of Scotland makes it an inspired one. Under the Skin strikes a mean cinematography game that feels alien and always presents a sense of danger. Meanwhile, its minimally ominous soundtrack reinforces this notion, conjuring up an ever-present feeling of dread.

It's certainly not for everyone as it can prove to be quite a challenging watch (rarely is there dialogue spoken and the film's intentionally slow pace can and will detract a lot of viewers) but it certainly feels like a very rewarding watch that begs multiple viewings. Quite a different and unique experience, I found.

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DOWN BY LAW: Missed out on Down By Law and Dead Man in January when the Astor Theatre had a retrospective screening of Jim Jarmusch's big films but thankfully, they decided to show it again for an encore screening recently. 

Being that this is a Jarmusch film, there really isn't a whole lot of action going on. It's about the a trio of prison inmates who break out of jail, if you had to sum it up in a single sentence. Jarmusch's characters simply exist and, like Stranger Than Paradise, time drifts as much as the characters do.While slow in the beginning, the film suddenly finds great energy in the amazing Roberto Benigni who's presence elevates the film from its admittedly drab beginning.

The film mightn't really be about anything to be honest but it works as a comedy (an unconventional one of course). I thought there'd be more to the film as it is frequently cited as one of his best works (if not his absolute best) but I enjoyed what I got regardless. Cool sountrack too (duh!).

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DEAD MAN: This here might be my favourite Jarmusch film after watching it as his style most certainly suits this uncanny Western tale. There's so much to appreciate about this film from its impeccable pacing to its thematic qualities, Dead Man, is in my opinion, the director's best work (at least compared to the films of his that I've seen). 

The story of the film concerns, William Blake (Johnny Depp) who is marked for dead upon arrival in a mysterious town. After a misunderstanding causes Blake to become a wanted man by authorities, he encounters a Native American man named Nobody (Gary Farmer), he readies him into a world beyond his imaginations.

The film moves so beautifully that it's easy to become intoxicated by Dead Man's calm and spirituality. By no means a shoot-em-up, style Western, Jarmusch's film is a methodical exercise on death and the American West. It is perhaps much more closer to what the American West was really like as opposed to Sergio Leone's romanticised vision of gunslingers and outlaws. 

It's a different beast altogether that touches on so many things but is perhaps more importantly one of the few films that pays proper respect and attention to portraying Native Americans. There's so much more I could talk about with the film but I'll leave it at that. A fantastic film and a great Western in its own right.

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THE PAST: Maybe it's just cause I was super tired and kinda hungry but watching Asghar Farhadi's new one, The Past, put me to sleep in parts of the film and made me feel too restless. 

Berenice Bejo (The Artist), leads the this slow-burn, domestic family drama and while I can appreciate a good drama when there's a good story to tell, this one, at least for me, didn't ever feel like it had much momentum behind it. 

I feel like it's also because I've seen better family dramas before (Hirokazu Koreeda says hello), that this felt insignificant and offered nothing new or exciting. At least the cast was good with Bejo probably getting the most out of it than anyone else. I considered not even putting the film in here since I didn't really watch some of it but I saw enough of the film to not be seriously impressed, I think.

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LANTANA: Heralded as an Australian modern classic, Lantana is certainly an impressive effort but it isn't without its faults. The film, an interwoven mix of stories that ultimately culminate when a woman goes missing and presumed dead, sees a few familiar Aussie faces in what could be chalked up as career highs.

Anthony LaPaligia and Vince Colosimo both are fantastic in their roles, particularly Colosimo who is at his best here in a minor but important role as an accused father. Unfortunately, the dialogue of the film feels quite clumsy at times as conversations don't feel as natural as they should in the Australian tongue. Furthermore, the drama at play feels too overdrawn as director Ray Lawrence stretches out stories and tension without giving much for me to care about. 

I can certainly see why Lantana can be viewed as a great Aussie film but for the most part, it's rather standard fare especially if you were to show it to someone else outside of the country, I would think. Basically, what I'm trying to say is that, as an Australian watching Lantana, it feels like the film is a little too protected by our local industry and critics.

