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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.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Bad Peace

Hey!

I always keep bouncing around the idea of changing this blog into something else entirely and after a friend of mine changed hers up recently, I was thinking of following her example and do the same with mine.

The idea isn't exactly new but over the years I've found that this blog has become a much better platform for me to just talk films. Maybe it'll just become film exclusive? Or maybe it'll be a new site entirely?! We'll uhh... see.

I know I need to change the look of it like the banner and stuff though. I'll get around to it...

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When last I wrote, I said that I'd started reading Gone Girl. It is now June and I've already finished the book. It's a pretty engrossing read, I'll admit, but everything leading up towards the ending (which includes the ending itself), threw me off a bit and, well, it really wasn't quite up to my liking. I'd like to think that there's something in there that I'm missing but I'm not so sure.

That said, David Fincher's adaptation of the book will certainly be an interesting one and its not hard to see why Fincher would agree to make a film like this. It's essentially Fincher interpreting Revolutionary Road and feels like it could be a "lesser" Fincher film, I think.

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Look, I love professional wrestling and I'm not even gonna defend myself for liking it cause I think it's pretty fun and rad. Went to support Melbourne's local wrestling scene recently and attended Melbourne Championship Wrestling's hallmark show, Ballroom Brawl, held every year for the last five years at the Thornbury Theatre.

Great show... So great that I practically lost my voice at said show from far too much yelling. I mean just look at me being an idiot in that highlights video (about seven seconds in!). That is the face of someone impassioned by the insanity of it all.

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Treat yourself! I figured I needed some new Winter gear so hey, why not get a few jumpers, ey? Throw in an official Japanese Blu-ray copy of tokyo.sora and I'm pretty darn set for now. All I need is like one outfit for every season... Also, if you haven't already follow me on Instagram! I mean, if you want. No pressure.
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WHAT I'VE BEEN WATCHING



MY SWEET PEPPER LAND: First thing's first! I reviewed Kurdish film, My Sweet Pepper Land for Meld Magazine recently and really recommend everyone to go see it at the Nova when they can! It's so damn great and I was really taken back by how well-made and original the film felt. Read my review for a better idea of the film and my thoughts about it!

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ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE: After being on a Jim Jarmusch high this Summer (thanks Astor Theatre!), Only Lovers Left Alive shot up to my must-watch list and as much as I wanted to like the movie (and there's plenty to like), overall it felt like a bit of a bore to me and I'm not sure how this happened!

Let's face it; Jarmusch's films don't always rely on narrative to push it forward. His films rely on drifting, wayward loners and outcasts with very little, if any, story to tell. Like hey, this should totally be my kind of movie, right? I dug Stranger Than Paradise a lot for that very reason. But here, with Only Lovers Left Alive, the film left me wanting a more. A lot more!

Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are great in their parts, as is Mia Wasikowska (she is killing it right now in everything) who plays against-type here in a scene-stealing role as Tilda Swinton's young vampire sister. The choice to move the action in Detroit is an inspired one though. Maybe I'll have to watch this film again.

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THE DOUBLE: Hello again, Ms Wasikowska! Richard Ayaode made a huge splash in cinema with his feature film debut, Submarine, back in 2010 but that was four years ago (oh...). Four years later, the former IT Crowd star has followed that up with The Double, a film that's supposed to be an adaptation of a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel but isn't (oh!).

That's all well and good but for a film that tries to be clever and fun, the whole thing felt so... boring. I mean yeah, you've got some cool classic Japanese tunes in there (still scratching my head over the inclusion of it though) but Ayaode's story of doppelgängers is one that failed to capture my attention. Despite some pretty visuals, The Double is an ineffectual follow up to what was a very captivating debut in Submarine.

While I wouldn't say the cast here is wasted (including the gang from Submarine who all turn up in bit parts here!) the film feels neutered of any charm that a 'comedy' like this ought to possess. That's three for three with independently made features I've been super interested in seeing that have now disappointed me (this, Only Lovers Left Alive and The Grand Budapest Hotel!).

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GODZILLA: Boy did this have a sweet hype train! After teasing everyone with an abundance of footage that made this particular incarnation of Godzilla appear closer to the first film (while honouring its follow ups), Gareth Edwards re-tooling of the 'King of Monsters' isn't quite as flash as I was hoping it to be.

Most of the criticism towards Godzilla has been in favour of the less than stellar human elements of the film which, in my opinion, is a fair observation to make though you can also argue that the human characters in any Godzilla film is rarely remembered. The film's enormously talented cast is stunted throughout the film (save for Bryan Cranston who, despite being in the film only for the first portion of it, really does an incredible job of selling his character's story) and even Godzilla himself feels like a side-attraction in his own movie.

However, it's very clear that this movie is its own Godzilla film and certainly feels worthy enough of inclusion with the Japanese entries. Also when Godzilla finally does appear and fight, its a huge payoff. HUGE!