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PALO ALTO: Based off short stories from James Franco's book of the same name, Palo Alto, is further proof that just cause your surname is Coppola, it doesn't mean you have to be a filmmaker. There's potential for a decent coming-of-age film of teenage excess here but it's all muddled in Gia Coppola's feature film debut which may as well have been called "Nepotism: The Movie" (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts, and Jack Kilmer, son of Val Kilmer, star in the film with Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola).

Palo Alto revolves around three (probably four?) teenagers, Teddy, Fred and April, who all know each other but, for most of the film, aren't always seen together (Teddy and Fred being the exception though as they're best friends). April has a flirtatious relationship with her soccer coach (played by James Franco, of course), Teddy gets into trouble with the law and has to make amends while Fred has something of an existential crisis.

The overall narrative never congeals together and the individual stories are wayward and don't have much else to say for themselves. It's not so much that nothing is ever explained but that ever really happens in the film in any of the stories. You could argue that it's a film about how we're all going through the motions in life but as someone who genuinely enjoys film about nihilistic youth, this wasn't all that great. It's almost like as if there's no purpose in the film at all, and without a clear directorial hand to guide the characters and stories, Palo Alto inevitably ends up being an unfocused and messy film.

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ON THE JOB: Despite some really awkward plotting in the beginning of the film, Filipino crime-thriller, On the Job, is actually a pretty decent little film which is great cause I think this might be my first Filipino film! Drawing from events in the Phillipines' history, one of the film's strengths, I felt, was how the film managed to integrate that history into a pretty engaging story. 

That being said, On the Job, for whatever reason, decides to randomly throw in insignificant subplots that have no effect on the main story at hand. These distractions, which altogether have a larger place in the film than it should, hamper the film's progression a fair bit at times, especially when the film comes off an exciting cat-and-mouse chase scene. 

Now it's no where near as masterfully directed as something like Infernal Affairs (the standard when it comes to cat-and-mouse crime thrillers) but On the Job is suspenseful enough to be considered in the same conversation as the prolific Hong Kong film. The acting too can be a bit rough around the edges sometimes but they're not glaring enough to nitpick. It's a strong production and seeing it on Blu-ray really shows too. If this is a sign of things to come, here's hoping there's more from Filipino cinema I can look forward to! Got any recs?

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BLOOD TIES: So much wasted potential! When it was announced that Blood Ties had picked up a pretty impressive ensemble cast, I was looking forward to seeing what would come of it. Unfortunately, Blood Ties fails to deliver the goods. It's a tiresome retread of familiar genre tropes that we've seen a million times before (and in better films like Heat, The Departed/Infernal Affairs) that always feels like a film in search of a story. 

Clive Owen and Billy Crudup play brothers on opposite sides of the law (Owen as the criminal and Crudup as the cop) and you can probably imagine where things go from there. The two clash, both professionally and personally, until something has to give between them. To their credit, Owen and especially Crudup own their parts (Crudup really does look like he belongs in the '70s though) are pretty good in their roles but unfortunately for Blood Ties' female cast they've been largely ignored. 

Arguably the biggest female name from the ensemble cast, Marion Cotillard feels incredibly miscast (just cause she and director/actor, Guillaume Canet, are dating doesn't mean your partner is always the right choice to work with on a movie!) and laughably bad when trying to act like a bitter vamp. Zoe Saldana and Mila Kunis also star. Everything else in the film moves at a snail's pace and reveals nothing particularly interesting as far as characters and story in concerned. I can't trust a movie that borrows one too-many not-so-subtle cues from Goodfellas.
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And that's all! This post came out a lot quicker than it should've! Now for something a tad different! Jose James is a pretty smooth singer with jazzy/hip-hop tunes but on his latest album, While You Were Sleeping, he collaborated with queen of Japan (and queen of my heart) Shiina Ringo and together, they created a rather sexy bonus track (she sings in English and Japanese!). The track's title, loosely translated as 'People of Tomorrow' (or 'Tomorrow's People'? Who reads Japanese and can confirm the title?!) is this post's title.



End post.