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HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS: Yeah if that title doesn't grab your attention, I dunno what will. As you can imagine, this doco demonstrates how you can go from being a street-corner hustler to being a drug kingpin in several 'easy' steps.

Its focus is definitely not as far-reaching as similar drug documentary, The House I Live In (one of my top films from 2012) but there's still plenty of fascinating little tidbits and stories from actual dealers and hustlers that give this doco a personality of its own. Further complementing this is the hierarchy of the drug trade which in the film is established as a video game (each rank referred to as 'levels' complete with video game bleeps and bloops).

The subject matter can lose focus at times (towards the end, the doco enters more serious territory and lambastes alcohol and tobacco industries) but its an otherwise entertaining piece that further emphasises America's baffling war on drugs.

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BRINGING OUT THE DEAD: Wow, talk about an overlooked Martin Scorsese film! Why is Bringing Out The Dead not more talked about as one of Scorsese's greats? Whenever he and screenwriter Paul Schrader get together, magic happens (Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, anyone?) and if anything, Bringing Out The Dead is essentially a spiritual successor to Taxi Driver which is perhaps why I adore this film so much (fun fact: Taxi Driver is in my top films of all time, shhh). So what if its not huge on story?

There's enough to mine from this rich film which features a great performance from the often derided Nicolas Cage (who blends the perfect amount of crazy Cage and good Cage in this) and overall is just a great trip into madness and redemption.

It might not be a popular opinion with many but I sure as heck loved Bringing Out The Dead and would love to see a double between this and Taxi Driver one day at the Astor (or maybe just bring the Astor to me and have it at home, y'know?).

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THE HUNT: Well, damn. I mean, really. Damn! Isn't it nice to just take a chance on a film and be more than surprised by its outcome?! I can't imagine what the feeling was like for critics to see The Hunt for the first time and champion it as one of the best of last year.

The Hunt, which was nominated for an Oscar in Best Foreign Language Film this year, is a hugely impressive film that stars Hannibal's Mads Mikkelsen in a role that'll make you completely forget about the fact that he plays a suave cannibal on a hit TV show in America!

The film is incredibly challenging and asks a lot of hard questions about the circumstances that surround paedophilia allegations made against men. A shockingly great piece of social commentary, as well as a great story in itself, this Danish feature is strongly comparable to the films of great modern Korean director, Lee Chang-dong. Lee's films are often character studies that feature small-town drama but with a novelistic and epic scope. Mikkelsen is fantastic and this film does not leave your mind for a second. Essential viewing!

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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: Joss Whedon's post-Avengers film is a mighty step away from the spectacle of Marvel's flagship comic book team as the nerd-king focuses his attention on something less likely to attract the attention of die-hard fanboys - William Shakespeare.

Whedon's modern-day adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most famous plays sees Whedon reunite with many of the people he's worked with in this past (from series' like Angel and Firefly as well as The Avengers). The most noteworthy member of Much Ado About Nothing's cast is the delightful Amy Acker who charms her way into the film and so effortlessly delivers Shakespearean English which is no easy thing to pull off, I should think. Easily the most committed and convincing actor here.

That said, the film itself feels extremely disjointed most of the time as attention is given over one story than the other. The Shakespearean English doesn't help either (sorry, not cultured enough) especially when it feels like the actors are just saying the lines without understanding how they ought to be delivered.

It's not as good a movie as I was led to believe (considering all the praise it got from everyone I heard from!) but it has its moments. And not much of a comedy either, I reckon.

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MISTAKEN FOR STRANGERS: If I'm being completely honest, I had no idea who The National was before seeing this documentary. I had no idea they were kind of a big deal so it certainly helped that the film was able to put emphasis on that as it provides some great backstage access to the band.

The documentary sees Tom Berninger, a budding filmmaker and child-at-heart, follow his brother Matt Berninger, the lead singer of The National, as he and his band embark on a world tour.

It's not quite your traditional rockumentary and is perhaps more closer in tone to something like Anvil: The Story of Anvil (which I freaking love) where the heart of the film lies in the relationship that's shared between Tom and Matt. It's a moving story of brotherly affection and the effect fame and celebrity can have on an extremely ordinary family (Tom and Matt's mother is a painter and their father is presumably a carpenter as he's seen cutting wood).

I really liked this doco and I love the fact that it was only about 70 minutes long and knew exactly when to move on and when to stop - smartly paced filmmaking at work here!
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And that's all for this blog post. So I dunno why it took me til now to check out more of Jhene Aiko's music but I finally have and yeah, she's pretty great, I think. This is from her EP, Sail Away, and features Childish Gambino on the track (who I believe she's dating? Or was dating?). I dunno, I dig it. I like her light voice too, kinda reminds me of Aaliyah. Kinda.